Halstead - St Francis of Assisi

Colchester Road, Halstead, Essex CO9

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A modest post-war brick church in simplified Romanesque style, built with  support  from Dr  Richard Courtauld. Externally,  the  building  is given some presence by the square brick tower, incorporating a bas- relief carving of St Francis by Philip Lindsey Clark. Internally, the church retains an original arched baldacchino, incorporating good stained glass by Rosemary Rutherford.

There was a Mass Centre at Halstead from 1898 to 1910, served from Braintree. In 1928 the first resident priest was appointed and a small church built with support from Mme Edith Arendrup (née Courtauld). The parish was erected in 1930. The present church was built in 1954-55 at a cost of £11,400, of which £10,240 came from Dr Richard Courtauld. The architect was George R. Fordham, of the Chelmsford firm of O’Neill & Fordham, and the builders were Messrs Philip Pudney & Son of Colne Engaine. The church, seating 200, was opened by Bishop Beck on 12 October 1955. The 1928 church survives as the parish hall.

The church was liturgically reordered in 1971 and 1987, on the latter occasion by Broadbent, Hastings, Reid & New of Twickenham.

The church is orientated north-south, but this description follows conventional liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar faced east.

The church is in the stripped modern Romanesque style. It is cruciform on plan, consisting of aisleless nave, transepts, and short square-ended sanctuary. There is a western tower. A modern WC addition gives off the west side of the south transept. The walls are built of solid brickwork, faced in multi-coloured sand-faced local bricks laid in English garden wall bond (three courses of stretchers alternating with one course  of  headers).  The  timber  roof  is  carried  on  reinforced  concrete  beams, externally clad in zinc.

The main entrance is via a pair of oak panelled doors at the base of the square tower (there are secondary entrances in the transepts). The tower is of three stages and rises to a shallow pyramidal roof, surmounted by a tall, slender metal cross. At the second  stage  of the  tower  is  an  inset  life-size  low-relief  carving  of  St  Francis  in Doulting stone, by Philip Lindsay Clark D.S.O, F.R.B.S. The third (belfry) stage of the tower has a narrow round arched opening with louvres.  The windows are all metal framed; those at the west end of the nave and in the sanctuary and transepts are round arched, while those in the nave have flat tops.

A small lobby in the tower leads into the nave, 50ft long and 27ft wide. The walls are plastered and painted and the bays are marked in the flat ceiling by reinforced concrete beams. The floors are covered in reconstituted stone slabs (not original) except for the area below the pews, which are paved with mahogany woodblocks. The pews are by Davies of Chelmsford. The transepts and short sanctuary are approximately 40ft wide and 22ft 6ins deep. The sacristy is located in the south transept, with the space over (the former choir gallery) glazed in to form an upper chapel.

The church retains its original 1955 arched baldacchino, although the altar has been brought forward (this, along with the stone ambo and tabernacle plinth is of stone, carved by Albion Stonemasons of Merton, London SW19, and belongs to the 1987 reordering). Set into the wall behind the arch of the baldacchino is a lunette window with stained glass, The Good Shepherd, by Rosemary Rutherford, of c1955. On the north wall of the sanctuary is the foundation stone, recording the munificence of Dr Richard Courtauld, incised with Roman lettering by Michael Clark A.R.B.S. The Blessed Sacrament is reserved to one side in the north transept, its arched canopy echoing that of the baldacchino.

In the south chapel, the Lady altar is the original altar from the 1928 church. Other stained glass includes:

•    In the sanctuary,   four lights depicting the Annunciation, Trinity and two depictions of the Eucharist, by Goddard & Gibbs, 1995;

•    In the upper (Holy Family) chapel, a window in memory of Fr James Dwan, by J. N. Lawson of Goddard & Gibbs, 1970;

•    In the nave, Our Lady of Czestochowa, by Goddard & Gibbs, 1979 and two lights by E. A. H. Archer, 1993-96.

Diocese: Brentwood

Architect: O’Neill & Fordham of Chelmsford

Original Date: 1954

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed