Berkhamsted - Sacred Heart

Park Street, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire HP4

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An elegant design of 1966-67, built ‘on restrained modern lines with a simple and economic plan-form to serve the new liturgy’. The church occupies a large site, outside the historic core of Berkhamsted.

A mission was established in Berkhamsted in 1909, when a church was built by Fr Henry Harding (who also built churches at Boxmoor, Tring and Rickmansworth, qv). With the post-war growth of the area, the Edwardian church proved increasingly inadequate, and it was decided to build a new church, presbytery and parish hall on a new five acre site, closer to the town centre. The new church was designed by Campling & Iliffe of Sunningdale, Berkshire, their only church in the diocese (the parish priest, the Rev. William Campling MBE, was the brother of the architect, according to Chris Fanning). The church was designed ‘on restrained modern lines with a simple and economic plan-form to serve the new liturgy’ (CBR, 1965, 58, figure 1). It was designed to accommodate 300, with room for fifty more in the gallery. An intended tower was abandoned at the insistence of Cardinal Heenan, who reversed the policy of Cardinal Godfrey of encouraging church towers. Work started in March 1966 and the church was opened by Cardinal Heenan on 4 June 1967 (plaque in entrance porch). The main contractors were Donald Lockhart Ltd of Berkhamsted.  The contract cost, including landscaping but excluding professional fees, pews and furnishings, was £66,016. The church was consecrated by Cardinal Hume on 15 September 19890 (plaque in entrance porch).

The church is T-shaped on plan, with three areas of seating arranged in a nave and two transepts around the sanctuary.  A Lady Chapel gives off the north transept and a (former) baptistery is located under the gallery at the west end of the nave. Sacristies, parish hall and presbytery lie to the east. The church is of cavity wall construction with buff facing bricks and stone window and door surrounds. The sanctuary is raised, with a clerestory and shallow pyramidal slate roof topped with a fibreglass spirelet. The nave roof is lower, also with a shallow-pitched slate roof, while the transepts have flat roofs hidden by raised parapets. The entrance is marked by a cantilevered concrete canopy with three shallow arches. A statue of the Sacred Heart stands on the central arch, probably brought here from the old church. Below this, the wall surrounding the entrance doors is faced in rubble stonework. As well as steps, the entrance has a ramp and handrail as features of the original design. Three pairs of glazed entrance doors have a moulded stone surround; above this, over the canopy, the west window is of similar width, and has a canted lintel. At the sides of the nave, the main windows are angled inwards to receive light from the west, in the manner of Coventry Cathedral. There is also a large square baptistery window at the west end on the north side. In the transepts, the wall itself is canted, and the windows set within the cant, in order to help direct light towards the altar.  On the south transept there is an additional small doorway, with a whimsically heavy stone canopy, more Gothic than modern in character.

The glazed outer and inner doors give an unobstructed view from the outside of the church interior and sanctuary.  The internal space is large, light and airy, the walls plastered and painted. At the west end is a gallery, with gently curved concave frontal. Mounted on the wall here (south side) is a ceramic plaque depicting the Madonna and Child, in the style of Della Robbia, a memorial to Fr Henry Harding (1840-1918), who founded the mission and built the first church. On the north side is the former baptistery, with coloured glass in the window and iron gates (by Geoffrey Harper of Harpenden, as were the wrought iron and etched copper Stations), now used as a children’s area. The curved ceilings of the main space were specially designed for their acoustic qualities, with suspended coloured aluminium strips. A full-width nave arch and openings from the transepts give onto the sanctuary area. Here an arched recess in the east wall frames a life-size crucifix, carved in Italy and originally on a dark blue background (now cream, like the rest of the interior). Around the crucifix are two radiating bands of narrow slit windows, with red and yellow coloured glass.   There is further coloured glass in the sanctuary, nave and sanctuary, mainly yellow on a clear ground, and deeper blues in the clerestory lights of the Lady Chapel. The church was designed for the new liturgy, and has been little altered, apart from the removal of the communion rails and the introduction of a new stone altar, somewhat forward from the original one.

Diocese: Westminster

Architect: Campling & Iliffe

Original Date: 1966

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed