Bexley Road, Erith, London DA8
A large brick church of 1962-3 built for a parish served by the Capuchins. Stylistically it is conservative for its date; the stripped Classical styling of the tall entrance arches and the landmark campanile are powerful features in the street scene.
In 1867 the Capuchin Fr Maurice was working in Erith and initially celebrating Mass in a house in Cross Street. Subsequently, a plot was secured in West Street where he built a church dedicated to St Fidelis, a small school and a presbytery. Initially, the mission was served from Greenhithe, where the Capuchins were established. In 1875 Erith was formally founded as a Capuchin Friary, with new friary buildings attached to the church. Then a large site was bought at the corner of Bexley Road and Carlton Road. There a new Friary dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels was built by Fr Bernardine. Building work began in October 1902 and the Friary opened the following year. The intention to build a church beside it was only realised in the 1960s. Meanwhile, first one corridor, then two served as a chapel. In the 1920s a large hall was built which was used as the church. In 1947 a whole wing of the Friary was transformed into a chapel which was used until the current church opened. In 1960 the present St Fidelis RC Primary School to the south of the church opened. The present church was built between 1962 and 1963, from designs by Archard & Partners. The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Cowderoy on 9 September 1962. Fr Ignatius was in charge of the building project, until his sudden death during the Canterbury Pilgrimage. Fr Egbert, the Father Provincial (1957–1963), then oversaw the project. The church was opened in December 1963. The cost was £45,750. The joinery contractors were H. Friday & Sons, of Erith. (Although stylistically incongruous, the side aisles are part of the original building, if not of the first design drawings.)
There had been a Mass Centre at Slade Green served from Erith since 1948. In about 1962, a large wooden building was opened there as a chapel-of-ease, dedicated to St Joseph. (This was closed in c2006.) The church of St Fidelis was closed and demolished in 1989 for an extensive council redevelopment. Two stained glass windows from St Fidelis were transferred to Our Lady of the Angels. Within the last few years, the 1920s parish hall was replaced by the Angelus Centre, an energy- efficient, timber-framed structure by Pinelog.
The church is facing west; however, this description uses the conventional liturgical orientation.
The church was built in 1962-3 from designs by Archard & Partners of London. It is built in load bearing brick, laid in Flemish bond, with a lightweight steel truss roof. The tower has a copper-clad pyramidal roof. The plan is longitudinal, of an aisled nave with an attached campanile at the northwest corner. At the northeast, the church is linked to the Angelus Centre; at the southeast are a large chapel and a corridor link to the Friary.
The west facade has a porch of three tall round arches, beyond which is the entrance, flanked by two small window bands, with three groups of three windows above. The northwest tower is slightly tapering, giving it a monumental appearance. Its north elevation has a square window at ground floor level with an asymmetrical grille. At the upper level, all four faces have a round-arched opening, below the pyramidal roof with cross. The single-storey side aisles have glazed gables to each bay.
Internally, at the west is a timber and glazed narthex below an organ loft. In the tower is the repository. The nave has seven bays, with a simple arcade of stilted arches with one round-arched clerestory window per bay. The two easternmost nave windows are filled with stained glass from St Fidelis, depicting St Clare on the north side, St Francis on the south. The flat ceiling is tiled. The north aisle has a reconciliation room and a side altar to St Joseph, with a stone altar, a tabernacle and a statue of St Joseph. (At the time of the visit, all the sculptures and paintings were covered in preparation for Holy Week.) The side chapel has a timber reredos, consisting of textured squares and rhombi (H. Friday & Sons, 1964). To the left of the sanctuary is a small niche with a side altar to St Francis with a statue of the saint.
The sanctuary has four windows to each side, and a large arch to the south. Now filled with coloured glass, this was originally open to a side chapel. The original octagonal pulpit has been replaced by a stone lectern. (In photos of 1964, the church still had a high altar, set on steps in front of a timber panel similar to that of the St Joseph’s chapel and crowned by a tester. The tester was subsequently removed and the altar moved forward.) In front of the timber panel hangs a crucifix. In the north and south sides are a built-in aumbry and piscina. The tabernacle stand in front of the stained- glass arch is of stone, as is the squat circular font. On the left side of the sanctuary steps is the foundation stone; on the opposite side is a war memorial plaque of stone for both world wars. A small alcove to the right of the sanctuary, mirroring that of St Francis, contains a shrine to St Anthony. In the south aisle is the Lady Chapel, with a stone altar and a statue in a niche. Behind the altar is timber panelling, with black lines radiating from the niche. At the west end of the aisle is another external entrance door. The Stations of the Cross are round-arched, cast reliefs.
Architect: Archard & Partners
Original Date: 1962
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed