Church Road, Clacton, Essex CO15
A striking neo-Norman design of the early twentieth century by F. W. Tasker, built to house the national shrine of Our Lady of Light. The external massing of the church makes a major contribution to the local conservation area, and the vaulted interior impresses equally. Reordering has left the sanctuary somewhat bare but the church retains many furnishings of interest.
Clacton grew as a seaside resort from the mid-nineteenth century. Mass was said in a variety of improvised locations, including the Martello Tower and in a small room over a fruit shop in Station Road. A mission was not fully established until 1894, when Mrs Pauline de Bary and Mrs Agnes St John acquired a plot of land and a house at the corner of Church Road and Holland Road for £2400.
Mrs de Bary and Mrs St John were the guardians of a statue of Our Lady of Light, the centrepiece of a shrine which had been established at Sclerder, Cornwall in 1834 by members of the Trelawny family. It took its name from the shrine to Our Lady of Light (‘Intron Varia ar Sklerder’) in Brittany. ‘Sclerder’ is also the Cornish word for light, and the estate at Trelawne was so renamed. The shrine survived the Trelawny family, who died out in the 1860s, being maintained by a succession of secular and religious clergy until it was taken over by Pauline de Bary, widow of Richard de Bary of Weston Hall, Worcs. Mrs de Bary restored the shrine and installed a wooden statue of Our Lady and the shrine became a pilgrimage centre. However, what Wilson describes as ‘various difficulties’ arose, and a decision was taken by Mrs de Bary and Mrs St John to move the shrine to another location. They approached Cardinal Vaughan, who suggested Clacton-on-Sea, where there was a need for a mission.
In 1895 the Oblates of St Charles at Bayswater were invited to take over the running of the shrine, and Cardinal Vaughan undertook to erect the Confraternity of Our Lady of Light there. Leonard Stokes prepared designs for a large church in his personal version of free Gothic, which were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1896. This scheme was not pursued and instead in 1901 the Chapter of the Oblates approved the building of a small chapel, costing about £2000. After visiting Clacton however, Canon Wyndham, Father Superior of the Oblates, concluded that ‘the building of a small church or a cheap one does not seem practical. For a place as isolated as Clacton, the building itself should be expressive of the Holy Catholic Faith’ (quoted in Wilson etal, p.10). Canon Wyndham himself offered a considerable sum towards the project, and in April 1902 work started on a large church in Norman style, costing about £10,000, the design said to be based on St Bartholomew, Smithfield. The architect was F.W. Tasker and the builders Messrs S. Fancourt Halliday of Stamford, Lincolnshire. The foundation stone was laid by Canon Wyndham on 4 September 1902. The church was dedicated to Our Lady of Light and St Osyth, the Saxon abbess of a nearby convent and later Augustinian abbey. The western portion (nave and aisles) was opened on 24 May 1903 and the completed church opened on 15 October 1903. The Oblates of St Charles brought many items from London, including books and vestments, and four bells which were hung in the new tower.
In 1909 the sacristy was added at the east end and a Ketton stone pulpit introduced, the latter the gift of Mr A.G. Swannell, who also gave the high altar, communion rails and font. In the 1920s the carved wooden Stations of the Cross were put up and an oak war memorial lych gate built at the entrance to the churchyard.
In 1998 the sanctuary was reordered by the David Rackham Partnership. The church was consecrated by Bishop McMahon on 15 October 2004, 101 years to the day after the official opening.
The church is described in the list entry, below. Briefly, it is a large stone-built neo- Norman church consisting of nave, aisles, crossing tower with transepts and apsidal sanctuary with ambulatory. The design is said to have been modelled on that of St Bartholomew, Smithfield – the apse and ambulatory being the design features most in common.
Details of the interior in the list entry are very brief. To the right of the west doorway is the original baptistery, vaulted in stone, now a reconciliation room. The nave consists of five bays, with a stone gallery at the west end, and circular nave piers with scalloped capitals. Over this is a barrel vaulted roof, clad in Canadian redwood, as in the transepts. There is a high groin vault at the crossing, and the aisles are also groin vaulted. The sanctuary has a seven-arched arcade with a groin-vaulted ambulatory, with later sacristies beyond to the east. There are two side chapels on the eastern side of the transepts, to the Sacred Heart on the south side and the shrine to Our Lady of Light on the north side (figure 2), with the figure of Our Lady set within a neo- Romanesque aedicule. The square neo-Norman font has been placed in front of the sanctuary, probably as part of the 1998 reordering. The stone ambo and neo-Norman forward altar also presumably belong to that reordering, along with the removal of the high altar and communion rails. Stained glass in the church includes windows by Jones and Willis in the ambulatory, dating from c1903, and a depiction of Our Lady of Light in the nave, c1925.
Architect: F. W. Tasker
Original Date: 1902
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: II*