New London Road, Chelmsford, Essex CM2
A stone-built Early English Gothic design by J. J. Scoles, one of the leading Catholic architects of the mid-nineteenth century. The stained glass by Wailes adds to its architectural interest. The building has been altered and its interior twice re-ordered. The church makes a positive contribution to the New London Road Conservation Area.
The site was acquired in 1840 from Charles King, father of the first mission priest, who owned substantial property in Chelmsford. The mission was established in 1845, with Mass said in a school room. The present church (originally dedicated to ‘The Immaculate Conception’, changed to ‘Our Lady Immaculate’ in 1982) was opened by Bishop Wiseman, Vicar Apostolic of the London District, on 21 October 1847. According to Kelly (1907, 123), this was the first church in England to be dedicated to the Immaculate Conception (a doctrine not dogmatically defined until 1854). The architect J. J. Scoles was chosen at the suggestion of the twelfth Lord Petre who, with Charles King, was one of the original benefactors. The original Lady Altar was that consecrated at Thorndon Hall in 1780. The east window by William Wailes was given by Thomas Dunn, glass manufacturer of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and brother-in-law of Fr King. The builders were Messrs Curtis of Stratford and the cost about £2000. The church was consecrated on 20 October 1866.
A new Lady altar, presented by Mrs H. Collings Wells, was blessed on 9 October 1904. It was also reported at that time that some frescoes painted by one of the nuns of New Hall had been given to the church and that a third side altar would shortly be blessed. In 1908 designs for a new high altar, throne and canopy were prepared by Chancellor & Sons, architects of Finsbury Circus, London EC and Chelmsford. A note on one of the drawings in the Essex Record Office states that tracings were sent to Messrs Boulton (of Cheltenham). None of these fittings survives.
The church was reordered and extended in 1973 (architects R. A. Boxall Associates of Chelmsford). The high altar and side altars were removed and a forward altar introduced. Additions on the north side provided additional seating in a second aisle, an entrance porch/lobby with ramped access, a meeting room and an enlarged sacristy. The nave and aisles were re-floored in woodblock. The floor level in the sanctuary and side chapels was also raised, by two steps. There was a further reordering in 1988-90 when new liturgical furnishings were introduced and a reconciliation room formed in the northeast corner of the 1973 aisle. In 2014 the reconciliation room was replaced with a smaller confessional, and the church internally redecorated.
Since 2008 the parish has been entrusted to the Canons Regular of Prémontré.
The church is built in the Early English Gothic style. The external walls are faced in unknapped chalk flints with dressings of Bath stone and roof coverings of Welsh slate. The plan comprises a nave with north and south aisles, a south porch and a chancel with north and south chapels. There is a double bellcote on the east gable of the nave. The north aisle was enlarged in the 1970s and again in the 1980s; the new work has walls faced with grey industrial brick and render with roof coverings of artificial and natural slate. The west gable wall has a three-light window with three trefoils in the tracery and a roundel above. The aisle west windows are two-light, with a single quatrefoil over. The substantial gabled south porch has triple windows on each side, a pointed main doorway with a single order of shafts and a niche over. The south aisle has stepped buttresses with trefoiled lancets in the three bays between. There is no clerestory. The north aisle is now absorbed in the later additions which have three cross-gables with glazed heads and three re-set lancets in the walls beneath. The chancel and its flanking chapels are lower than the nave and aisles. The main east window is of three lights with three trefoils, like the west window. The chapel east windows are of two lights.
The interior has a woodblock floor (replacing the original encaustic tiles), plain plastered walls and a tall roof, originally with exposed timbers which have now been hidden by timber boarding. The timbers of the lean-to aisle roofs are still exposed. The original west organ gallery has been removed. North and south arcades are of four bays of pointed chamfered arches on cylindrical columns with moulded capitals and bases. The north aisle wall has been pushed out to provide more seating space and a number of enclosed rooms .The tall chancel arch is pointed and chamfered with respond columns. The chancel roof is panelled and painted. The east wall beneath the window has a trefoiled arcade. Paired arches on the south side and a single arch on the north side open into the side chapels. The church was re-ordered in 1973.
The fittings include much stained original glass by William Wailes of Newcastle (Fr King’s brother-in-law was a Newcastle glass manufacturer). That in the east window was inspired by A. W. Pugin’s glass in the chapel at Ware, of which Fr King was an alumnus.”
The hanging crucifix over the nave altar is by William Gordon (1988); the stone font and ambo are by Stephen Scully (1990); the exterior stone statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary is by Michael Lindsey Clarke. The present organ was brought from the United Reformed church in Felsted in 1985. The benches for the congregation date from the 1970s.
Text amended by AHP 15.12.2020
Architect: J. J. Scoles
Original Date: 1847
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed