St George's German Lutheran Church
The St Paul's Trust
About the Church
St. George's German Lutheran Church is the oldest surviving German Church in Britain. The church closed for regular worship in 1996 when it was taken into care by The Historic Chapels Trust. Although it is still occasionally used for church services by the German community from London and the surrounding area, it is now principally used for concerts, lectures, meetings, and a place of historical study. St George's German Lutheran Church is a unique testament to common heritage shared by two nations, both in the past and in the present.
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St George's dates from 1762-3. The congregation was founded by Dederich Beckmann, a wealthy sugar boiler and father-in-law of the first pastor. It served as a religious center for generations of German immigrants who worked in the East End sugar refineries and in the meat and baking trades until their expulsion during the First World War (1915). It served as a religious center for generations of immigrant workers who up to the early twentieth century were mainly working in sugar refineries and meat and baking trades. The First World War was a very unsettling time for the community, with men of military service age being interned and older men and women being expelled. The then pastor and his wife were as also expelled in 1917 - but returned in September 1920 - but services continued at the church not only through the FirstWorld War but also all through the Second World War and beyond, until the church finally closed in 1996.
Inside, the church retains a remarkable and mostly original series of furnishings. These include a complete set of ground floor and gallery pews and a magnificent, high, central double-decker pulpit and sounding board. On the wall above hangs the coat-of-arms of King George III (pre-1801) and two carved timber Commandment Boards in German. The Royal Arms, once enjoined to be erected in all Anglican churches, and adopted by others as a mark of loyalty, also recall a connection with the Duchess of Kent, mother of Queen Victoria, who was Patron of the adjacent German and English schools from 1819. There are 18th and 19th-century memorials and stained glass of great interest and a fine German Walcker organ.
From 1998 to 2004 major repairs costing nearly £900,000 were completed by the Historic Chapels Trust, including the restoration of the organ.
The building was officially re-opened by HRH The Duke of Gloucester on 24 September 2004. The event was attended by approximately 300 guests.
During the Nazi period in Germany, St George's pastor, Julius Rieger worked strenuously to assist Protestant Christians of Jewish descent (and therefore deemed to be Jewish and persecuted by the Nazi regime) to flee to England.
The leading theologian and anti-Nazi activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer was also associated with the work of St George’s when Bonhoeffer was pastor at the nearby German Reformed St Paul’s Church between 1933 and 1935. The former congregation marked the centenary of Bonhoeffer’s birth with a well attended service in February 2006 and the BBC filmed Songs of Praise here in June 2006, which told the story of Bonhoeffer and his lifetime’s achievements.
The organ was built in 1886 by the Walcker family. When the organ was rebuilt in 1937, the case was reused. In 2004, the organ was again restored by Bishops and Son of Landon and Ipswich. Although this instrument has been restored twice, its essential original features and building style have been retained. For organists interested in music of this period, it gives invaluable insight into the opportunities and restrictions which such instruments imposed on the performer.
St. George's is used as a venue for a wide range of cultural and artistic events which include organ recitals, talks, visiting choirs, music-ensembles and exhibitions.
Recently, due to CORONAVIRUS Restrictions, we have been hosting our ticketed talks via Zoom, in conjunction with in-person talks at the Church. We've had the privilege of having some wonderful speakers including: Peter Guillery's talk about Dock Street, Frank Pattison’s talk about the Hanseatic League and Philip Norman's talk about the Land Without Music.
For upcoming events, please head to our EVENTS page!
55 Alie Street
LONDON E1 8EB
Underground: Aldgate East (District Line)
Buses: 15, 25, 42, 78, 100, 115, 135, 205, 254.
The HCT has prepared an A4, full colour brochure about St, George's (£5.50) and a mug depicting the church (£7.95 incl.P&P). If you are interested in obtaining either of these, please contact the Trust.