Ashford - St Michael

Clarendon Road, Ashford, Middlesex TW15

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A large and imposing brick church and a significant work by Giles Gilbert Scott. Built in three stages to a unified design, it has an interior of both beauty and simplicity, depending for its effect on clear, sheer lines. The design bears a family resemblance to Scott’s earlier church of St Joseph, Sheringham, Norfolk.

In 1899 the Sisters of the Order of the Good Shepherd opened a convent and an Inebriate Home for Catholic women in a property called ‘Ecclesfield’. The convent chapel was used for Mass by the few Ashford Catholics, offered by a priest from Beaumont College, Windsor. In 1906 a resident priest was appointed, with a brief to build a church. Opened the same year, this was a simple brick structure designed by Leonard Stokes. In 1925 a house and site for a new church were purchased in Fordbridge Road. Designs for the church were provided by Giles Gilbert Scott and he regarded it as one of his favourite works. The foundation stone was laid on 21 July 1927. The first part to be opened consisted of the sanctuary, sacristies and three bays of the nave. In 1938 work continued on the nave but was halted by the outbreak of war. Then, in 1958, work began again and the complete church was opened on 13 March 1960; the building of the campanile (to a revised design) was supervised by Scott’s office manager and partner, Frederick G. Thomas. A major reordering took place in 2006 under George Mathers; he designed the south porch,  and a new stone altar, lectern and sanctuary flooring. More recently, the nave and aisle floors were re-laid with tiles and stonework, to replace linoleum (Ormesby of Scarisbrick, in collaboration with architect Jane Ferra; information from Chris Fanning).

The church is oriented to the northeast. Directions in this report are all liturgical.

The church, designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, is built of thin, dark red Dutch bricks and has a roof covering of Italian pantiles. In style, it is a free adaptation of Early Christian Italian architecture and consists of a nave and sanctuary (a single vessel), narrow nave aisles, north and south chapels (at right angles to the body of the building, sacristies (beneath the sanctuary) and a modern (2006) south porch. The exterior is characterised by its considerable bulk and height, tall, sheer walls, and an impressively high clerestory. There are no external buttresses. The roofs have prominently overhanging eaves (which dispense with the need for gutters). All the fenestration is round-arched, that in the clerestory being the most prominent, having tall, three-light windows with a hemisphere set above a triple-opening arrangement. The faces of the tall, plain campanile are unadorned and the tower culminates with small, triple belfry lights and a low pyramidal capping. The parish centre is attached to the church at the east end and extends out to the northeast of it. Part of it incorporates the original presbytery where the first priest of the new church is said to have simply occupied the extraordinarily cramped quarters on the first floor.

 

The interior is a long, uninterrupted space, the walls of which are covered in rough render and sloping inwards slightly to counter the lateral thrust of the roof. This has a low-pitched tie-beam roof, delicately decorated in a style which Stamp suggests is, perhaps, Swedish in character. At the west end is an organ gallery set above a broad semi-circular arch. At the east end there is no window and the east end is raised high above the sacristies; in all there are fourteen steps, the first three of which were installed (brought forward) as part of the 2006 reordering. There are eight bays to the nave and the six easterly ones have low semi-circular arches to the narrow aisles: there are no mouldings or carved decoration, only very slight bulging out where capitals might be expected to be. Only the twin columns in opening north and south of the sanctuary have any decoration (spiral ornament and foliage and other decoration). The sanctuary floor tiling dates from 2006, that in the nave from c2010.

 

  • Reredos.   A large triptych reredos designed by Scott, with figures of the      Evangelists either side of a central canopy. The folding wings have      multiple panels with triangular motifs.
  • Statues.   A series of fine wooden figures of saints standing on stone corbels      between the nave piers, carved by Anton Daprè (an Austrian artist living      in Twickenham) and his sons. (Close inspection was not possible as they      were veiled for Lent at the time of the visit, but one was noticed to be      dated 1930).
  • Font.  Original; octagonal with geometric decoration.
  • Unusually  low, sturdy bench seating.
  • Forward  altar and ambo of limestone, dating from the 2006 works, incorporating      carved panels by Stephen Foster.
  • Original  wrought-iron light fittings in the aisles (in the nave until 2006).
  • Organ. A large instrument brought from a disused church in Egham and rebuilt in      1974.
  • Figure of St Michael. Opposite the main entrance but formerly surmounting the      central part of the reredos.

Diocese: Westminster

Architect: Sir Giles Gilbert Scott

Original Date: 1927

Conservation Area: No

Modifications: 1938-39; 1958-60

Listed Grade: Not listed