Building » Harlow – Our Lady of Fatima

Harlow – Our Lady of Fatima

Howard Way, Harlow, Essex CM20

A striking modern church by Gerard Goalen. It is notable for its dalle de verre stained glass by Dom Charles Norris and (the designs dating from 1956) as one of the earliest churches in England to be influenced by the Liturgical Movement.

The contract sum for the church, as reported in the CBR of 1960, was £48,500. The current presbytery and hall were built a few years before the church by Messrs Sperry & Starczewski.

Amongst those in the congregation at the solemn opening Mass was Frederick Gibberd, then working on the development of Harlow New Town. According to Archbishop Heenan’s account (Crown of Thorns, p.301), ‘Mass was a new experience for  Gibberd,  a  Congregationalist.  He  found  himself  wondering  about  liturgy  and ritual. Suddenly he remembered the competition for Liverpool Cathedral […] After Mass he hurried home and told his wife he intended to shut himself in his room until he had produced plans…’

The church was consecrated by Bishop McMahon on 25 March 1985. In 2001, the church was closed due to safety concerns. In 2003, it received an EH/HLF grant for the conservation of the concrete window frames. The church was reopened following conservation works in December 2005.

Apparently,  this  was  Dom  Charles  Norris’s  first  commission  for  dalle  de  verre windows in Britain.

The church and its furnishings are fully described in the list entry (see below). Additional  points  (the  church  faces  north,  but  the  following  remarks  use  the conventional, liturgical orientation):

During the visit, the foundation and dedication stones were not seen. A memorial to Fr Francis Burgess, a bronze statue of St Augustine of Hippo, has been recently installed in front of a new background of small grey tiles to match those elsewhere in the church. The paschal candle stand does not appear to be by Goalen, and neither is the current crucifix. (Goalen’s crucifix is currently stored behind the organ screen.) The font was originally in the west lobby and is now at the northwest corner of the sanctuary, within the altar rails. On either side of the altar are a pulpit and a lectern. The Blessed Sacrament Chapel is at the northeast.

The  west  narthex  has  a  repository  and  a  Family  Room  created  by  partitions. Originally, two of the narthexes were designed to accommodate ‘parents with very young and noisy children’.

The  nave  benches  were  assembled  and  finished  by  members  of  the  parish  from precast concrete frames, and mahogany seats and kneelers.


Roman Catholic parish church. Designed 1953-4, built 1958-60 to the designs of Gerard Goalen. In situ reinforced concrete. Aisle walls and the end walls of the naves and transepts of Surrey stock bricks. Roofs of wood-wool slabs supported on precast concrete purlins and clad in copper, with concrete and asphalt for the aisles. Central spire of plywood sheathed in copper.

`T’-shaped plan of almost equal arms, each with a narthex and aisles, and whose central crossing is filled by a large apron-shaped sanctuary. Weekday chapel in former sacristy, and present sacristy in former working sacristy and vestry, to the rear.

End walls with double doors and lobbies, the outer doors and flanking glass panels with square hardwood glazing bars. The chief decorative feature is the slab and fused slab glass set in concrete, designed and made by Dom Charles Norris OSB of Buckfast Abbey, assisted by Paulinus Angold and Jerome Gladman. End walls all with rose windows, the other glass more figurative and depicting the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary in the transepts; the slightly later (1961) glass in the nave shows Our Lady of Fatima (Portugal, 1917) and the Tree of Jesse. Stations of the cross grouped in the aisles, made of Hopwood stone by Mrs Foord-Kelsey. Memorial to Father Francis Burgess, incumbent 1953-72 under the foundation and dedication stones. The sanctuary projects rather like an apron stage, with an altar and altar rails of Roman marble supported on black Belgian marble columns. The only change to the sanctuary fittings has been the removal of a tester from over the altar. Behind is the organ, by N P Mander Ltd., whose pipes are set over a pierced mosaic screen containing a figure of Christ, King and Priest by Daphne Hardy Henrion. Terracotta figure of Our Lady of Fatima by Mrs Scott Pitcher. Tabernacle designed by Goalen and made by John Grenville; high altar candlesticks and cross also designed by Goalen and made by Anthony Hawksley. Streamlined bench pews set round the sanctuary on three sides.

The presbytery, to which the church is joined by a cloister, is not of special interest. In 1952 the New Town was divided into three Roman Catholic parishes. The first of these was entrusted to a religious order – the Canons Regular of the Immaculate

Conception – and land was granted by the Development Corporation close to the site of the town’s first shopping centre, The Stow. Father Francis E Burgess was appointed parish priest, serving until 1972. A church hall and a primary school were quickly built, respectively to the designs of Sperry and Starczewski, and of E A Boxall.

In 1953 the design of the church was entrusted to Gerard Goalen, then working for the Development Corporation. Father Burgess’s brief was for a church capable of holding up to 500 parishioners, set as close as possible to the altar. The sanctuary was to be generously sized, and the altar was to be free-standing. This was a radical brief for 1953, and if funds had been available to start building when the plans were approved, in January 1954, this would have been the first post-war church in England built under the auspices of the Liturgical Movement. A model of the church was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1956. The foundation stone was laid on 6 December 1958, and the church was opened and blessed by the Bishop of Brentwood on 26 March 1960. Thus, despite the delays it remains one of the first liturgically- planned churches in England. It was the first to combine this with modern glass, already so popular in France, Germany and Switzerland, where Goalen had travelled extensively. The church was extremely influential, and led to Goalen setting up in private practice designing Roman Catholic churches and schools across England.

Heritage Details

Architect: Gerard Goalen

Original Date: 1958

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: II