Building » Beckenham – St Edmund of Canterbury

Beckenham – St Edmund of Canterbury

Village Way, Beckenham, London BR3

A large late Gothic Revival church of the 1930s by J. O’Hanlon Hughes, who  also designed the furnishings and fittings. The Buildings of England volume states that without the vault ribs and ‘other fussinesses’ the church ‘would … be worthy of Sir Giles Scott himself’. A major reordering took place in about 2000. The tower has townscape value and the church is locally listed.

The mission was founded in 1891, with Fr W. H. Kirwan the first priest. A piece of freehold land was purchased in Overbury Avenue. On 27 October 1891, Bishop Butt laid the foundation stone for a church dedicated to the Transfiguration and St Benedict. The first part of the church was opened in March 1892. Due to a lack of funds it was intended to build it in phases. The first section for £1,500 comprised the sanctuary and part of the nave, with an attached presbytery. The architect was R. A. Boase, and the style was classical, executed in brick. It had three stained glass windows by Westlake. It seems unlikely that the second phase was ever executed.

In 1920, Beckenham became an independent parish. Land was acquired in Village Way, where on 24 April 1927 a temporary church dedicated to St Edmund of Canterbury was opened. By 1935 the presbytery was at 35 The Avenue, and plans were in hand for a new church and presbytery at the corner of Village Way and the High Street. In 1937 the estimated costs were: £15,500 for the church, about £1,000 for the furnishings, and £3,400 for the presbytery. Funds were raised by the sale of church land in the High Street and elsewhere. A ‘club hall’ was to be converted for use as a parish hall, on the site of the current hall. On 3 July 1937 the foundation stone was laid by Bishop Amigo and the church was opened in 1938. The architect was James O’Hanlon Hughes FRIBA (1894-1967),  who also designed all the fittings and furnishing. The clerk of works was a Mr Wornell, and the general contractors were Messrs M. J. Gleeson Ltd. The tower was placed at the liturgical east end, partly because of the views from a public park to the south.

In 1948-9 stained glass windows by John Trinick were added. Further windows by Hardman Studios, who had designed the east and west windows of 1938, were added in 1946, 1965, 1969 and 1971. In 1975 the architects Francis Weal & Partners built a new parish hall opposite the church, replacing an old prefabricated hall. They also converted the adjoining house, 11 Village Way, to provide a first floor caretaker’s flat, and two downstairs committee rooms with kitchen. In the 1970s the altar was moved forward, the canopy and the altar rails removed, and the tabernacle stand moved to the southeast chapel. At some point before 1988, the font was moved to the sanctuary and the former baptistery at the southwest corner was converted into a library. In 1988, the year of the church’s 50th anniversary, it was planned to replace the organ with a redundant one from an Anglican church in the Diocese of Bristol. At the same time, the roof and floor of the hall were renewed. A number of alterations were made for the millennium during a reordering around 2000. The former draught lobby at the west was turned into a full-width narthex. A door at the northwest of the nave was blocked and turned into an accessible toilet. Several partitions were inserted and doors removed, converting the northeast chapel into a storage space and a cupboard for the sound system. The former toilets in the sacristy were converted to a safe. An etched glass screen was inserted around the tabernacle in the arch to the southeast chapel, with a matching glass door beside it. A small parish office was inserted in the space between church and presbytery.


The church  is facing west; however, this description will follow the conventional liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar faced east.

The church was built in 1937-38 from designs by the architect James O’Hanlon Hughes, who also designed all the furnishings and fittings. The church is built on reinforced  concrete  foundations. The materials are brown Dutch bricks, laid in English bond, with dressings in Clipsham stone. The roof is tiled. Internally, the walls were constructed from sand-lime bricks up to a height of 7 feet. The roof of steel trusses is clad in a ceiling of fibrous plaster panels. The tall pitched nave roof has three dormer bays on each side. The tower stands at the east end, featuring a pyramidal roof, gables, and a large pointed window on each side.

The plan is roughly rectangular, with a wide three-bay nave with passage aisles. The narthex at the west includes the northwest entrance porch, stairs to the loft, and the former baptistery in the southwest corner. The sanctuary is flanked by the sacristies to the north, and the Lady Chapel to the south.

The west facade’s central section has a large arch below the gable with gable cross. The arch contains the nine-light west window, above three doorways. Three panels above the doors depict (from left to right) the papal arms, St Edmund with his arms of three suns, and the arms of Bishop Amigo. Together with the sculpture of the Virgin Mary and Child above, these were carved by Philip Lindsey Clark. The porch, narthex and former baptistery spaces on either side of this projection section have lean-to roofs of staggered heights, with lancet windows.

