Well Hall Road, Eltham, London SE9
A church of 1936 by James O’Hanlon Hughes, with a plain and rather monumental exterior. The original double-height sanctuary has been converted to a parish hall.
The Well Hall Estate was built in 1915 to provide housing for the workers at the Arsenal, Woolwich. In the interwar period the estate’s population continued to grow and in 1929, a Catholic mission was established. A single-storey ‘Catholic Hall’ was built in Appleton Road, with a hall, cloakrooms, lavatories and one infants’ classroom. This building was later extended upwards and used by St Thomas More School. However, initially it was a multi-purpose building, used for fundraising events to pay for a permanent church and the second storey of the school. Equipped with a temporary sanctuary behind a roller shutter, the hall also served as a place of worship until the nearby church was finished. St Thomas More School finally opened in September 1934.
In 1935 Fr Montgomery CRL, parish priest at Christ Church, Eltham, bought a piece of land near the hall for £660. The following year, on 8 February, Bishop Amigo laid the foundation stone for a church dedicated to Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, who had been canonised the previous year. The dedication was suggested by local connections: St Thomas More’s daughter Margaret Roper lived with her husband William at the medieval manor of Well Hall, close to Eltham Palace. According to a letter by Fr Montgomery, the site of the new church was located half way between the Ropers’ residence and the spot where St John Fisher rested for a meal on his last journey to London. The church was opened on 25 July 1936. It had been built to designs by James O’Hanlon Hughes (1894-1967), with a gift by Miss Mary Le Mottee.
In 1960, the parish had sufficient funds to proceed with the building of a presbytery in Arbroath Road (contractors: Messrs J. Murphy & Sons, completed 1961). In 1979, Well Hall became a separate parish, with Fr Anthony as the first parish priest. In 1987 the church was reordered, entailing the insertion of a partition between nave and sanctuary. A new sanctuary was created within the nave, while a ceiling was inserted in the high sanctuary space and the ground floor converted to a parish hall, with kitchen and toilet facilities. The parish could not afford the external fire exit required for the upper floor, which as a consequence remains disused. A year later, a small fire broke out in the church but did not cause any major damage. More recently, the southwest entrance was permanently closed and a sacristy created in the porch.
The church was built in 1936 to designs of James O’Hanlon Hughes. Built in reinforced concrete, it is clad in stock brick laid in English bond. The plan is longitudinal and consists of an aisled nave, with square towers set on edge at the west end. A tall, near-square tower at the east end used to house the double-height sanctuary, and was converted in 1987 to a ceiled-off ground-floor hall with kitchen and toilets. (The upper floor is not used.) A corridor at the southeast (with a side door) connects nave and east end.
The west front has three two-storey lancet windows below a metal cross, with single lancets of the inward-facing tower elevations. The two symmetrical entrances with concrete canopies are set at the west ends of the aisles. (That at the southwest is disused.) Most of the other elevations have sheer brick walls with small windows. The north and south faces of the east tower also have full-height lancets with stained glass of stars and orbs with crosses, which are only partially visible in the hall. (The double-height sanctuary would also have been lit by five lancets on the west face of the east tower.) The east facade has a large raised cross in brick above several windows and doors inserted during the conversion.
The northwest entrance porch leads into a narthex, with a repository in the northwest tower. The southwest tower houses the stair up to the organ loft above the narthex. The south corner of the narthex has been converted into a sacristy. The four-bay nave has circular skylights and some lancet clerestorey lights. Two (reproduction) paintings hang on the balustrade to the organ loft, which has a small organ in a neo-Gothic case. There is no arcade between nave and aisles, which are also lit by circular skylights. The Blessed Sacrament Chapel located at the northeast has a modern stone and marble altar of three plinths with triangular plans. A small window to the north has stained glass depicting the Host and chalice. Opposite is the foundation stone. The sanctuary is flanked by shallow reliefs of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher.
Architect: J. O’Hanlon Hughes
Original Date: 1936
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed