Bethell Avenue, Canning Town, London E16
An ambitious design of the interwar years, built as a convent chapel and combining arts and crafts, basilican and Lombard Romanesque elements. The architect was W. C. Mangan, a prolific designer of Catholic churches. The exterior is well-detailed but unremarkable, while the interior is notable for the quality and richness of its marble finishes.
The Convent was founded in 1897 by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary and substantial buildings were erected in 1902 and 1909. A large chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was added in 1929-31, from designs by W. C. Mangan. A screen formerly divided the nuns’ choir from the public seating in the nave.
The convent was damaged in 1941, rebuilt 1946-55, but demolished in 2004, apart from Mangan’s chapel. A new and smaller convent and care home has recently been erected to the designs of Gould & Co., chartered surveyors. The remainder of the large site is currently (2011) being redeveloped with new housing.
The chapel is designed in a late Arts and Crafts version of the Lombard Romanesque style. The external walls are faced with red brick laid in Flemish bond with roof coverings of Roman tiles. The building has a basilican plan, with a nave, narrow passage aisles, transepts and apsidal sanctuary. Attached to the north aisle is one range of a former cloister passage which originally connected to the convent. The west gable wall has a single round-headed window and blind arcading at the wall-head. The southwest angle is canted and has the main entrance door under a round arch with mosaic decoration in the tympanum by Gabriel Pippet. The side elevations have semicircular lunettes in the clerestory and alternating blind and glazed round-headed windows in the south aisle. Transepts with a single tall window and much blind arcading project slightly beyond the line of the aisles. East of the transepts is a short sanctuary with an apsidal end and semicircular clerestory windows.
The interior is a handsome space. Beyond the entrance vestibule with its enclosed gallery above are tall four-bay arcades of round-headed arches on marble-veneered columns with Corinthian capitals. Above the arcades is a heavy stone cornice with a barrel-vaulted ceiling with lucarnes. The eastern arches rest on demi-columns set against the piers of the crossing which are pierced with narrow arches. The crossing itself has a simple cross-vault. The sanctuary is richly finished, with a marble floor, ornamental marble-faced walls up to the cornice and a barrel roof with ribs picked out in gilding. The decoration was carried out by the Art Marbles, Stone & Mosaic Co. (Pevsner). The original high altar and reredos are still in place and are equally rich. There is a modern forward altar of white marble. The sanctuary is flanked by side chapels which also have marble decoration and include a freestanding altar brought here in 1996-7 from the Convent of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, The Boltons, Kensington. The windows have clear glazing with coloured borders. Apart from the high altar and reredos, the fittings include the original benches.
List description (the church was listed Grade II in 2015, following Taking Stock)
Roman Catholic church and former convent chapel in Arts and Crafts Lombard Romanesque style by WC Mangan, 1929-31.
Reasons for Designation: The Roman Catholic Chapel of St Margaret, Bethell Avenue, Canning Town, built 1929-31 to the designs of W C Mangan, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: the church is an impressive interwar design by a noted and prolific Roman Catholic church architect, with a particularly rich and relatively little-altered interior;
* Historic interest: the chapel is all that survives of the historic convent buildings at Canning Town, where a Franciscan community was established from 1897.
History: In 1897 the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM) established a convent at Bethell Avenue, and substantial buildings were erected in 1902 and 1909. A room within the convent buildings served as a chapel until the building of the present chapel, originally dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was built from designs by W C Mangan of Preston. The foundation stone was blessed and laid by Arthur Doubleday, second Bishop of Brentwood, in June 1929, and the completed church was opened and consecrated by the bishop on 30 May 1931. From the outset the chapel was intended to be open to the public, so was planned on a more generous scale than was usual for a convent chapel, with seating in the nave for 200. Because this was an enclosed order, a screen at the crossing divided the nuns’ choir from the public seating (largely since removed). At the west end of the nave there was an enclosed tribune above the gallery, communicating directly with the convent. Post-Vatican II reordering involved the removal of the marble communion rails and the introduction of a timber forward altar, leaving the old high altar intact. More recently the timber altar has been replaced with a marble one brought from the FMM convent in The Boltons, South Kensington (closed 1996). The convent was bomb damaged in 1941, rebuilt in 1946-55, but demolished in 2004, apart from the chapel. A new and smaller convent and care home was built, from designs by Gould & Co, Chartered Surveyors. The remainder of the site has been redeveloped with new housing, although the high convent boundary wall survives. After the demolition of the main convent buildings, the chapel was handed over to the Diocese of Brentwood. There is (in 2014) no resident priest, the chapel being served from St Margaret and All Saints, Canning Town.
