Archway - St Gabriel

St John’s Villas, Archway, London N19

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A modern church built after the Second Vatican Council. Blind walls minimise the noise from the adjacent street and the church is lit instead by means of a hidden clerestory. The church contains several sculptures by Willi Soukop RA. The interior has been altered.

The mission was founded by the Passionists of St Joseph’s, Highgate (qv). In 1928, an iron chapel was built in Hatchard Road. This was enlarged in 1931. In 1938, the building and mission were transferred to the care of the diocese. St Gabriel’s mission became part of a combined parish with St Mellitus, Tollington Park (qv). Only in 1964 did St Gabriel’s, Upper Holloway (later renamed Archway), become an independent parish. At that point Canon George Groves bought the present site.

Work on site started in April 1966 and the foundation stone was laid by Bishop Casey on 6 May 1967. Cardinal Heenan opened and consecrated the church on 17 December 1967. Gerard Goalen was the architect, Noel O’Connell the structural engineer and Marshall Andrew & Co. the contractors. Goalen also built the adjoining two-storey presbytery. After the completion of the church, the temporary church became the hall until 1973-74, when a two-storey community centre was built on its site. Goalen was again the architect.

In c.1981, Gerard Goalen & Partner converted the baptistery into a meeting room (now the sacristy). The church was reordered by Carmel Cauchi, who altered the sanctuary steps, plastered the walls (originally of exposed brick) with a pattern of blind arches, enclosed the deep coffers of the ceiling, and provided new sanctuary furnishings. At some point the original configuration of the crying chapel, and the organ and choir which used to flank the sanctuary was altered.

The church faces northwest. This description uses conventional, liturgical orientation.

The church was built as a concrete structure faced in dark grey bricks in stretcher bond outside and pale bricks inside (since plastered over). The plan is roughly rectangular with curved corners and aligned on the short axis. There are two square projections at the west, and skylit circular projections to the north and south. The roof is a flat concrete deck surrounded by a raised clerestory whose inner face is glazed and whose outer slope is clad in aluminium.

The west elevation is structured by two symmetrical glazed projections of square plan with rounded corners. These originally housed the baptistery, now the sacristy, (north) and the entrance porch (entered from the south). Between them is the foundation stone and above them a concrete bellcote with three bells and a metal cross. The remaining three external walls are notable for the absence of windows – in order to minimise the noise from the busy road. To the north are two small circular projections for shrines and a porch at the northeast, possibly the entrance to the original crying chapel (which required a pram shelter by the door). At the south is a further projection (now a confessional). At the east is a tall projection with a tall hidden window focusing light on the sanctuary.

Internally, the absence of windows is hardly noticeable, due to the effective hidden lighting by means of a clerestory above the ceiling. The ceiling is suspended over the nave like a canopy on eighteen piers. Originally, the ceiling was painted dark with deep coffers. These have since been filled with suspended panels and the whole ceiling painted white. The sanctuary wall has large inscriptions (‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again’, added by Carmel Cauchi) above a large bronze fibreglass sculpture of the Risen Christ – one of several sculptures by Willi Soukop RA (1907-95). The sanctuary furniture is plain, of polished stone (Carmel Cauchi). To the left of the altar is the brass tabernacle, which is sunk into the wall and surrounded by four bronze angels (Soukop). On the other side of the altar is a bronze statue of the Virgin Mary with the Child (Soukop).

The two niches at the north hold further Soukop statues of the Sacred Heart and St Gabriel. At the west are two marble plaques to previous parish priests, as well as a more conventional statue of St Anthony. The Stations are square bronze panels, possibly also by Soukop. The benches are of concrete and polished hardwood, in four blocks arranged in a fan shape.

Diocese: Westminster

Architect: Gerard Goalen

Original Date: 1966

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed