Bedford - Christ the King

London Road, Bedford, Bedfordshire

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An attractive if (for its time) somewhat unadventurous design in a simplified Romanesque style, originally intended to have a crossing tower and transepts. The qualities of the interior impress more than those of the exterior. The church is one of a large number built in the Diocese in the post-war years by Sebastian Comper.

The Kingsbrook area of Bedford, south of the Ouse, was mainly developed in the 2oth century. By 1950 there was a Mass centre at Faldo Road, Bedford, served from St Joseph's.  There was also a chapel at Cardington, served by the RAF chaplain, who in his later years lived in Harrowden Lane, Cardington.  The parish hall was opened in 1953, and was originally part of a larger complex used as a school.  The foundation stone of the present church, built from designs by Sebastian Comper, was laid by Bishop  Parker,  and  the  church  was  opened  in  June  1960.  The  original  design included a square tower and transepts east of the nave (illustrated in the CBR, 1959, p.164) and in 1960 the architect wrote in the CBR ‘the apsidal wall behind the high altar is only temporary’. The contract sum for the nave and ‘temporary’ apse (which remains to this day) was £24,000. The church was designed to seat 380, and had a warmed floor.

A medium-sized brick church in simplified Romanesque style, by J.S. Comper, 1959-

60. The grey-brown bricks, doubtlessly locally sourced from the London Brick Company, are laid in Flemish bond. Stone or reconstituted stone dressings, pantile roof. The church consists of a nave without tower or aisles, sanctuary and attached

lower sacristy. The main west front (photo top left) has a central recessed porch with triple arch, with a large circular wheel window over; in these respects the design echoes that for Comper’s earlier church of St Gregory, Northampton (1954). The entrance is flanked by stepped buttresses, which are repeated at the corners.  A small bell is hung in the gable towards its apex, and the gable is surmounted by a cross. On the flank elevations, the five bays of the nave are separated by stepped buttresses, and there are paired round-arched window openings in each bay. The steep pantiled roof has a flat section at the top. At the east end, the apse (intended as temporary) has one round arched window on each side and a solid brick canted end. Its roof appears to be covered with felt, and is largely concealed by a plain high parapet.  Giving off the north side of the church is a lower single storey flat roofed projection housing the sacristy, meeting room and WCs.

The entrance porch has a brick patterned floor finish. One enters the church beneath a western gallery, with stairs to the south and a small chapel/crèche (originally the baptistery) to the north. The nave consists of a single volume, its five bays marked by transverse brick arches with paired Romanesque arches with a central column in the centre  of  each  arch.  Between  the  transverse  arches  are  the  exposed  rafters  and purlins of the roof, painted grey, with white plaster interstices. The interior walls are  faced with a paler ‘dapple grey’ brick rather than the pink multistocks used externally (the architect would have preferred  limewash, CBR 1960, 150). There are paired round-arched  windows  to  each  bay  of  the  nave,  with  distinctive  circular  ‘bottle’ leading and semi-opaque glazing. The gallery at the west end has a balustraded front. At the east end, a round chancel arch separates the nave from the sanctuary. To the left a door leads into the sacristy area, and to the right there is an outside door. The sanctuary has a painted timber rafter roof following the form of the canted east end, and  a  plain brick  east wall,  against  which  is  placed  a  crucifix with  a robed  and crowned Christ. Above this the original canopy hangs over the site of the former high altar, its underside painted with a representation of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, the sanctuary has been reordered, with a modern stone-carved suite of forward altar, ambo, lectern, presidential chair and font.

There are plain benches in the nave, and standard Stations of the Cross. Stained and coloured glass introduced since the time of the building includes glass in shades of blue in the circular west window, with a central text in memory of Fr Glen, parish priest (1997) and stained glass representations of St Margaret Mary and the Sacred Heart in the former baptistery (now used as a crèche).

Diocese: Northampton

Architect: J. S. Comper

Original Date: 1960

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed