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Episcopal Floating Church, London.  
Port of London
1829 – 1846
British Sailors
Missions

Episcopal Floating Chapel Society

The Episcopal Floating Chapel Society was the first attempt by the Church of England to provide a maritime church in the Port of London. 

Sailor's Floating Church by the Tower of London. Illustrated London News (27 May 1843), 350.

In June 1825, a reviewer for the Evangelical Anglican magazine noted drily that, ‘The British public have ascertained that sailors have souls as well as bodies’, but that to date the creation of floating chapels, churches and libraries had been the work of various dissenters (Christian Observer 1825: 360). The following month the Episcopal Floating Chapel Society was formed, with the object of providing Anglican chapels in all the ports of the empire.

While clearly ambitious, the Episcopal Floating Chapel Society was never able to reach across the entire empire, though floating churches were created in Dublin and Liverpool, with some success. The inaugural meeting was ‘respectfully attended, though not numerously’ and it is possible that this was because it was felt this was work which was already being done well by those outside the national church. It was chaired by the Lord Mayor, William Venables (1785-1840), with Lords Bexley, Calthorpe, and Clarendon, Admiral Sir T. Keats, and other minor dignitaries in attendance. A strong motivating factor was that of ensuring sailors were maintained in their adherence to the Church of England, as well as uplifting the sailor and securing the security of port towns: 

From the establishment of Floating Chapels, the happiest effects had already resulted. The sailors were turned from vice and immorality to religious instruction. It was most important that these Chapels should be connected with the National Church.  The minds of the sailors should not be allowed to wander from the doctrines of one church to those of another’(Christian Guardian 1825: 315).

The Admiralty provided the Brazen, a 26-gun ex sloop-of-war, which had also been used as a convict ship, as a 'floating church'. It was adapted to accommodate 500 hearers and moored by Rotherhithe parish church. The first service was held on Good Friday, 24 March 1829. It capsized in 1832 (with no loss of life) and, after repairs, was moved in 1834 to a new location off the Tower of London. A room was also hired at Wapping, for services and a Sunday School. King George IV became a patron, contributing £50 a year – a commitment continued by William IV and (for a time) Queen Victoria.

 

Episcopal Floating Church moored off the Tower of London. Illustrated London News 1843: 350

 

The Illustrated London News reported on the venture in May 1843, providing two engravings of the former Brazen moored off the Tower of London. Possibly in error, the first shows the Sailor's Floating Church flying the Bethel flag, the emblem of the rival Port of London floating chapel.  Another shows the interior of the church with seamen listening to a sermon:

It appears that this marine church was originally a sloop of war in the royal service, and known in the narrow seas by the very un-Christian name of Brazen, where she signalized herself in many desperate enounters. But now her "battered hulk," unfit for sea, has been quietly moored in the pool of London, to serve the peaceful uses of a Christian congregation. She has accommodation for about 500 persons, and is regularly attended by the inmates of the Destitute Sailors' Asylum and Sailors' Home, the Sailors' Orphan Girls' School, and by a changing multitude of sailors from "off shore" and "afloat" in the tiers of ships in the nieghbourhood. Boats are provided on Sundays at the Tower Stairs for the free passage of sailors or their connections who may with to attend the ship service. The church contains a small organ, and the services, which are under the direct superintendence of the Bishop of London, are performed in a very suitable and efficent manner (Illustrated London News 1843: 349).

Interior of the Floating Church. Illustrated London News no. 56 (27 May 1943), 350.

The first permanent chaplain was James Hough, who had been missionary in India. His successor was John Davis, later Ordinary of Newgate.

The Brazen was costly to maintain, and as sailors were spending more time on shore, and less on board sailing vessels, waiting for wind and tide, it was deemed more practical to build a new church on shore. In 1846, she was therefore returned to the Admiralty, and subsequently broken up. The Episcopal Floating Church had functioned for just eighteen years as the official church for the network of maritime institutions developed by the Church of England for the Port of London. 

St Paul’s Church for Seamen was completed in 1847 and replaced the Floating Chapel as a hub for Church services to London marine communities. 

References

‘Episcopal Floating Chapel Society’. 1825. The Christian Guardian and Church of England Magazine, August 1825. p. 315. Google Books

'Review of Penrose on Matters relative to the Navy'. 1825. The Christian Observer, June 1825, pp. 360-72. Internet Archive

'Sailor's Floating Church [illustration]'. 1843. Illustrated London News, 27 May 1943), p. 350. Hathi Trust

Resources

'Ministers of the Episcopal Floating Church & Sailors’ Home http://www.stgitehistory.org.uk/media/efcministers.html

Citation for this article

Hilary Carey, 'Episcopal Floating Chapel Society' Mariners: Race, Religion and Empire in British Ports 1801-1914, https://mar.ine.rs/stories/episcopal-floating-chapel-society-1829/
Retrieved 22 February 2024