Borehamwood - St Teresa of the Child Jesus

Shenley Road, Borehamwood, Herts WD6

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A design of the early 1960s by the F. X. Velarde Partnership, displaying characteristics typical of that practice, and evoking traditional forms in an unmistakably modern way. This is a late design, built after Velarde’s death. The church retains some good furnishings, but others (notably the Annunciation pieces on the west front) have been lost. The design of the west front is a powerful element in the townscape, close to the civic centre of Borehamwood.

From 1925, Mass was celebrated in a private chapel at The Grange in Elstree, a house owned by a Mr R. A. Caramen. The chapel was dedicated to St Teresa, who had been canonised that year. In 1932 a small church and presbytery were built at a site acquired in Shenley Road, from designs by T. H. B. Scott. The church (figure 1) was always intended to become the parish hall once a permanent and adequate church was built. In 1936 land to the rear was acquired, the site of the present St Teresa’s Primary School (opened 1957). In 1939, a second parish hall was built, on the site of the present church.

The present church was built in 1961-62 by Fr J. Murray, parish priest for twenty four years. The architects were the F. X. Velarde Partnership of Liverpool. The preliminary drawings (copies in the Diocesan Property Services archive) are dated 13 July 1959 and show a different arrangement from that built, with the top-lit Lady Chapel and baptistery flanking the towers at the (ritual) west end.  Another drawing of 1959 (figure 2) shows a design for the sanctuary, with angels on the altar frontal and a crucifixion triptych behind, similar to that designed by Herbert Tyson Smith for Velarde at Upholland.  A drawing of February 1960 (figure 3) shows the Lady Chapel moved to the ritual east end, parallel with the sanctuary. However a pencil annotation shows it realigned at right angles to the sanctuary, the form in which it was eventually built.

Work started on the church in September 1961, the foundation stone was laid by Cardinal Godfrey on 24 March 1962 and the building was completed by December 1962. The supervising architect was Janet Gnosspelius ARIBA (1926-2010), an associate of the F. X. Velarde Partnership. The contractors were E. S. Moss Ltd of Hendon and the contract sum was for £50,014.10s.3d. The interior as built is shown at figure 4 and the exterior at figure 5.

Originally the west front contained a large sculptural representation of the Annunciation, the evolution of which design can be seen in the drawings held in the Diocesan Property Services archive. At some stage these sculptures (possibly by David John, cf Pinner) were replaced by a more conventional crucifix.

The church was consecrated by Cardinal Hume on 27 September 1978.

The church is reverse orientated, but this description follows conventional liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar was at the east end.

The church is built to a longitudinal plan, consisting of a narthex (with baptistery giving off the south side), nave with circulation aisles, and wide sanctuary with Lady Chapel to the south (with choir gallery over) and confessionals, sacristies etc to the north. It is a large building, faced with pinkish yellow brick laid in a version of English garden wall bond, consisting of five courses of stretchers for each course of headers. The nave and apsidal sanctuary have a tile roof while the lower portions have flat roofs behind parapets. The design is composed of elemental geometrical forms, with large areas of solid relative to void, and the main entrance front has a twin-towered Westwerk: all leitmotifs of the churches of the Velarde practice. The top stages of the west towers are faced with rusticated panels of stone (or reconstituted stone) and have steep copper-clad triangular caps.  Solid double entrance doors with diaper panels are set within a square opening, within a projecting rectangular porch, above which a large square panel of bare brickwork was originally the setting for a sculpture of the Annunciation (now a crucifix). The main front is windowless, the towers being lit from the sides. At the sides, there is no clerestory but the aisles are almost continuously lit, with three rows of five windows in each bay, the central rows arched and forming a cross. At the east end (south side) the apsidal Lady Chapel projection has a row of windows on the east side only, and is otherwise lit by a polygonal lantern with copper-clad conical hat.  The apsidal east wall of the sanctuary is of unadorned and unarticulated brickwork, while on the north side, a large window is placed over the sacristies, confessionals etc, again evoking a cross in the design.

Inside, the walls are of bare brick, painted white in the nave and sanctuary and yellow ochre in the narthex and aisles. The high-roofed narthex extends across the width of the west end, with apsidal baptistery giving off the south side. The nave arcade has circular piers covered with gold mosaic, a favourite Velarde motif, supporting shallow segmental arches. The floor is covered with linoleum with coloured geometrical forms in the alleys; the benches are the original ones designed for the church. The nave ceiling is flat and timber with square panels, painted blue and with the panels picked out to form Greek crosses. Over the arcade in the eastern bay of the nave (south side) a perforated screen of somewhat Islamic character denotes the organ chamber. In the aisles, the windows have mottled coloured glass - blue, green and pale orange – and a panelled dado below the windows.

Projecting piers mark the break between nave and sanctuary; the foundation stone is incorporated in that on the north side. The apsidal sanctuary is lit by a large window on the north side, balanced on the south side by the arched opening to the choir gallery (with metal front).  The original high altar remains in situ, with an incised Agnus Dei design on the tapering base, and with gilded statues of Christ flanked by the Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist on the east wall. An original stone credence table with gilded carved wavy decoration is placed on the south curve of the apse. There is also a timber forward altar. The sanctuary is now carpeted, so the survival or otherwise of the original patterned floor (shown in early photographs in the parish history) has not been established. The original altar rails (shown in figure 4) do not survive.   The opening from the Lady Chapel to the sanctuary has been glazed. Within the chapel, original metal gates survive, incorporating large stars, but now also glazed in and incorporating a sliding timber door. The chapel retains its original plain stone altar with curved frontal, and a fine and unusual low-relief gilded carving of the Madonna (artist not identified). However, it has lost the corona that used to hang below the lantern (see photograph in the parish history) and the lantern itself has been blocked up.  At the west end, the lantern over the baptistery remains, lighting the original font, which has a concave tapering base and circular bowl and cover. Statues and other furnishings have been added. A timber font has also been introduced, placed in the north aisle near the confessionals

Diocese: Westminster

Architect: F. X. Velarde Partnership

Original Date: 1961

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed