Leyton - St Joseph

Grange Park Road, Leyton, London E10

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A brick-built basilican church built as a First World War memorial in 1924.  The  interior  was  starkly  reordered  in  1978,  but  some  original furnishings survive, including part of the former high altar. The east end has several copies of Italian Renaissance masterpieces, including a modern copy of Michelangelo’s Creation. 

St Patrick’s RC Cemetery in Langthorne Road was opened in 1861 but a mission in Leyton was only founded in 1897 by Fr Francis C.G. Brown. Mass was initially said at St  Pelagia’s Home  at Etloe House, where Cardinal  Wiseman lived  in 1858-64. A school was built by Sinnott & Powell in Vicarage Road in 1900-01 (still in use), whose upper floor was used as a temporary church. A temporary iron church opened in 1904 in Primrose Road, which was later used as a hall until it burnt down in 1990. Apparently, Edward Goldie prepared unexecuted plans for a permanent church in 1904. Leyton was erected as a parish in 1918.

The foundation stone for the present church was laid by Bishop Doubleday on 10 May 1924 and it opened on 23 October the same year. The architect was Ernest Bower Norris of Sandy & Norris, Stafford. The cost was £8,000 and subscriptions were raised as the church was intended as a First World War memorial. The church was consecrated on 23 October 1930 by Bishop Doubleday.

In the 1970s the social hall at the corner of Primrose Road and Vicarage Avenue was built by Lanner Ltd. In 1978 the church was reordered by A. John Newton of Burles Newton & Partners. All painted wall decoration was removed, as were the marble furnishings and the sanctuary floor. In a further reordering of 1983 the remains of the former marble high altar were placed against the east wall. In 1995, a canvas copy of Raphael’s Transfiguration by Leo Stevenson was hung in the sanctuary. This was followed by a fresco of Michelangelo’s Creation by Stevenson and Fleur Kelly, painted in 2003 as part of the BBC programme ‘The Divine Michelangelo’. In 1997 the Claretian Missionaries took over the care of the parish. The interior has been redecorated and restored, and the old presbytery replaced by a new presbytery and pastoral centre.

The church is facing southwest. This description uses the conventional, liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar was at the east end.

The church is a steel-framed structure faced with brown brick with stone dressings and some tile details. The plan is T-shaped with the sacristy at the southeast and a broad west tower. The style is basilican or ‘eclectically classical’ (Buildings of England).

The tower’s plinth and door surround are of stone. The west window has five lights of equal height below a tiled arch, with the top portion between the continuous mullions filled with herringbone brickwork. On either side of the window are giant pilasters with decorative brickwork with tiles above the window’s impost level. The keystone of the window’s arch is part of the corbel for a niche with a statue of St Joseph. The tower’s tapering appearance - suggesting similarities with Lutyens’s Cenotaph (1919-20) - is created by the curving screen walls of the side aisles and the narrower parapet zone above the entablature. There are doors at the west and southwest.

The entrance lobby in the base of the tower is open to the nave via three arches whose pillars have niches with holy water stoups. The upper part of the tower is part of the gallery with a large arch towards the nave. The west window has stained glass depicting a cross formed by ecclesiastical symbols including the symbols of the Evangelists in the horizontal bar. The nave is six bays long, with an additional, narrower bay at the west which is occupied by the cantilevered gallery. It is roofed by a barrel vault with arcades of plain, round arches. Each bay has a small round-arched window in the aisles, with a large clerestory window cut into the vault. The aisle windows have patterned glazing with a single painted grisaille panel of ecclesiastical symbols such as the Instruments of the Passion. The clerestory windows also feature ecclesiastical symbols and the cross. On the arcade pillars hang the carved Stations, framed in white and grey marble. Above them are plaster relief roundels of angels.

The northeast chapel, lit by a circular skylight, has large statues of St Theresa, the Sacred Heart and St Joseph. To the left of the sanctuary arch is the foundation stone, with the hexagonal timber font in front. The easternmost bay of the nave vault has a fresco  copy  of  Michelangelo’s  Creation  (2003,  Leo  Stevenson  and  Fleur  Kelly). Directly behind the sanctuary arch hangs a painted crucifix, a copy of Cimabue’s crucifix at S. Domenico in Arezzo. The sanctuary is three windows deep and has two arches on each side to the side chapels. The remaining parts of the original reredos comprise two marble arches on each side of the tabernacle, framing mosaics of six censing angels. The tabernacle and its green marble stand appear to date from the 1970s or 1980s, as does the altar of green slate, which has some white marble from the original high altar. Above the string course on the east wall hangs a copy of Raphael’s Transfiguration (on canvas, 1994-95, Leo Stevenson).

The southeast chapel has statues of St Anthony, Our Lady of Lourdes and St Patrick, as well as a marble plaque recording the dedication of an altar to Our Lady and the parishioners who fell during the First World War. (This may have referred to the high altar or the former Lady altar; there is no altar in either of the side chapels today.

Diocese: Brentwood

Architect: E. Bower Norris of Sandy & Norris

Original Date: 1924

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed