Dockhead, Bermondsey, London SE1
Bermondsey Dockhead has claims to be the oldest mission in the Archdiocese, having been established in 1773 in a chapel which was destroyed in the Gordon riots of 1780. A later church was destroyed in wartime bombing and replaced by the present church by H S Goodhart- Rendel. In the words of the list entry, this is ‘an impressive building and a fine example of Goodhart-Rendel’s work, showing his use of polychrome brickwork, inspired by High Victorian churches and his powerful use of concrete to achieve a manipulation of sculptural form and spatial and exciting arrangement’. The plan form and some of the detailing shows a clear influence of Bentley’s Westminster Cathedral. The church is little altered and contains a number of original and later furnishings of note.
A mission was established in Salisbury Row, Bermondsey, as early as 1773, possibly the earliest mission in the present Archdiocese of Southwark. The chapel built at that time was destroyed by the Gordon rioters in 1780. This was rebuilt but was soon inadequate for the needs of the growing Catholic population, and was replaced in 1837-38 by a new church by Sampson Kempthorne, in the Early English Gothic style and with a galleried interior (figures 1 and 2). Adjoining it, a convent for the Sisters of Mercy was built in 1838 from designs by A W N Pugin, his first convent commission.
The Kempthorne church and Pugin’s convent were destroyed by a V-bomb in March 1945. The foundation stone of its replacement (figure 3), built in a prominent location on the corner of Jamaica Road and Dockhead, was laid by Bishop Cowderoy in June 1957 and the completed church was consecrated in May 1960. The attached new presbytery was completed by 1958. The architect for both was H.S. Goodhart-Rendel PPRIBA of Goodhart-Rendel, Broadbent and Curtis, and the building was completed after his death in 1959 by the successor practice of F G Broadbent & Partners. The church was designed to accommodate 490 worshippers. A new convent for the Sisters of Mercy was built in the 1960s.
The church and presbytery are described in the list entry below, but this contains one or two errors and omissions:
• It states that the presbytery was completed after Goodhart-Rendel’s death (1959), whereas the Catholic Building Review reported in 1958 that the new presbytery had already been completed.
• It states that the original marble altar survives against the east wall, whereas what survives is a shelf, tabernacle stand and gradine.
• The font is no longer in the sanctuary, but has been returned to the west end of the church (albeit to the west end of the nave, rather than to the baptistery, which is now a rather damp storage area).
• The nave pulpit is described as an ambo and inaccurately referred to as being in the chancel. The ambo in the sanctuary is a later introduction, sympathetic in design.• The altar is placed in a gallery at the west end, and is by J.W. Walker & Sons.
• Amongst the furnishings not mentioned in the list entry are the triptych over the site of the former high altar (Nativity, Christ with St Peter and Pentecost, photo bottom right) and the Stations of the Cross, fine high relief glazed ceramic designs by Cecil ‘Atri’ Brown, the former from 1958 but the latter not installed until 1971.• The seating consists mainly of (later?) benches, with some (original?) chairs.
• The list description also gives wrong initials for Francis George Broadbent, who completed the church after H.S. Goodhart-Rendel’s death.
Roman Catholic church by H.S. Goodhart-Rendel, the presbytery completed by the successor practice of F.C. Broadbent and Partners after Goodhart-Rendel’s death. With attached presbytery. 1957-60. Yellow and red brick in polychrome patterns with some blue brick. Tiled roof to eaves. Rectangular plan with tall passage aisles, confessionals opening individually off south aisle, western gallery; altar in short narrow sanctuary against east wall; new altar introduced in the 1970’s in forward position within sanctuary along with tabernacle plinth and lecture [sic] . The church
is dominated by paired polygonal western towers with main entrance between, set in tall aedicule, with five-light transomed window above. Low conical roofs to towers; which have segmental louvred openings to their top stages. Semi-circular mullioned windows high in the wall on north flank; similar windows to south side, but three of these with five-light windows below. Transept roof oversails the nave roof and transepts are each dominated by nine-light segmental headed windows. Five-light segmental east window high in the wall. Horizontal strips decorate lower parts of towers, contrasted with diagonal stripes to the diagonal walls of the aedicule. Green marble square-headed door surround with projecting hood and nine windows around having quatrefoil decoration. Large scale petal decoration to double doors. Flank
walls with large interweave pattern to lower walls and hexagon pattern above, with a pattern of red headers on a yellow background between. Presbytery attached to east end is L-shaped in plan, of brick with pitched slated roof to eaves. Patterned in two colours, being striped in red on yellow background with a panel of red brick to stair projection. Free neo-Georgian manner, with sash windows, segmental-headed to ground floor and staircase, square above. Windows to staircase have cills which step down diagonally. Sash windows with glazing bars to upper leaves, and to both leaves of staircase window. Projecting porch with segmental entrance to right of staircase.
Interior of church with round-headed transverse arches and barrel vaults to each bay. Tie-rods. North and south aisles at eastern end vaulted in a half-barrel and sanctuary barrel-vaulted. Tall semi-circular headed arcades with transverse barrel roofs and semi-circular headed openings for passage aisles. Steps up to sanctuary, which is lined with contrasting grey and buff stone with 2 levels of pilaster decorations beneath a cornice. Original marble altar against east wall, raised on a step. Decorative gilded tester with hexagonal coffers. Later altar of marble in forward position, and polygonal stone font also in sanctuary. Low wall of moulded green stone, at base of sanctuary steps. Stripy stone ambo of green and buff stone attached to wall on north side of chancel. Simple light timber pews.
An impressive building and a fine example of Goodhart-Rendel’s work, showing his use of polychrome brickwork, inspired by High Victorian churches and his powerful use of concrete to achieve a manipulation of sculptural form and spatial and exciting arrangement.
Architect: H.S. Goodhart-Rendel
Original Date: 1957
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: II