Station Road, Buntingford, Hertfordshire SG9
A Gothic Revival flint and stone church built in 1914-15 from designs by Arthur Young, and financed in part by the colourful Catholic writer and polemicist Mgr R. H. Benson, of nearby Hare Street House. Benson died in 1914, and the church became his memorial. The tower was added later. The church, presbytery and Benson Hall are of historical interest, and occupy a prominent position within the local conservation area.
In 1906 Mgr Robert Hugh Benson acquired Hare Street House in Hare Street, near Buntingford. Mgr Benson (1871-1914) was the son of E. W. Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1883-96, and was an Anglican monk before his conversion to Roman Catholicism, a cause célèbre in 1903. A man of cultivation and exotic tastes, like his brothers Frederick (author of the Mapp and Lucia novels) and Arthur, Benson was a writer, specialising in ghost stories and novels with a Catholic millennial flavour. As well as adorning the house at Hare Street and building a chapel in the old brewhouse, he put in train, and financed, the building of a new Catholic church in Buntingford. This was built in Perpendicular Gothic style from designs by Arthur Young, who three years previously had designed the new church at Old Hall Green (qv). The builders were Jacklin & Co. of Royston, and the foundation stone was laid on 16 May 1914. Benson died in October 1914, apparently from exhaustion, shortly before his forty-third birthday. He was buried in the orchard at Hare Street, over which spot a memorial chapel dedicated to St Hugh was opened in 1917, designed by Fr Benedict Williamson and serving as a chapel-of-ease to Buntingford. Hare Street House was bequeathed by Benson to the Archdiocese of Westminster as a country retreat for the archbishop.
The Buntingford church, dedicated to St Richard of Chichester, became the Benson Memorial Church. It was opened on 21 January 1915, at which time it consisted of the nave, sanctuary, sacristy and presbytery. The Lady Chapel was added in 1916, financed by an anonymous American lady donor, the porch in 1934 and the tower in 1939 (this, and probably the porch, were designed by Allan D. Reid, Young’s partner). In the tower Fr Messenger, the parish priest, is said to have incorporated fragments acquired from St John Lateran, the Colosseum, the Roman Catacombs, Athens, the Holy Land and St Albans Abbey. The church was consecrated by the Right Rev. Edward Myers, Bishop of Lamus, on 5 June 1940.
The list entry (below) describes the architecture of the building, but says little about the furnishings. The following information can be added:
The Benson Memorial Catholic Church dedicated to St Richard of Chichester, and presbytery attached. 1915 by Arthur Young, later S extension to presbytery. Uncoursed knapped flint with limestone dressings. Steep red tiled roofs. Traditional church in Decorated style with nave, lower chancel, NE Lady Chapel, W tower with spire, N porch, and 2-storeys presbytery linked to S side facing E, with single-storey S extension. Crenellated tower with copper spike and vane, 4-centred arched 2-light bell openings with band at sill level, diagonal W buttresses, and tall statue of saint with spade on buttress at NE corner of tower. Dec stone tracery windows and diagonal buttresses elsewhere. Interior has waggon roof with moulded battens, carved bosses, and cresting on wallplate. Octagonal font or fluted shaft. Low gabled link at SE to presbytery of similar materials, with asymmetrical front. Ground floor has a long band of trefoil headed stone windows under a hoodmould, 4 lights to left and 5 lights to right of arched doorway with quatrefoil carved spandrels. 3 2-light and 3-light chamfered stone upper windows with sills joined by a band. (Pevsner (1977) 117).
Listing NGR: TL3632929246
Architect: Arthur Young; Allan D. Reid
Original Date: 1914
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II