Building » Clapham Park – St Bede

Clapham Park – St Bede

Thornton Road, London SW12

A quirky Classical design, one of many churches built with the help of Miss Frances Ellis, a major benefactor to the Diocese in the early years of the 20th  century. The building is physically attached to a mid-19th- century stucco villa which was formerly the London home of Miss Ellis, and which is a survival from Thomas Cubitt’s development of Clapham Park.

The Clapham Park estate was a speculative development by Thomas Cubitt, who acquired the 229 acres of Bleak Hall Farm in 1825.  Building plots were marked out for new stucco Italianate villas along broad, tree-lined streets. The venture was not wholly successful, and such development as did take place has largely been subsequently redeveloped. However, Hyde House (58 Thornton Road) is a survival and at the turn of the 20th  century was the London home of Miss Frances Ellis, a major benefactor to the Diocese of Southwark.

In 1903 Miss Ellis donated Hyde House and its grounds of almost an acre to the Diocese. A Mass centre was established in a ground floor room of the house, acting as a  relief  church  for  St  Mary’s  Clapham.  A  preparatory  school  for  the  Diocesan seminary  at  Wonersh  was  also  established,  but  this  proved  to  be  short-lived. However, the schools subsequently established on the site continue to thrive. Hyde House now serves as the presbytery.

The foundation stone for the church was laid on 4 November 1905 by Bishop Amigo, and the Bishop opened the church on April 27 1906. It was designed to seat 250 and cost about £2000. The name of the architect has not been established, but in its open pediments, lunette windows and slightly mannerist use of Classical detail the church bears similarities with the contemporary Ellis church of St Simon and St Jude at Streatham Hill, by Clement Jackson. The builder was E.B. Tucker of Lavender Hill. As with all the Ellis churches, the church was built of London stock brick, in a broadly Early  Christian  or  round-arched  style,  with  economy  in  mind.  As  designed,  the church had a gabled Romanesque doorway at the main entrance.   The chancel was added in 1932, along with the Lady Chapel and sacristies, at a cost of £6000. In 1958 the west front was altered to provide an open loggia at the main entrance. At the same time a new stone altar was installed, replacing a wooden one, and stained glass was installed in the circular east window. The church was consecrated by Archbishop Cowderoy on 1 July 1970.

As built in 1905-06 the church consisted of a single cell, a wide aisleless nave with a sanctuary at the east end, and was approached via a western narthex. The chancel and south Lady Chapel were added in 1932, and the west front reconfigured in 1958.

The church is built of London stock brick under a slate roof. It is in a hybrid early Christian or Romanesque style, with some Mannerist Classical detailing. The west front is set well back from the road and has three arched windows at its centre, the centre one slightly raised, framed by broad pilaster bands rising up to an open pedimented gable with Portland stone mutule cornice. The gable is surmounted by a cross. In front of this, the western narthex is now an open loggia with plain brick piers and modern entrance doors in the recess. Over this is a raised hipped roof clad in slates, with two dormer windows.

The interior consists of a wide aisleless nave with baptistery and confessional giving off the south side, a narrower and lower chancel, and Lady Chapel giving off the south side of the chancel and the east end of the nave. The wall finishes are a mixture of painted plaster and exposed brick. The nave is divided into six bays, four of which are lit at clerestory level by large lunette windows. There is an organ gallery at the west end of the nave. The bay divisions are marked by pilasters with keystones in the capitals, a curious Mannerist detail. Above the entablature is a barrel vaulted timber boarded roof. The entablature returns on the east wall of the nave, stopping short of the round sanctuary arch. The sanctuary consists of two compartments, each separated by a brick arch. The first compartment is brick faced and has arched openings giving off either side, with a triple arched clerestory above. The second compartment is plastered and rendered and contains the tabernacle within a segmentally-pedimented surround and the circular east window. Both compartments have canted boarded roofs. The Lady Chapel gives off to the south and follows the design of the original nave, with a barrel vaulted timber roof, exposed brick walls and lunette windows. Its altar of white and blue marbles is contained within a plastered apse.

The altar dates from 1958 but has been brought forward to allow for westward celebration. It is of light grey marbles with a central pierced quatrefoil bearing the IHS monogram. The tabernacle on the east wall is flanked by two theatrical low-relief figures of angels tossing fabric sheets (the post-Resurrection shroud?) Above the tabernacle stained glass in the circular window has a representation of Christ in Majesty, dating from 1958. The sanctuary has altar rails of polished hardwood, which appear to be modern. There is a curious circular font of Classical design with cherubs’ heads near the sanctuary entrance, not the one described in Evinson (which was located in the baptistery giving off the south side of the nave). In the Lady Chapel, the statue of the Queen of Heaven over the altar is by Mayer of Munich (Evinson).   The Sacred Heart statue to the right of the chancel arch is by Stuflesser. The seating consists of pine benches.

Heritage Details

Architect: Not established; possibly Clement Jackson

Original Date: 1905

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed