Building » Chelsea – St Mary

Chelsea – St Mary

Draycott Terrace, Chelsea SW3

The mission was founded by the French émigré priest Abbé Voyaux de Franous, mainly to serve the Catholic pensioners of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. A small Regency chapel was built in 1811–12 and extended several times. The present church, built in 1877–79 from deigns by J. F. Bentley, is on part of a site acquired in c.1840 and developed by A. W. N. Pugin with a convent, schools, cemetery chapel and almshouses. Bentley’s church incorporates both Pugin’s cemetery chapel and a re-erected chapel by E. W. Pugin.

The mission was one of several founded by French émigré priests. Abbé Jean Voyaux de Franous, who had been Royal Almoner to Louis XVI, arrived in London in 1793. In 1796, he was appointed missionary to the Catholic pensioners in the Royal Hospital and local residents. Various locations were used as temporary chapels until 1811, when a plot was leased from Lady Charlotte, wife of Peter Denys. This was located at the northwest corner of what are now Cadogan Street and Pavilion Road. The foundation stone for the chapel was laid by the Duchess of Angoulême, the daughter of Louis XVI. It was opened in 1812. Built to designs by G. J. Wigley, it cost £6,000. It was a plain Regency chapel with a shallow curved ceiling.

By 1825, the parish encompassed 2,000 to 3,000 people and the chapel was extended several times: in 1824–25 by a side chapel and in 1850 by a new sanctuary by J. J. Scoles. In 1860, E. W. Pugin built a Blessed Sacrament Chapel, with an elaborate altar and reredos, marble-lined walls, windows by J.H. Powell and metalwork by Hardman & Co. In 1863–64, John Francis Bentley designed a new high altar and pulpit for the church and designed sanctuary decorations which were painted by Westlake.

By 1875, the chapel was far too small for its congregation and the lease was about to run out. Bentley was commissioned to build a new church on a two and a half acre plot formerly used as the Wellington cricket ground, which had been acquired in c.1840 by the botanist and nurseryman Joseph Knight and his wife Mary. Here they had built a complete Catholic community based on medieval models, including schools, a convent, a cemetery, almshouses and a chapel, all from designs by A. W. N. Pugin. The girls’ and boys’ schools flanked a central convent building shared by the Sisters of Mercy (who were to teach the girls) and the Christian Brothers (who taught the boys) (1841–4). The convent and the schools were ceremonially opened in 1845, with an address by the Hon. Edward Petre. The rear of the site was used as a burial ground and in the northeast corner of the site (the site of the present church) was a cemetery chapel (1845). Almshouses for eighteen (instead of the planned twenty-four) residents were built at the far western corner of the site in c.1848–55.

In 1865 Cardinal Manning considered the site as suitable for his proposed cathedral, on the grounds that such a large site – large enough for a cathedral, bishop’s house and seminary – would be unaffordable in central London (de L’Hôpital, pp. 10–11). However, these proposals came to nothing. Instead, Bentley’s new church was built on the northeast corner of the site, incorporating A. W. N. Pugin’s cemetery chapel as a side chapel. E. W. Pugin’s Blessed Sacrament Chapel was dismantled and with its furnishings re-erected at the new site. Bentley’s pulpit and altar of the 1860s were also installed in the new church. The foundation stone was laid by Cardinal Manning on 12 July 1877 and he opened the church on 1 May 1879. The builders were Messrs Braid. Economies had to be made and Bentley was asked several times to simplify elements of his design or omit specific ornaments. Casualties included a planned more elaborate east window and a projected tower and spire at the northwest. The overall cost came to £10,000. The adjoining rectory was built by Bentley in 1879 for about £2,750. The church was consecrated on 12 June 1882. Bentley continued to add furnishings until his death, with some being completed by his son, Osmond. Today, none of the original stained glass by Bentley, Westlake & Lavers and Barraud & Westlake survives.

The sanctuary was reordered in 1972, moving the high altar by Bentley to the northeast chapel and the tall spire over the tabernacle to the baptistery. The same year, the northeast chapel was restored in memory of Bishop Cashman (rector in 1958–65). In 2009, the restoration of the rectory was completed which included the creation of a parish office and meeting rooms.

The burial ground was closed during the nineteenth century and eventually built over in the twentieth century. The Christian Brothers ceased to teach at the boys’ school in 1880. The Sisters of Mercy departed in about 1954 and the former convent building was taken over by St Thomas More Secondary School (since 2004 St Thomas More Language College). St Joseph’s primary school occupies part of the complex. In 1994, Cardinal Hume laid the foundation stone for an extension to the schools.


The church is briefly described in the list entry (see below). The following remarks focus on the main furnishings and fittings.

  • The north aisle has three shrines in recesses. The westernmost has a small marble copy of Michelangelo’s Pietà (1927) under a three-light window whose central lancet has stained glass by Paul Quail (1985) of St Stephen of Hungary. The central recess has a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes (1906), numerous thanksgiving and memorial plaques, and a three-light window with Marian symbols (Paul Quail, 1988). The recess to the east has a statue of St Anthony (1906) and three saints in stained glass (1989) signed by Ferraris of Grassi Vetrate, Milano.
  • The sixth bay from the west in the north aisle has a statue of Our Lady below an elaborate gilt canopy (pedestal and canopy designed by Bentley, 1894). The shrine has alabaster rails with mosaics in the balusters. On the west wall is a plaque to the family of Count Mazzinghi, while the east wall has a marble memorial to Abbé Voyaux de Franous (died 1840) with a kneeling effigy. 
  • The north chapel (formerly St Joseph’s Chapel) has Bentley’s high altar of 1864, relocated here in 1972. The altar has a frontal of alabaster with three eight-pointed star-shaped recesses with carvings of the Coronation of the Virgin, the Annunciation and the Adoration. Oblong panels between them hold carvings of the four Evangelists. The carvings are by Theodore Phyffers. The tabernacle is domed. (The high altar never had a reredos.) A three-light window to the east depicts the Holy Family (1951, James Powell & Sons, from a design by A. S. G. Butler). A carved marble plaque commemorates James Laird Patterson (1820–1902), Bishop of Emmaus and President of St Edmund’s College.
  • The chancel arch has paintings of SS Peter and Paul by Westlake. The crucifix hanging from the chancel arch was completed to Bentley’s design death in 1902, after his death.
  • The square-ended two-bay sanctuary is faced in ashlar from Corsham Down, with blank arcading and carved angels by Henry McCarthy in the spandrels. The altar, tabernacle and shelf date from the 1972 reordering. The Romanesque-inspired pulpit (Bentley, 1863–64) at the northwest corner of the sanctuary has a base of Derbyshire fossil marble, marble and mosaic decorations and five panels painted by Westlake with the Doctors of the Church and Christ. The east window has decorative and patterned stained glass of 1954 by Carl Edwards. (It replaced a window designed by Bentley and made by Lavers, Barraud & Westlake in 1879.)
  • The southeast chapel is Pugin’s cemetery chapel of 1845. By c.1919, it was dedicated to St John and abutted a screened organ chamber. By c.1926, it had been dedicated to its present patron saint, Blessed (from 1935 Saint) Thomas More. It has a carved timber reredos and altar whose frontal depicts five angels, as well as an unpainted stone statue of the saint. The three-light window above has More’s coat of arms. In the 1920s, the altar was flanked by the blue and silver painted organ pipes. These have since been replaced by a modern organ (1964, J. W. Walker) set against the south wall.
  • The Blessed Sacrament Chapel by E. W. Pugin, off the south aisle and described by Rottmann as the ‘gem of the church’, has stone carving by William Farmer of Farmer & Brindley. It is stone-vaulted, with carved bosses and marble-lined walls. The Caen stone altar frontal between two marble columns is carved with the Adoration of the Lamb. The reredos has a central cusped arch over the tabernacle (by Hardman) and a central mandorla, surrounded by angels with the Instruments of the Passion. Four cinquefoil windows formerly with stained glass of 1860 by J. H. Powell are now filled with flower patterned stained glass by Carl Edwards (1954), with a dove by the same artist in the west-facing window. There is a memorial brass to Sir John Simeon Bt MP (died 1870) and his family. On the south wall are memorial plaques to members of the Tussaud family. (Marie Tussaud was buried in the old chapel of 1811–12 and her remains were later moved to the crypt of St Mary’s.) The timber rails are of 1932.
  • Memorial plaques in the south aisle include those to Lt General William Thomas Laird Patterson (died 1889); Canon Richard Gell MacMullen (died 1895), builder of the church; the benefactor Richard Knight (died 1855) and his wife Mary (died 1845) who was buried in the vault under the church; members of the Southwell family, some of whom were also buried in the vault; and Sir Gerald Fitzgerald KCMG (1912). 
  • In the baptistery, the octagonal stone font (possibly from the old chapel) with a modern timber cover crowned by a gilt dove. A statue of St Joseph has been placed below the gilt tracery canopy which hung over the high altar tabernacle until 1972. The canopy was made to Bentley’s designs by his son, Osmond, and installed in 1904. The two baptistery windows are by Paul Quail (1989).
  • Other stained glass in the church include the west window of 1954 (Carl Edwards); and a south aisle window with Marian scenes (Mary Chilton).
  • Other statues in the church include a bronze seated St Peter at the west and a stone statue of St Winifred as abbess in the north chapel. 
  • The Stations of the Cross are painted timber reliefs by Mayer of Munich (installed in 1909).

List descriptions



Roman Catholic Church. Circa 1877-79. J F Bentley, architect. Yellow brick, with stone dressings. Tiled roof. Early English/Georgian Gothic style. Cusped lancet windows to clerestory. Pointed barrel roof with ties; stone columns and dressings. Altars by Pugin and Bentley. Pulpit by Bentley.

Listing NGR: TQ2773078744



Rectory. C19 late, with addition. Two storeys. Six windows, including extension. Yellow brick, and stone. Modified Gothic style. Two-light oriel first floor. Some windows with glazing bars, others with leaded panes. Pitched tiled roof to parapet.

Listing NGR: TQ2774178720

Primary School


School and chapel. 1844. Probably Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. Yellow brick, stone dressings. Pitched slate roof to eaves. Two storey, 7-bay wing parallel to road, with advanced chapel wing to left, bearing date. Two towers with pyramidal roof at intersection. Main block with 4-light Tudor windows and door to each side with Tudor arch. Left hand wing with lancets, 2-light Geometrical window to road. Wall to playground in front somewhat rebuilt, but original Tudor-arched entrance.

Listing NGR: TQ2768478707

Heritage Details

Architect: A. W. N. Pugin; E. W. Pugin; J. F. Bentley

Original Date: 1845

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II*