St George's German Lutheran Church

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St George's German Lutheran Church
Denomination Lutheran
History
Founder(s) Dietrich Beckman

St George's German Lutheran Church is a church in Alie Street, Whitechapel.

From its founding in 1762 until 1996 it was used by German Lutherans. It then became the headquarters of the Historic Chapels Trust. The church is still used for organ recitals.

St George's was the fifth Lutheran church to be built in London. It is now the oldest surviving German Lutheran church in the UK. At the time, the street was called "Little Ayliffe Street" and the area was called "Goodman's Fields". The name of the street changed to "Alie Street" about 1800.

The founder was Dietrich Beckman, a wealthy sugar refiner. Beckman's cousin, Gustav Anton Wachsel from Halberstadt, became the first pastor. This area of Whitechapel had many sugar refiners of German descent in the nineteenth century and they constituted most of the congregation. From 1853 the churchyard and crypt were closed, and no longer accepted burials. At its height, there were an estimated 16,000 German Lutherans in Whitechapel. The last major influx of Germans was in the 1930s, when, during the Nazi period, the pastor, Julius Rieger, set up a relief centre for Jewish refugees. The theologian and anti-Nazi activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached here for a brief period in 1935.

The church retains a mostly original series of furnishings. These include a complete set of pews and a high central double-decker pulpit and sounding board. The coat-of-arms of King George III (pre-1801) and two carved timber commandment boards in German hang in the church. The Royal Arms were required to be erected in Anglican churches and were adopted by other churches as a mark of loyalty.

The organ was built in 1886 by the Walcker family. They used the organ case of the previous organ (John England, 1794). When the organ was rebuilt in 1937, the case was reused.

The St John and St Croix refugees[edit]

In 1763 about 600 Germans from the Palatinate and Würzburg attempted to travel to the Virgin Islands of St John and St Croix. Unfortunately the officer in charge abandoned them in London with no money or resources and no knowledge of English. Gustav Anton Wachsel who was pastor of the church appealed for help on their behalf. The Tower of London gave them 200 tents to protect them from the rain, and there were charitable contributions of 600 pounds. King George III intervened and enabled them to travel to Carolina instead.

The St George's German church book collection[edit]

Gustav von Anton's collection of books was kept in the vestry and with later additions to the library, came into the care of the Historic Chapels Trust. They amounted to about 750 books, including early eighteenth-century prints of the Waisenhaus in Halle and Gottfried Keller's Die Leute von Seldwyla. In autumn 1995 there was a break in, and although none were taken, the Historical Chapel Association decided it would be safer to donate them to the British Library.

There are books and microfiches available for baptisms 1763 - 1895.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°30′51″N 0°4′14″W / 51.51417°N 0.07056°W / 51.51417; -0.07056