Kingsway, London WC2
An eclectic design of the early twentieth century by F. A. Walters. The church is contemporary with the Edwardian development of Kingsway, and in common with other original buildings facing that thoroughfare, is faced in Portland stone. The church replaced, and incorporates fittings from, the Sardinian Chapel in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the grandest of the old Catholic embassy chapels. Walters’s church was damaged by wartime bombing; its west end was refaced and south aisle rebuilt in the early 1950s by Stanley Kerr Bate. Although somewhat dwarfed by its neighbours, the church holds its own as a prominent building in the Bloomsbury Conservation Area.
In the reign of James II a house at 53-54 Lincoln’s Inn Fields was occupied by Franciscan friars, who opened a chapel in February 1688. This proved very short lived; the chapel was destroyed by a mob after the flight of James II in December 1688. Soon afterwards, the restored buildings were occupied by the Portuguese ambassador and (by 1715) by the Sicilian ambassador, who built a new chapel (known as the Sardinian chapel after the Duke of Savoy exchanged the Kingdom of Sicily for that of Sardinia). This chapel was badly damaged by fire in November 1759 and subsequently rebuilt, only to be wrecked by a mob during the Gordon Riots in June 1780. The building was again repaired, and reopened in 1781. In 1798 the chapel was acquired by John Douglass, Vicar Apostolic of the London District, for public Catholic worship (legalised by the Second Relief Act). It reopened in August 1799. This is the chapel shown on Ackerman’s coloured aquatint of 1808 (after Pugin and Rowlandson, figure 1). Architecturally, it was the grandest of the former embassy chapels in London. Its Italianate altar was placed at the east end within a semi-circular apse, its arch resting on timber Ionic columns. The space in front of the sanctuary was square on plan, with pendentives over the arches rising to an octagonal dome and lantern. A similar arch separated this space from the nave, which had a flat panelled plaster ceiling rising from quadrants springing from the main cornice. There were two tiers of galleries on either side, supported on wooden Doric columns, the lower tiers continuing into the square space in front of the sanctuary. The ambassador’s pew was placed in the northeast corner. At the west end, there was a large organ in the upper gallery.
In 1852 the chapel became a mission church, dedicated to St Anselm, with the additional dedication to St Cecilia following in 1866.
One hundred years after Ackermann’s illustration, the interior was essentially unchanged (figures 2 and 3). Sadly, the church was demolished in 1909, as part of the comprehensive redevelopment associated with the laying out of Kingsway. A site was obtained for a replacement church facing directly onto the new thoroughfare, and the stipulation of the London County Council was that it should (like its Edwardian neighbours) be faced in Portland stone. The architect for the new church was F. A. Walters, and the builders James Smith & Son of Norwood. The foundation stone was laid on 10 June 1908 and the completed church opened on 6 July 1909 (800 years after the death of St Anselm of Canterbury, as recorded over the doorway). As at St Patrick’s Soho Square (qv), fittings from the eighteenth century chapel were incorporated in the new church, including the font, an altar, the organ (of 1857), arms of the House of Savoy, and a painting of the Deposition. Walters’s design was in the early Renaissance style, ‘as being most in accord with the traditions of the old church’ (The Tablet, 17 July 1909, 115), although it has a more North European than Italianate character. The eclectic design of the front elevation (figure 4) was characterised by raised horizontal stone banding (continued on the brick northern flank elevation), tracery of a later Gothic rather than Renaissance style in the west window, and Baroque scrolls flanking a central open segmental pediment. Inside (figure 5), the most notable architectural feature was and is the shallow sanctuary arch, with a bridge carrying a painted rood.
The twentieth-century church has been afflicted by damage and disaster almost as much as its Georgian predecessor. On 11 September 1941 it was damaged by bombing; the restoration of 1951-54 by Stanley Kerr Bate of Walters & Kerr Bate involved the refronting of the church, in a plainer and rather less interesting manner, and the rebuilding of the south aisle. Then on Christmas Day 1992, it was again badly damaged by fire. Following extensive repairs, it was reopened by Cardinal Hume in March 1994.
The list description (below) describes the exterior adequately, but is very brief for the interior.
The interior consists of a nave of four bays, south aisle with chapels to east and south, and square-ended sanctuary with side passages leading to the sacristies. The church is entered via a lobby under a western gallery; there is a baptistery alongside this to the north. The interior is faced in Bath stone, with two tiers of blind arcading on the north wall echoed on the south side (with open arcading to the aisle). The half columns of the aisle arcades die into the arches, a nice Mannerist touch. The clerestory on the north side has two lights per arcaded bay. Above this is a stained pine tunnel vaulted roof, its carved bracketed supports springing from attached wall posts/half columns. The chancel is galleried, connected by balustraded central bridge, serving as a rood loft – an unusual conceit, for which Evinson cites the early Renaissance church of St Etienne du Mont in Paris as a precedent. The focus of the sanctuary is the fine carved reredos, depicting the Coronation of the Virgin; French Renaissance in style and, like the other carving in the church, executed by Earp & Hobbs of Lambeth, from Walters’s designs. It has a brightly-painted blue, gold and red timber canopy. Furnishings from the old chapel include:
The sarcophagus altar in the Lady chapel;
An oval marble font with mahogany cover, behind iron gates in the baptistery at the west end of the nave;
A late eighteenth-century painting of the Deposition of Christ in the sanctuary, in the style of Correggio;
The Arms of the House of Savoy, on the west wall of the south aisle.
Other furnishings of note are:
The altar of St Joseph, off the south aisle, of white marble, and with a mosaic; figure of the saint in the reredos holding a model of the church;
High relief coloured Stations of the Cross, signed SDB, 1909;
The light fittings, which appear to be the original Walters ones;
1909 confessionals set in recesses giving off the south aisle;
The glass in the west window is by Shades of Light (1994).
Architect: F. A. Walters; S. Kerr Bate
Original Date: 1908
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: II