Building » Eltham – Christ Church

Eltham – Christ Church

229 Eltham High Street, Eltham, London SE9

A late Gothic Revival church of 1911-12 by Canon A. J. C. Scoles and Geoffrey Raymond for the Priory of the Canons Regular of the Lateran. The church was extended 1935-6. It is notable for its elegant nave arcading, of hall-church character, and for its stained-glass windows by Harry Clarke Studios, Dublin. The west facade has some townscape value.

In 1870 the mission priest at Woolwich, Fr Jeremiah Cotter, bought two properties in Eltham High  Street, called  Torrington Lodge and Meadowside View (or  Meadow View). The Sisters of Mercy opened an Industrial School in the former and a Poor School in the latter. Two rooms in Torrington Lodge also served as a chapel dedicated to St Mary, for the schools and local Catholics. Initially, the mission was served from Woolwich until 1875, when Fr Francis English became the first resident priest. A later mission priest, Fr John Baptist Harth, baptised in 1882 the short-lived Claude [sic] Sophie, illegitimate daughter of Charles Parnell and Katharine (‘Kitty’) O’Shea, who lived with her aunt at Eltham at the time. In 1887 the Sisters of Mercy and the Industrial School moved to Croydon. The two houses were bought by Bishop Butt in order to save the mission. Fr Edward Martin started a new poor school for boys which necessitated the return of the Sisters of Mercy. Meadowside View was restored for use as a presbytery and a chapel opened in a small building beside it.

On 4 November 1890 a permanent church, St Mary’s, was opened by Bishop Butt. In 1901 Eltham Park House was acquired by the diocese and renamed St Joseph’s. It was to house a boys’ school which the Diocese had established in Mottingham House. From 1906 the Canons Regular of the Lateran took over the care of the missions of Eltham and Mottingham, at the invitation of the diocese. In 1910 Eagle House was purchased by the order and restyled ‘Christ Church Priory’. The site was large enough for a larger church than St Mary’s.

Work on Christ Church began after Easter 1911. In October 1911, Abbot White laid the foundation stone. A year later, on 8 November he opened the new church. The architects were Canon Alexander Joseph Cory Scoles (1844-1920) and Geoffrey Raymond (1881-1972). Scoles was the third son of the more famous architect Joseph John Scoles. Like his brother, the Rev. Ignatius Cory Scoles SJ, Alexander Scoles qualified as an architect before becoming a priest. Geoffrey Raymond was Scoles’ nephew and junior partner who succeeded to the architectural practice after Scoles’ death.  Like many of their churches, the design is conservative for its date. The builders were Messrs F. J. Bradford of Leicester. The church consisted initially only of a three-bay nave and aisles, a chancel with side chapels and sacristies with an organ loft above. The organ came from the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre, New Hall, Essex (built by Hill in 1865). A rood screen from Spettisbury, Dorset (carved by Frs Jeffrey and Cotter) was erected in the church, which incorporated a portion of an ancient rood discovered at Whitford, near Axminster.

Eltham was canonically erected as a parish in 1920, with Fr. Isidore O’Leary CRL as the first parish priest. In 1928 the buildings of the former orphanage of St Mary were converted for the first parish school in Eltham. In 1935-36 the nave and aisles were extended westwards by three more bays, as well as a baptistery, a chapel, a confessional and two porches. On 23 February 1936 Bishop Brown blessed the extension. In 1936 the new church at Well Hall, Eltham, was opened; followed three years later by the opening of St Bernadette’s church, Middle Park Estate. (The latter closed in 1999, and the building is now called ‘Joan Curries Hall’ and used by the Middle Park Community Centre.)

During the Second World War both church and priory were badly damaged, in particular the windows. By about 1959, the church was fully restored. In addition to redecoration and general repairs, this included the installation of several windows designed by Harry Clark Studios, Dublin between 1951 and 1967. The stained glass programme required the insertion of two new windows, including a rose window at the east (tracery designed by Justin Alleyn FRIBA) and a window in the Lady Chapel (tracery designed by David Reid ARIBA of Broadbent & Partners). The west window is a memorial to the parishioners killed during the war. In 1954 a shrine dedicated to St Philomena was installed in the south aisle. When the cult of St Philomena was discouraged in the 1960s, this was converted to St Joseph’s Chapel, with two windows of 1967 by Harry Clark.

F. H. Broadbent, who had been a partner of Goodhart-Rendel, had once been a parishioner in Eltham and his practice was commissioned in 1962 to build the St Thomas More Secondary School in Footscray Road. They were also commissioned to build new priory buildings intended to replace Eagle House. (In the event, only the first of three stages was executed and Eagle House was preserved.) Work started on the priory in September 1963, to designs by David Reid. The same year, the parish was given permission to remove the rood screen. In 1967 a temporary forward altar was installed. The following year, screens were removed from the chancel arches and the choir stalls resited. In 1969 a parish hall was built to designs by Broadbent & Partners. In August 1973 a John Compton organ was installed in the Lady Chapel, replacing the Hill organ. The organ loft above the sacristy ceased to be used by the choir and was subsequently glazed in and used as a separate room.

In 1980 the sanctuary was reordered under the direction of Paul Cookson ARIBA. A forward altar was installed and the sanctuary floor raised (both executed by Wiffen & Co, Plumstead). A new font by Kentish Contractors, Hither Green, was located near the sanctuary and replaced the neo-Gothic font from the first church, St Mary’s. The baptistery was converted into an ‘open-confessional’ by Woodside Ltd, Thornton Heath.

For the consecration on 9 November 1981, the interior was redecorated by Arthur Stone, Eltham. In 1992, a digital electronic organ by Copeman Hart was installed, with a speaker case designed by Paul Cookson.


The church was built in 1911-12 to designs by Canon A. J. C. Scoles and Geoffrey Raymond. In 1935–36, it was extended by three bays to the west and two porches, a chapel, a baptistery and a confessional added.

Stylistically, the church is of the Perpendicular Gothic Revival. The materials are London stock brick, laid in English bond, with stone dressings – externally of Weldon stone and Bath stone on the interior. The ridged nave and sanctuary roofs are tiled, while the low-pitch lean-to aisle roofs are covered in lead. The plan is longitudinal, of an aisled nave with apsidal sanctuary, flanked by straight-ended side chapels, and symmetrical polygonal chapels and porches at the west end. The sanctuary is located to the south, linking the church and presbytery.

The central part of the west facade features a small latticed window to the roof space above the five-light west window, flanked by the battlemented aisles with three-light windows, and gabled entrance porches with two-light windows. (The northwest porch is used only as a fire exit.) There is a further entrance on the south side, via a door set in the angle between church and sacristy. (There is also internal access from the presbytery.) The southwest porch has a plaque in memory of Abbott White and the completion of the church in 1936. The nave of six bays has a panelled wagon roof without a clerestorey. A tall arcade of Tudor arches separates nave and aisles; this with the tall aisles and lack of clerestorey lends the interior the effect of a hall church. The west window has stained glass depicting the Ascension (1951, by Harry Clarke Studios).

The north aisle has the former polygonal baptistery (now confessional) in the second bay from the west, followed by two doors to the repository (formerly a confessional), and four three-light windows with coloured glass. At the east end is the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, with a marble altar under a timber baldacchino, and a stained glass window of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane (in memory of Fr Anthony Smith CRL (died 1981)).

In the arch between the chapel and the sanctuary is the speaker case for the organ (1992, designed by Paul Cookson). The organ manual is located in the opposite arch to the Lady Chapel. The white stone font of 1980 (designed by Cookson) is to the left of the sanctuary arch. The sanctuary has a polygonal apse with five stained glass windows by Harry Clarke Studios, showing, left to right: Christ among the Doctors (1958–1959), the Presentation (1954), the Nativity (1956, in the central rose window), the Visitation (1954) and the Annunciation (1956). (A plaque in the north aisle commemorates the Fallen of the Second World War and dedicates the windows of Visitation, Presentation and the Ascension to their memory.) The high altar is of marble, and the forward altar of white stone, like the font. The aumbry and piscina are on either side of the high altar. The lectern is of timber with carved tracery.

The south aisle has a polygonal chapel (mirroring the former Baptistery) near the west end, dedicated to St Joseph. A statue of St Joseph in front of a gold mosaic with green marble surround is flanked by two windows of the Holy Family and the Death of St Joseph (Harry Clarke Studios, 1967). The altar is of reddish marble. Above the chapel hangs a large reproduction of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary by Murillo which used to hang in the Lady Chapel before the insertion of the window. Beyond, to the east is one three-light aisle window, as well as three pairs of windows belonging to a room above the sacristy (originally the organ loft). Below these windows are several doors into the sacristy and presbytery. At the east end of the aisle is the Lady Chapel with a marble altar, a statue of the Virgin with Child and a stained glass window of the Coronation of the Virgin (Harry Clarke Studios, 1967). The Stations of the Cross are painted plaster casts of scenes in relief with ogee frames.

Heritage Details

Architect: Canon A. J. C. Scoles and Geoffrey Raymond

Original Date: 1911

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed