Building » Coulsdon – St Aidan

Coulsdon – St Aidan

Chipstead Valley Road, Coulsdon, Surrey CR5

A church dating largely from the 1960s, but incorporating part of its 1930s predecessor by Adrian Gilbert Scott. The building is an expression of progressive architectural and liturgical thinking of the early 1960s. It is architecturally plain (and the external design suffers from the loss of the needle spire), but the interior provides a light and spacious setting for a fine set of modern furnishings by Brother Xaver Ruckstuhl, Pierre Fourmaintraux and Graham Sutherland.

The Coulsdon mission was founded in 1909 by Canon Francis Roe, and in 1916 a tin church was built in Smitham Bottom Road (now Woodcote Grove Road). This was replaced in 1922 by a more permanent church on the same site, built with stones from a demolished barn at Stoat’s Nest Farm.

In 1930 Adrian Gilbert Scott was commissioned to build a new church on a site in Chipstead Valley Road, the site of the current church. This was an ambitious design in Gothic Revival style, proposing a long aisled nave, capable of holding 500. The first phase, comprising the east end and part of the nave, was completed in 1931 at a cost of  £12,000. The unfinished elements were given a temporary finish pending the second phase. However, no further works took place (apart from the addition of sacristies at the east end in 1953) until 1961, when Fr Kenneth Allan resolved to complete the building. By this time the architectural style and liturgical planning represented by Scott’s uncompleted design were becoming unfashionable, and Fr Allan determined to build a modern church, anticipating the liturgical reforms that were to be embraced at the Second Vatican Council. The new design was prepared by John Newton of Burles, Newton & Partners. He retained and incorporated Scott’s outer walls at the east end, as well as the sacristies, incorporating these into a new design which was entirely modern, influenced by Coventry Cathedral in some respects but also (from Fr Allan’s account) by post-war church rebuilding schemes in Germany. The design included a needle spire over the sanctuary, which was built (it is shown in a photograph of the completed church, Catholic Building Review, 1966,  p63) but does not survive. The church as completed was 80 feet (25 metres) long and 64 feet (20 metres) wide, with a high clear interior without internal subdivisions; like Scott’s design it seated 500 people, but with the revised design no seat was more than about 35 feet from the sanctuary.

Work started on the new church in 1964, during which time Mass was said in a temporary hall behind the sacristies. The completed church was formally opened on 18 May 1966 by Archbishop Cowderoy. It is notable for its fine modern furnishings, many of them paid for by local donors, including staff at nearby Cane Hill Hospital, who gave £800 for the high altar, the Union of Catholic Mothers (the paschal candlestick) and Mr and Mrs Gook, whose gift of £5,000 financed a number of furnishings. The  Benedictine sculptor Brother Xaver Ruckstuhl (1911-79) of Engelberg monastery, Switzerland, provided the high altar, tabernacle, lectern, paschal candlestick, font, statue of the Virgin and Child, and the altar, tabernacle, candlesticks and cross in the Blessed Sacrament chapel. Dunstan Pruden (1907-74, a silversmith and member of Eric Gill’s Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic at Ditchling, Sussex) made a silver corpus for the Blessed Sacrament cross. (The cross has more recently been sold and its place taken by a mosaic of the Child Jesus, by the late Phyllis Rudman, a parishioner – information from Fr Doetsch). The lead crucifix hanging over the main altar was added c1968, and is by Graham Sutherland (1903-80).  The stained glass is by  Pierre  Fourmaintraux of the Whitefriars Glass Studio. Both Sutherland and Fourmaintraux had worked at another John Newton church, St Aidan’s East Acton, sister church of the Coulsdon church, which was built in 1958-61.


The church as it stands today is largely a rebuilding of 1964-6. Retained from the earlier Scott design of 1930-1 are the canted apse and flanking chapel walls, all built of random Reigate stone. By contrast, the 1960s work is of loadbearing brick, using two inch buff bricks. The plan is staggered, at its widest where the new work meets the old, and where Gothic windows from Scott’s church are reset within the brick walls. There are two further setbacks as the building progresses towards the west end, with vertical slit windows in the returns providing subtle backlighting, as at Coventry Cathedral. The main front has a shallow gabled parapet and is of sheer brick apart from two narrow vertical lights placed in recesses which rise to the full height on the outer edges of the projecting flat-roofed entrance porch. The flat roof is carried on wide span trusses with a copper covering (asphalt on the lower additions).

After an entrance narthex (with choir gallery over), the interior is a single large volume, almost square on plan, but with a staggered plan, becoming wider towards the sanctuary. This allows for the seating to be arranged  three ways around the sanctuary. Externally canted, the internal form of the apse is  semi-circular, with perimeter seating following the curve. The sanctuary projects in front, and on either side of this are square-headed doors with stone surrounds leading into the 1950s sacristies. The internal walls are all of white painted plaster; the ceiling is of Parana pine boarding and there is a terrazzo floor throughout, white in the sanctuary and dark green elsewhere. Seating takes the form of plain modern benches, arranged around the sanctuary on three sides. The Blessed Sacrament chapel gives off the north side of the northern arm or transept.

The church is notable for the quality of its modern furnishings, many of them by Brother Xaver Ruckstuhl. These include:

  • The altar, a solid block of polished Swiss marble, weighing five tons, with an inset square on the front containing a chiselled rock inset with amethysts
  • The wrought iron lectern, also on the top step of the sanctuary
  • In the Blessed Sacrament chapel, the altar (the same materials as the high altar but smaller), the standing sanctuary lamp, the steel tabernacle (set into the wall)
  • On the south wall of the church, the bronze statue of the Virgin & Child
  • Close to this, the large low circular font, of Swiss marble, the outer edges rough  and  chiselled,  the  top  surface  and  bowl  smooth  and  polished

Other furnishings of note include:

  • the small suspended lead crucifix over the main altar, by Graham Sutherland
  • A series of stained glass windows at the east end and in the transepts/arms, with abstract coloured patterns, by Pierre Fourmaintraux, designed for the rebuilding and fitted by 1966
  • A more recent mosaic in the Blessed Sacrament by Phyllis Rudman (the crucifix previously in this chapel has been sold).
Heritage Details

Architect: Adrian Gilbert Scott; Burles, Newton & Partners

Original Date: 1930

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed