Building » Henley-on-Thames – Sacred Heart

Henley-on-Thames – Sacred Heart

Vicarage Road, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire RG9

An interwar Arts and Crafts Gothic brick church by A. S. G. Butler, the main interest of which lies in the furnishings from the former Danesfield chapel (built by A. W. Pugin for Charles Scott Murray and completed by E. W. Pugin). These include the east window by Hardman & Co, the high altar and reredos, and the font. The high altar has been described as ‘the most important altar ensemble by E. W. Pugin to survive’.

Between 1864 and 1867, Mass was said in a private house in Bell Street, Henley, first by Fr Walshe, the chaplain of Charles Scott Murray of Danesfield, then by the chaplains of Stonor. In 1888, Fr Bacchus was appointed as the first resident priest. The following year, a dual-purpose school-chapel was erected in Station Road.

In March 1935, Fr Hughes purchased the present site for £400. Archbishop Williams laid the foundation stone in October that year. A. S. G. Butler (a Catholic architect who is perhaps best known as the biographer of Sir Edwin Lutyens) designed the church around the high altar and the east window from Charles Scott Murray’s former private chapel at Danesfield (1850–53 by A. W. Pugin, completed in 1853–6 by E. W. Pugin), which had been closed in 1893 and demolished in 1901 (probably; O’Donnell says 1908). Other furnishings from Danesfield, such as panelling and the font, were also incorporated in Butler’s church, which was blessed on 22 July and formally opened on 26 July 1936. It was consecrated in 1949.

In the late 1960s, the former school-chapel was sold and the proceeds used to build a parish hall behind the church. The architect for this was Francis Pollen, who also designed a timber forward altar for the sanctuary, but left the historic furnishings intact. In 1975, a new organ by P. D. Collins replaced the original Harrison & Harrison organ of 1937. In 1992–3, the church was re-roofed and the east window conserved (by Hardman & Co., who had made the window in 1862).

In 2003, a faculty application for a further and more radical reordering, which would have involved the truncation of the high altar, was refused at appeal. A revised scheme of 2004 was granted permission and the reordering was started in 2005 (architect Peter Brownhill of Brownhill Hayward Brown of Lichfield). The reredos was repaired and re-gilded, the narthex remodelled with an etched glass screen by Graham Jones, the sanctuary floor extended westwards, a new permanent altar was installed and the pulpit remodelled as a lectern. Two extensions were built on either side of the west entrance, providing a day chapel/meeting room and WCs. In 2011, a former storage cellar was converted to a columbarium.


The church is fully described in the list entry (see below). This needs to be updated to take account of the recent extensions. It incorrectly states that the pulpit (now reduced in size) is by Pugin; it is in fact by Butler. Also, the three north aisle windows are only of two lights, not of three.

Research by Roderick O’Donnell has provided further information on the Danesfield furnishings:

  • The outer niches with statues of St Charles Borromeo and St Elizabeth are based on A. W. Pugin’s drawings.
  • The altar is based on Pugin and Smith’s Glossary of Ecclesiastical Ornament but is largely the work of E. W. Pugin.
  • The tabernacle doors and the reliquary chest under the altar are by Hardman & Co.
  • The east window (with scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary) was designed by John Hardman Powell and exhibited at the London International Exhibition in 1862.

The current list entry does not describe any other furnishings:

  • The octagonal font with carved Gothic gables and tracery windows also came from the Danesfield chapel.
  • At the northeast is the Lady Chapel with a carved stone altar and reredos. The latter has a central statue of the Virgin and Child above the tabernacle, flanked by niches with modern stained glass with Marian emblems.
  • The Stations of the Cross are carved stone reliefs set into the walls.
  • The forward altar dates from the recent reordering.
  • Set into the south side of the sanctuary arch is a canopied niche with a statue of the Sacred Heart.

List description


Roman Catholic church. 1936; by A.S.G. Butler. Flemish bond red brick with freestone dressings. Clay plain tile roof with brick parapeted gables. PLAN: Nave with west end entrance under gallery, north aisle, chancel with integral tower above and chapel in angle with north aisle; presbytery attached to south side.Arts and Crafts Gothic. EXTERIOR: The west [SW] end has pointed-arch doorway with carved wooden tympanum and statue niche above with canopy and flanked by tall 2-light pointed-arch windows; the south side has three brick buttresses rising through eaves and two pointed-arch traceried windows truncated below tracery; aisle on north side with parapeted roof, three 3-light windows with straight heads, buttresses between, gallery stair in N.W. angle and gabled chapel in N.E. angle with chancel. Rising above the chancel, and integral with it, is large east tower with parapeted cross-gables and small open-work metal spire surmounted by a cross; large 5-light east window in tower with reticulated tracery and tall straight-headed lancets on north and south sides. INTERIOR: Rendered walls with stone dressings. 3-bay north arcade without capitals and with shafts rising to roof, the metal trusses sheathed in wood. Gallery at west end has panelled front and late C20 organ. The chancel has fine altar, the spire niches by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, flanking reredos by Edward Welby Pugin, the mensa also possibly by Edward Welby Pugin; the sculpture was probably by Lane and Lewis of Birmingham. The east window stained glass is by John Hardman. Other Pugin fittings include the pulpit. The Pugin work came from the private Catholic chapel at Danesfield, near Marlow, Buckinghamshire, built in 1850-3 and by Augustus Welby Northmore and Edward Welby Pugin; it was demolished circa 1901.

Listing NGR: SU7624181790

Heritage Details

Architect: A. S. G. Butler

Original Date: 1936

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II