Sycamore Avenue, Fenny Stratford, Bletchley, Bucks
An economical Gothic design by Sebastian Comper, half its intended size.
Catholic worship revived in the Bletchley area from 1901, with Mass said in a private house in Fenny Stratford and then in the mission hall on Bletchley Road. Numbers grew with the arrival of Belgian refugees in the First World War, and a property at 44 Church Street, Fenny Stratford was acquired and used as a church for the next 35 years, served from Wolverton, Woburn Sands and by the Sacred Heart Fathers. By 1947 there were 370 parishioners, and a pressing need for a larger, purpose-built church. The church of St Thomas Aquinas was built in 1956 from designs by J. S. Comper. The contractors were Webster & Cannon of Aylesbury, and the final cost was just over £13,000. The foundation stone was laid on 26 June 1955 and the church opened on 14 June 1956. As built, the church seated 208. It was paid for by 1960, and in that year a presbytery was built, to all appearances from Comper’s designs. Like many of Comper’s churches, St Thomas Aquinas’ was designed to allow for further (westward in this case) extension, doubling its present size, but this never happened. A parish hall has more recently been built at the west end.
The church is in a simplified modern Gothic style, of wire-cut Fletton brick with concrete or reconstituted stone dressings and a plain tile roof. It consists of a short nave of three bays (half the originally intended length) with a canted apsidal sanctuary flanked by a sacristy to the north and a Lady Chapel to the south. The windows of the nave and east end of the Lady Chapel consist of triple lancets under a flat lintel with a hoodmould, with four-light windows in the south wall of the Lady Chapel and adjoining lean-to bay, and paired lancets with Y-tracery in the canted side of the apse. The slightly later presbytery lies to the east, with a low flat-roofed link to the sacristy. At the west end, the end wall is entirely plain, having been conceived of as temporary, and against this is a single-storey modern parish hall, of complementary design and materials.
Inside, the incomplete truncated design results in a broad and short nave. The internal wall surfaces are of white painted plaster. The roof of the nave is carried on large unmoulded transverse brick arches, externally buttressed, this being found to be less costly than the reinforced concrete arches originally intended. Between these bays is a rafter and purlin roof. Simple unmoulded arched openings give onto the apse and Lady Chapel, with a lower doorway to the left of the chancel arch leading to the sacristy. The apse has a collar rafter roof with soulaces, and there is a doorway giving off to the sacristy on its north side, with a large three-light window over, supplementing those in the canted sides of the apse.
The canopy over the site of the former high altar is probably a Comper design, although not shown in the early photograph in the Catholic Building Review (1956). The other wooden sanctuary furnishings are modern. There is an attractive small pipe organ by the entrance to the Lady Chapel, made by August Spath (who also made an organ for All Saints, Bletchley) and dated 1982. The chairs in the nave are original (Comper preferred these to benches).
Architect: J. S. Comper
Original Date: 1956
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed