Dunfield Road, Beckenham Hill, London SE6
A centrally-planned circular building of the 1960s, displaying the influence of the competition-winning design by Frederick Gibberd for Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral (1960-67) and the new liturgical vision of the Second Vatican Council.
Following the First World War, the London County Council bought land at the edge of the built-up areas of London for the building of so-called ‘cottage estates’. Land at Bellingham was bought in 1920 and building work was completed in 1923, to plans by the LCC architect, George Topham Forrest. Specific sites had been reserved for churches, schools, shops and community facilities. Unlike those on the neighbouring Downham Estate, the Catholic church and school at Bellingham were unable to buy a central site. Both are situated at the southern edge of the Estate, close to the railway station called Beckenham Hill (opened 1892).
The primary school was the priority of the new parish and opened in 1928. Mass was said at the school buildg by a priest from Sydenham until 1934, when a temporary wooden church was built. The first parish priest was Fr Desmond Coffey, who remained at the church from 1934 until his death in 1977. (He was buried below the south side of the ambulatory.) This temporary church was replaced by the present church, whose foundation stone was laid on 19 October 1963. It was consecrated on 26 August the following year. The architects were Raglan Squire & Partners.
The church survives largely unaltered, with only minor changes such as the changing of the dedication of the north side chapel from St Augustine of Hippo (in c.1998) to the Sacred Heart.
The church is orientated to the northeast; however, this description will follow conventional liturgical orientation.
The church of red brick laid in stretcher bond was built in 1963-1964 by Raglan Squire & Partners. It is a centrally-planned circular building, displaying the influence of the competition-winning design by Frederick Gibberd for Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral (1960-67) and the new liturgical vision of the Second Vatican Council.
The exterior walls are of unrelieved brick, giving a defensive and fortress-like impression. The high drum of the nave is encircled by a lower ambulatory. The roof above the brick core creates gabled clerestorey windows, each featuring a cross. The building is crowned by a spiky central lantern clad in copper. To the west, two arched entrances are framed by three barbican-like short circular ‘towers’. The foundation stone is placed below a tall cross on the central ‘tower’. To the east, a corridor connects the church with a parish room and the presbytery.
Internally, the niche inside the front ‘barbican’ houses a repository, while the flanking circular spaces are two top-lit chapels, dedicated to the Sacred Heart (north) and Notre Dame de Sacre Coeur (south). There are small windows of coloured glass in geometric shapes at the joints of the entrance lobby and the side chapels with the ambulatory. The ambulatory is divided from the central space by an arcade of brick piers and elliptical concrete arches.
The ambulatory has four groups of three side altars each, of which the flanking ones are cantilevered. Clockwise from the west these are dedicated to St Augustine of Hippo, St Joseph, St John Vianney; St Anthony, St Theresa of Lisieux (adjoining side altar empty); St Martin de Porres, the English Martyrs, San Pio; Pope Pius X, St Patrick (adjoining side altar has a Holy Water stoup beside the font). Most altars have carved statues of their saints, with some framed paintings and prints. Below the altar dedicated to Pope Pius X is the grave of Fr Coffey. The carved Stations of the Cross are fixed to the outside of the ambulatory piers.
The altar is a marble slab on a masonry support, placed in the middle of the central space and raised on two circular platforms. It is surrounded by benches on nearly all sides. To the east is a raised platform with the tabernacle stand in front of a curtained screen which conceals the organ of 1865 by J. W. Walker. Internally, the roof is of timber. The lantern is open to the inside of the church, with exposed concrete surfaces. The lower part projects into the building, as if piercing the roof with its serrated edge. Inside the lantern is a wheel-like construction of cross braces resembling spokes. From the centre of the wheel hangs a chandelier with crucifix. The credence, font and celebrant’s chair are all modern, of matching timber.
Behind the sanctuary, a corridor leads to two sacristies, and beyond, to the parish room and the presbytery. A path paved in white marble leads from the west entrances to the lower sanctuary step, which is made from the same material. The upper step is carpeted, as is the remainder of the central space. The ambulatory is paved in black bricks.
Original Date: 1963
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed