Building » Kilburn – Sacred Heart of Jesus

Kilburn – Sacred Heart of Jesus

Quex Road, London NW6

A large Gothic church, built to serve the mainly Irish Catholic congregation of Kilburn. It was built in two main phases, overseen by the Pugins in the later nineteenth century and F. G. Broadbent & Partners in the mid-twentieth.  The later additions are sympathetically contextual in design, scale and materials. The church contains several furnishings of note, including an elaborate altar in a side chapel by Pugin & Pugin, and stained glass by Hardman, Westlake and Mayer.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate established a foundation in Kilburn in 1865 and a temporary church soon followed. A five-acre site was purchased in 1866 and a design for a new church prepared in the early 1870s by E. W. Pugin, near the site of a medieval priory (hence the name New Priory).  E. W. Pugin died in 1875 and his design was executed by his brothers Peter Paul and Cuthbert Pugin, who were then (1875-80) in partnership with their brother-in-law, the Irish architect G. C. Ashlin. The Pugin church was constructed in two stages: the first four bays of the nave were finished by 1879 and the two eastern bays, apsidal sanctuary and side chapels in 1898-99.

Sixty years later (in 1959) the wide Gothic front porch was added, from the designs of Gordon & Gordon.  The porch was intended to provide overflow accommodation for 250 people, and the openings in the original west wall were widened to improve visibility. In 1964 the church itself was considerably enlarged.  At this time the parish was perhaps the largest in the country, with more than 10,000 people attending eighteen Sunday Masses (centenary publication, p.6). In order better to accommodate these vast numbers, the south aisle was widened almost to the width of the nave, a broad transept was constructed on the site of Pugin & Pugin’s chancel and chapels and a large new sanctuary was added.  The new high altar was erected in memory of the recently-assassinated President John F. Kennedy (centenary publication, p.19). The architect for this work was John Kirby FRIBA of F. G. Broadbent and Partners, Goodhart-Rendel’s old firm; his designs also provided for the replacement of the old priory with a new building alongside the new sanctuary and a new school incorporating the old parish hall on the north side of the nave.

Post-Vatican II reordering included the installation on the east wall of a panel composition representing the Last Supper, by Arthur Fleischmann. Fleischmann was a Catholic convert from Judaism, and pioneered the use of Perspex in sculpture.


The church is in the Gothic style, the walls faced with yellow London stocks with stone dressings, the roofs covered in Welsh slate.  The plan comprises a west porch or narthex, a nave with narrow north aisle and wide south aisle with southwest porch, north and south transepts and a long chancel and sanctuary lower than the nave. The junction between nave and chancel is oddly-handled with a sloping roof.

The west porch originally spanned the full width of nave and both aisles.  It is a flat-roofed structure with three pointed entrance arches under steep Gothic gables with a two-light traceried window in each side bay.  The tall west gable of the nave rising above has a splendid six-light window with elaborate cusped tracery in the Decorated style. The south aisle gable has a round window with quatrefoil tracery.  The north side of the church is now completely obscured by the school and hall buildings along its full length.  On the south side the tall south aisle has six tall three-light windows with four-centred heads in the Perpendicular style. The southwest porch has a four-centred doorway with three ogee-headed image niches above. Above the aisle the nave has a clerestory with paired windows of unusual form – a sexfoil above two quatrefoils. The south transept has a broad gabled front with a five-light Perpendicular window and a small projecting chapel on its eastern side. Where the transept meets the wall of the nave and the new chancel there are stepped lancet windows above the sloping roof line.  The east end wall of the sanctuary has three pairs of window with quatrefoil tracery high in the wall.

Internally, the narthex is a wide empty space with a flat trabeated ceiling and wide openings to the nave and aisles.  In the nave the first bay is occupied by an organ gallery. The five-bay arcade on the north side is from the original Pugin church and has pointed moulded arches on columns of black Bessbrook granite with capitals and bases of Portland stone. The arcade on the south side dates from the 1960s and consists of three wide bays of chamfered arches which die into rectangular stone piers.  The nave has a tall painted timber openwork roof with cross-bracing.  The south aisle has a simple rafter roof with purlins. 

A tall arch dying into the side walls marks the transition between nave and the slightly lower chancel, which has a panelled and painted wagon roof. Tall chamfered arches on both sides continue the line of the nave arcades. The south arch opens into the transept. At the eastern end a simple moulded arch opens into the single-bay sanctuary.

The sanctuary furniture is of plain white stone.  On the east wall is a 1967 panel composition of sculpture and painting by Arthur Fleischmann representing the Last Supper. The elaborate Lady Altar in the south chapel was designed by P. P. Pugin and was made by Boultons in 1899. Stained glass includes the east window, which appears to be the work of Hardman Studios, and three windows and the western rose in the south aisle by Hardman (1901, 1904 and 1992) and windows by Lavers & Westlake and Mayer, also in the south aisle.

Heritage Details

Architect: E. W. Pugin; Pugin Ashlin & Pugin; Gordon & Gordon;

Original Date: 1877

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed