Bow Common Lane, London E3
A late nineteenth-century Gothic Revival church, restored in the 1950s after bomb damage. It retains a few of the original furnishings. The church is now home to the Vietnamese Chaplaincy, as well as being a chapel of ease to the parish of Poplar. The tower with its short aluminium spike is a local landmark.
The mission was founded by Cardinal Manning. From 1891 a temporary chapel existed at 187-189 Devons Road, served from Our Lady and St Catherine of Siena, Bow (qv). The foundation stone of the current church was blessed by Cardinal Vaughan on 26 July 1893. The completed church was consecrated on 30 June the following year (figure 1). The architect of the church, presbytery and schools was Frederick Arthur Walters (1849-1931). Messrs Gregory & Co of Clapham Junction were the contractors. The benefactors were William (died 1900) and Susan Lyall. A school was built on the site of the current presbytery, and a presbytery stood at the corner of Bow Common Lane and St Pauls Way, directly in front of the church’s blind east end. (The contract drawing for the presbytery is dated 1896.) The irregular-shaped site was fully exploited by the architect which gave the church an angled west end (figure 2).
Walters’s drawings show the original rich furnishings including a square-plan baldacchino, a carved high altar, a rood screen, parclose screens around the sanctuary, the altars for the Lady Chapel and St Joseph’s Chapel, the altar rails, and seating. The walls of the chancel, nave and the Lady Chapel were painted with diaper and floral patterns, inscriptions, roundels with religious symbols and Marian monograms for the Lady Chapel (drawings dated 1899). Walters also designed the more functional furnishings such as the sacristy furniture and even the bier and carriage.
During the Second World War, the presbytery and school buildings were completely destroyed. The church burnt out in 1944 but the walls were left standing. In 1957-58 David Stokes of David Stokes FRIBA & Partners restored the church and built a new presbytery and sacristies. The church was roofed with a shallow-pitch aluminium roof (one of the first applications of this material) as the walls could no longer support a heavy slate roof such as the original roof. The east and west gables were altered in order to fit a shallower roof and the east bell cote was removed. The former spire was replaced by a thin aluminium spire (in early drawings this is annotated as copper spire). Stokes designed new furnishings, such as a new high altar of white marble with an aluminium baldacchino, and a holy water stoup of Cornish granite. Several new furnishings of stainless steel, such as the nave altar and the baptistery cross, came from the Sisters of Sion convent, Notting Hill c2000. Of the pre-war furnishings the nineteenth-century tabernacle survived, as well as the font and four statues in niches set into the internal walls near the chancel arch. A new presbytery was built roughly on the site of the former school (i.e. to the southeast of the church) while the site of the former presbytery was turned into a small garden with a Lourdes grotto.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the parish was in the care of the Franciscans. Today, the church serves both the Vietnamese community and (as a chapel of ease) the parish of Poplar. The Vietnamese chaplain is resident in the presbytery. In recent years, the temporary church hall behind the presbytery was replaced by a more permanent hall.
The church was built in 1893-94 and was restored following war damage in 1957-58. It is built in red brick laid in English bond with an aluminium roof. The style is Gothic Revival with Early English detailing on the interior. The plan is rectangular with the west wall not at right angles but sloping from north to south. It comprises a nave with aisles, a chancel with a northeast chapel, a northwest tower, and a triangular-plan narthex at the west. The original entrance through the tower porch and at the west are disused now. Stokes created a new entrance at the southeast, between presbytery and church (photo top right). The square-plan tower narrows into an octagonal top stage which now supports a short aluminium spike as spire. There is one tolling bell in the tower. A semi-circular stair well is attached to the west. Above the tower porch is a tall pointed arch, encompassing a circular window and a canopied niche with stone dressings and a statue of the Virgin and Child, and the stone-capped buttresses of the doorway.
The north elevation is blind to the aisles, with only clerestory windows and small windows to the northeast weekday chapel. Set into the north aisle wall are several parish boundary markers from 1882, 1889, 1890, 1898, marking the boundaries between the parishes of Bromley St Leonard (‘B. St. L.’) and St Anne, Limehouse (‘St. A. L.’).
The east end is also blind with tall pointed arches set into the canted and projecting east wall. From here are the windows to the basement below the east end visible, which originally served as the sacristy, as well as the heating chamber and coal store. Stokes included a large sacristy into the current presbytery.
The narthex has metal screens to all sides, one of which fills the broad arch to the nave. The original octagonal stone font is still in the original baptistery space just west of the tower, together with a large stainless steel cross (originally from the Sisters of Sion convent, Notting Hill). The gallery stair is at the southwest. The organ originally came from the mother house of the Daughters of Charity, Mill Hill. The two lancets at the west – unfortunately truncated by a suspended ceiling – are filled with stained glass by students of the Kingston Polytechnic (1970s), narrating the history of the Catholic Church in the UK.
The nave is five bays long, with the easternmost bay narrowing to the sanctuary. Set high into these slanting walls are niches with statues of saints. On Walters’s drawing these are identified as St Peter, St Edward, St Thomas of Canterbury and St Gregory. The nave clerestory windows are tall single lancets with clear glass.
The north aisle has statues of St Joseph (from a convent in Bognor Regis), St Francis and St Patrick (both by Statuaria Sacra of Rome). The northeast chapel, probably the former Lady Chapel, now a weekday chapel, has a plain stone altar with a statue of the Sacred Heart, and two lancet windows with stained glass with Christian symbols (signed MD, apparently a parishioner).
The sanctuary is two-bays deep with circular clerestory windows. Its furnishings date mostly from the reconstruction by David Stokes: an aluminium baldacchino and a white marble high altar. Most of the 1950s white and green marble floor is now obscured by a carpeted additional step to the sanctuary area. The stainless steel forward altar and the timber lectern with enamelled ChiRho are from the Sisters of Sion convent in Notting Hill. Beside the entrance to the sacristy is a holy water stoup of rough hewn Cornish granite designed by David Stokes. At the southeast are two lancet windows with stained glass depicting St Raphael and St Michael (Kingston Polytechnic students, 1970s).
The south aisle has six further windows with stained glass by students of Kingston Polytechnic (1970s), depicting Catholic martyrs (Saints Thomas More and John Fisher and four Franciscan saints). The statue of St Anthony is by Anton Dapre. One of the two timber confessionals is now used as repository. The Lady Chapel at the southwest was originally the Calvary chapel. It is now dedicated to Our Lady of La Vang and has a Vietnamese statue (photo bottom right). The two windows have stained-glass depictions of Our Lady of the Rosary and the Virgin and Child (Kingston Polytechnic students, 1970s). On the east and west walls of the chapel are plaques commemorating the benefactors, William and Susan Lyall, and the first mission priest, Fr Gordon Thompson (died 1905).
Architect: F. A. Walters; David Stokes
Original Date: 1893
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed