Bermondsey - Our Lady of La Salette and St Joseph

Melior Street, Bermondsey, London SE1

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A modest brick church built in the 1860s to serve a poor and mainly Irish congregation. With their polychromatic brick Gothic detail the church and the adjacent presbytery make a positive contribution to the Bermondsey Street Conservation Area. The interior of the church is distinguished by some fine furnishings added between the wars by F.A. Walters & Son.

A mission was established in Webb Street by Fr Robert Hodgson in 1848, occupying a rented room in a former school of anatomy. This site was later absorbed within the development  of  London  Bridge  Station.  The  mission  was  one  of  the  poorest  in London, serving an almost entirely Irish population. The present church, a modest Gothic-style mission church, was built in 1861 by Fr Simon McDaniel from designs by Edmund J. Kelly, the builder being John Cowland of Notting Hill. The church was dedicated in part to  Our  Lady of  Salette,  and was  the  first  in England  to  be  so dedicated,  just  fifteen  years  after  the  apparition  of  the  weeping  Madonna  at  La Salette, near Grenoble in the South of France (which shrine had been visited by Fr McDaniel).

Major alterations were carried out to the church in the 1920s and 30s.  A new marble altar,  pulpit and stone Gothic  reredos and  panelled  lining  to  the sanctuary were added in 1928, from designs by F.A. Walters & Son. Walters also designed a new altar to Our Lady of Salette, completed after his death by his partner Stanley Kerr Bate. The original main entrance, which had been placed asymmetrically to the right hand side, was replaced by a new central entrance with a carved stone tympanum by F.A. Walters & Son in 1936.

The building is orientated north-south, but this description follows conventional liturgical orientation.

 

The church is built tightly up against the frontage of a narrow street (subsequently opened up by development opposite). It is in the Gothic style and built of London stock bricks (with some polychrome brick detail around the openings) and slate roofs. The contemporary presbytery adjoins and is a narrow four-storey house, also of stock brick with polychromatic Venetian Gothic detailing and a slate roof with dormer.  The main entrance to the church is placed centrally, within a stone arched surround with a carved tympanum depicting Our Lady of La Salette; this is an introduction of c1936, the original entrance having been placed asymmetrically to one side. Contemporary with this are flanking smaller arches bearing shields with sacred symbols, all oversailed by a stone drip mould. The brickwork infilling of the original opening is so skilful  that  the  form  of the  entrance  is  barely discernible;  only  the  boot  scraper (visible in the photo top right) gives the location away. The asymmetrical main elevation has a rubble stone plinth and ashlar band running along its full length. There are quatrefoil windows with polychrome surrounds on either side of the entrance, one to the left and two to the right. Above this is a further full-width stone band and moulding; the horizontal bands continue in the gabled upper part of the elevation, which has a circular window with bar tracery flanked by tall lancets, all with polychromatic detail to the arches and surrounds.

The central entrance leads into a small lobby built under a western gallery. The worship space consists of a wide aisleless nave, with apsidal sanctuary; there is no chancel arch. A chapel gives off the north side and a further chapel is in the former entrance area at the west end on the south side. There is blind arcading on the north side,  suggesting  an  original  intention  to  add  an  aisle.  The  south  side  is  lit  by clerestory windows, as is the sanctuary. Above the sanctuary and nave is an open rafter timber roof.

The  marble  altar,  pulpit  and  stone  Gothic  reredos  and  panelled  lining  to  the sanctuary are by F.A. Walters & Son. The altar has been altered and brought forward to allow for westward celebration and at the same time as this the sanctuary levels and the altar rails were modified. Walters also designed the fine stone altar and reredos in the chapel of Our Lady of Salette, giving off the nave on the north side. The marble  detailing  in  the  sides  of  the  chapel  owes  a  clear  debt  to  Westminster Cathedral. Side altars with colourfully painted carved frontals depicting St Patrick and the death of St Joseph were previously located on the side walls of the nave, but have been dismantled, with the panels relocated to the former entrance area at the west end.

The sanctuary is lit by nine high-level windows, the central three depicting the Crucifixion. The western round window has stained glass depicting the seven Sacraments, c1950. Beneath this is a brass panel commemorating Fr McDaniel, builder of the church. Near the entrance at the west end is a fine, ornate brass votive candle stand. The benches are fairly plain, and have been partly cut down to improve circulation.

Diocese: Southwark

Architect: Edmund J. Kelly

Original Date: 1861

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed