Epping - The Immaculate Conception

Church Hill, Epping, Essex CM16

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A plain post-war neo-Georgian church which makes a positive contribution to the Epping conservation area. The presbytery is a listed building dating from the eighteenth century or earlier.

The present parish was preceded by several Mass centres since the mid-nineteenth century: from c.1857-58 this was served by St George’s, Walthamstow; 1863-64 by the mission in Barnet; 1865-67 by the Servites based in Chelsea; 1867-68 by Barnet; and 1888-93 by Ongar. Between 1914 and 1921 the mission was in the care of the Reformed Cistercians based at Coopersale House, apart from a wartime interval in 1916-19 when the Assumptionists took over.

From 1928 the mission was served from Loughton and Mass was said at various locations. In 1932 the mission was offered to the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception. Jack Burgess, the father of one of the first mission priests, Fr Francis Burgess, bought Cedar House for use as a presbytery, as well as five acres of land for a planned monastery, church and grammar school. A temporary church was opened in December 1932, using an old army hut. Epping became a parish in 1934. In 1948 Frank Geary, a local architect, drew up plans for a monastery, a monastic church and a grammar school. These remained unexecuted, as the new Bishop questioned the feasibility of a monastery, and in 1957 the Canons moved to Harlow, handing the parish over to diocesan clergy.

In 1954 the temporary church was demolished and a new one built behind it. The architect was Frank Geary and the builder Ray Willingale. The foundation stone was laid on 25 June 1954 and the church opened on 7 December the same year. The cost was £10,000, towards which Fr Burgess gave £2,000. In October 1959, the diocese bought the presbytery and sufficient land for a hall and a school. (The land for the school was sold after 1970.) The remainder of the original five acres was bought by a builder called Cowlin who in 1964 built the first parish hall. (In 1962, plans for a planned prefabricated hall by the architect R.A. Boxall had been published in The Catholic Building Review.)

A survey of Cedar House in 1966 showed severe structural problems, beetle damage, damage from a nearby cedar tree, rising damp and wet rot. The Bishop suggested building a new presbytery - plans which were strongly resisted by the parish priest and the parishioners. Nevertheless, R.A. Boxall was commissioned to draw up unexecuted plans for a new presbytery as the old one was ‘beyond the stage of economic repair and renewal’. (Cedar House had been listed since 1949.) Instead, the house was repaired in 1967-68, when the cellar was filled with concrete and strengthened with iron and brickwork to provide new foundations.

In 1970 the church was reordered, with a new stone altar replacing the previous timber one and the north door to the sacristy was turned into a niche for the tabernacle. In 1988, the present hall was built. In 1993, the church was consecrated.

 

In 2003 stained glass panels were installed in all windows, which were designed by Elizabeth Kennedy (née Asher) and Andy Smith and executed by an East London glass firm. Within the last ten years, the sanctuary has been reordered, providing stone furnishings to match the altar of 1970, and new timber benches.

The church is actually facing northeast. This description uses the conventional, liturgical orientation.

The church is built in red brick laid in stretcher bond with a pantile pitched roof. The plan is rectangular with a flat-roofed west porch and the flat-roofed sacristy at the east. The south elevation has five arched windows separated by brick strip pilasters. Below the central south window is the foundation stone. The outer two bays feature large  iron lanterns straddling  the  downpipes. The  south  face  of  the porch  has  a fanlight, the remnant of a bricked-in former entrance door. The sacristy also has an arched window to the south, beside a door to the house. The west front has less architectural  interest,  featuring  two  small  circular  windows  in  the  gable  and  a straight-headed doorframe in brick. There are two iron gable crosses.

The porch contains a statue of Our Lady at the south and the former baptistery (now confessional) with stained glass of Our Lady and the Child at the northwest. The nave is five bays long, with a segmental barrel vault and no division between nave and chancel. Below the springing of the vault is a tasselled plaster frieze, dating from the original decoration of the church. At the west is the timber-panelled gallery with a small pipe organ below which stands a statue of the Madonna and Child.

The ten nave windows have small stained glass panels set within windows of antique glass.  The  panels  depict  the  Eucharist  and  the  Liturgy  of  the  Word  (Elizabeth Kennedy  (née  Asher)  and  Andy  Smith,  2003).  The  Stations  are  standard  timber reliefs. The sanctuary has matching Portland stone furnishings: the altar from 1970 and  the  lectern,  circular  font  and  circular  tabernacle  stand  in  the  niche  at  the northeast of the 2000s. Behind the altar hangs a large crucifix (installed late 1980s).

Diocese: Brentwood

Architect: Frank Geary

Original Date: 1954

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not listed