Building » Forest Hill – St William of York

Forest Hill – St William of York

Brockley Park, Forest Hill, London SE23

A simple Italianate church, one of a number built in the diocese in the early years of the twentieth century under the patronage of Miss Frances Ellis. The church has been significantly altered, with additions in Romanesque style of the 1930s by W.C. Mangan, and with further extensions and reordering in the 1980s by Williams & Winkley. The curious marriage of Italianate and Romanesque features in the main front of the church makes a distinctive contribution to a residential street.

The area was served from the mission at Brockley until 1905, when a mission at Forest Hill was founded. Miss Frances Ellis (1846–1930), a great benefactress of the diocese, donated the land and paid for the erection of a small brick church and the neighbouring presbytery. In 1905 the foundation stone was laid and the church was opened on 3 May 1906. The original chancel was orientated towards the south. The name of the architect has not been established. The design has been ascribed to Francis William Tasker, due to supposed similarities other ‘Ellis’ churches by him such as Catford and Stockwell, but Tasker died in 1904, and the external design perhaps bears greater similarities to Clement Jackson’s contemporary church at Streatham Hill (qv).

In 1921, the mission was formally erected as a parish. In 1930–31, the small church was extended by Wilfrid Mangan. He significantly enlarged the church by adding an apsidal chancel, sacristies, side aisles, a baptistery, a Lady Chapel and a vestibule with a gallery above. In 1964, the building was consecrated. After an experimental reordering in the early 1980s, the church was further extended and re-orientated by the architects Williams & Winkley in 1986. This work entailed radical change to the fabric. A new chancel was built to the north, replacing the former north aisle. The former sanctuary area was divided into two floors with meeting rooms, while the former sacristies were converted into a lobby and toilets; they were also extended upwards. Together, the former sanctuary and sacristies became a new Parish Centre, with access from the church, as well as from a separate side door. The ground floor meeting room is connected to the church by folding doors which allow it to be used as overflow worship space.


This description uses the current liturgical orientation of the church. (The original church was facing south; in 1986, it was re-orientated towards the east.)

The church is built of various types of brick, clearly marking the two phases of extensions. Its original plain Italianate style was overlaid by neo-Romanesque additions of the 1930s. The building has stone details both on the main facade and in the interior, and is roofed with slates. It is  not clear how much original fabric survives; even the facade facing the street may have been altered. The original structure was presumably a small brick church of oblong plan, one of the so-called ‘Ellis boxes’. The 1930-31 extensions by Mangan in the neo-Romanesque style expanded this longitudinal plan by adding aisles, an apsidal sanctuary and other subsidiary spaces. The extensions of 1986 by the architects Williams & Winkley have re-orientated the building towards the east (the former liturgical north) while the original  plan  form  and  orientation  are  still  legible. The architecturally most interesting parts of the church are the west front and the remaining aisle.

The yellow-brick main facade in Flemish bond seems to date largely from 1905–06 and includes the foundation stone. Prominent Tuscan gable over a round-headed window and simplified quoins. A small red brick porch with columns with neo-Romanesque capitals and a fluted tympanum was probably added by Mangan. The low vestibule also dates from Mangan’s alterations and contains a mosaic with the arms of the patron saint of the church, which until 1986 formed part of the high altar. The aisle at the west now functions as a kind of ambulatory, giving access to the vestibule, the nave, a chapel in the southwest corner, the toilet facilities in the Parish Centre and the sacristy. It has an arcade with neo-Romanesque columns similar to those in the porch. The square pillars alternating with the columns feature the Stations of the Cross, black wooden crosses with the scenes incised in gold.

The former nave has an exposed wooden kingpost roof. The gallery above the vestibule has curiously domestic-looking wooden railings. The nave is carpeted and contains modern chairs arranged in a semi-circle around the sanctuary. The sanctuary extension is a steel and timber structure which creates a wide, open space without any supports. The sanctuary area is slightly raised and contains the altar, credence table, lectern and president’s chair, all of French limestone. Together with the limestone font which is placed just to the southeast, these were designed by David John at the time of the reordering and reorientation. A single circular mullioned window on the east wall was created from the frames of two windows removed from the former east wall. It contains stained glass dedicated to the memory of Fr Jack Pledger, a former parish priest. It was designed in 1984 by the parishioners John and Theresa Barber and was made and installed by Goddard & Gibbs. In the southeast corner, the former Lady Chapel (now Blessed Sacrament Chapel) survives in simplified form. The upper storey meeting room projects into the nave. Only a painted circular design relieves the blank wall. Another chapel in the southwest corner, off the aisle, contains two statues of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Victories by Mayer. A further sculpture of the patron saint is placed above the arcade on the west wall.

Heritage Details

Architect: Possibly C. Jackson; Wilfrid Mangan; Williams & Winkley

Original Date: 1905

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed