The Diamond of Deptford

Diamond Way SE8, is one street name that could have you puzzled. You will not be able to discover it anywhere in the A to Z of London – Diamond Way even escapes a listing on Google Maps which will only show an arrow pointing through to the graveyard of a church in Deptford, with no reference to the street name, yet it really does exist, but why does it and what is the story behind it?

Deptford High Street has an entrance leading to St Paul’s Church, where you will find the only street sign for Diamond Way, which will take you along a footpath and across the graveyard to St Paul’s Church. St Paul’s Church was built in 1730, designed in the Italianate style by Thomas Archer. Archer only ever built two churches in London – this one at Deptford and St John, Smith Square, in Westminster. They were both among the new churches to be built under the ‘Fifty New Churches Act’ – a fund provided by the Government of the day to build additional parish churches in communities that had expanded during the 17th century. As a church, St Paul’s, Deptford, is almost unique in period and style. By the 1960s however, the church was in serious decline not only with the diminishing congregation but also in the rundown state of the building. Because of the derelict state of the church with only a handful of worshipers was considered ripe for demolition.

The diamond in the rough came along to save the church when Father David John Diamond was appointed in 1969. He was one of the most remarkable parish priests in the Church of England. When he came to Deptford he was, unfashionably, an out-and-out Anglo-Catholic priest. When others were tearing off their dog-collars and dropping ecclesiastical titles, he revelled and delighted in his priesthood. But not in a solemn or starchy manner – the people of Deptford came to share this delight. Diamond’s approach was that everything was for the whole community, not simply for a church ‘club’. Everyone belonged to the Church, because everyone was loved by God.

Within the first year of his appointment, he started up the Deptford Festival, with Diamond being a great organiser of community events the Deptford Festival became famous, with its street parties, royal visits, flamboyant firework displays and fun for all on the grandest scale. The pensioners' outing to Southend, for example, there had to be a thousand pensioners. A cannon would be fired and 20 coaches would set off, with the narrow high street lined by every infant and primary school, cheering and waving flags, the procession was led by a brass band. It brought everyone together and made everyone feel they mattered, that Deptford was a great place to be. One of Father Diamond’s greatest achievements was the organising of celebrations for the 250th anniversary of the church – in 1980 – when he was successful in inviting the Queen Mother, to the special service held in the church. Other celebrities to visit his church were Princess Margaret and Dick Emery.

Gangsters and Discos

There were others amongst his congregation who may have been shall we say a little less desirable, including the gangster Charlie Richardson, but Diamond was there to guide his flock and not sit in judgement. He also had his own misgivings which made him more acceptable to the locals who loved him. He lived on a bottle of whisky a day and was often found slumped in his chair, often exhausted and cranky, but also saintly in a crazily generous sort of way. He didn't do days off. His entire life was dedicated to his parish. And he didn't care where you came from and what you had done. He turned the crypt into a disco with a Friday night Reggae session for the West Indian community. His last full day on earth was on Sunday 31 August 1992. He did Mass for the sick in the morning, a record ten babies christened in the afternoon, an evening sermon in Harrow and then the night train to Perth in Scotland with his beloved dad. Monday morning his life was cut short by a heart attack after a perfect drive around Loch Earn, he was aged just fifty-six. The quest to secure Father Diamond his last resting place was a typical Deptford tale in itself. The congregation wanted to have him buried in his own churchyard, but because internments had ceased many years earlier permission was refused. At the eleventh hour the future Law Lord, Sir Anthony Lloyd used his influence in high places and the impossible was achieved. Eighty Anglo-Catholic and other clergy walked behind the funeral cortege as the coffin was drawn instate from Deptford Broadway, with the High Street shops pulling down their shutters for the morning of the funeral.

Father Diamond rests in peace in a tomb beside his beloved church; his grave looks every bit as ancient as all the others in the graveyard by the side of Diamond Way SE8.

London Time

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