Metropolitan Tabernacle

The Metropolitan Tabernacle by William Willmer Pocock (1813-1899). 1859-61. Elephant and Castle, London SE1. Photograph and text by Jacqueline Banerjee. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL.]

The original Metropolitan Tabernacle, which was purpose-built for the charismatic Baptist preacher Rev. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, had a total capacity of 6,000. Its 5,000 seats were filled "many times a week" (White 428), and the remainder of the congregation was packed tight in the aisles and in the yard outside, listening from as far away as Spurgeon's voice could be heard. There was a vast lecture hall and schoolroom to the rear. Spurgeon was phenomenally well organised, running an orphanage, almshouses and a Pastor's College as well. Liza Picard records that every member of his church received a year's strip of ready-perforated and dated communion tickets for depositing in the church plate to testify to attendance (354). In an example of ecumenical co-operation, the church was also used by the mainly lower-class Primitive Methodists, otherwise known as "Ranters," whose loud cries of praise must have rung out loudly through the enormous space.

The church was rebuilt in 1898, after a fire which had spared the original classical portico; an incendiary bomb in May 1941 destroyed this rebuilt portion but again spared the portico (and the original basement). In 1959 the Tabernacle was rebuilt yet again in the area behind the portico, but this time to a new design and with a reduced capacity of 1,750 seats. After a period of decline it has regained some of its immense popularity, and is again operating with a "full church and galleries" ("History of the Tabernacle"). Spurgeon's name is still proudly blazoned on the signs outside.

Sources

"History of the Tabernacle." Viewed 9 April 2008.

Picard, Liza. Victorian London: The Life of a City, 1840-1870. London: Phoenix, 2006.

White, Jerry. London in the Nineteenth Century: "A Human Awful Wonder of God.". London: Cape, 2007.

Weinreb, Ben and Christopher Hibbert, eds. The London Encyclopaedia. London: Macmillan, rev. ed. 1992.

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Last modified 9 April 2008