Details: Roman Catholic church and former convent chapel in Arts and Crafts Lombard Romanesque style, by W C Mangan, 1929-31. The church is reverse orientated, i.e. the altar is to the west. This description follows conventional liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar was to the east.
MATERIALS: the walls are faced with mixed purple and red hand-made sand-faced Berkshire bricks, laid in Flemish bond, with red brick and tile detailing and stone copings; Roman pantile roofs.
PLAN: cruciform plan, consisting of a nave with processional aisles and a western narthex, a crossing with north and south transepts, an apsidal sanctuary with flanking chapels. Running parallel with the south aisle is a covered way or cloister, formerly connecting to the convent. In the angle of the south transept and south chapel is a parish room (Flanagan Room), formerly the sacristies.
EXTERIOR: the (ritual) west gable wall has a single round headed window and blind arcading at the wall head. The entrance to the church is in the canted south west angle, within a projecting gabled porch with recessed Ionic columns and brick and stone banding. In the tympanum is a mosaic of The Annunciation by Gabriel Pippett, c1930. The south elevation of the nave has five lunette clerestory windows and alternating blind and glazed round-headed windows in the aisle. The shallow gabled transepts project slightly beyond the line of the aisles; each has a single tall central window and much blind arcading. To the east, the short sanctuary has an apsidal end with lunette windows at clerestory level, wavy decorative tile band and a blind arcaded wall below. The side chapels are apsidal and windowless, with decorative brick panels and decorative creased tile detailing. On the north side, the single storey former cloister and parish room (former sacristies) have flat roofs concealed by parapets and round-arched window openings with brick sills. At the north west corner the walls have been made good with painted render following demolition of the linked convent buildings.
INTERIOR: the entrance vestibule is paved in marble, and is separated from the church by a screen under the gallery with swing doors and arched glazed openings. The circulation areas of the nave and aisles are paved with Travertine marble, while paving of the areas beneath the pews is in herringbone woodblocks (Bagnac teak). A marble dado runs around the perimeter. Above dado height the walls of the nave, aisles and transepts are plastered and painted. The nave has tall four-bay arcades of round-headed arches on marble-veneered columns with bronze gold Corinthian capitals. Above the arcades is a heavy stone cornice with a barrel-vaulted ceiling with lucarnes. The aisles have transverse vaults marking the bays, and groin vaults within the bays. At the west end adjoining the porch and a former confessional, a stone stairway to the gallery, which formerly accommodated an organ and is now enclosed to form a separate room. Above this is a smaller gallery or tribune, which formerly connected to the convent. The eastern arches rest on demi-columns set against the piers of the crossing, which are pierced with narrow arches. At this point there was originally a screen separating the nave and aisles from the nuns’ choir; the stanchions for the gates in the aisles remain in situ. The crossing itself has a simple groin vault, while the shallow transepts are barrel vaulted. The sanctuary is richly finished, by the Art Marbles, Stone & Mosaic Co., of Westminster and Malden. The floor and walls are clad in coloured marbles, up to cornice level. The original high altar remains in place and is built of rich coloured (Carrara and Brescia Corallina) marbles and mosaics, with a central tabernacle throne under a massive ciborium (canopy above the altar) supported on onyx columns. The forward altar is of white marble, brought here in 1996-97 from the Convent of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, The Boltons, Kensington (London). The sanctuary is flanked by side chapels (Lady Chapel to the south, Sacred Heart to the north), also with coloured marble altars with mosaic inlay, walls and floors lined with marble, and vaulted ceilings. Running alongside, and parallel with the north aisle is an enclosed cloister, formerly connecting to the convent, with three windows per bay, and segmental transverse arches marking the bays. This contains a marble wall monument to deceased members of the community (1894-1967). The former sacristies are now (2014) a meeting room (Flanagan Room). The windows are leaded with mottled clear glazing incorporating coloured borders and motifs. The church retains its original oak benches. Because the chapel was not used for baptisms there is no baptistery or font.
SELECTED SOURCES: Architectural History Practice, Taking Stock report: Diocese of Brentwood, 2012; Cherry, B, O’Brien, C and Pevsner, N, Buildings of England: London, 5: East, 2005, p.260; Johnson, M and Foster, Fr S, St Margaret and All Saints Canning Town, London E16, 2009; The Tablet, 29 June 1929, p.24; 6 June 1931, p.13
Architect: W. C. Mangan
Original Date: 1929
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II