Wellesley Road, Croydon, Surrey CR02
A town centre Gothic Revival church of the 1860s by E. W. Pugin, considerably enlarged in the 1880s, in an early work by the (then) local architect F. A. Walters. The external appearance of the church has been marred by an unsympathetic addition of the 1970s on the south side, but the design remains a strong element in the local scene, occupying a pivotal position between the high-rise commercial town centre to the south, and the vestigially-surviving nineteenth-century villa development to the north. Inside, Walters’s work is seamlessly integrated with Pugin’s to create a dramatic hall church-like space, with many individual furnishings of note.
A Mass centre was set up in a house in Southbridge Road (no.20), where the first recorded Mass was at Christmas 1837. In 1841 a chapel was opened in Handcroft Road, Broad Green. This was a target for local anti-Catholic prejudice and the mission priest, Fr Patrick O’Moore, was on one occasion violently attacked while saying Mass. In 1850 the Croydon mission was put in the charge of the Frenchman Fr Alphonsus David (who remained until his death in 1894).
The land for the present church was purchased in 1861 for £742, by public subscription. Construction was assisted by a donation of Lady Elizabeth Lloyd Anstruther of Ryde, Isle of Wight, who gave £2,000 in thanksgiving for her conversion, and construction began in May 1863. The architect was E. W. Pugin and the builders Messrs W. & S. Smith of London and Ramsgate. Pugin’s church consisted of a seven-bay nave and short chancel; it seated 600 and opened in 1864. The sloping site allowed the church to be raised over a spacious undercroft. A presbytery was built alongside the church, on the south side (where the car park now is), and a school behind the church.
In 1876 F A Walters prepared a scheme for the decoration of Pugin’s chancel (drawings in RIBA). This was an early scheme by Walters, who at this time was living locally (the address given on the drawings is 1 Florence Villas, Lansdowne Road, Croydon). Whether or not it was implemented, this scheme was soon superseded by more ambitious proposals, prepared from 1881, for an extended chancel with side chapels, north and south aisles and enlarged sacristy and school accommodation on the south side. Walters’ first plans, dated June 1881, showed Pugin’s short chancel replaced by two-bay transepts and a polygonal sanctuary, with two chapels on either side. The realised scheme was less ambitious, with a square-ended extended chancel and sanctuary, with one chapel giving off each side. These additions were designed in a seamless manner, such that it is not immediately obvious today where Pugin ends and Walters begins. Cardinal Manning preached at the reopening service on 26 November 1882. According to Battell (The History of St Mary’s, 1862-1993, 1993, p. 17), the Lady Chapel was built of materials from old churches all over Europe, and from bricks salvaged from the parish church in the Old Town, which had been damaged by fire in 1867; however this story is not obviously borne out by the fabric.
1894 saw the death of Canon David, builder of the church; he is commemorated in a window (depicting (SS) John Fisher and Thomas More) in the south aisle. He was succeeded by his curate, Fr John McKenna, who is commemorated in a window in the narthex. [The narthex is an addition, the date of which has not been established, but possibly c1925. It is in Gothic style, but in a contrasting plum coloured brick, and may be the work of F. A. Walters & Son].
On Good Friday 1918 (i.e. six months before the Armistice) the parish war memorial was unveiled. This was a tall stone cross on a stepped base, with a bronze figure of the crucified Christ. It was originally placed in the church forecourt.
In June 1944 the church was damaged by a V1 flying bomb, and the stained glass in the east window was blown out. The pieces were carefully gathered up and the window repaired, along with other repairs to the building, in 1945, with payment from the War Damage Commission.
In 1968 the busy Wellesley Road was widened. The church lost some of its forecourt, and the opportunity was taken to extend and reconfigure the narthex, with a flat-roofed addition at the side housing a parish hall and other facilities, opening in 1972. A new presbytery was built at the same time. The war memorial was relocated to the south side of the church, and about the same time the church was internally reordered, with an oak pulpit of 1900 and Walters’ communion rails removed.
A large urban church in Transitional Gothic style, built in two nineteenth-century phases, with twentieth-century additions. The original church was built in 1863-64 from designs by E. W. Pugin, and consisted of a seven-bay nave and short sanctuary, of which the nave survives. In 1882 the east end was rebuilt from designs by F. A. Walters, with an extended sanctuary with flanking chapels, north and south aisles, enlarged sacristy and schoolroom accommodation. In the early twentieth century a narthex was built at the west end, and in 1972 flat-roofed additions and a presbytery were added on the south side.
The church is built of London stock brick with stone dressings, and a Welsh slate roof. The west front has three gabled ends, the central one (that of Pugin’s nave) rising to a gabled bell-cote. Below this is a wheel window, with a central quatrefoil inscribed within a circle, surrounded by eight similar. The west elevation of the flanking aisles have two-light windows with hoodmoulds, flanked by two high-level lancets, vesicas and other Gothic detail in the gables, all surmounted by elaborate stone crosses. The twentieth-century single-storey narthex in front of the west front is in a plainer lancet Gothic style, and in contrasting plum-coloured bricks. It has a central raised and gabled entrance, with modern glass doors.
The northern flank elevation is more plainly treated, with attached brick buttresses marking the bay divisions, two-light lancet windows with plate tracery and round openings in the arches, stone hoodmoulds and carved label stops. The south elevation is similarly treated, but the detail is obscured at the lower level by the 1970s addition, built of red brick with a large projecting flat-roofed covered area.
The ground falls away towards the east end, where the church is raised over an undercroft. Sheer buttressed brick walls rise up to the sanctuary and side chapels windows; there is plate tracery with three lancets and inset trefoils in the more public elevation of the north chapel, while a similar arrangement realised more simply is on the south chapel. In the sanctuary east window, two tall lancets, the bottom third blocked for an internal reredos, surmounted by a circular window, all framed by an outer arch. Giving off on the south side is a two-storey addition, with (originally) a schoolroom below and sacristies above; this has a central attached chimney breast, with a carved datestone ‘AD1882’ set in at first floor level. The window openings have brick cambered arches; the windows here have been replaced in uPVC.
The church is entered either via the glass doors in the western narthex or via the 1970s entrance on the south side. Paired Gothic arches frame the central narthex area, and the original door into the church. The nave is of seven bays, separated from the aisles by arcades supported on alternating octagonal and cylindrical piers. The highly distinctive and elaborate timber roof has curved braces rising to scissor braces in a raised central section. There is no clerestory; the aisles are high and wide, giving the effect of a hall church. They have scissor braced timber roofs.
The wide chancel arch has plain responds, with the moulded arches springing from carved angel brackets with stubby columns over. Within the chancel arch is an embattled rood beam supporting polychrome rood figures by F. A. Walters (his designs of November 1882 are in the RIBA Drawings Collection). The chancel is of two bays, with a wide archway on either side giving off to the flanking chapels. The chancel has a canted and boarded timber roof, picked out in polychrome detail. The chapel roofs are similar; blue for the Lady Chapel (north) and red for the chapel of St Joseph (south). The Lady Chapel retains its Gothic altar and St Joseph’s chapel its altar reredos, both designed by Walters, with arcading and canopies, the detail now much picked out in gilt. The gradine of Walters’ high altar in the sanctuary also survives, with central tabernacle and inset quatrefoils on either side; what appears to be a truncated altar is set in front of this, and further forward is a modern freestanding altar.
Other fittings of note:
Architect: E.W. Pugin; F.A. Walters
Original Date: 1864
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed