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.
List description (the church and attached presbytery and parish hall were listed in 2015, following Taking Stock)
Summary: A centrally-planned circular Roman Catholic church of 1963-4 by Raglan Squire & Partners, a reworked and reduced version of their competition entry for Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, with attached contemporary presbytery and parish hall.
Reasons for designation: The Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation and St Augustine and attached presbytery and parish hall, Beckenham Hill is listed Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: the church is a striking design inside and out reflecting advanced architectural thinking of the early 1960s, and is a reworked version of a highly-commended design for Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral; * Interior: the interior worship space combines both drama – in its top-lit lantern – and intimacy, and it retains many original fixtures and finishes; * Historic interest: the church was built during the years of the Second Vatican Council , which ushered in a revolution in liturgy and church design; the church reflects this development and demonstrates the parish priest Fr Paul Coffey’s commitment to increased congregational participation in the liturgy; * Group value: the attached presbytery and parish hall are contemporary with the church and were designed with it as a piece, and therefore possess group value with it.
History: Following the First World War, the London County Council acquired 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 on the neighbouring Downham Estate, the Catholic church and school at Bellingham were unable to buy a central site; they are situated at the southern edge of the estate, close to Beckenham Hill railway station (opened 1892). The primary school opened first, in 1928. Mass was said at the school 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, and built the present church (in which he is buried). Fr Coffey, was a liturgist and proponent of the unaccompanied singing of plainchant responses by the congregation. This explains the apparent original lack of an organ in the church (the current organ is a C19 one introduced from elsewhere at a later date). Fr Coffey’s interest in inclusive modern church design was manifested as early as January 1959, when plans for a circular church were prepared by J.Letman MIStructE (not realised). The present church was built in 1964-5 from designs by Raglan Squire & Partners, a firm of commercial architects. Their work included the Engineering College at Rangoon University, Burma (1952), buildings for the Hilton Hotel chain in Singapore and the Middle East, as well as office blocks and factories in the UK. Together with Rodney Thomas and Edric Neel, and in partnership with the engineer Ove Arup, Raglan Squire (1912-2004) designed the Arcon house, one of the more successful post-war prefabricated house types, of which tens of thousands were built between 1945 and 1949 as part of the Temporary Housing Programme. In 1948 the practice converted the houses of Eaton Square, Belgravia into flats, on behalf of the Grosvenor Estate. In 1957 with Sir Robert Matthew, Raglan Squire designed a mausoleum at Karachi for Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, a structure composed of six hyperbolic paraboloids forming a star-shaped pavilion in concrete over the site of the tomb. The international jury awarded the design first prize, but in the event another design was built. The practice was not known for its ecclesiastical work, but in 1960 it had entered the competition for Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Their design was highly commended by the judges, and was similar in conception to Frederick Gibberd’s winning design in being circular, with a central altar (placed under a 400ft spire rather than a corona). Fr Coffey admired the Liverpool design, and asked the firm to prepare a reduced version of it for his new church at Beckenham Hill. The foundation stone was laid on 19 October 1963 and the church was opened and consecrated on 26 August 1964. An attached presbytery and small parish hall were built at the same time. In 1978 the church was reordered by Fr Coffey’s successor, Fr Donal Burke.
Details:A centrally-planned circular Roman Catholic church of 1963-4 by Raglan Squire & Partners, a reworked and reduced version of their competition entry for Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, with an attached contemporary presbytery and parish hall. MATERIALS: the church is faced in red brick laid in stretcher bond, with cast concrete surrounds to the entrances and copper roofs. The attached presbytery and parish hall are of matching materials, with blue engineering brick copings, flat roofs covered with sheet metal, and projecting arched concrete heads to some windows and doors. PLAN: circular, with an ambulatory around the main space, with confessionals and side chapels giving off. On the south side, sacristies and a corridor lead to the parish room and the presbytery.
EXTERIOR: 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, with a flat roof covered in sheet metal. The folded concrete slab construction of the roof above the brick core incorporates gabled clerestory windows, clad in copper, and each with glazing subdivisions forming a cross. The building is crowned with a spiky central lantern, clad in copper. To the north, two concrete arched entrances are framed by three barbican-like short circular ‘towers’. The inscribed foundation stone is placed below a tall cross on the central ‘tower’.
The presbytery and parish hall are in red brick stretcher bond with blue engineering brick copings and exaggerated arched white concrete heads to some doors and windows.
INTERIOR: the interior is centrally planned, with the altar placed on the second step of a circular dais under the lantern. The internal walls are faced in bare brick. Full height brick piers mark out the bays of the main space, with pre-cast elliptical concrete arches giving onto the surrounding ambulatory. A concrete ring beam and timber-clad reinforced concrete raking struts rise from the top of the piers to support the central lantern. Between the struts the roof form is of folded concrete slab construction, the inverted V-shapes clad in timber boarding. The lantern is open to the inside of the church, the lower part of exposed concrete and projecting downwards as if piercing the roof with its serrated edge. The inner face of the lantern is timber, with cross braces resembling spokes and long inverted triangles of clear glazing. The ambulatory has shallow projections side-lit with slab in resin coloured geometrical glass, and contains former side altars (now shrines). Two chapels and an entrance porch give off to the north. To the south, steps lead down to confessionals and on to a corridor leading to two sacristies, and beyond, the parish room and presbytery. (The interiors of the parish hall and presbytery are much plainer in character and are not of special interest.) The route from the main entrance to the sanctuary and the lower step of the sanctuary are paved in white marble, the upper sanctuary step and the remainder of the central space are carpeted, and the ambulatory is paved in dark engineering bricks. In the entrance area, the front ‘barbican’ (formerly the baptistery) now houses a repository, with a suspended floor, while the flanking circular spaces are two top-lit chapels, dedicated to the Sacred Heart (west) and Notre Dame de Sacré Coeur (east).
FURNISHINGS AND FITTINGS: the main altar is a marble slab on a support of roughly-hewn granite piers and engineering brick. Originally the altar incorporated the tabernacle, but this was moved to a position behind the altar and placed on a smaller but matching altar with a curtained screen behind, probably in c1978. To one side of this, largely concealed by the screen, is the organ of 1865, by J W Walker, of undetermined provenance and probably introduced c1978. A metal corona hangs over the altar, incorporating lighting and an added suspended crucifix. Further original pendant light fittings hang from the struts, metal clad with vertical timber slats. The nave seating, consisting of the original bespoke curved benches, is arranged around the sanctuary. Originally there were four side altars in the ambulatory, of similar materials and detailing to the main altar, flanked by cantilevered marble shelves. These now (2015) contain shrines to various saints, with standard catalogue statues. On the west side, below the shrine to St Pius X, is the grave of Fr Coffey, with an inscribed marble ledgerstone.
Architectural History Practice, The Annunciation and St Augustine, Beckenham Hill, Taking Stock: RC Archdiocese of Southwark, 2011 Cherry B, and Pevsner N, The Buildings of England, London 2: South, 1984, 416 Evinson D, Catholic Churches of London, 1998, 187 Parish website, http://www.theannunciationandstaugustine.org.uk/html/about_our_parish.html Squire R, Portrait of an Architect, 1984, 212–6 The Builder, 2 September 1960 The Catholic Herald, 26 June 1964, 3 Obituary of Raglan Squire, The Times, 9 June 2004 Re Arcon: http://www.engineering-timelines.com/scripts/engineeringItem.asp?id=967 Re Fr Desmond Coffey, http://archive.catholicherald.co.uk/article/21st-november-1947/4/i-catholic-profiles7161
Architect: Raglan Squire & Partners
Original Date: 1964
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II