Rochester - St John Fisher

Maidstone Road, Rochester ME1

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A late Romanesque Revival church of 1953-54 by H. S. Goodhart-Rendel. The building is relatively plain and conservative for its date, with less of the panache and originality of Goodhart-Rendel slightly later churches in the Diocese (at Bermondsey and North Cheam). Furnishings of note include the Stations of the Cross, in the manner of Eric Gill, and the fine ceramic reredos.

The church of St John Fisher at Rochester was built in 1953-54 with the help of a gift of $30,000 from Bishop James Kearney of the Diocese of Rochester, New York. The architect was Harry Stuart Goodhart-Rendel (1887-1959). Goodhart-Rendel commissioned a ceramic reredos from Joseph Ledger of Carter & Co of Poole. This is one of three tiled reredoses by Ledger for Goodhart-Rendel churches, the other being St Mary the Virgin (Church of England), Isleworth (reredos of 1955) and Our Lady of the Rosary (RC), Westminster (reredos of 1966). For all three, the tiles were hand- painted by Phyllis Butler before firing.

The former presbytery stood on the opposite side of Canon Close, until it was demolished in 1974 when a new primary school was built in the site. The architects were Broadbent, Hastings, Reid & New. (F. G. Broadbent had been a partner in Goodhart-Rendel’s practice.) In 1975-76 they also built a new presbytery and parish hall beside the church. The value of this contract  was £74,000.  The church was consecrated on 30 November 1979 by Archbishop Bowen.

The church is facing west. This description uses conventional, liturgical orientation. The church was built in 1953-54 by H. S. Goodhart-Rendel. It is built using red brick laid in English bond with stone dressings and a tiled roof. The roofs are pitched, with some flat-roofed ancillary spaces on the north side. The plan is longitudinal, with a chapel and the sacristy at the northeast.

The west front has a central gabled section flanked by two lower sections under cross roofs. The central part has a circular gable window above a stone band below which is a canopied statue of St John Fisher flanked by two round-headed windows. The doorway is within a projecting gabled porch and has a semicircular pediment displaying the papal tiara and keys below the date ‘1953’, flanked by the arms of the Bishop of Rochester (an office held by St John Fisher) and the arms of Bishop Cowderoy.  On  either  side  of  the  doorway  are  single-light  windows.  The  lateral sections of the facade each have a circular window above paired round-headed windows.

The narthex below the organ gallery houses the repository, the stair to the gallery and a storage room. The organ gallery’s balcony has a central empty corbel (formerly occupied by a small statue of St Francis) with the inscription ‘That they may be all in one’ (John 17:21), flanked by two coats of arms, the one to the right belonging to St John Fisher.

 The six-bay nave has a queen-post roof. Each bay has a pair of windows. The north side has a door to the hall and, further east, a reconciliation room. At the northeast is the two-bay Blessed Sacrament Chapel (formerly the Lady Chapel). The carved decoration of the stone altar  with  a lily  and  a  crowned  M indicates  the original dedication. Above hangs a copy of the San Damiano Cross. There is a memorial plaque to Charles and Rachel Arnold. The Stations of the Cross are finely carved stone reliefs, their style influenced by Eric Gill’s Stations at Westminster Cathedral.

On either side of the sanctuary arch are statues of Our Lady and St Joseph. The sanctuary is lit by four windows on either side and has a panelled barrel vault with stencil decoration. The sanctuary is dominated by the large ceramic reredos of 1955 by Joseph Ledger, which was hand-painted by Phyllis Butler. The large panel depicts St John Fisher with a small image of St Augustine. He is surrounded by (clockwise from right): St George, St Thomas of Canterbury, St Justus, St Paulinus, St Michael the Archangel, St William of Perth, St Thomas More and St Andrew. The individual panels are framed in green slate. The canopy above has square panels painted with elements from St John Fisher’s coat of arms (the saltire cross and the leaping fish) and the dove of the Holy Spirit in the central panel. Biblical inscriptions in Latin run around the sanctuary, being verses from John 17:3 and Psalm 34, verse 5. The frontal of the high altar has the arms of St John Fisher, flanked by the ChiRho monogram. The forward altar is of stone, the lectern and chair are of timber. On either side of the reredos hang two modern paintings signed Don Cox, 1998, depicting Pentecost and Christ.

In the southeast corner of the nave is the circular stone font, carved with the ChiRho, the fish symbol and the first line of the Asperges Me (Psalm 51). Nearby, at the east end of the south side of the nave, is a small chapel with a statue of St John Fisher.

Diocese: Southwark

Architect: H. S. Goodhart-Rendel

Original Date: 1953

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed