Eton Court, Eton, Bucks
An interesting and lavish curiosity as an early twentieth century ‘copy’ of a Baroque church on a small scale, richly done by a talented amateur and benefactor as a devout expression of faith.
Although in a different Catholic diocese and a different county, the village of Eton is contiguous with the town of Windsor, to which it is joined by a bridge over the River Thames, and it was to St Edward’s Windsor that Eton Catholics would go to attend Mass until the opening of Our Lady of Sorrows on 20 January 1915. The church was built and designed by Alfred Verney-Cave, the fifth Lord Braye, who said that it ‘was dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows in reparation for the destruction of the Lady Altar in Eton College Chapel in the reign of Edward VIth’.
Lord Braye was born Alfred Thomas Townshend Wyatt-Edgell on 23 July 1849. He became fifth Lord Braye (the title came through his mother’s family) in 1879 and in 1880 changed his name from Wyatt-Edgell to Verney-Cave. The family seat was at Stanford Hall, near Lutterworth, Leicestershire. He was educated at Eton and Oxford, and was a Catholic convert. At his death in 1928, Lord Braye left in trust the sum of £500 towards the heating and upkeep of the churches at Eton and Datchet (The Tablet, 22 September 1928).
The building of the church was opposed by the Eton College authorities, who invoked an ancient law which prevented the church having any windows overlooking college land; hence all the light in the church is from rooflights. After the opening of the church, Catholic Eton College boys were forbidden to attend it and had to walk into Windsor instead. The care of the church was given to the Canons Regular of the Lateran but it is now served from St Augustine’s, Datchet (qv, a reversal of the original arrangement).
See list description, below. This is broadly accurate as far as it goes. There are in fact two banks of roof lights, oval ones close to the eaves and lighting the side chapels and small rectangular lights higher up. Together with light from the lower glazed area of the timber roof cupola these provide borrowed light to larger internal rectangular ceiling lights in the nave. Despite the bar to external windows the façade does have large sash windows lighting a storage area and a staircase and a keyed oval window lighting the gallery. What the list description does not convey is the unexpected quality of the interior.
Despite the absence of side windows, the interior is well lit. The lack of distraction and the opportunity for decorative wall treatment that this allows enables the creation of a rich and devotional atmosphere, a calm refuge from the outside world. The church is not large but is compact and generously furnished. It is said that items were brought by Lord Braye from a private chapel he had built but subsequently demolished at Stanford Hall (see also report for Datchet), and from Frogmore Chapel, Windsor. The ormolu work on the altars is said to have been designed by Braye and made in London. It is also said that the church was built by Italian craftsmen using marble from Carrara. The six side chapels have almost the same visual importance as the sanctuary, the latter just a little larger and with altar rails set forward, contributing to the devotional spirit. Many different marbles are used. All the chapels have a multi-coloured marble altar front with ormolu decoration, and a pedimented aedicule reredos (alternately triangular and segmental). On the altar are gold-painted wood or metal crucifixes and candlesticks. The walls have framed marble panels and across the entrance are marble altar rails (not for the easternmost chapels). Decorative ironwork with pendant light fittings hang from the arches, more elaborate to the centre chapel on each side. Starting from the northwest and working clockwise, the first chapel is dedicated to St Joseph. This has a badly damaged oil painting (possibly the Flight into Egypt) in a heavy gilded frame. Next the Chapel of St Anne or Chapel of the Relics with numerous relics of saints set in elaborate gold painted frames either side of the altar and in a reliquary standing on the altar. The Chapel of St Augustine has a framed oil painting and a modern electronic organ. The Chapel of St Alphonsus (on the south side) has a framed oil painting of the Virgin and Child, like others, after Raphael. Three wooden stools, the fronts treated like the base of a candlestick, part of a set of five, the others in the sanctuary. The Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament has two brass candlesticks standing on the floor in addition to those on the altar. Framed oil painting (head of Christ with crown of thorns) over the altar and to either side charming oval paintings set in frames with integral corbel base. The Chapel of Our Lady has a framed painting of the Virgin and Child, a circular turned marble font and a tall multicoloured turned and painted wooden candlestick. In the easternmost chapels are pedimented doorcases into small sacristies, the date 1915 above that on the south side.
The sanctuary has a landscape-format painting of Christ taken down from the cross, set high up. The altar appears to have been brought forward. Against the east wall the marble tabernacle stands on an integral base but beneath is faced with modern bathroom marble tiles. Oddly the tabernacle does not appear in an old photograph of the interior and the painting is set lower down. Side doors into the sacristies. Marble plinth extending into the nave, with marble altar rails with square balusters. Either side of the altar are freestanding marble column bases surmounted by putti holding torcheres. Brass ambo. The west end has an internal wooden porch forming a small gallery above. This has one broad arch to the nave and two small side arches with vases of flowers. The ceilings have elaborately detailed dentil cornices (punctuated by ugly light fittings) and applied ormolu decoration. Decorative skylights and central domed skylight. Marble pavements throughout.
Roman Catholic church. 1914; by Alfred Lord Braye. Brick with rendered sides and Portland stone west front. Slate roof with gabled ends and circular roof lights. Italian Baroque style. PLAN: Rectangular on plan with entrance at west end, sanctuary at east end and chapels on the north and south sides lit from roof lights. EXTERIOR: Fine Portland stone west front, of 3 bays with Ionic giant pilasters, paired at ends, with entablature and balustrade on top and surmounted by aedicule with volutes and open pediment; central doorway with moulded eared architrave, panelled double doors and oval oculus above; similar architraves to flanking windows with bracketed cills. Blind east end and north and south walls, but with circular lights in roof. On the ridge of roof a wooden cupola. INTERIOR: Sanctuary and north and south chapels have round arches and marble Ionic pilasters; the chapels each have pedimented reredos and are lit by circular lights from above; the altar rails are marble balustrades. The interior fittings are said to have come from Frogmore Chapel, Windsor and from Braye’s chapel at Stanford Hall, Leics., his family home.
SOURCE: Buildings of England, p.319.
Amended by AHP 24.01.2021
Architect: Alfred Verney-Cave , fifth Lord Braye
Original Date: 1915
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II