Grantham - St Mary the Immaculate

North Parade, Grantham, Lincolnshire

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A building of four main phases which combine to form an attractive working church. Undoubtedly most important is the original 1833 building, but the 1960s work and 21st  century furnishings are of merit also. With the presbytery the church is important to the townscape of North Parade.

In 1830 Thomas Tempest (youngest son of Stephen Tempest of Broughton Hall near Skipton, a well known Catholic family in Yorkshire) purchased the site on North Parade and funded the building of a Catholic church for Grantham. The foundation stone was laid in 1831 and the inaugural Mass said in 1833. This first church was a simple classical building, perhaps unusually for the date, having an engaged tower and cupola. The church was linked (as it still is) to the red brick presbytery, probably the house built in 1829 by Samuel Hand, a Grantham Grocer. A school was built in 1833 and rebuilt in 1859. The school was relocated to a more distant site in 1928.

Evidence suggests that the altar originally faced east (the entrance end) but that this was reversed after refurbishment in 1884 and the addition of a western apse. The next major change came in 1964-5 when Gerard Goalen removed the north wall and extended in that direction, turning the focus of the church through ninety degrees with the altar on the north side. The old sanctuary became the baptistery. At the same time  the  entrance  was  moved  to  its  present  position  and  a  ‘crying’  corridor introduced on the south side of the church, truncating the south windows. Finally in 2000 the outside of the church was cleaned and repaired, a new clock installed with a new patronal statue below, by Beauford Linley, and a more open glazed entrance introduced and the interior redecorated and sanctuary remodelled.

The altar now faces north, the third re-orientation in the history of the building. As there remains a strong east to west visual orientation in the building, this description refers to actual compass directions rather than liturgical directions. The list description (below)  is very brief  and describes the east front of Willson’s 1831-3 church. Although at first glance the 1960s extensions suggest that it is only this east end which survives, it soon becomes apparent that the south wall and parts of the north and west walls of his church remain. The south wall is entirely built up against, with a corridor with sacristies etc off it to the south. The west wall of Willson’s church is broken through with a deep brick apse of 1884 but the Ancaster stone wall and modillion cornice remains visible in the courtyard behind, as does the first part of the north wall. Gerard Goalen’s 1960s extension takes the form of a large, full-height, projection with canted sides. The walls are faced in Ancaster stone with openings confined to a high-level clerestory of three large windows to each face with segment- headed arches and a rather heavy parapet which breaks through Willson’s cornice but is itself completely plain. The present entrance, created in the 1960s, was remodelled in 1999-2003 with a glazed screen and glass and stainless steel canopy and Ancaster stone facing to the wall above.

Within there is a generous porch or narthex leading into the corridor and into the church. Despite liturgical east being in the 1960s north extension there remains a fairly  strong  counterpoise  of  an  east  to  west  axis,  with  the  apse  of  the  former sanctuary at the west end and gallery and organ at the east end. Nevertheless the 1960s extension is successful and draws the eye. The roof of this has transverse tunnel vaults following the segmental arches of the clerestory windows, redolent of Basil  Spence’s  buildings  at  Sussex  University  of  just  a  few  years  earlier.  This extension is entirely taken up by the sanctuary. The present finishes are of circa 2003.  Ash  panelling  to  the  walls  and  stained  glass,  by  David  Pilkington,  in  the clerestory windows, representing the life of the church throughout the year. In the centre  Christ  in  Glory  (circa  1965  by  Willi  Soukop)  set  against  a  large  panel  of polished copper. Textiles by Juliet Hemingray. Furniture by Smedley Joinery, rather heavy in design and perhaps the least successful element of the recent work. New stainless steel screens separate the sanctuary from side chapels. This 21st  century work is carried through into the decorative paint scheme of the rest of the church, the ash panels continue across the front of the gallery, and in the baptistery hangs a three-dimensional textile font canopy, again by Juliet Hemingray.

The simple stone font, a deep cylindrical bowl on a short cylindrical base, visually as if turned, and the pavement remain from the 1960s re-ordering and are striking in their design and homogeneity. Benches are a mix of Victorian and 1960s, neither of distinguished  design.  Hanging  along  the  south  wall  the  moving  and  expressive painted Stations of the Cross, 1976-7 by Vincent Wells. In a south window, the Machine Gun Corps memorial window of 1919 by Alexander Gascoyne of George F. Gascoyne  &  Son,  depicting  the  Annunciation.  The  lower  part  of  the  window (including the dedication panel) was removed in 1965 when the depth of the window was reduced to allow for the corridor behind. There are two items of artistic merit not on view in the church; a crucifix (currently in the sacristy) and Paschal candle stand (currently in the tower storeroom) both in metal and of 1965 by Sean Black. Black (1925-76) was apprenticed to the Polish painter Jankel Adler before training as a blacksmith. He took over the forge at Pyecombe in Sussex, diversifying into jewellery as well as ecclesiastical work. The figure of Christ on the crucifix has the soft collapse that steel has when red hot. The Paschal candle stand has a cut motif through the central stem, and a three-pointed base echoed in the triangular top.

Diocese: Nottingham

Architect: E. J. Willson, Gerard Goalen, Smith & Roper

Original Date: 1831

Conservation Area: Yes

Modifications: 1964-5 and 1999-2003

Listed Grade: Grade II