Whyteleafe - St Thomas of Canterbury

Station Road, Whyteleafe, Surrey

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In the decade between 1955 and 1965 a large number of churches were built, many of which were extraordinarily innovative in their design.  St Thomas of Canterbury, Whyteleafe, with its dramatic openwork spire and light interior, is a good example of church design of this particularly fertile period though not, perhaps, one of the very highest quality.  What is exceptional in this case, however, is the wall of stained glass designed by Pierre Fourmaintreaux in the narthex.   

The church of St Thomas of Canterbury stands on a steep slope close to Upper Warlingham Station.  It was built in 1961 and designed, in a modern gothic style, by J F G Hastings, a younger partner of F G Broadbent.  Taking advantage of the slope, the architect inserted a hall and other accommodation in a crypt below the church, thus giving the building greater height.  Though the church is hard to see from the street near by, its dramatic openwork aluminium spire is a landmark seen from many other vantage points.  Also striking are the glazed gables of the north, south and west elevations.  Visual interest is given to these huge steel-framed windows by their division into vertical strips by the use of large rectangular panes alternating with triangular and diamond-shaped ones.  Entrance to the church is gained via a flight of steps that wraps round the west end and leads to a doorway in the south elevation.

The congregation had said it wanted a church in which it was possible to gather around three sides of the altar and, in response to this, the architect designed the worship area in the shape of a T.  The altar stands under a groined plaster vault at the point where the three arms of the building meet, and is flooded with light by the two great windows to north and south.  But it is not just the windows that make the interior seem so light, the use of a simplified gothic idiom, of uncluttered lines and pointed shapes, adds to the general impression of airy weightlessness.  There is a small baptistery on the north side of the nave and, beneath the gallery at the west end, is a long room, or narthex, the outer wall of which is entirely composed of stained glass designed by Pierre Fourmaintreaux of the Whitefriars Glass Studio.

Diocese: Arundel and Brighton

Architect: J F G Hastings of Messrs F G Broadbent and partners

Original Date: 1961

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed