Croom’s Hill, Greenwich, London SE10
Image copyright Alex Ramsay
Image copyright Alex Ramsay
Image copyright Alex Ramsay
A Gothic Revival church by William W. Wardell of c.1846–1851, which catered for a congregation which included Royal Naval Hospital pensioners and sailors. The interior decoration and furnishings are largely by A.W.N. Pugin, with some work by E.W. Pugin. The tower with spire is an important landmark. The church is part of a group with nearby seventeenth and eighteenth century buildings, which include the presbytery and an Ursuline Convent. The site is located within the West Greenwich Conservation Area and the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site.
After several short-lived chapels in the area, the mission at Greenwich was established in 1793, making it one of the oldest in south London (after Bermondsey and St George’s Cathedral). Catholics at Greenwich were in a unique position due to the presence of around 500 Catholic pensioners in the Royal Naval Hospital, who required a place of worship. The first chapel was built by the architect James Taylor in the back garden of his own house in Park Vista. It was accessed from the north via a covered pathway between two houses, 12 and 13 Clark’s Buildings, the latter being used as a presbytery and later by the chapel’s caretaker. These two houses were also owned by Taylor, who in 1824 granted a 960-year lease to the bishop. The chapel was opened on 10 November 1793 by Bishop Douglass, Vicar Apostolic of the London District. Subscriptions had raised only £260 of the building cost of £1,453 and the shortfall was provided by Taylor. In 1795 a 999-year lease on the site and building was signed, as well as a deed of trust. The latter stipulated that, when no longer in use as a chapel, the building should revert to Taylor, his heirs or assigns. In 1823, a school opened at 8 Clark’s Buildings.
The chapel soon became inadequate and fundraising began for a new church. According to tradition, Mrs Abraham North vowed to build a church dedicated to Our Lady when her two sons were rescued after a boat accident on the Thames. Both sons became priests and served the Greenwich mission. The older, Richard Michael North (1808-60), was responsible for building Our Ladye Star of the Sea, thereby fulfilling his mother’s vow (he also designed the church at Deptford.) The younger brother, Joseph Edward North (died 1885), was mission priest at Deptford and became priest at Greenwich after his brother’s death. Both are buried in the church.
The North family apparently donated the site on Croom’s Hill. Canon Richard North devoted himself to the task of fundraising. The Admiralty donated £200 for the pensioners, and the poor of the parish contributed over £1,000. The final cost was over £8,000, in addition to the cost of furnishing the church and purchasing the priest’s house. (Canon Richard North had moved to 68 Croom’s Hill, the current presbytery, before the church’s erection and then in 1856 moved to no. 66.)
The architect was William Wilkinson Wardell (1823–1899), an architect and engineer, who was a friend and follower of A.W.N. Pugin. He designed about thirty churches, mainly in London and the southeast, before emigrating for health reasons to Australia in 1858. In 1861 he became Inspector General of Public Works in Victoria. He designed St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, and St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney.
In 1849 work on the spire was completed by raising the cross onto its apex (according to tradition, this was done by Nelson’s boatswain at Trafalgar.) The church was opened on 8 December 1851 by Bishop Grant, first Bishop of Southwark. Cardinal Wiseman preached the sermon. The church was consecrated on 16 September 1852, making it one of the first in the diocese to be consecrated. The decoration and furnishings are largely by A.W.N. Pugin. The high altar by Wardell was exhibited at the Great Exhibition.
In a report to the bishop in 1854, Canon North estimated the Catholic population of Greenwich to be about 3,000, and referred to six schools. In c.1855, St Anne’s School was under construction at Croom’s Hill. The Sisters of Charity of the Precious Blood moved to nos. 66 and 70, teaching and working among the poor until 1857, when they moved to Bayswater. In 1859 no. 70 Croom’s Hill was acquired by Canon Richard North, who let it to the St Mary’s Orphanage for Boys, run by Dr Todd. When Canon North required the building for a convent, Todd moved to Blackheath in 1870 and shortly afterwards established the mission there. Ursulines arrived from Germany in 1877 and settled in Greenwich, where they opened a school the following year. Fourteen years later they returned to Germany but the convent and school were taken over by a group of French Ursulines. (Originally, the convent was right beside the school. It is now based at 66 Croom’s Hill, on the other side of the church.)
In c.1863, the Perpendicular-style marble tomb and effigy for Canon Richard North was installed between the northeast chapel and the sanctuary (designed by Pugin’s son, Edward Welby Pugin, and executed by William Farmer). A brass in the sanctuary commemorates both brothers.
The old chapel at Clark’s Buildings had to be reopened in 1868 for the East Greenwich mission, which catered for the largely Irish and working class population. It was demolished in the 1870s for the extension of the railway line.
In 1855 E.W. Pugin had drawn up designs for a chapel off the south aisle to Sir Stuart Knill, a relative of A.W.N. Pugin’s third wife and the first Catholic Lord Mayor of London since the Reformation, who lived nearby at the Grange, Croom’s Hill. These plans remained unexecuted but a chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart was opened on the site in September 1891. Another later addition was the baptistery at the west end of the north aisle.
In 1901 the church was restored, at the time of its Golden Jubilee. After the First World War a marble tablet was installed in the Sacred Heart Chapel, commemorating parishioners who had died. In the 1920s two windows were installed in the baptistery, commemorating William Keliher (died 1924) and Charles Bingham (died 1929). Following the death of the parish priest Canon Michael O’Halloran in 1921, a cenotaph was installed in the Sacred Heart Chapel. In 1937 the parish priest Canon John Sheen died and was commemorated with a window by John Trinick in the same chapel and a plaque in the tower. As thanksgiving for the end of the Second World War, further stained glass windows by Trinick were installed in the 1940s.
Another restoration was carried out in 1965 by the architects Myles and Deirdre Dove, commemorating the Golden Jubilee of the Rt Rev. Mgr J.J. Farrell. The work included the insertion of a timber choir loft with a new organ, and a porch below, the panelling of nave and aisle ceilings, and the addition of confessionals, as well as repainting and laying cork tiles over the original encaustic floor tiles. The paint was removed from the octagonal arcade pillars, revealing the Purbeck marble underneath. In the last few years, the roof, tower and spire were restored. At some point during the post-war years, the pulpit of Caen stone attributed to Pugin was removed.
The church is facing southwest; for the sake of clarity, this description will use conventional liturgical orientation.
Our Ladye Star of the Sea was built in 1851 to designs by William Wilkinson Wardell in Kentish ragstone with Caen stone dressings and roofed in slate. The style is fourteenth century Decorated Gothic. The plan is the conventional Puginian type of a six-bay nave with a pitched roof and lean-to aisles, chancel and side chapels. The sacristy is located behind the northeast chapel, to the north of which is another room now used for storage. The entrance is through the tower at the west.
The tower is square in plan, with pinnacles and an octagonal spire with two tiers of lucarnes. A pinnacled stair turret is at the northeast corner. The west face of the tower, between diagonal buttresses, has a recessed doorway below a four-light traceried window. Above this is a niche with a sculpture of Our Lady Star of the Sea. This is followed by the last stage of the tower with a two-light window with bell louvres. A Sanctus bellcote stands on the east nave gable.
Inside the tower is a narthex which extends into the glazed lobby below the organ loft. The tower interior has two empty canopied niches set high into the north and south walls at the height of the west window. There are two carved holy water stoups in the walls and plaques commemorating Canon Sheen (died 1937) and the restoration for the Golden Jubilee of the Rt Rev. Mgr J.J. Farrell. The tall, narrow arch to the nave is mostly blocked by the pine panels of the organ loft. The nave has a tall, pointed arcade with octagonal pillars of Purbeck marble. The headstops of the hood moulds are carved with representations of Saints Gregory, Augustine, Winifred and Dunstan. The clerestorey windows are triangular, of three quatrefoils, of two alternating designs. The nave and aisle ceilings are panelled with tiles of c.1965 and were originally open to the roof. The benches are of simple design, with pierced quatrefoils in the ends.
At the west end of the north aisle is the baptistery, enclosed by carved stone screens and a wrought iron gate. This was a later addition, executed in a similar style of Gothic as the original furnishings. The octagonal Caen stone font on an octagonal platform is carved with the symbols of the Evangelists. The west window depicting the Baptism of Christ is by Hardman and was installed in 1932 in memory of William Keliher (died 1924), founder of the Keliher scholarship at University College Cork. The north window is also by Hardman and shows the risen Christ appearing to the Apostles. It was erected in memory of Charles Bingham (died 1929). The next bay of the north aisle has a door, followed by an altar to St Joseph, with altar rails. A statue of St Joseph stands in a canopied niche inside the window embrasure. The two easternmost windows in the north aisle are by John Trinick and date from the 1940s: The Visitation and the Tree of Jesse (dated 1945).
At the east end of the north aisle is the two-bay Lady Chapel (originally dedicated to St Joseph) with a panelled wagon roof, with decoration by Pugin. A large carved reredos shows the Blessed Virgin Mary surrounded by angels and standing on a dragon. The altar frontal depicts the Annunciation in three roundels between marble columns. An arch and arcade, both now glazed in, lead into a space to the north now used for storage. This was originally intended for the organ and as an oratory for a religious community. Opposite, under an arch with stops in the shape of angels holding the instruments of the Passion, is the tomb chest with effigy to Canon Richard North, the church’s founder, with his feet resting on a poodle. It was designed by E.W. Pugin and executed by William Farmer.
The sanctuary is divided from the church by the rood screen and the altar rails. Between them, in the northeast corner, is a canopied niche with a stone statue of the Virgin with Child, designed by A.W.N. Pugin and carved by George Myers. In the corbel below are representations of female figures, including Judith with the head of Holofernes. Beside the niche hangs a silver votive lamp in the shape of a ship. This was given by Sir Stuart Knill, the church’s benefactor, designed by Pugin and made by John Hardman. The rood screen is also by Pugin, of Caen stone with marble columns supporting three arches. Above is the rood of painted oak. The altar rails are of stone and marble, with wrought iron gates.
The sanctuary has a Minton encaustic tile pavement, whose layout was planned by A.W.N. Pugin. The wagon roof with carved bosses rests on a richly carved cornice of foliage with phrases from the hymn ‘Ave Maris Stella’. The modern forward altar of Sicilian marble stands over a brass commemorating the North brothers, below which Canon Joseph North is buried. The carved stone lectern and the sedilia with piscina on the south wall are also probably by Pugin. The high altar of Caen stone was designed by Wardell, possibly with help from Pugin and Myers. It was made by Boulton & Swailes, and was exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851. The frontal depicts the Annunciation and the Visitation on either side of the seated Madonna with Child. A raised ledge carrying the tabernacle has the inscription ‘O sacrum convivium in quo Christus sumitur’. On either side of the high altar are corbels with angels carrying statues of St Thomas More and St John Fisher. The fine east window is by Pugin and Hardman. It shows the Virgin and Child above sailors in a ship in the centre light, flanked by the Annunciation and Adoration on the left, and the Death of the Virgin and her Coronation on the right. The arch to the south is filled with a stone arcade and a wrought iron grille, probably by Hardman. A door on the north side leads into the sacristy behind the Lady Chapel.
The southeast chapel is dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament. Like the other chapel and the sanctuary it has a panelled wagon roof, which is here stencilled with circles and quatrefoils and rests on a carved cornice with Latin inscriptions. The chapel has wrought iron gates by Hardman with modern glazing in the arch above. The altar has diaper work on either side of the tabernacle, and a stained glass window by Hardman above with Eucharistic themes: the sacrifice of Melchizedek, Christ as the Good Shepherd, and the Sacrifice of Isaac. Altar and tabernacle were designed by Pugin. The chapel has a small piscina. One window to the south shows an angel.
The south aisle has an inserted timber confessional of c.1965 near the west end. Two windows have stained glass: the third window from the west has roundels with St Thomas and St Jerome; the second from the east is a memorial to John Ford (died 1947) by John Trinick, and shows the Holy Family. In the third bay from the east is the Sacred Heart Chapel, opening off the aisle, with its own altar rails of stone and marble with a carving of the pious pelican. It has a stone reredos with a gable and pinnacles, with a figure of the Sacred Heart standing in a canopied niche surrounded by diaper work. The frontal has yellow marble panels and the Agnus Dei in mosaic. Beside the reredos is a marble plaque commemorating the fallen of the First World War. The window on the south side is a memorial to Canon John Sheen (died 1937) by Trinick, and depicts St John of Patmos. On the west side of the chapel is a large cenotaph with crucifix to Canon Michael O’Halloran (died 1921), surrounded by other memorial plaques. The Stations are carved in wood and the organ loft of c.1965 is panelled in pine.
Entry amended by AHP 09.11.2023
List description (the description was revised and the church upgraded to II* in 2015, following Taking Stock).
Roman Catholic Church c1846-1851. Designed by William Wardell for Canon Richard North in Decorated Gothic style, with a landmark spire. Many fittings and decorative elements were designed by A W N Pugin and E W Pugin.
Reasons for Designation: The Roman Catholic church of Our Ladye Star of the Sea, Crooms Hill, Greenwich, of 1846-51 by William Wardell, and its forecourt wall and gatepiers, are listed at Grade II* for the following reasons:
* Architectural interest: a textbook example of a Puginian Gothic church with a richly decorated and furnished interior; the church, and particularly its tower and spire, is a local landmark;
* Authorship: designed by William Wardell, whose town churches rang among the finest Catholic churches of the mid-C19; also many furnishings by A W N Pugin, the most important and influential designer of the mid-century Gothic Revival;
* Historic interest (origins): the church was partly built as a thank offering for the saving of two brothers (later priests) from drowning in the Thames; and partly funded by the Admiralty – an early example of government funding for Catholic worship;
* Historic interest (Catholic mission): one of the earliest Roman Catholic missions in South London catering both for the local populus as well as Catholic pensioners in the Naval Hospital.
History: After several short-lived chapels in the area, the Roman Catholic mission at Greenwich was established in 1793, making it one of the oldest in south London (after Bermondsey and St George’s, Southwark). The mission served around 500 Catholic pensioners in the Royal Naval Hospital. The first chapel was built by the architect James Taylor in the back garden of his own house in Park Vista and opened on 10 November 1793. In 1795 a 999-year lease was signed, as well as a deed of trust which stipulated that when no longer in use as a chapel, the building should revert to Taylor, his heirs or assigns. The chapel building soon became inadequate and fundraising began for a new church. According to tradition, Mrs Abraham North vowed to build a church dedicated to Our Lady when her two sons were rescued after a boat accident on the Thames. Both sons became priests and served the Greenwich mission. The older, Richard Michael North (1808-60), was responsible for building Our Ladye Star of the Sea, Greenwich, thereby fulfilling his mother’s vow. (He also designed the church at Deptford.) The younger brother, Joseph Edward North (died 1885), was mission priest at Deptford and became priest at Greenwich after his brother’s death. Both are buried in the church. The North family apparently donated the site on Crooms Hill. Canon Richard North devoted himself to the task of fundraising. The Admiralty donated £200 for the pensioners, and the members of the congregation contributed over £1,000. The final cost of the building was over £8,000. The architect was William Wilkinson Wardell (1823–99), an architect and engineer, who was a friend and follower of A W N. Pugin. The decoration and furnishings are largely by Pugin. The high altar by Wardell was exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851. In c1863, the Perpendicular-style marble tomb and effigy for Canon Richard North was installed between the north east chapel and the sanctuary (designed by Edward Welby Pugin, and executed by William Farmer). A brass in the sanctuary commemorates both brothers. In 1855 E W Pugin had drawn designs for a chapel off the south aisle to Sir Stuart Knill, a relative of A W N Pugin’s third wife and the first Roman Catholic Lord Mayor since the Reformation, who lived nearby at the Grange, Crooms Hill. These plans remained unexecuted but a chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart was opened on the site in September 1891. Another later addition was the baptistery formed at the west end of the north aisle. The original pulpit of Caen stone (attributed to Pugin) has been removed. A major refurbishment was carried out in 1965 by Myles and Deirdre Dove. The work included the insertion of a timber choir loft with a new organ, and a porch below, the panelling of the nave and aisle ceilings, and the addition of confessionals, as well as repainting and laying cork tiles over the original encaustic floor tiles.
Details: Gothic Revival church of c1846–1851 by William W Wardell in a C14 Decorated style. Interior decoration and furnishings are largely by A W N Pugin, with some work by E W Pugin. The church is part of a group with nearby C17 and C18 buildings. The tower with its spire is an important local landmark.
MATERIALS: coursed Kentish ragstone with Caen stone dressings and roof coverings of natural slate.
PLAN: the building is not orientated correctly; the liturgical east end lies to the south west. The following description uses liturgical directions. The plan is of a conventional Puginian type with a west tower and spire, six-bay nave with a pitched roof and lean-to aisles, with a small chapel off the south aisle, a chancel with one south and two north chapels and a north east sacristy, all under pitched roofs.
EXTERIOR: the substantial west tower has corner buttresses rising to pinnacles, a pierced parapet and an octagonal spire with two tiers of lucarnes. There is a pinnacled stair turret at the northeast corner. The main entrance in the west face of the tower has a pointed moulded and shafted arch. Above is a four-light traceried window and an image of our Lady in a canopied niche. The bell stage has a two-light traceried window on each face. The side elevations have six two-light windows to the aisles. There is a gabled doorway in the second bay of the north aisle. Clerestories of four foiled circles to each side are set irregularly to the aisle windows beneath. There is a bellcote on the east nave gable. The lower chancel has flanking chapels and a five-light traceried east window. The forecourt walls are of coursed rubble with ashlar coping. Five gate piers have dressed stone cross-gabled tops, with a wrought iron overthrow with lampholder across the main entrance (present from at least the C19 and possibly original). The railings [somewhat incongruously Georgian in style] are modern and are not of special interest.
INTERIOR: the base of the tower was originally open to its panelled ceiling with a double-height moulded arch to the nave. There is now a modern timber narthex structure installed in 1965; this is not of special interest. The tall nave has six-bay arcades of pointed moulded arches with octagonal capitals carried on octagonal piers of Purbeck marble. The stops of the hood moulds are carved with heads of saints. The small triangular clerestory windows have quatrefoil tracery. The soffits of the nave and aisle roofs originally had painted decoration but were panelled with tiles in 1965 (which are not of special interest). The timber principals and wall-posts of the aisle roofs are still exposed. The original encaustic tile floors to the nave and aisles were covered with cork tiles in 1965 (which are not of special interest). The north aisle has a baptistery at the west end with an octagonal Caen stone font carved with symbols of the evangelists; the baptistery is enclosed by a pierced traceried stone screen with metal gates. The south aisle has the Sacred Heart Chapel formed in 1891 with the cenotaph of Fr O’Halloran d.1921. The C19 timber nave benches are of simple design, with pierced quatrefoils in the ends. The tall pointed chancel arch is on shafted responds with floral capitals. Against the north respond is a tall canopied niche with a stone statue of the Virgin with Child, designed by A W N Pugin and carved by George Myers. Beside the niche hangs a silver votive lamp in the shape of a ship. This was given by Sir Stuart Knill, one of the church’s benefactors, designed by Pugin and made by John Hardman. The stone chancel screen is also by A W N Pugin, of Caen stone with marble columns supporting three arches. Above is a rood of painted oak. The chancel has stilted arched openings to the side chapels, a sedilia on the south side, a five-light traceried east window with Pugin glass made by Hardman, two-light side windows, a waggon roof with carved cornice and bosses and a Minton tile floor designed by A W N Pugin with an inset brass to the North brothers (now under the modern nave altar). The high altar of Caen stone with a carved and painted front, was designed by Wardell, possibly with help from Pugin and Myers, and made by Boulton & Swailes, and was exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851. The south east chapel dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament has a panelled waggon roof stencilled with circles and quatrefoils and a carved cornice with Latin inscriptions. The wrought iron gates are by Hardman. The altar and tabernacle is by A W N Pugin and the two-light traceried window has glass by Hardman. The north east Lady Chapel (originally dedicated to St Joseph) has a panelled waggon roof. The marble and stone altar and the large carved reredos are by A W N Pugin. There is a double arched opening with a screen (now glazed) to the vestry space originally intended as an oratory. Under the arch between the Lady Chapel and the sanctuary is a tomb chest with the effigy of Canon Richard North, the church’s founder, with his feet resting on a poodle. It was designed by E W Pugin and executed by William Farmer.
SELECTED SOURCES Architectural History Practice, ‘Our Ladye Star of the Sea, Greenwich’, Taking Stock: RC Archdiocese of Southwark, 2011; Atterbury, P, and Wainwright, C, Pugin: A Gothic Passion, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1994, pp. 146–8; Cherry, B and Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England, London 2: South, 1984; Church of Our Ladye Star of the Sea. Short History and Guide [no date]; Dunn, E, The Story of Catholicism in East Greenwich. A bi-centennial history, 1793–1993, 1993; Evinson, D, ‘Wardell, William Wilkinson (1823–1899)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/38106]; Evinson, D, Catholic Churches of London, 1998; Hyland, G J, ‘Chronological gazetteer of the works of E.E. Pugin – architect, 1834–1875’, (2010), http://www.pugin-society.1to1.org/LL-gazetteer.html; Kelly, B W, Historical Notes on English Catholic Missions, 1907, pp. 194-5; Martin, C, A Glimpse of Heaven. Catholic churches of England and Wales, 2006; The Builder, 18 August 1849, 390–1
Architect: W. W. Wardell
Original Date: 1852
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II*