Location Four

4. St Barnabas Deaf Church and DeafSpace

Audio Description – Caption Four
Summary For Location Four
Location on the map of the Church

There was once a deaf church in Deptford called St Barnabas. It stood on Evelyn Street, on the corner of Czar Street, and was opened on June 11th 1883 – the Feast Day of St Barnabas the Apostle.

St Barnabas Church for the Deaf, Eveyln Street, Deptford

James Sturdee was the first Chaplain at St Barnabas. He was born and educated in Deptford. At some point, he had met Reverend S Smith who advised him to attend an institution in Newcastle upon Tyne, where he learned to teach the deaf. When he returned to London he became a student missionary to the deaf, attending lectures at King’s College, and was ordained Deacon by the Bishop of Rochester in 1876.

The creation of the small church that would become St Barnabas owed a lot to James Sturdee. He was a Freemason and used his contacts to raise money to build the church. Thanks to his contributions, the foundation stone was laid on May 13th 1882 by William John Evelyn Esq, who provided the land.

St Barnabas Deaf Church in Deptford, 1920s

Rev. W. Raper, A.K.C., who has been Chaplain since 1895, conducts services and presides over the various social activities with the aid of the sign language. The picture shows the Rev. W. Raper, conducting a service.

From 1830, places such as churches and social clubs were beginning to provide education, social networking and provisions for deaf people. The 1861 census showed around 12,000 people in England and Wales were deaf.

St Barnabas was not the first deaf church: St Saviour’s Deaf Church on Oxford Street held its first service in 1873. St Saviour’s was purpose-built by the Royal Association for Deaf People in 1875 to give deaf people access to church services. As such, it had features that would not be found in other churches of the time. For instance, it had two pulpits. The priest would give their sermon from one and a sign language interpreter would translate for the deaf congregation from the other. The inside of the church was open, with no columns or pillars that could restrict the view. The church also faced north rather than east, to receive the most light possible.

Recently, the term DeafSpace has been used to define this approach to building design and architecture; one which is informed by the culture, community and needs of deaf people. The concept of DeafSpace has five key principles: sensory reach; space and proximity; mobility and proximity; light and colour; and acoustics.

DeafSpace asks what role architecture can play in expressing who we are and allowing us to live, create community, flourish and fulfil our potential. Could designing more inclusive spaces with the principles of DeafSpace benefit society as a whole?


2022. A Brief History. [online] Available at: <http://deafspace.weebly.com/a-brief-history.html> [Accessed 18 July 2022].

BBC News. 2022. UK’s first purpose-built deaf church to close. [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-ouch-27130455> [Accessed 18 July 2022].

Blogs.ucl.ac.uk. 2022. James William Arthur Sturdee, R.A.D.D. Chaplain to the Deaf, Deptford – “As an interpreter he was valuable” | UCL UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries. [online] Available at: <https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/library-rnid/2019/05/10/james-william-arthur-sturdee-r-a-d-d-chaplain-to-the-deaf-deptford-as-an-interpreter-he-was-valuable/> [Accessed 18 July 2022].

Diocese of London Deaf Church. 2022. St Saviour’s history. [online] Available at: <https://londondeafchurch.com/useful-info/st-saviours-history/> [Accessed 18 July 2022].

En.wikipedia.org. 2022. DeafSpace – Wikipedia. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DeafSpace> [Accessed 18 July 2022].

En.wikipedia.org. 2022. William Evelyn (died 1908) – Wikipedia. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Evelyn_(died_1908)> [Accessed 18 July 2022].

Historyof.place. 2022. St Saviour’s Deaf Church – History of Place. [online] Available at: <http://historyof.place/location/st-saviours-deaf-church/> [Accessed 18 July 2022].

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