Harlow - Church of the Assumption

Mulberry Green, Old Harlow, Essex CM17

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A modest church, originally a multi-purpose hall, built in a vernacular style with neo-Georgian details. The benefactors were Newman Gilbey and his wife. The most significant furnishing is the altar painting of the Nativity, an eighteenth-century copy of a painting by Rubens. 

Until the construction of Harlow New Town following the New Towns Act of 1946, (Old) Harlow was a still small rural village. The hamlet of Mulberry Green, like Old Harlow with medieval origins, remains a distinct entity in Old Harlow. The site of the church, presbytery and hall, contained in a loop of the street, remained empty until the building of the present church.

A Mass centre existed at Mark Hall, the home of the Gilbey family, between 1894 and 1943. This was served first by the Jesuits from Farm Street and from 1917 by the Redemptorists at Bishop’s Stortford. In 1943, the Mass centre moved to the Drill Hall, Potter Street, where it remained until the current church was opened in April 1951.

The site and the church at Mulberry Green were donated by Newman Gilbey and his wife,  Maria  Victorina,  the  parents  of  Mgr  Alfred  Gilbey.  The  site  was  initially intended for a hall, church and presbytery. A hall was built by C. P. Cleverley in 1950-51. When it became clear that a church would never be built due to lack of funds, the hall was converted to a church, with the addition of a west apse.

Several  furnishings  probably  came  from  the  Gilbey  private  chapel  in  Mark  Hall (which burnt down in 1947), including the Stations and the eighteenth-century altar painting (probably originally from the Petre family).

Harlow became a new district separate from Epping in 1952 but the first parish priest was resident at Our Lady of Fatima. Old Harlow only became a separate parish in 1982. The presbytery was probably built around then, although only the ground floor of a projected two-storey building was built, due to lack of funds. The hall also seems to date from the 1970s or 1980s. The church was consecrated on 29 November 1991 by Bishop McMahon.

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

The church is built in red brick laid in stretcher bond, with a tiled hipped roof above a timber cornice. The plan is rectangular with a narrower five-sided apse at the west and a lean-to porch at the north. The sacristy is behind the sanctuary at the east, with a separate entrance. The north and south sides have six metal casement windows with rubbed brick voussoirs. The two short windows on the east elevation are round- headed, on either side of the sacristy door with an arched fanlight above. On the north side of the apse is a Baroque-style stone plaque recording the donors. On the south side is a small statue of Our Lady. All the corners have brick quoins.

The apsidal narthex leads into the six-bay interior. The two easternmost bays are occupied by the sanctuary. The roof is a simple collar-beam construction with metal braces between the collar beam and the feet of the rafters. The small organ is at the northwest, opposite the inserted confessional. The Stations of the Cross (probably from the Mark Hall chapel) are quatrefoil plaster casts.

The sanctuary is raised by one step. At the northeast is a statue of Our Lady beside a timber eagle lectern, given by the family of Bishop McMahon (inscribed ‘In thanksgiving McMahon family 1948-1978’). The stone altar, its four sides carved with representations of wheat, dates from the 1990s and was made by a local sculptor. Behind it hangs a large oil painting of the Nativity, apparently an eighteenth-century copy of a painting by Peter Paul Rubens. (It is closely based on Rubens’s Nativity of c.1628 at the National Gallery.) Above the altar hangs a timber crucifix. The tabernacle, originally  from  Mark Hall,  is  set  into  the  wall  at  the  southeast;  it  is Victorian with an Art Nouveau surround with the hart of psalm 42 and a silver plate door with the Agnus Dei dated 1928.

Diocese: Brentwood

Architect: C.P. Cleverley

Original Date: 1950

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not listed