Altenburg Gardens, Clapham Common, London SW11
An Italianate design of 1906-07 by Claude Kelly. The intended western campanile was never built, but the church remains a coherent and attractive design, with a handsome front elevation and barrel vaulted Classical interior. Modern reordering has been sensitive and well-detailed, but has perhaps robbed the interior of some of its former richness. The church sits amidst mid-nineteenth century Italianate villas, and makes a positive contribution to the local conservation area.
The Clapham Common mission was established in 1903, when, with the help of Miss Frances Ellis, Fr George Grady purchased a house and adjacent land in Altenburg Gardens. Fr Grady created a temporary chapel on the raised ground floor of the house, which became the presbytery (a school was also established in the presbytery). Plans for a permanent church, with a tall Italianate campanile at the west end, were prepared by Claude Kelly and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1906 (his drawing now hangs in the presbytery). The foundation stone was laid by Bishop (later Archbishop) Amigo in July 1906. The builder was the prolific Catholic Leicester builder F. J. Bradford, and the church was opened on 19 March 1907. The campanile and most of the south aisle were never built.
In 1935 St Vincent de Paul’s was canonically erected as a parish. At the same time the church was redecorated, with much polychromy and gilding in the apse and Lady Chapel. New communion rails and Stations of the Cross were installed and a text, DEUS PROVIDEBIT SIBI VICTIMAM HOLOCAUSTI (God will Provide for Himself a Victim for the Sacrifice), painted around the apse, in place of a previous, more obscure text.
In 1965, under Fr Bernard Smith, the sanctuary was reordered, with a new marble forward altar, and with the tabernacle placed on a mini-altar at the back of the apse. The paint scheme was greatly simplified. A baptistery was built at the southwest corner of the church, roughly where one had been intended by Kelly (at the bottom of his proposed campanile).
In 2007-08 there was a further reordering of the sanctuary by Russell Taylor Architects, with new paving, altar, tabernacle stand and other fittings in white Caen stone. At the same time the entrance forecourt was repaved to allow for step-free access, and new brick gate piers built on the street frontage.
The church was built in 1906-07 from designs by Claude Kelly. It is in Italian basilican style; an intended campanile was never built. The materials are red brick with stone banding and dressings, with clay pantiles to the roofs.
The west front has a lean-to pantile narthex with gabled entrance with a semicircular mosaic in the tympanum over the doorway, by Anna Weiner, 1987, replacing a previous mosaic. There is an open pediment over the porch, with stepped blind arches, the form of the pediment repeated in the main pediment of the west front, which is of stone. Above the entrance is a large lunette window, its keystone carrying a statue of St Vincent, by Thomas Rudge, a parishioner. At the corners are projecting piers with semi circular niches and stone banding. The flank elevations are built up close to adjoining properties and are much more simply treated.
The entrance leads into a narrow entrance lobby with bare brick walls and flat plaster ceiling with cornice. To the right, a modern WC block in place of a baptistery addition of 1965. The interior has white painted plaster walls and consists of five bays, marked by blind arcades with Corinthian pilasters. Two eastern bays on the south side are opened to form organ galleries etc; these are all that was built of a projected south aisle. There is an apsidal sanctuary with Lady Chapel giving off the south side, and sacristies beyond that. The roof of the nave is steel framed, concealed by a lath and plaster barrel vault, pierced by lunette clerestory windows, one in each bay. The Corinthian pilasters and entablature continue around the semi-circular sanctuary, with ribs springing from the entablature to articulate the half-domed roof. A wrought iron screen separates the sanctuary from the Lady Chapel, which is reached by means of a low two-bay aisle beneath the organ gallery. A baldacchino framing a copy of Fra Bartolommeo’s Virgin and Child described by Evinson is no longer in the Lady Chapel. The marble pulpit in the nave mentioned by Evinson is also gone, presumably removed in the 2008 reordering.
The sanctuary furnishings are of Caen stone, simple and dignified, if a little austere, and dating from 2008. The font is of stone, with coloured marble panel, and is now located at the west end of the nave. The Stations of the Cross are Italian work, installed in 1935. There is no stained glass, apart from a red cross in the western lunette.
Architect: Claude Kelly
Original Date: 1906
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed