Upton Park - Our Lady of Compassion

Green Street, Upton Park, London E13

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An early-twentieth-century church by Robert Leabon Curtis in the Italian Romanesque style, with external and internal walls of banded brickwork. The building has an unusual plan with a western apse fronting the road. The interior retains much of its original character. The close proximity to the stadium of West Ham United Football Club emphasises the historical link between the church and the club.

The origins of the parish can be traced to the purchase of the Boleyn Castle Estate in 1869 by Cardinal Manning to provide a reformatory for Catholic boys. St Edward’s Reformatory duly opened in Green Street in 1870. A mission was founded in 1901, when a corrugated iron chapel for public use was built in the grounds of the reformatory. The reformatory closed in 1907.  The buildings were subsequently let for use as a maternity home while the rest of the site was occupied by West Ham United Football Club and the Boleyn Castle Sports Club. Mass was said for a time in St Edward’s School in Castle Street but soon after the appointment of Fr Frederick Gahagan in 1909 a new church was erected.  The architect was Robert Leabon Curtis, a local man who designed several other churches in the Westminster Diocese and several local  board schools. The  builders were Messrs Carter of  Forest  Gate  and Grays. £3,000 was provided towards the building costs by an anonymous female donor. The Italian Romanesque style was chosen, apparently at the request of Archbishop Bourne, and the church was opened on 15 June 1911. The presbytery next to the church was built in 1927 to the designs of T. H. B. Scott, who continued Curtis’s practice after his death.   The church suffered considerable damage in the Second World  War,  when  most  of  the  windows  were  blown  out.  The  sanctuary  was  re- ordered in 1991-93 under the supervision of Stephen Scully, when the elaborate high altar and reredos were removed, together with the marble communion rails.

The church of Our Lady is in the Italian Romanesque style.  The exterior is faced with purple Luton brick with red brick dressings.  The roof coverings are tiles.  On plan the church comprises a tall nave and sanctuary under a single pitched roof with a western apse, a southwest tower, broad aisles under lean-to roofs and a flat east end. The apsidal west end has a broad round-headed central doorway flanked by two smaller round-headed  windows;  above  are  three  triple  windows  with  one  large  and  two smaller lights under a single arch. The southwest tower has a second round-headed doorway. Above it on the west and south faces of the tower are small staggered windows lighting the internal stair.  The bell-stage has a broad triple window on each face with machicolations above and a pyramidal roof. The nave is eight bays long, with pairs of round-headed windows in each clerestory bay.  Below the clerestory are the wide spreading roofs of the aisles, whose external walls have varied windows and wall planes. The flat east end wall of the nave is blind apart from a small round window  in  the  gable,  with  a  cross  worked  in  brickwork  beneath.  The  church  is enclosed on the south and west sides by iron railings.

The interior walls are faced with Suffolk white bricks banded in red. The floors are parquet, with black and white marble in the vestibule. The nave has a timber gallery in the western apse, now glazed beneath to form a vestibule, and the six-bay nave arcades are of round brick arches on square brick piers. The sanctuary occupies the two eastern bays and the arcades are continued, but their lower parts are walled-in, with windows in the head of the arch. The sanctuary is flanked by side chapels. The open timber nave roof has ornamental chamfered tie-beams and queen-struts. The aisles have open timber lean-to roofs. The windows in the church are now all clear- glazed (the original windows were destroyed in the Second World War). The fittings include the Crucifixion on the east wall, carved in clay by Stephen Scully (1991), the original  Italianate  side  altars  and  altar  rails  in  the  Lady  and  Blessed  Sacrament chapels and the original benches.

Diocese: Brentwood

Architect: Robert Leabon Curtis

Original Date: 1911

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed