Building » Pimlico – Holy Apostles

Pimlico – Holy Apostles

Winchester Street, London SW1

A large and well-built design of the mid-1950s, gently Modern and slightly Scandinavian in its architectural style, faced in brick and with a tall northwest campanile. The church was built on a bombed site and forms an architectural contrast with the surrounding early and mid-nineteenth-century development of brick and stucco terraced houses. The interior is perhaps more successful than the exterior, and contains a number of furnishings of note, designed by the architects and others.   

In 1917 a redundant Wesleyan chapel in Claverton Street was acquired and adapted for Catholic use. It was a chapel of ease, served by clergy from the cathedral. This building was destroyed by bombing in April 1941. The old site was in an area identified by Westminster City Council for housing (the future Churchill Gardens development) and so in 1948 a large site further north, bounded to the east by Winchester Street and to the west by Cumberland Street, was acquired for £7000. The setting consisted of brick and stucco terraced houses of the 1850s, belonging to the final stage of Thomas Cubitt’s development of Pimlico. A landmine had destroyed the houses, leaving a big hole (which was temporarily covered), and offering architectural opportunities.

Fr Edmund Hadfield was a scion of the great Hadfield architectural dynasty. He invited the then-current incarnation of the firm, Hadfield, Cawkwell & Davidson, to prepare plans for a complex of church, hall and presbytery. However, it took some years for the scheme to be realised, on account of difficulties obtaining building licences. In the meantime Mass was said in a number of improvised locations around the parish.

Early plans (figures 1 and 2) were for the church to be built on the Cumberland Street side of the site, accessed from Winchester Street via a tall, open campanile, which would be visually separate from the church. The presbytery would also be on the Winchester Street side. In the event, the arrangement was reversed, with the church, incorporating a more integrated campanile, on the Winchester Street side and the presbytery behind in Cumberland Street.

The presbytery was built before the church and hall. Plans for these were agreed and a contract awarded in 1955, the contract figure being £81,846. The foundation stone was laid on 22 September 1956 and the completed church opened by Cardinal Godfrey on 1 December 1957 (the new parish of Pimlico had been formally erected on 17 November). The church was designed to seat 400, and was built over a new parish hall capable of accommodating a similar number. Alongside the parish hall on the Cumberland Street side was a large sunken courtyard.

Fr (Canon) Hadfield remained at the parish until his death in 1982. His portrait hangs in the parish hall.

The church is orientated roughly north-south, but this description follows conventional liturgical orientation.

The church was built in 1956-57 from designs by Hadfield, Cawkwell & Davidson. Built on the site of former terraced houses cleared after wartime bomb damage, it forms part of a complex of large church over a parish hall, with attached presbytery on the south side. It consists of a narthex under a campanile, broad nave with narrow side aisles, square-ended sanctuary with flanking chapels, and ancillary accommodation giving off to the south side and below. The building is constructed of a series of reinforced concrete portal frames, with cavity wall infilling. Externally it is faced in brown Stamford brick, with shallow pitched pantile roofs. The entrance is at the northwest corner, under a projecting canopy with crenellated beaten metal detail. Above this rises the brick campanile, tall and thin and with an open honeycomb pattern of brickwork at the belfry stage (which houses a bell cast in 1943 in Barrow in Furness for from the submarine HMS Thorough). There is a secondary entrance on the north side, at the east end of the nave, also with a crenellated canopy, which now provides ramped, step-free access to the church (an adaptation of 2005, architect George Mathers; there is also a ramp from Cumberland Street leading down to the sunken courtyard and parish hall). The north aisle to Winchester Street is lit by small square windows, and there is a continuous glazed clerestory on both sides of the nave. The sanctuary is lit by a large window on each side, each of six tall narrow lights separated by fin-like concrete mullions.  Otherwise the sanctuary is windowless, the plain brickwork externally relieved by a hint of diaper patterning in raised headers. Set into the external wall of the north sanctuary chapel is the foundation stone, which also records the destruction of the previous church in Claverton Street.

The main entrance leads into a small lobby and on into the main body of the church. The interior is faced in brown brick, with the six bays of the broad nave marked by the exposed reinforced concrete portal frames, which converge towards the top and taper towards the bottom. Low aisles with flat plastered ceilings give off on either side. There is a baptistery behind metal gates at the west end, under a gallery. Side chapels give off either side of the three-bay sanctuary, separated by iron screens. The nave and sanctuary ceiling is lined with cedar wood strips with air gaps between and wood wool panels behind, for acoustical purposes. The nave and aisle floor is of teak blocks, the sanctuary floor of polished marble.

The chief furnishings were designed by the architects. Apart from the high altar there are side altars in St Joseph’s chapel (south of sanctuary) and the Lady Chapel (north) and at the west end of the nave on the south side (to St Pius X, who was canonised in 1954, and incorporating his coat of arms). These, and the communion rails at the entrance to the sanctuary and side chapels, are of incised and gilded Westmorland stone, with white Ancaster stone mensas and surrounds.  The tabernacle plinth and the font are of similar materials; the font has a fine brass cover with raised symbols of the four Evangelists. Other fittings were supplied by selected artists, and are of high quality: Philip Lindsey Clark designed the Stations of the Cross, stone panels with low-relief carving, mounted on the concrete stanchions of the nave (photo bottom left); Charles Blakeman (who was primarily a stained glass artist, and did much of the glass at Ely Place, qv) the gilded fibreglass crucifix on the east wall of the sanctuary; and May Blakeman (responsible for the statues of martyrs at Ely Place, qv) the fine terracotta figures of Our Lady, St Joseph, St Pius X (photo bottom right) and St Teresa.  Later fittings include gilded panels depicting scenes from the Passion and Pentecost on the east wall below the crucifix (artist and date not established) and a large coloured fibreglass panel in the baptistery depicting the descent of the Holy Spirit, given in memory of Sr Louise Mace (by Michael Clark, son of Philip Lindsey Clark). There are also stained glass windows of saints in the south aisle of 1995-2002, by McMillan Glass and others, not of particular artistic interest.  

Beneath the church, the parish hall has a central pit and stage encircled by reinforced concrete columns faced with glass mosaic which support the portal frames above. Windows on the south side look onto the sunken courtyard. An oil portrait of Fr Hadfield by Kevin Stack hangs on the wall at the west end of the hall.

Heritage Details

Architect:

Original Date: 1956

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed