Acton - Our Lady of Lourdes

High Street, Acton, London W3

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An Italian Romanesque church built at the start of the twentieth century from designs by Edward Goldie. It has a good interior, surprisingly plain in terms of architectural detail, and could easily be mistaken for work of the interwar period. The rich marble furnishings date mainly from the 1950s. The entrance front is an important feature in the Acton Town Centre Conservation Area.

In the early nineteenth century there was a small base of local Catholic activity centred on Acton House, home of the Selby family, where there was a chapel in the basement. In 1848 a little chapel in King Street was opened for public worship; this was for the most part served by priests from Turnham Green, and closed in 1858 due to financial difficulties (but not before designs were prepared in 1855 by E. W. Pugin for a permanent church and schools). The mission was re-established by Fr James O’Donnell in 1878, and in 1882 a temporary corrugated iron church was opened in Strafford Road, South Acton. This was closed in 1902 when a permanent church seating about 500 and dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes was opened in the High Street, at a cost of £5000, on land which had been acquired in 1892. The mission priest at this time was Fr Charles Rivers, an Anglican convert. The new church was built from designs by Edward Goldie (1856-1921), a Catholic architect who continued the practice of his father, George, after the latter’s death in 1887. Goldie junior’s masterwork was St James’s, Spanish Place (opened 1890, qv).

In 1928, after Fr William Foley succeeded Fr Rivers, a building around the corner in Berrymead Gardens was acquired to serve as the parish presbytery. New benches supplied by Holly & Pike were installed in the church (still in situ). Also about this time oak altar rails provided (since removed) and the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes moved from the south to the north side of the church and given an oak reredos and statues of St Anthony of Padua and St Patrick. In its former place a Sacred Heart shrine was put up. A new stone font was installed in the baptistery, along with new iron gates. New Stations of the Cross were presented by individual members of the congregation and designed by Benedictine monks of Maria Laach Abbey (Germany). The tympanum over the main entrance was carved with the papal tiara and crossed keys. During the time of Fr John Halvey (from 1955) a new marble altar was installed in the Lady Chapel and a marble pulpit in the main body of the church. In 1959 the oak altar rails were replaced by marble rails with brass gates and marble high altar was installed, raised on marble steps and fitted into the marble panels lining the apse. This altar has been brought forward (and the altar rails removed) in post-Vatican II reordering. The church was refurbished and enhanced in the 1990s.

 

The church is oriented south; all directions in this report are liturgical.

The church occupies a hemmed-in site and is designed in an Italian Romanesque style. It has a five-bay nave, transepts (lower than the nave), a round-apsed sanctuary, lean-to aisles, a southeast sacristy, and a round-apsed chapel north of the sanctuary which now serves as the baptistery. It is built of yellow stock brick with stone dressings. The principal façade is the west front: this has a central portal with three orders of shafts, with carving of the Papal tiara and cross keys in the tympanum (c1928). Above the portal is a wheel window with eight lobes, framed by saw-tooth detailing: the gable is decorated with lozenge patterning. The fenestration of the nave and aisles is round-arched and the clerestory windows are tall.

The interior is plastered and has a simple elegance found in many inter-war Romanesque-style Catholic churches: ornament is stripped away and the building relies for its effect on line and proportion. The arcade, with utterly plain arches, is low and has rectangular piers with projections which rise as pilasters to the wall plate. Over the crossing is a concrete dome (contemporary with Bentley’s use of concrete in the domes of Westminster Cathedral). At the west end the two western bays of the nave are taken up by a deep gallery which appears date from c1970. The sanctuary is covered by a semi-hemispherical roof, gilded by IFACs in the late 1990s. A modern, utilitarian projection has been added to the west part of the south aisle, forming a porch and an additional seating area (the First World War memorial has been resited here).

The sanctuary is richly embellished with marble for the floor, dado and reredos. The baptistery too has marble in its floor. Similarly the Lady altar in the north transept is splendidly treated in terms of marble and mosaic: the statue is flanked by four delicate panels of lilies. These features mainly date from the 1950s. The Stations of the Cross were presented by individual members of the congregation c1928; these are coloured, in low relief, in Northern Renaissance style and were designed by Benedictine monks of Maria Laach Abbey. The congregational seating consists of benches and kneelers, modern (late 1990s) oak copies of the 1928 originals.

Diocese: Westminster

Architect: E. Goldie

Original Date: 1902

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not listed