The full-width narthex at the west comprises the west doorways, the northwest entrance, a small repository, the stairs to the gallery, and the former baptistery at the southwest. The central sliding door led from the original narthex behind the three west doors into the nave. The flanking doors were moved there in c.2000 from the north  and south  sides of  the original narthex. In front of the central doors is a sculpture of the seated St Peter. Between the doors are three pointed windows on either side.

The nave has three bays, with a pointed tunnel vault and narrow passage aisles. Each bay has a single lancet window and a dormer window above. The vault has ribs and bosses, with a traceried horizontal zone of electric lights (described in 1939 as producing ‘shadowless illumination’), with access galleries in the roof space behind them. Above the narthex and projecting into the nave is a gallery, with access to the service galleries. The large west window depicts the Nativity (1938, designed by Patrick A. Feeny, Hardman Studios). At the west end of the north aisle stands a large modern, unpainted statue of the Sacred Heart. The first window from the west depicts the Virgin and St Bernadette, commemorating the ordination of Kevin Jean-Marie Donovan (1965, Hardman Studios). The next window depicts the Good Samaritan, in memory of Francis Pratt (1971, Hardman Studios). The easternmost window in the north aisle shows Melchizedech (1948, John Trinick). On the north side of the nave stands a statue of St Anthony. At the northeast corner of the church are a built-in confessional and an accessible toilet in a former doorway to the presbytery. On each side of the sanctuary are two arches, all four originally leading into two chapels. The northeast chapel has been converted into additional storage (c.2000).The north aisle’s east end has a shallow niche with large 1920s statues of the Virgin (in memory of David Crosby Lockwood, d. 1922), and St Joseph (in memory of Edgar James Paine, d.1929). Beside the niche is a gated corridor leading to the sacristies, and the rooms occupying the site of the former chapel. The Portland stone font (designed by the architect) stands on the lowest sanctuary step, just in front of the foundation stone in the pillar between the corridor and the sanctuary (the original position of the pulpit, since removed). The sanctuary is top lit by a skylight halfway up the tower. On either side are two pointed arches, with five clerestory windows on each side. The east side has three further pointed blind openings, just below the skylight. Below is a large recessed pointed arch, with a single lancet window depicting the Resurrection (1938, designed by Patrick A. Feeny, Hardman Studios). (Inside the northern re-entrant angle of the recess is the tower stair, accessible from the sacristy.) The original canopy above the high altar has long since been replaced by textile hangings, and a curved timber bench below. An aumbry and a piscina are recessed into the wall on either side. The altar is made from Portland stone; this is probably the original high altar moved forward (designed by the architect). A wooden crucifix, probably the original visible in photos of 1939, is suspended above the altar. The lectern is of Portland stone with a  timber  desk  (designed  by  the  architect).  The  north  wall  has  a  Byzantine-style mosaic of Christ, with a more recent mosaic opposite showing a cross and the Host. To the south of the sanctuary is the Lady Chapel. The tabernacle stand of Portland stone (designed by the architect) stands in the inner arch, surrounded by etched glass screens, depicting two angels with vine and wheat. The outer arch has an etched glass door with an inscription listing the names of eight parishioners who were ordained as priests. The Lady Chapel has a barrel vault with two circular skylights. The east end has a mosaic of the Virgin Mary (in memory of Florence Liffen, d.1963), similar in style to the mosaic of Christ in the sanctuary. The chapel is furnished with a square timber altar at the west, and curved timber benches. There is another glass screen in an arch to the sanctuary. A niche at the southwest corner of the chapel holds several statues, as well as an older tabernacle painted with roses and the IHS monogram. The south aisle has an exit door and a confessional, mirroring the original arrangements opposite. The first window from the west depicts the Annunciation, the Betrothal of the Virgin, and the Flight into Egypt (1946, Hardman Studios), given in memory of Felix Vernon Feehy and his wife Maria Germaine. The next window shows St Edmund of Canterbury (1949, John Trinick). The subject of the westernmost window is Christ carrying the Cross (Hardman Studios), in commemoration of Patrick John Byrne, parish priest 1934-60, who died in 1969. The original arch at the west end of the south aisle leading to the former baptistery has been blocked off. A stone war memorial plaque hangs on the partition, below a wooden crucifix. On the south side of the nave are statues of St Theresa and St Jude, set against the nave pillars. The Stations of the Cross are painted plaster casts.

Heritage Details

Architect: J. O’Hanlon Hughes

Original Date: 1937

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed