Battersea - The Sacred Heart

Trott Street, Battersea, London SW11

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Built in 1892 by F A Walters for the Salesians, in an (untypical for Walters) Italian Romanesque style, the design being based on the Salesian church in Turin. With its four-stage tower and octagonal spire, the church is a major landmark in the Battersea Square Conservation Area. The spacious groin-vaulted interior contains a number of furnishings of note, including wall paintings by the artist-priest George Fayers.

In 1887 Bishop Butt put the Salesians in charge of the Trott Street mission and a small iron church sufficed pending the building of a permanent church.  F A Walters’s first designs (July 1890) were for an ambitiously-scaled Perpendicular Gothic church, but the design finally chosen, no doubt at the behest of the client, was somewhat smaller and based on that of the Salesian church of San Giovanni Evangelista, Turin (figure 1). This was an Italian Romanesque design of 1882 by Edoardo Arborio Mella (1808-84), a leading architect, restorer and scholar of the Gothic Revival in Italy. The foundation stone for the church of the Sacred Heart was laid on 3 August 1892, and the church was opened on 14 October 1893. The builders were J Langley & Co. of Crawley and the cost about £9000.

In  1970  the  sanctuary was  remodelled  by  Greenhalgh  &  Williams  of  Bolton  and Manchester. The high altar and reredos (shown in figure 2) were removed, with the throne for the Blessed Sacrament placed on a podium against the east wall, reached by a flight of steps (photo bottom left). The panels showing the Instruments of the Passion and the altar panels were incorporated in the new design. A new marble forward altar was installed, the sanctuary steps widened and the communion rails replaced. The sanctuary floor was re-laid with marble tiles and the timber nave pulpit removed. Large areas of the walls which had previously been painted in rich stencil patterns (visible in figure 2) were repainted in plain colours. The side chapels were also  altered,  being  reduced  in  depth,  and  a  chapel  dedicated  to  St  John  Bosco, founder of the Salesians, was built off the north aisle. The cost of these works was approximately £18,000.

There was a further reordering in the 1980s, when the sanctuary was extended to allow the 1970 altar to be brought further forward. The 1970 communion rails were removed.

More recently, the baptistery at the west end of the north aisle has been converted to a reconciliation room, and the font (temporarily) relocated to the south aisle. At the time of writing, work is in progress on the building of a new parish centre on the north side of the church (photo top right), which has involved the demolition of the 1970 chapel of St John Bosco. The architects for this new addition are St Ann’s Gate Architects of The Close, Salisbury.

The church was built in 1892 from designs by F A Walters. The design is modelled on that for the Salesian church of San Giovanni Evangelista, Turin (1882), by Edoardo Arborio Mella. It is in Italian Romanesque style, and consists of a four-stage western tower with spire; nave with north and south aisles and western transepts; and apsidal sanctuary  with  eastern  transepts  containing  side  chapels.  Sacristies  give  off  the chapels to the east, and transepts at the west end contain a narthex and baptistery (now reconciliation room). The church is built of red brick with some limited use of stone for the dressings and a slate roof. The western spire is clad in copper.

The west elevation is designed almost on axis with Trott Street and is a dominant feature in the townscape. It has a central tower of four stages, with a round arched and gabled entrance in the first stage, triple lights in the first, a square third stage with paired arched openings and an octagonal fourth stage from which rises the octagonal spire.  To right and left are short projecting western transepts. The flank elevations  have  broad  pilaster  bands  dividing  the  bays,  with  one  round-arched window per bay and brick corbelled eaves. The eastern transepts have large circular windows in the end walls.

Inside, the western bay consists of a narthex with organ gallery above, with a former baptistery in the northern transept. The nave and aisles are of four bays, with the arcading  supported  on  chamfered  square  piers  with  half-column  responds  and sinuous waterleaf capitals. There is a single round-headed window to each bay of the aisles and clerestory, and the nave roof has a quadripartite vault springing from triple wall shafts. The aisles have lean-to roofs, divided into square compartments with stencil decoration.

The nave has a woodblock floor and is separated from the chancel by a wide central arch with tall and narrow side arches (echoed also at the west end). The chancel floor is of  marble tiles; seven steps  lead  up  to  the altar  and  another  seven up  to  the tabernacle in the apse. The sanctuary is groin vaulted, with painted decoration both here and in rectangular panels below the windows. The north and south chapels of Our Lady and St Joseph are within the eastern transepts, and have transverse barrel vaults.  The altars here are of 1970.

The  church  contains  a  number  of  wall  paintings  by  Fr  George  Fayers,  who  also worked at Wandsworth East (qv), and is said to have been a pupil of Edward Burne- Jones; his works certainly shows that influence. These include the Agnus Dei adored by angels, over the chancel arch; the Annunciation over the door to the north sacristy, by the Lady Chapel; and the death of St Joseph over the door to the south sacristy, by St Joseph’s Chapel. According to Evinson (p.245) there is a triptych by Westlake in the former baptistery, but this has not been seen by the writer. There is a fine Crucifixion triptych in the north sacristy, but this might be another piece by Fayers.

The  windows  generally  contain  Cathedral  glass  of  various  pastel  tints;  the  only stained glass is in the apse (artist not established). The Stations of the Cross are framed plaster tableaux in high relief, and are said to have come from the Salesian house in Turin. The seating consists of plain pine pews.

Diocese: Southwark

Architect: F. A. Walters

Original Date: 1892

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II