Building » Grays – St Thomas of Canterbury

Grays – St Thomas of Canterbury

East Thurrock Road, Grays, Essex RM17

A substantial, economically-built church of the 1880s, serving what was at the time of construction the largest mission territory in the Archdiocese of Westminster. The church is in a diluted Gothic style, with a hall (originally a school) on the ground floor and the church occupying the whole of the upper floor.

A Mass centre was established at Grays in 1858, served at first from Stratford and later from Barking. The first church was a dual-purpose school and chapel, and opened in 1860. Grays was established as a separate mission in 1879. The first resident priest was Canon Cornelius Keens, who went on to build notable churches in London (Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane and Holy Redeemer, Chelsea), as well as setting up the Tilbury mission. Cardinal Manning laid the foundation stone of the present church in May 1886 (or 1 January 1886, according to some sources). The architect was Frederick Hyde Pownall (architect also at Maiden Lane) and the builder T. Burgess of Little Thurrock. The church was opened on 12 October 1886. An intended tower was never built. The sanctuary has been reordered several times: in 1948, 1968 and most recently in 1986, when it was also consecrated.


St Thomas’s is a large building built alongside the road on sloping ground. The church itself is on the upper floor with hall (formerly school) accommodation on the floor below. Attached to the east end of the church is the presbytery, a substantial late-nineteenth-century double-fronted house probably contemporary with the church and by the same architect. The external walls are of yellow stock brick with red brick window surrounds and stone detailing. The single continuous roof is covered with concrete tiles. The west end wall set on the slope has two broad pointed windows in the upper part, flanked by lower windows of similar form. The north and south sides are seven bays long, divided by substantial buttresses with stone cappings. On the south (downhill) side each bay has a pair of round-headed windows in the upper part lighting the church. Below the windows are pent roofs between the buttresses belonging to the hall front, which faces onto an enclosed yard. On the north side the west bay is the main entrance up steps with a broad projecting gabled doorway. Eastwards the other bays have pairs of pointed windows in the upper part lighting the church and triplets of segment-headed windows below lighting the hall. The front is now disfigured by a modern steel ramp extending almost the whole length of the church to a door at the east end.

Internally the church is a single long unaisled space with plain plastered walls with a timber roof boarded over at collar level, leaving the lower parts of the main roof trusses exposed. The paired windows in the side walls are clear-glazed and set in deep reveals. The floor is now covered in lino tiles. There is a tall western organ gallery installed in the early twentieth century with a modern organ; the space beneath the gallery is railed off from the body of the church. Immediately east of the gallery on the south side is a recess in the wall with a Marian shrine, refurbished in 2006. There is no structural sanctuary. The altar is set on steps in the easternmost bay, with a large canopy suspended above (by Francis Leach of Cambridge, installed in 1948). The corpus on the sanctuary cross was originally part of a Calvary given by Cardinal Vaughan. The Stations of  the Cross (1961) are by Sister Concordia Scott OSB of Minster Abbey; there are also windows of 1961 by Luxford Studios, New Barnet.

Heritage Details

Architect: Frederick Hyde Pownall

Original Date: 1886

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed