Heathfield Road, Bexleyheath, London DA6
A flint-faced church of 1958-9 in a muted late Gothic Revival style, very conservative for its date. The church makes a positive contribution to the local scene.
Initially served by the church at Crayford, the rapid interwar housing developments soon demanded a church and school at Bexleyheath. The first discussions were held in the 1920s. In late 1928 Fr James Malone, parish priest at Crayford, found a suitable site in Heathfield Road. By 1932 plans for a temporary prefabricated church were ready and the church was opened on 20 January 1933. Bishop Amigo preached at the opening service and among those present were Count and Countess Rivarola from Eltham. (In the following years, Fr Malone built two further, identical prefabricated churches at Bexley, 1935, and Bostall Park, 1936.) A legacy of £119 paid for the site in Bexleyheath. The temporary church cost £960 and was built by G. W. Lucas of Bexley. It was intended to last only five years, but in fact continued to be used as a hall after the current church was erected. It was the first church in the diocese to be dedicated to St John Vianney (canonised in 1925).
In 1942 Bexleyheath became a separate parish, with Fr James Patrick Austin as the first parish priest. Fr Austin started a building fund in 1946 for a new church to be built beside the temporary one. He had admired the recent building of Our Lady Queen of Peace at Rottingdean, East Sussex (1957; Diocese of Arundel and Brighton), and employed the same architect, Henry Bingham Towner (1909-97). The builder was R. B. Butler. Like the church at Rottingdean, the church is faced in knapped flint. The sanctuary lamp, the Sacred Heart statue and some other furnishings were moved from the old church into the new. On 8 May 1959 the new church was opened by Archbishop Cowderoy. The cost was £25,000. The presbytery was built at the same time.
On 28 May 1975 the church was consecrated by Bishop Charles Henderson. In 1977 a large Christ the King crucifix was hung in the sanctuary, carved by a Mr Banks, who also made the presidential chair (1979), depicting the wedding at Cana. The old church was finally replaced by a new hall, which was opened on 8 January 1978 by Archbishop Bowen. In April 1985 the disabled ramp was built. In 1991 church and presbytery were redecorated. In 1994 a new stained glass window was installed in the sanctuary, depicting the Good Shepherd. (The crucifix which used to hang there was given to the Sisters at Minster.) At the same time, stained glass window were installed in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, the sanctuary’s lateral windows, and the children’s chapel. The window of Our Lady in the south aisle came from a demolished church in Brighton. In 1995 a reordering took place, introducing, among other things, a new stone altar and ambo. In 2006 a stained glass window of the Holy Family was installed. For the church’s golden jubilee in 2009, the interior was redecorated.
The church is facing north; however, this description will use the conventional liturgical orientation.
St John Vianney, Bexleyheath, was built in 1958-9 from designs by the architect Henry Bingham Towner, in a twentieth-century Gothic Revival style. The elevations are faced in brick, with dressings of reconstituted stone. The main pitched roof is covered in concrete tiles, with lead on the tower roof. The plan is longitudinal, with an aisled nave and a straight-ended sanctuary with side chapels, of which the southeastern one is apsed, and a low tower at the west. Sacristy spaces are at the southeast corner. The aisles are flat-roofed, while the nave and tower have pitched roofs.
The west front has a four-centred doorway below a window of four lancets. Above it is a clock, below a double gable. Inside the tower is a porch below the gallery. The porch’s south side has the gallery stair and a cupboard used as a repository underneath. On the opposite (north) side is a shallow niche lit by a single lancet, possibly a former baptistery. The nave has three regular bays and a narrower one at the west. A pointed arcade rests on octagonal pillars. Each bay has four-light clerestory and aisle windows. The ceiling is panelled and of a shallow pitch; the aisle ceilings are flat. The tower window at the west has clear glass, like most of the windows in the church. The north aisle has a statue of St Joseph at the west end. At the east end is the Blessed Sacrament Altar with a piscina and a window glazed in red and yellow with the ChiRho monogram.
The sanctuary has a stone font, altar and ambo of 1995; the latter has since acquired a wooden panel carved with Christ blessing bread and wine. The east window depicts Christ as the Good Shepherd (1994). The two four-light lateral windows have coloured glass in abstract patterns (1994). Below the east window is a carved wooden reredos frame with a purple cloth, in front of which stand the timber chairs (centre chair of Honduran mahogany, by Banks, 1979). To the right is a built-in piscina. The south wall of the sanctuary has a small glazed arcade of three openings. The southeast side chapel is called the Sacred Heart Chapel or the children’s chapel (originally the cry room). At its entrance stands a statue of the Virgin with Child (introduced in 1995). The apsed chapel has three single-light windows with coloured glass, the centre one with a red cross (1994). A modern timber altar with altar rails has statues of the Sacred Heart (originally from the first church), St Theresa and St Anthony. On lateral corbels are small statues of the Infant of Prague and St James the Less. The south wall has two small windows with grilles to the sanctuary.
The south aisle has a one-light window with stained glass of the Virgin Mary (originally from a church in Brighton), set within panels of rosy coloured glass. The westernmost window on the south side has a stained glass window, depicting the Holy Family, erected in 2006 in memory of Josephine Rose Pereira (designed and made by Delia Whitbread). On a corbel at the west end of the aisle is a statue of St John Vianney. The Stations are carved quatrefoils.
Architect: Henry Bingham Towner
Original Date: 1958
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed