Willesden - Our Lady of Willesden

Acton Lane, London NW10

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A large hall church in modern Romanesque style by Wilfrid Mangan and built in 1930.  The church houses London’s principal Marian shrine. The building is a powerful presence in the Harlesden Conservation Area.

Mass was said in the district in 1885 at a house in Tubbs Road. In the following year a temporary tin chapel was erected on a site in Manor Park Road.  The shrine of Our Lady of Willesden, a major medieval cult, was revived in the 1890s, when a new statue was blessed by Cardinal Vaughan. In 1907 a replacement church in the Romanesque style was built in Crown Hill.  The parish was erected in 1918. Land for a much larger building was acquired in 1926 and the architect Wilfrid Mangan was commissioned to prepare plans for a new church incorporating the shrine and a new presbytery in 1929.  The main altar was installed as a memorial to Fr Mulcahy, the builder of the church, who died in 1944; the pulpit was installed at the same time. 

The church is of significance to Opus Dei, whose founder, Saint JosemaríaEscrivá, performed the consecration of the Catholic institution to the Virgin Mary here on the Feast of the Assumption, 15 August 1958.

The shrine chapel was refurbished in 1995 by B. D. Kaye; the principal new feature was a large mural by Carmel Cauchi. A new flat-roofed hall was built on the north side of the sanctuary in 1965 (architect Kenneth Courtney-Dyer FRIBA).  In 2003 the concrete floor slab of the main church had to be reconstructed with new piled foundations (Arthur J. Ferryman, consulting engineers); an oak parquet floor was laid over the new slab in 2005. A new parish hall replaced the old hall in 2010 (architect Mike Trogal).

The list entry, below, is very brief.  A tall and impressive building, conventionally orientated. The plan comprises a wide aisleless nave and apsidal sanctuary under a continuous pitched roof with lower eastern chapels under separate pitched roofs (the larger northeast chapel being the shrine chapel of Our Lady of Willesden) and a southeast campanile. The walls are all of brick; the roof is covered in concrete pantiles apart from the eastern apse which is covered in plain tiles. The west end rises sheer to the gable with a deep full-height arched recess sheltering the main door and stepped triple window above. There is a polygonal baptistery on the north side and a porch on the south side.  The nave is seven bays long with full-height tapering brick buttresses and pairs of long thin windows in the clerestory with small single lights below. East of the small pantiled southeast chapel is a thin campanile with a single tall light on the south face of the bell stage. The sanctuary is slightly taller than the nave, with two pairs of tall windows each side and five pairs round the apse.

The interior has a deep west organ gallery, now glazed beneath to form a vestibule (2006, architect Michael Trogal), low broad arches along the side walls with openings to the confessionals, side chapel and shrine and paired clerestory window openings cut through the plain plastered walls. The nave roof has substantial slightly pointed concrete arches with ribs brought down onto corbels between the windows.  The sanctuary arch is segmental and the ribs of the sanctuary roof are brought down to the floor as wall piers. All the windows are clear-glazed.  The marble-lined sanctuary appears to retain its early fittings with marble communion rails, baldacchino, and there is a high altar and marble pulpit dating from the 1940s. The openings to the northeast shrine chapel are now glazed.  The shrine chapel has a painted timber screen of c1995 by Carmel Cauchi (the original apse and altar remain behind) and four stained glass windows by Ormsby of Scarisbrick.

Diocese: Westminster

Architect: W. C. Mangan

Original Date: 1930

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II