Strood - English Martyrs

Frindsbury Road, Strood, Kent ME2

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A large modern church of 1963-64 by Eduardo Dodds, capturing  the mood of the time of the Second Vatican Council. The striking and dramatic copper roof has townscape value. Furnishings of note include coloured glass made by the monks of Buckfast Abbey and unusual Stations of the Cross.

In  about  1903  the  Sisters  of  St  Chretienne  arrived  from  France  and  founded  a convent in Mill Road, Frindsbury, Strood. At first they had their own chaplain, then the Jesuits at Higham served the convent chapel. In 1909 Fr Bolger, the parish priest at Chatham, took over the Mass Centre at Strood. The first resident priest at Strood was Fr Spencer Borrow.

In  1910  Fr  Bolger  bought  land  for  a  future  church  in  Hillside  Avenue  in  the Frindsbury area, costing about £400. By 1919, the question of a permanent church began to be seriously considered, as the nuns returned to France and the existence of the Mass Centre was threatened. However, the site in Hillside Avenue was found to be too small. It was sold for around £500, and a new site nearby was acquired at the corner of Mill Road and Frindsbury Road, known as the ‘Chalk Pit’. The new church was  constructed  by  Messrs  Durrant  &  Sons  of  Rochester.  It  was  completed  and blessed  by  Fr  Bolger  in 1922.  Around  the  same  time,  Strood  became a  separate parish, with Fr Nugent, until then a curate at Chatham, its first parish priest.

The convent had been taken over by the Oblates of St Benedict who continued to run the school. When they departed, convent and school were taken over by the Olivetan Benedictines. During the interwar years, the John Fisher Hall (now English Martyrs Hall) and the presbytery were built, and the sacristy enlarged.

After the Second World War, large developments and the building of several factories led to an increase in population. Mass Centres were established in the Temple Farm area, in Hoo and Grain.

In 1954 the Arnold family of Gravesend donated the restored Norman church at Dode, the only remaining building of the village of Dode, which was wiped out by the Black Death in 1349. (See also the report on St Mary’s chapel, Denton) It was rededicated by the Bishop as Our Lady of the Meadows. Due to its remote location, it was not possible to use it regularly. (The grade II*-listed church is now in private ownership.)

In 1957 Fr Corley rented a disused army hut at Grain which was converted into a chapel. The following year, a chapel was built at Hoo (see the report on Holy Family, Hoo). The English Martyrs church at Strood became too small for the growing congregation. As the site did not allow for an extension, it was decided to build a new church.  The  old  church  was  demolished  in  November  1962  and  the  new  church opened on the First Advent Sunday 1964.

The architect for the new church was Eduardo Dodds, who died in 1963. After his death, his work was continued by his partner, Kenneth White. By 1965, the successor practice was Brian Ring, Howard & Partners. The whole church cost over £100,000, of which the roof alone cost £20,000. The contractors were again Messrs Durrant & Sons. The new church was opened and consecrated by the Bishop on the feast of the English Martyrs, 4 May 1965. Before his death in 1967, the parish priest, Fr Francis Corley, commissioned the coloured glass windows in the two chapels from the Benedictines of Buckfast Abbey.

The corner of the church containing the sanctuary of the church is facing south. This description uses the conventional, liturgical orientation.

The church was built to designs by Eduardo Dodds in 1963-64. The exterior is built in brown bricks laid in stretcher bond, while the interior has grey bricks in Flemish bond. The roof is a folded timber construction clad in copper.

The overall plan is roughly square, with a canted corner at the west. The dramatically contorted roof is V-shaped with the ‘dip’ just in front of the sanctuary; both sides are also folded in themselves.

The main facade is the northeast elevation. A large staircase leads up to the entrance, which is flanked on either side by the three windows of the Lady Chapel and the curved corner of a confessional.

Internally, the fan-shaped auditorium is surrounded by ancillary spaces divided from the main space by brick piers and concrete columns. The timber-panelled ceiling follows the folded shape of the roof.  To the right of the main northeast entrance is a confessional,  beside  a  shrine  to  the  English  Martyrs  at  the  northwest  side,  with statues of St Thomas More, St Margaret Clitherow, and St John Fisher. At the west is an organ gallery, flanked by two large windows lighting the interior. The south corner has a large statue of the Sacred Heart in front of the doors of a further confessional. The Stations of the Cross are bronze panels (signed ‘Davis, 1964’) set in niches in the northwest and southwest wall, which are lit by side windows with yellow glass with additional, hidden electric lamps.

The southeast side has a further entrance. The northeast and southeast walls of the auditorium have large square paintings of Christ’s Baptism and the Crucifixion, respectively. The sanctuary furniture is of matching black and white stone. Above the tabernacle shelf on the east wall hangs a sculpture of the Risen Christ with a timber cross and golden rays.

The sanctuary is flanked  by two chapels.  To  the south  is the Blessed Sacrament chapel with an altar and tabernacle stand of slate and black wood. (The latter was made and donated by Cathryn and Stephen Lonsdale, 1992.) At the opposite end is a statue of St Anthony. The chapel is lit by four windows with coloured glass depicting various motifs including swords in predominantly yellow and red tones (Buckfast Abbey, 1960s).

The Lady Chapel at the northeast has three coloured glass windows, with abstract patterns in blue and orange, labelled Creation, Annunciation, Incarnation (Buckfast Abbey, 1960s). Beside a statue of the Virgin is a life-sized sculpture of St Pio. Against a pillar to the auditorium stands a statue of St Joseph. A door in the Lady Chapel leads into the sacristies behind the sanctuary and to the attached presbytery.

Last updated: 20.11.17.

Diocese: Southwark

Architect: Eduardo Dodds

Original Date: 1963

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II