Stratford - St Francis of Assisi

Grove Crescent Road, Stratford, London E15

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Stratford is one of the older Catholic missions in the diocese, having been established by 1770. The present church was built as a combined school and chapel in the 1860s, in a stripped Classical style reminiscent in some respects of Nonconformist chapels of the period, though with Italianate detailing. The sanctuary addition of 1931 has a marble altar and reredos incorporating a sixteenth-century painting of St Francis by Bartolommeo Carducci. 

The Stratford mission dates as far back as 1770, with baptismal registers dating from 1778. In 1813, the  Abbé J. F. Chevrollais, an émigré French priest, built a chapel dedicated to St Patrick and St Vincent de Paul in the High Street, along with a school for 300 children. This was soon inadequate for the growing congregation and in 1861 Fr James McQuoin secured land in The Grove at Stratford from Charles Walker Esq. A new church was built in 1868 (being opened by Archbishop Manning on 12 May that year), with accommodation for a school on the ground floor with the church above. The builders were Messrs Bird of Stratford and the church cost £6,000. The architect has not been established; the design is attributed by The Buildings of England to E. W. Pugin, but this is thought to be an error; Gerard Hyland’s gazetteer of the works of the architect notes that ‘the church of St Vincent de Paul [there] has been attributed to E. W. Pugin; its style, however, is not Gothic, and the archives of the OFM who took over in 1873 explicitly state that the attribution to E. W. Pugin is erroneous, and probably arose from the two references to Stratford in E.W. Pugin’s Obituary in The Building News; one of these most certainly refers to his church in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, whilst the other is most likely a misprint for Stretford in Manchester to which the obituary makes no reference’. 1

When the Franciscans arrived in 1873 they changed the dedication to St Francis of Assisi. The friary was established in a pair of late Georgian houses to the rear of the church (facing The Grove), which were extended in Gothic style in 1876 at a cost of £600, apparently from designs by Brother Patrick Dalton OFM.

A new sanctuary was added to the church in 1931, with an altar and reredos from designs by W. C. Mangan, made by F. E. White and Co. The builders were Messrs R. J. Truscott of Stratford. The building of this addition may have been prompted by a desire to provide a worthy setting for a sixteenth-century painting of St Francis in the caves   of   Laverna   (where   he   is   believed   to   have   received   the   stigmata),   by Bartolommeo Carducci (1560-1610). The painting was made for a Franciscan church in Spain, but was looted by Napoleon at the end of the Peninsular War. It was later auctioned in Paris, and acquired by a Col. Bigge, who left it to the Stewarts of Appin, Argyllshire. In 1926 they offered it on permanent loan to the Franciscans, and the painting forms the centrepiece of Mangan’s reredos.

In c1978 the sacristy was adapted to serve as a weekday chapel, under the direction of Gerald Goalen & Partner. The altar was made moveable to allow the room to be used for meetings; a bronze and resin crucifix by David John was suspended over its normal position. Other furnishings in the chapel, including stained glass clerestory windows, were designed by the architects.

The interior of the main body of the church was renovated and reordered in 1996-97 (architects Tooley & Foster Partnership of Buckhurst Hill, builders Noble & Taylor of Ongar).

The church was designed originally as a simple brick box in the classical style, with accommodation for a school (now the parish hall) on the ground floor and the church above. The walls are faced with yellow stock brick, with stucco ornament and some red brick banding and red brick heads to the church windows.  The roof is covered in slate. The west front has a pediment across the full width with two tiers of paired pilasters with entablature and cornice and an elaborate central stuccoed frontispiece with a decorated and pedimented surround to the central main door, which is approached  from  a  flight  of  steps.  The  frontispiece  supports  a  small  octagonal bellcote topped with a spirelet. The side walls are of five bays divided by pilaster buttresses, paired at each end. The lower part of each bay has a blind sunk panel, some now covered by later accretions, while the upper part has round-headed windows. The west bay has a single window, the others have pairs. The later tall square-ended sanctuary has a single broad round-headed window on each side.  The east wall is blind.

The interior is a single space: tall, plain and light. The floor has been newly covered with  marmoleum  (laid  in  1997),  the  walls  have  a  panelled  oak  dado  and  plain plastered walls above with pilaster strips, a raised band under the clerestory windows and a trabeated ceiling. The confessionals and other openings in the side walls have woodwork with round-arched decoration which may date from the 1930s refurbishment. The west bay of the nave is occupied by a substantial timber organ gallery supported on two columns; the area beneath has been glazed in to form a vestibule.  The fine organ is by Bishop & Son of Marylebone Road and is original to the church. On the south side of the nave two round-arched recesses of different heights open into side chapels. The Holy Family group in the Sacred Heart chapel dates from 1868. A tall and shallow segmental chancel arch makes a slightly clumsy junction between the nave and the sanctuary added in 1931. The sanctuary has large windows in each side and a tall round-arched marble reredos on the east wall incorporating a sixteenth-century oil painting of St Francis by Bartolommeo Carducci.

The windows are mainly clear glazed with some twentieth-century stained glass roundels. The nave benches are probably of nineteenth-century date. The carved and painted Stations of the Cross date from 1932.

Diocese: Brentwood

Architect: Not established; W. C. Mangan

Original Date: 1868

Conservation Area: Yes

Modifications: 1931

Listed Grade: Not listed