Commercial Road, London E1
A large Gothic Revival church built from designs by William Wardell to serve the East End, and the successor to the eighteenth-century Virginia Street chapel. When first built, it was the largest Catholic church in London (soon overtaken by the Italian church in Clerkenwell). The church contains several historic furnishings, despite war damage and several reordering schemes. Although the intended tower and spire were never completed, the church is a powerful presence in the Commercial Road Conservation Area.
The parish is the successor to the eighteenth-century Virginia Street chapel, attached to a hospital for foreign sailors. The Catholic chaplain was maintained by the Portuguese ambassador and local Catholics attended the chapel as well. This building was destroyed in the Gordon Riots of 1780 and rebuilt as a plain building. Its lease was to expire in 1857 and fundraising for a new site and building started as early as 1815. In 1842 a freehold site was acquired for £3,000. Ten years later, in 1852 William Wilkinson Wardell (1823-99) prepared drawings and the builders, Messrs Bird, signed the contract. Cardinal Wiseman laid the foundation stone on 24 May 1853 but building work stopped temporarily for lack of funds. The still unfinished building was opened by Cardinal Wiseman on 8 December 1856. The total cost was around £30,000.
In 1898, Frederick Arthur Walters (1849-1931) reordered the sanctuary. He also made drawings in the 1890s for additions to the presbytery (then to the liturgical southeast of the church) and to the schools (then on a site between Joseph Street and Johnson Street on the other side of the railway viaduct). By 1900 there was a disused burial ground behind the church and presbytery which Walters surveyed as part of an unexecuted proposal for new school buildings on the site. In 1909-11 and 1916, several new furnishings designed by Robert Leabon Curtis (1842-1918) were installed. Following war damage in 1945, the church was repaired by J. E. Sterrett, who also formed the gable in the top of the truncated tower, with statues in niches. He also designed the new presbytery with sacristy to the (liturgical) north of the church. In 1992, the church was reordered by Martin Goalen with the contractors Messrs Peak of Harlow.
In 2002, Abbott & Associates were given planning permission for a Community Hall behind the east end of the church. In August 2011, the HCC issued a faculty for a new warm air heating scheme. Kyle Smart Associates converted the west end of the outer north aisle into a heating chamber with tracery-shaped vents to the church and two dormer vents on the roof.
The exterior is described in the list entry (see below). The interior was not inspected at the time of listing, but the description refers to various features the church was said to contain. The following is a more detailed description.
The church faces south, but this description uses conventional, liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar was at the east.
The plan is longitudinal, consisting of an eleven-bay aisled nave with an outer north aisle and chapels at the east ends of the aisles. At the south is an entrance porch but the main entrance is via the unfinished tower at the west. The nave, the inner aisles and all three chapels have gabled roofs, while the outer north aisle has lean-to roofs. Internally, the nave roof is arch-braced while the aisles have collar-beam roofs. The outer north aisle is mainly occupied by confessionals. Of the three bays at the west (designed by Wardell as organ chamber), two bays are now enclosed as a heating chamber.
There are a number of corrections and suggested additions to the list entry:
Other furnishings of note at the west end are a large crucifix (which formed part of a Calvary that was partly destroyed during bombing in March 1945) and a statue of St Michael and the dragon.
Roman Catholic church. 1852-1856 by William Wardell (1823-1899). Kentish rag stone with Bath stone dressings; Welsh slate roof. Eleven bay nave with chancel, side aisles, and side chapel; tower with spire never built. Gothic Revival, Decorated style. Five-light traceried window to (liturgical) west end over arched door, set between buttresses capped with statues of St Mary and St Michael; statue-filled niche above. Cross finials to gable apexes. Three-light Decorated tracery windows to ends of side aisles. Large traceried window to Chancel.
Interior not inspected but said to contain numerous fittings of interest. These include: original altar and reredos of 1856 by Boulton & Swales in the side chapel; stained glass by Hardman & Co. of 1856; high altar and reredos of 1911 by R.C. Curtis; alabaster communion rails; statue of St Patrick by Theodore Phyffers, c1856.
History: when first built this was the largest Roman Catholic church in the capital. Wardell, its architect, was a pupil of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin: this church embodies the teachings of his master. The chancel was altered in 1898 by F.A. Walter and the church was reordered in 1992 by Gerald Goalen.
Architect: W. W. Wardell
Original Date: 1856
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II