Building » Dartford – St Anselm

Dartford – St Anselm

West Hill, Dartford, Kent DA1

 A large modern church with a square plan, built in 1973-75. It is the fourth church to serve the parish, and includes some furnishings from the predecessor buildings.

In 1851 the Capuchin Friar Fr Maurice of Cossato founded a mission at East Hill, Dartford. Fourteen years later he opened the first St Anselm’s chapel and school in Hythe Street in the centre of Dartford. Once the mission was well established, it was handed over to the diocese. Fr Edmund Buckley became the first resident priest in 1884.  The  first  chapel  was  just  a  converted  small  hall,  which  soon  became insufficient, even after an extension had been built for £48, enlarging it to seat 60 people. Fr Buckley raised the funds to build between 1884 and 1887 a new chapel, the first purpose-built one, together with a new school and presbytery, also in Hythe Street.

Fr Buckley served not only the parish of St Anselm, but also St Vincent’s Industrial School, the City of London Asylum at Stone, the Metropolitan District Asylum and Schools at Darenth, two hospital ships, the Smallpox Convalescent Camps at Darenth and  the  Dartford  Union  Workhouse;  all  without  assistance.  The  mission  was generally poor. In the 1880s the Sisters of St Ursula settled in Dartford, later running both the infant and senior schools. (They left for Sevenoaks in 1923, when the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady, Mother of Mercy, took over the secondary school.) Within a few years after the new school’s opening, its building was condemned; the church also became quickly too small and dilapidated.

The then mission priest Fr John Wallace undertook the building of a new school on the Hythe Street site, which was completed in 1899. A site in Spital Street which had been purchased in 1892 for £2,530 was finally vacated in 1899. A church was erected to the design of F. A. Walters at a cost of £2,000, the gift of Edward Fooks. The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Bourne on 24 February 1900. This small neo- Gothic church was built in red brick and seated 185 people. It was blessed on 8 December 1900, with a solemn high Mass taking place on the following day in the presence of Bishop Bourne.

A Belgian refugee designed and painted new Stations for the church, in gratitude for the kindness he experienced during the First World War. (They survive in the current church.) By the late 1930s, the church had become far too small and a new site was purchased at the top of West Hill. In the 1950s, the church and presbytery were redecorated while Fr Coleburt tried to find another, more central site. In 1956 a new primary school was opened in Temple Hill, replacing the old buildings in Hythe Street. About the same time, the Sisters of Mercy rebuilt the secondary school, which was then handed over to the diocese and became another primary school for the parish. In 1969, the Sisters sold the convent and moved to their daughter house at Orpington.

In the end, it was agreed that the fourth church of St Anselm should be built on the West Hill site. The architect Ralph Lovegrove was appointed in 1972 and a design was chosen which resembled a tent due to its biblical connotations. Work on site started in October 1973, the foundation stone was laid by Archbishop Cowderoy, and the church was completed in March 1975. The overall cost was £181,000. The contractors were Elkington’s of Tonbridge. The new church with its attached presbytery was opened  on  30  October 1975  by  Archbishop  Cowderoy.  The  new  church  included several furnishings from the predecessor churches, including the Stations, the altar frontal, pictures of saints in the sanctuary, and the foundation stone of the church from 1900. 

In 1982 the parish of St Vincent’s, Dartford, was created from part of St Anselm’s parish. In the 1980s the convent of the Sisters of Mercy was bought back from the diocese for use as the Coleburt Centre, which housed a parish centre, as well as a local business centre. It was opened on 7 November 1990. The church had been built with a view to adding a parish hall at the east of the entrance porch whenever funds allowed. As an intermediate solution, a two-storey extension housing a parish room was added at the north in 1991. Later in the 1990s, the architect Judy Brown designed an extension to the narthex and made other improvements. A new organ was commissioned in 1994 from Kenneth Tickell of Northampton, replacing a 19th- century organ.

In the early 1990s, the empty Hythe Street school on the site of Fr Maurice’s chapel, the hall that had been Fr Buckley’s church, and the church of 1900 were demolished for the Copperfields shopping centre. Canon George Telford, the parish priest from 1988 to 1992, secured an upstairs room in the shopping centre for use as an oratory where he held a weekly lunchtime Mass.

The  church  was  consecrated  by  Archbishop  Smith  on  30  October  2001,  in  the presence of the Mayor of Dartford. Plans by Pinelog for the parish centre were approved in 2007; the new centre was opened on 17 June 2010. As planned by Ralph Lovegrove in 1975, it is attached to the church on the west side of the porch.

The sanctuary is in the northwest corner. For the sake of clarity, this description will use the conventional liturgical orientation in regard to the corners of the building, i.e. the sanctuary is located in the east corner.

The church was built in 1973-75 by architect Ralph Lovegrove. The church is built in yellow brick laid in stretcher bond on the outside and in Flemish bond on the inside. Both exterior and interior have timber panelling below the eaves. The tiled roof, as visible from inside, rests on a sturdy reinforced concrete construction. It consists of a central pyramidal roof above a window band, with further roof slopes and another window band below.

The plan is square with three projecting elements: a narthex at the southwest side, the 1991 extension at the southeast, and a roughly triangular sacristy at the northwest side.

The main facade, the northwest side which faces the car park, is relatively plain. A stone with the names of the architect and builder is set into the west wall of the chapel. The corner to the porch has the reused foundation stone of 1900, whose other side bears the inscription relating to the corresponding ceremony in 1974.

The west porch leads into the narthex with connecting doors to the parish centre, and some  of  the  original  windows.  One  fixed  and  several  sliding  doors  separate  the narthex from the nave; they can be united to increase seating space.

The auditorium has a fan-shaped arrangement of benches, centred on the sanctuary at the east. Below a gallery in the west corner is the baptistery with the octagonal stone  and  marble  font  (possibly  from  a  predecessor  church).  On  either  side  are statues of St Anthony and the Sacred Heart, and two blue and green abstract stained- glass windows. The northwest side has a niche with a statue of the Virgin with the Child, and the sacristy with yellow and blue stained glass. The north corner has a stained glass window in brown and purple, inscribed with the names of the donors, which wraps around the corner and incorporates a fire exit door. There is also a statue of St Theresa. Along the northeast side is a top-lit corridor which connects the church and the presbytery. The Stations of the Cross are square framed canvas paintings (c.1918, by a Belgian artist), interspersed by small modern ceramic panels with biblical scenes.

The sanctuary in the east corner has six painted panels of saints, imitating mosaics, from a predecessor church. The tabernacle stand, pulpit and altar are of matching white stone. The altar has a carved timber frontal with angels, the host and chalice, and the wheat and vine (from a predecessor church). Above hangs a cross with Christ the King. The organ (1994, Kenneth Tickell) with its modern carved timber case stands near the south corner. Beside it is the entrance to the two-storey extension with parish rooms. On the southwest side is a confessional, and lavatory facilities.

Heritage Details

Architect: Ralph Lovegrove

Original Date: 1973

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed