Building » Farm Street – The Immaculate Conception

Farm Street – The Immaculate Conception

Farm Street, London W1

One of the major Catholic buildings of the Gothic Revival, built in 1844–46 by J. J. Scoles as the central London church of the Society of Jesus. It was later enlarged by Clutton and Romaine-Walker with side aisles containing numerous chapels and altars. The church is lavishly furnished by architects and craftsmen of note, including the high altar designed by A. W. N. Pugin. The building sustained some war damage, notably to the stained glass windows. A. E. Purdie built the adjoining residence for the Jesuits, where the Jesuits’ Provincial Curia is based.

In the 1840s, the Jesuits were keen to build a church in Westminster but plans were initially stalled as Bishop Griffiths feared their presence would cause neighbouring secular missions to suffer financially. However, following a petition to Pope Gregory XVI, they were permitted to erect a church and plans were agreed. The leasehold of a site in Farm Street Mews was acquired for £5,800. Fr Randall Lythgoe laid the foundation stone on 31 July 1844. The church opened for use in 1846 and the formal opening by Bishop Wiseman took place on 31 July 1849. Joseph John Scoles (1798–1863), who had already worked for the Jesuits on various projects including Stonyhurst College, designed the church. The builder was Thomas Jackson and the original interior decorations were by Henry Taylor Bulmer. The Builder judged it ‘a very successful specimen of modern Gothic’ (2 June 1849)

Due to site constraints, the church was orientated north-south, with the main entrance in Farm Street. Originally, it consisted of a nave, sanctuary with side chapels and only three bays of aisles. Rich furnishings were gradually installed to embellish the church. After a fire in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in 1858, Henry Clutton rebuilt it as the Sacred Heart Chapel (1858–60, furnished 1859–63), with the assistance of his clerk, John (F.) Bentley. In 1864, the sanctuary floor was raised, with the east window raised correspondingly.

The side aisles were added as neighbouring land became available. In 1876–78 Clutton built the south aisle, with three chapels and a porch to Farm Street. In 1886–88, Alfred Edward Purdie added the red brick presbytery, which includes a chapel (figure 1). (Bentley’s designs for a presbytery (1872 and 1873) had not been executed.) Purdie also designed furnishings for several chapels in the 1880s and in 1905. William Henry Romaine-Walker (1854–1940) built the north aisle in 1898–1903, containing five chapels divided by internal buttresses which enclosed confessionals. The chapels and the aisle continued to be furnished between c.1903 and c.1909. At the same time as the construction of the north aisle, an additional entrance to Mount Street Gardens was added and the northeast side chapel reconfigured. (The liturgical east façade had become visible and accessible following the demolition of St George’s workhouse, which had directly abutted the site boundary, and the laying out of public gardens.)

Following war damage of 1940, Adrian Gilbert Scott rebuilt the west front gable and its pinnacles in 1951 in a more simplified way. Several windows by Evie Hone (1894–1955) were installed in 1953 to replace those lost in the bombing. In 1966, the church became a full parish church where baptisms and weddings could take place and the Calvary Chapel initially became the baptistery. (Now a moveable font is used.)

 

There were several attempts to reorder the sanctuary without altering A.W.N. Pugin’s high altar. In 1980 Broadbent, Hastings, Reid & New extended the sanctuary floor, installed a forward altar, moved the pulpit eastwards to the chancel arch, and removed the altar rail gates to the Calvary Chapel (while keeping the rails). At the same time, the roof was repaired at a cost of over £86,000. In 1987, the roof was painted to a scheme by Austin Winkley. The current sanctuary arrangement dates from 1992, when a fibreglass cast of Pugin’s high altar was installed as a forward altar (photo centre left). In 2007, the most recent restoration campaign was completed by Cliveden Conservation, conserving the stonework on the exterior, in the sanctuary and in the Sacred Heart Chapel. In 2009, a wheelchair ramp was installed in the former Agony Chapel, which originally was intended as a porch (architect Russell Taylor). The altar by Purdie was dismantled and reconstructed at Blessed Sacrament, Copenhagen Street (qv).

 

The list entry is fairly brief (see below). The following description adds further detail, in particular about the furnishings, using conventional liturgical orientation.

 

The plan of the church is longitudinal, consisting of a nave, aisles with chapels and the sanctuary with side chapels (figure 2). The overall style is a mixture of Decorated and Flamboyant Gothic, with the west front derived from Beauvais Cathedral, and the east window from Carlisle Cathedral. The west front is the more elaborate face, consisting of a rose window above a three-gabled entrance and with a central gable flanked by pinnacle buttresses. The west windows of the aisles do not match and their roofs are concealed by parapets. A porch at the southwest is actually part of the ground floor of the Farm Street block of the Jesuits’ residence (far right in the top right photo). The east elevation has a nine-light window to the sanctuary between blank walls terminating the side chapels. A small doorway with a tympanum carved with the Assumption in 1914 is wedged between the sanctuary and the northeast chapel.

 

The eight-bay nave has a deeply moulded pointed arcade on clustered pillars of polished Peterhead granite. The timber roof is panelled between arch braces and is painted (1987, Austin Winkley). The clerestory has tall four-light windows above blind tracery and decoration in the arcade spandrels by Romaine-Walker with mosaic lettering of 1996 by F. Monteiro and Fr Michael Beattie. The chapels and aisles are all vaulted.

 

The sanctuary has a Caen stone high altar made to a design by A. W. N. Pugin, with an inscription dated 1848 recording the donation by Monica Tempest. The figures below the row of pinnacles depict the Elders of the Apocalypse. The frontal shows the Crucifixion flanked by Abel, Noah, Melchisedech and Abraham. This was copied in fibreglass for the forward altar in 1992. The east window has stained glass of 1902 and 1912 by Hardman, depicting the Tree of Jesse (the theme of the original window of 1885). The sanctuary walls are lined with alabaster and marble (1864, George Goldie). Above these, two Venetian mosaics were added in 1875. The communion rails of pavonazzo marble with lapis lazuli were installed in 1901 (by Romaine-Walker). The modern lectern of marble has an ogee-arched niche with one gilt angel.

 

The pulpit was moved to its present position against the north pillar of the chancel arch in c.1980. On the opposite side of the chancel arch is a large statue of Our Lady of Farm Street (1860s, Mayer of Munich) under a canopy by Fr Ignatius Scoles SJ, the son of the original architect. The Sacred Heart Chapel at the southeast (1858–60, Clutton, photo bottom right) has walls lined with alabaster. To the north and south are arcades with angels in the spandrels (carved by Theodore Phyffers and said to have been designed by Bentley). The altar of inlaid marble was made by Thomas Earp of Lambeth, with three brass reliefs by Phyffers. Two small angels on either side of the tabernacle are reputedly by Bentley, while working as assistant under Clutton. Above the altar is a large painting on wood by Peter Molitor depicting the Sacred Heart flanked by four saints.

 

The south aisle has three chapels divided by pierced tracery screens against which the altars are set, i.e. facing east (photo bottom left). Throughout the aisle are late-nineteenth-century carved timber Stations of the Cross from Austria, now painted in a stone colour. The chapel of St Aloysius (no. 4 in figure 2) was designed in 1883 by Purdie. The frontal of the marble and alabaster altar depicts the saint receiving Holy Communion from St Charles Borromeo. The richly carved and pinnacled stone reredos (made by Farmer & Brindley) has statues and reliefs of musician angels flanking a statue of the saint in the central niche. The chapel of St Joseph (5) was designed by Clutton. Above the marble altar is a carved and gilt reredos with four painted panels (inner panels by Charles Goldie, the outer ones by Miss Gambardella) and a central Carrara marble statue of the saint. Clutton also designed the St Francis Xavier Chapel, with a gilt and carved frame to Charles Goldie’s fine painting of the Death of St Francis Xavier (the church guidebook says this is the New Zealand painter Charles Frederick Goldie, famous for his portraits of Maoris; the source for this attribution is unclear, and any connection with the architectural dynasty of that name has not been established).

 

At the west end of the south aisle is a former porch (7) which in 1905 was remodelled by Purdie as the Agony Chapel. In 1977, it became the bookshop and repository. In 2009, the altar was dismantled, the entrance was reopened and a wheelchair ramp installed. Between this and the west entrance is the Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes (8) which was furnished in 1887 by Purdie. A carved stone reredos contains Carrara marble statues of six musician angels flanking Our Lady of Lourdes in the centre. (The latter was supplied by Thomas Pate of Leghorn; the remaining sculpture is by Anstey.)

 

Below the west gallery (with a split organ originally by a Belgian firm which was rebuilt by Willis in 1926 and restored by Bishop & Son in 1980) are statues of SS John Nepumucene (designed by Romaine-Walker and carved by Charles Whiffen, 1905) and Anthony (Italian work).

 

The northwest entrance door is disused. Beside it is the octagonal Calvary Chapel (12) with a glazed star vault. The small reredos is a copy of Perugino’s Crucifixion (by Miss Gambardella). Two niches are faced in black and white marble and hold white Carrara statues by J. W. Swynnerton: the Man of Sorrows (after Dürer) and the Mother of Sorrows. The individual polygonal chapels in this aisle are separated by buttresses containing sky-lit confessionals. Placed against the south face of the buttresses are tall statues designed by Romaine-Walker and carved in polychrome marbles by Whiffen. These comprise St Margaret of Scotland (1909, figure 3), St Winefride (1909), St Thomas of Canterbury, with St Teresa at the west and St Ignatius at the east. St Frances of Rome (1908) was sculpted by Swynnerton

 

The English Martyrs Chapel (15) has a coloured marble altar and a carved gilt reredos with painted panels (by Miss Gambardella) of eight martyrs flanking a white marble statue of the saint (1905, Whiffen). The chapel also contains a terracotta relief of the Mater Amabilis in the style of Della Robbia (given in 1925) on a bracket by Eric Gill. The next chapel (17) has an altar dedicated to Our Lady and St Stanislaus containing a reredos with a sculpted panel of the Annunciation and a copy of Pierre Legros’s statue of St Stanislas’s death in Sant’ Andrea al Quirinale under the altar table. The reredos in the chapel dedicated to St Thomas the Apostle contains a copy (by Miss Gambardella) of a painting by Cima, in a gilt frame with tracery above and a marble altar below.

 

Another chapel contains the altar of the Seven Dolours, consisting of an altar with panels of lapis lazuli and a carved and gilt reredos. This contains a statue of Our Lady of Dolours copied by Whiffen from a Spanish model, which is flanked by paintings (by Miss Gambardella) of St John (after Verrocchio) and St Elizabeth (after Mantegna). Tiny coloured statues of saints and angels are set into the tracery framework of the reredos.

 

At the northeast is the St Ignatius Chapel (23), of three clerestoried bays. It contains Purdie’s altar and pinnacle reredos (1888) of alabaster and marble from the previous chapel. The altar frontal and reredos feature scenes from the life of the saint in deeply carved relief. Above the tabernacle is the monstrance throne, above which is a statue of the saint. On the north wall of the chapel are a Calvary group (designed by Romaine-Walker, carved by A. de Wispelaere of Bruges), a polychrome statue of St Francis Xavier (Whiffen), a statue of Our Lady of Montserrat (presented 1991), and a metal icon of Our Lady of Guadeloupe (presented 1996).

 

There are three windows of 1953 by Evie Hone: the west rose depicting the Instruments of the Passion; two small lancets above the west rose with two saints; and the three-light window in the Lourdes Chapel depicting the Assumption. At the west end of the north aisle is a three-light window by Patrick Pollen depicting Saints Edmund Campion, Robert Southwell and Nicholas Owen.

Heritage Details

Architect: J. J. Scoles; Henry Clutton; W. H. Romaine-Walker

Original Date: 1844

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: II*