High Road, London N2
A functional but carefully-designed post-war church with a concrete portal frame.
In the nineteenth century East Finchley Catholics attended Mass in the chapel of the Good Shepherd convent on East End Lane. In 1895, a disused Congregational Chapel on the corner of the High Road and Chapel Street, was acquired by Fr John Breen, the Good Shepherd chaplain, and a group of East Finchley Catholics. Hostile litigation delayed the opening but in 1898 the old chapel was registered as a Roman Catholic place of worship.
The old building was destroyed by a landmine which exploded nearby on the night of Friday, 15 November, 1940. Since the old site was considered too small for a new church, it was decided to build the new church on the grounds of the old presbytery at 279 High Road. Planning permission for a new church was given in 1951 and work started at once with the help of a grant from the War Damage Commission. The architects were Westmore and Sanders of Cheapside, in collaboration with Mrs G. M. Reeves; the builders were Dove Bros. of Islington. The new building was of functional design with concrete portal frames and red brick cladding and Roman tiles. The interior was also faced in brick, the floor was to be finished with blocks of polished Rhodesian teak. The then Rector of St Mary’s, Fr W.A. Joyce, disliked the simplicity of the redbrick sanctuary and described it as ‘utilitarian rather than ornamental’. In order to achieve what he described as ‘a happy combination of the two’, he decorated the sanctuary in Italian marble to match that of the altar, despite the objections of the architects. In the course of an extensive reordering in 1986-87 by Richard Hurley, the marble was removed. More recently a further reordering has been carried out by David Lyle.
The church is a functional structure of no particular style. It is not orientated and the east end lies to the west. The external walls are faced with wire-cut brick laid in Flemish bond, the roofs are covered with pantiles. The plan comprises a large west porch or narthex space and a broad aisleless nave. The building widens at the liturgical east end to house sacristies. The porch is a substantial pitched roofed structure which has a round-headed west door in a stone surround and three round-headed window openings on each side. The broad west gable of the nave itself is blind. The nave side walls are of six bays (the original design proposed seven bays) divided by pilaster strips and with a pair of round-headed windows in each bay. East of the nave the building widens and has small round-headed windows in the side walls and rectangular windows in the east end wall with a central doorway. The whole of the main building is covered by a broad shallow-pitched roof.
Internally the walls are of bare-faced brown brick and the concrete portal frames are exposed. The floor is teak parquet, the nave side windows clear-glazed. The liturgical west end wall has an arched door to the porch space with slit windows either side. In the east end wall is a parabolic arch to the apsidal sanctuary, flanked by much lower round arches to side altars. Fittings include the stone altar, carved by Angela Godfrey, and stained glass in the small south transept by Mark Angus, both installed in the 1980s.
Architect: Westmore and Sanders in collaboration with Mrs G. M. Reeves
Original Date: 1953
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed