PortCities London

Scandinavian seamen in London

The seamen's churches
 

The early churches

The earliest Scandinavian churches in London were both in Wapping, north of the busy wharves. The Danish church in Wellclose Square was built in 1696 thanks to a donation from Christian V, King of Denmark. It closed in the 1840s, and the Infants School of St Paul's Church for Seamen later stood on the site.

The Swedish Church, Princes Square.
View full size imageInside the Swedish Church, Princes Square. © NMM

The Swedish Church in Princes Square, Wapping, was built in 1727. One of its most famous worshippers was the thinker and scientist Emanuel Swedenborg. The church closed in 1909, after its maritime duties had passed to the Swedish Seamen's Church, opened in Rotherhithe in 1899. 

Inside the Danish Church, Poplar.
View full size imageInside the Danish Church, Poplar. © NMM
The Danes later opened a church in King Street, Poplar, near the West India Docks. Typical for countries with such strong maritime traditions, a model ship hung in its nave.

 

 

The seamen's missions and their churches

To cater for the large numbers of their seamen in foreign ports, each of the Scandinavian countries founded international seamen's missions. Their initial concern was with the religious and moral welfare of their seamen abroad, but eventually they provided reading rooms, entertainment and - perhaps the most important of all - 'a piece of homeland abroad'.

The seamen's missions founded churches and institutes for their compatriots in London. As most Scandinavian ships visiting London were bringing timber to the Surrey Commercial Docks, it is not surprising that the seamen's missions chose Rotherhithe as the site for their churches.

The first Norwegian Seamen's Church was the Ebenezer Church in Bickley Row, Rotherhithe, near the Commercial Dock Pier. It opened in 1871.

The Norwegian Seamen's Church.
View full size imageSt Olav's, the Norwegian Church in London. © NMM
In 1927, the church moved to a much larger building in St Olav's Square in Rotherhithe. This is the most striking and probably the best known of all the Scandinavian churches in London. It thrives to this day, and plays a major role in organizing events within the Norwegian community. 

  

 

    

Outside the Finnish Church, Rotherhithe.
View full size imageOutside the Finnish Church, Rotherhithe. © NMM
The original Finnish Church was a temporary structure in Rotherhithe. The Finnish Church today is the newest of the Scandinavian churches in London. It was completed in 1958 and stands in Albion Street, Rotherhithe, not far from the Norwegian church.

 

Useful links:

 





   Back to Introduction
**
*