Warwick Road, Beaconsfield, Bucks
An interesting building of two main builds dating from the first half of the 20th century and with strong associations with the writer G.K. Chesterton, who was a parishioner. The original 1927 church by A.S.G. Butler is a modest example of late Gothic Revival work; the tower by Adrian Gilbert Scott completed just after the Second World War as a memorial to Chesterton is a bold and dramatic addition typical of this architect’s work.
An influx of Belgian refugees in 1914 at the beginning of the First World War led to the establishment of a Mass centre in Beaconsfield, in a large assembly room belonging to the Railway Hotel, which was provided by the proprietors Mr and Mrs Borlase. On the repatriation of the refugees it was found that there were sufficient Catholics in the district to make it worthwhile continuing the centre.
The writer G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), who had already lived in Beaconsfield for many years, became a Catholic in July 1922 and was received into the Church in the hotel hall. He took an active part in parish life and even offered a site for a new church, which was not taken up. With the steady increase in the size and population of Beaconsfield there was clearly a need for a permanent church and eventually in 1926 a site was purchased in Warwick Road and a small church built to the designs of A.S.G. Butler, who is probably best-known as the author of a major biography of his fellow-architect architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, but was also responsible for the design of the Catholic church of the Sacred Heart, Henley (1936).
At first the parish was served from High Wycombe. The first parish priest at Beaconsfield was Mgr Smith, who was appointed in 1931, and a new presbytery was built at that time. In 1934 a parish hall was built and named the Borlase Hall after the early benefactors of the parish. This building was later supplemented by a second and larger hall.
Chesterton died in 1936 and his wife in 1938. They are buried in the local cemetery, where a Crucifix headstone over the grave was made by Eric Gill. Their house, Top Meadow in Grove Road, Beaconsfield was left by will for Catholic purposes (it is now privately owned). Mgr Smith decided to complete the ‘west’ end of the church as a memorial to his famous parishioner and a design was commissioned in 1939 from Adrian Gilbert Scott. It comprises a large square tower housing a choir loft, a baptistery and a chapel to the English Martyrs in the form of a cell in the Tower of London, with a portcullis at the entrance. Building work was interrupted by the Second World War and the new addition was not consecrated until 1947. In recent years a porch and narthex have been added to the ‘west’ side of the tower to provide additional facilities.
In recent years because it was deteriorating Gill’s headstone to Chesterton was removed from the cemetery and is now set in the outside wall of St Teresa’s church; a new stone loosely based on Gill’s design is now at the cemetery.
The church is faced with red brick with stone detailing and tiled roof-coverings. The earliest part of the building designed by A.S.G. Butler is in the Gothic style and comprises a nave and sanctuary under a continuous pitched roof, with north and south aisles. On the east end wall is a decorative stone niche with a figure of St Teresa, set into the roof of a projecting cross-passage beneath the east window. The addition by Adrian Scott is a massive square tower rising only a short distance above the roof-ridge of the older building, with flat topped projections on the north and south sides, a gabled projection, like a continuation of the nave, on the west side and a squat timber bell-stage with timber louvres and a pyramidal tiled roof.
The unassuming interior of the original church has four-bay nave arcades of plain round headed arches with small straight-headed windows in a low clerestory above. The aisles have single small round-headed windows. Clustered stone shafts against the piers of the arcade support the bases of the trusses of a false hammerbeam timber roof. A plainly-moulded pointed arch opens to the short sanctuary. The nave has a parquet floor and benches of African hardwood which replaced the original chairs in 1959.
Fittings include a large stone pulpit, presumably designed by Butler, and stained glass of the 1930s in the east window and elsewhere by Edward Nuttgens, an associate of Eric Gill in his workshop at Piggotts.
The tower space is much larger in scale and treated like a crossing, with a flat ornamented ceiling and tall bold plain-plastered arches on all four sides. The east arch opens to the nave, the west arch shelters a choir loft, under the south arch is a wide straight-headed doorway with a moulded surround, which leads to a projecting porch and was clearly intended to be the principal entrance to the building next to the baptistery. The area outside the porch is now the principal entrance to a large public car park and the door is not in use. Under the north arch is the chapel of the English.
Martyrs, with a low round-headed arch with a portcullis leading to a small chapel with a Chesterton memorial altar triptych painted by Geoffrey Webb (1939).
The new narthex is a flat roofed single-storey addition faced in red brick with broad stone bands; in the centre is a tall glazed timber porch with a pitched roof whose outer end is supported on brick piers. This is now the principal entrance to the church.
Architect: A. S. G. Butler; Adrian Gilbert Scott
Original Date: 1927
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed