Painswick - Our Lady and St Therese

Friday Street, Painswick, Stroud, Gloucestershire GL6

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A building of Tudor origin, later used as a slaughterhouse and from the 1930s as a church. It was remodelled in classical style in the 1950s, providing a pleasing interior redolent of a late Georgian Catholic chapel. The church retains a number of furnishings acquired by Alice Howard, who drove the campaign to build a tasteful place of Catholic worship in Painswick. The stone frontage and elegant cupola make a notable contribution at the heart of the Painswick Conservation Area. 

In 1921 the attic of a Painswick cottage was turned into an oratory by Alice Howard, a kinswoman of the Howards of Norfolk. Mass was occasionally said there. Then in 1931 Miss Howard acquired a dilapidated building in Friday Street which had started life as four Tudor cottages, latterly becoming a slaughterhouse. Behind it were a slaughter yard and two derelict cottages. Commander Henry Mowbray Howard and Jobie Swan gutted the building and cleared the dirt and rubble themselves; no architect was involved. The church was blessed by Bishop Lee on the Feast of the Assumption, 15 August 1934. An early painted depiction of the simple, tastefully furnished interior hangs in the present church, showing bare stone walls, stone flag floors, rush seating, leaded windows and an open timber roof. Painswick Catholic tells us that:

Alice had always wanted to show that a Catholic church could be very simple, sincere, and in-keeping with the Cotswold traditions of stone, wood and wrought iron. For Alice simplicity and good craftsmanship were the key words.

Alice Howard transferred the church to the Diocese of Clifton in 1937.

A stray bomb caused much damage to the building on the night of 3/14 June 1941, with the right hand side of the frontage blown out (figure 2). Mass resumed in February 1942 but full restoration work only took place in 1954-6, enabled largely by a donation of £4,000 from Alice Howard’s sister, Jessie (Alice had died in July 1942). The War Damage Commission also contributed £1,000. The building was remodelled in classical style by Eric Hill of Ellery Anderson Roiser & Falconer, with a new entrance with raised cupola in place of the bomb-damaged portion. The present sanctuary apse was created out of the passage to the slaughter yard. The narthex was made out of the old stables and the gallery above from the hay loft. The belfry was created and a new doorway opened in the south wall. Bitumen replaced the old flagstone floor. However, the classical design was not without controversy; the parish council believed it to be out of keeping with the character of Painswick, and Bishop Rudderham was also antipathetic. However, he spoke words of reconciliation when he came to reopen the church on 19 February 1956.

The church is built of local stone but with brick to the southwest part. The roof is hipped and covered in slates. On the north elevation towards the street are two three-light mullioned windows with plate glass and on the south two tiers of mullioned windows (three-light to the west and two light to the east), with leaded panes and hoodmoulds over the upper level openings. Over the entrance is an oculus window, above which is a swept parapet with half columns framing a niche and above this an attractive octagonal cupola for the belfry, surmounted by a gilt orb and cross.

The interior has whitewashed walls and is simply furnished, with a rustic stone altar, and wooden chairs for the congregation. An arched recess behind the sanctuary originally housed the high altar, and now has the tabernacle placed on a columnar plinth off-centre. The gallery is supported on Roman Doric columns brought from Stancombe Park. The pinewood statue of Our Lady was carved for Alice Howard by a monk from Nuremburg, copying one made in about 1515. The statue of St Therese came from Lisieux and the limewood statue of St Tibba was made at Prinknash in the 1940s. The statue of St Januarius came from Rome and the Ecce Homo plaque was carved by a Hungarian in a Czech concentration camp. The Madonna and Child in the garden was carved by Dom Basil Robinson OSB, the son of William Heath Robinson, the cartoonist and illustrator. Set above the gallery is a seventeenth- or eighteenth-century chestnut cartouche with angel heads and Maria monogram, acquired by Sir Henry Howard in The Hague. 

Last updated: 20.11.17.

Diocese: Clifton

Architect: Ellery Anderson Roiser & Falconer (1954-6)

Original Date: 1934

Conservation Area: No

Modifications: Tudor fabric, converted 1934, much rebuilt 1954-6.

Listed Grade: Grade II