Building » Hertford – The Immaculate Conception and St Joseph

Hertford – The Immaculate Conception and St Joseph

St John’s Street, Hertford, Herts SG14

A small stone and flint church of the 1850s, designed by Henry Clutton for Fr (later Cardinal Archbishop) Herbert Vaughan. The style is Early English, but the general form evokes the Ste Chapelle, Paris. The church contains good original and later nineteenth-century furnishings, and has been richly redecorated and augmented in recent years. It forms a good group in the conservation area, with the attached presbytery, former schoolroom to the south and modern loggia to the west enclosing a small burial area and garden. 

From 1848 priests from St Edmund’s College, Ware (qv), came to Hertford each Sunday and said Mass in local inns, serving a Catholic population of about 150, many of whom worked on the railways and canals. In the 1850s Fr Herbert Vaughan, Vice-President of St Edmund’s College, began collecting money for a permanent church in Hertford, and a site was acquired in an industrial part of the town. This has once been part of the land belonging to the Priory of St Mary, established in the late eleventh century by Ralph de Limesi as a daughter house of St Albans Abbey.

The church was built from designs by Henry Clutton, and the builders were the local firm of Messrs Ekins. The foundation stone was laid by Cardinal Wiseman on 18 October 1858, and he opened the completed church on 16 June 1859. The original dedication of the church was to Our Lady of Good Counsel, St Joseph and St John. The current dedication was adopted when the church was consecrated, by Cardinal Manning on 16 October 1866. 

Fr Vaughan moved to London in 1861 to found the Mill Hill Missionaries (he was later consecrated Bishop of Salford before returning to London as Archbishop of Westminster and later Cardinal). His successor at Hertford was Fr Francis Stanfield, the well-known hymn composer; he became the first resident priest, and the presbytery and school were built at this time (from 1898 the school was served by Sisters of Mercy). 

In the late nineteenth century the walls of the sanctuary and Lady Chapel were adorned with painted stencil decoration and figures of saints, but these were overpainted in the twentieth century.

In 1935 a cross was erected outside the church, commemorating the Synod of Hertford, September 672. Presided over by Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury, this Synod sought to reconcile the Celtic and Roman division in the English Church. The Synod resolved the date for Easter, forbade divorce and set out rules for the conduct of bishops and the clergy. The commemorative cross was paid for by public subscription and was blessed by Archbishop Hinsley.

In the 1970s the church was reordered, when the high altar was moved forward and the communion rails removed. In the 1990s a more ambitious programme of restoration and embellishment took place, this time working in the spirit of, rather than diluting the character of the original design. Following the uncovering, conservation and recording of the original painted scheme, the sanctuary was repainted in 1996-97 with a new richly polychromatic scheme by Alexander Sidorov in collaboration with Howell & Bellion. A crucifix which had hung on the east wall was placed on a new rood beam (also serving as a tie rod) at the chancel arch. These enrichments were made under the direction of Anthony Delarue, architect of London N1, who was also responsible for the addition of a Gothic loggia outside the main entrance. Part of an attractive landscaping scheme which creates the effect of an open cloister, this was built in c2001. Since then, further wall paintings have been added around the altar in the Lady Chapel.


The church is described in some detail in the list entry (below); this description remedies any omissions and adds details of alterations which have taken place since the listing (in 1996).

Outside the church, a stone cross of 1935 against the sanctuary wall commemorates the Synod of Hertford.

The main approach to the church is via a new (c2001) loggia with open timber Gothic arcading and a tile roof. Within this is there are marble plaques commemorating Cardinal Vaughan, Fr Stanfield and the parish dead of the First World War. 

The main entrance doors to the church are modern, with carved panels depicting the Expulsion from Paradise and Paradise Regained, by Stephen Foster of Ware (1996). 

Inside the church, the pipe organ in the west gallery is of unknown provenance but is said to date from 1870-80, and to have been built in Ireland. It was introduced to the church in 1895, and rebuilt with some modifications in 1984-85.  

The congregational seating consists of modern Gothic-style pews. 

Since the 1970s, the font has located by the chancel arch, between the sanctuary and the Lady Chapel. It is placed on red sandstone columns, which are said to have come from the previous All Saints’, Hertford, after that church was destroyed by fire in 1891. A carved and painted wooden panel of the Baptism of Christ behind the font is by Stephen Foster (1998).

In the sanctuary arch is a modern painted rood beam, with the arms of Pope Pius IX and Pope John Paul II at either end, and upon which is placed an earlier crucifix.  The plaster over the chancel arch is lined out to resemble ashlar blocks. Within the sanctuary, the walls are painted with apostles and saints and evangelists below and English martyrs above, painted by Alexander Sidorov in 1996-96, in a synthetising Gothic-Byzantine style. In the vaulting is a carved and gilded Dove of the Holy Spirit, descending in a sunburst.

More recent wall paintings around the Lady altar in the north aisle depict, on the left, St Alban (bearing a palm) and a kneeling Ralph de Limesi (presenting a model of St Mary’s Priory) and, on the right, Theodore of Tarsus and a kneeling Cardinal Vaughan, presenting a model of the church.

List description


Roman Catholic church. 1859-1861. Architect Henry Clutton (1819-93). 

MATERIALS: flint with yellow brick bands and quoins, and stone dressings, north wall yellow brick, Flemish bond, clay tiled roof with polygonal hipped east end. Fleche with tile-hung square base, set diagonally, with lead roll lattice-patterned covering to spire, above bell-cote with 4 arched openings and corner pinnacles. 

STYLE: C13 Gothic style with French influence. 

PLAN: hall plan with 4 bay nave, short polygonal sanctuary, north aisle, with lean-to entry porch at west end, with south door. 

EXTERIOR: principal (south) elevation has door at left beneath pointed arch with dripmould supported on colonnettes. 4 widely spaced simple lancet windows in plain chamfered reveals with stone quoins, with yellow brick band above heads, and mid-height, projecting stone coping with cavetto moulding, brick band and mid-height brick band on plinth. Projecting buttress marks the division between nave and sanctuary, and has stone quoins, offsets and cap supported on small foliated brackets. Polygonal sanctuary has 1 lancet window in each face. North aisle roofed separately has flint faced east gable with yellow brick bands and stone-coped parapet, and rose window with traceried inner circle and five outer segments; north elevation brick with 3 lancet windows with stone impost blocks and rubbed brick heads. West end has twin stone-coped gables, with lancet windows with circles above. 

INTERIOR: 4-bay nave with shallow west gallery divided from aisles by octagonal chamfered columns with leaf and ball volutes, square abacus with cavetto moulding and arcade with square cut intrados. Open rafter roof with struts and braces. Sanctuary arch chamfered and raised on chamfered corbelled colonnettes with carved foliated volute caps. Sanctuary floor raised 4 steps above nave has deep set lancet windows above sill band, moulded cornice and roof with moulded and gilded ribs, with original decorative scheme of gold stars on a blue ground restored 1995.

Around walls was a series of late C19 wall paintings between windows with figures of apostles and saints arcaded in surrounds, revealed in a damaged state and covered over after recording, 1994-5, with the intention of repainting replicas. Late C19 stained glass by Ion Pace of Clayton and Bell in lancet windows. Red veined marble altar, with colonnettes, and plain reredos, reconstructed from panels of elaborate high altar and reredos dismantled early 1970s. Stone pulpit, in memoriam Jacob Montague Mason, 1892, raised on 6 shafts with bell caps and roll bases, frontal with attached colonnettes of pink marble, trefoil-headed niches with carved figures, foliated cornice and moulded top rail. Font with 8 sandstone colonnettes, and octagonal basin with incised quatrefoils. North chapel has elaborate curved stone altar and reredos in memory of Agnes Bancroft (d.January 20 1897). Frontal panel with a carved Annunciation, with red veined marble colonnettes at each side; arcaded traceried reredos with canopies with pinnacles and poppy heads, breaking forward in centre and raised on colonnettes over a statue of the Virgin and Child. Side altar in memory of Patrick and Mary Roland, with carved Pieta frontal panel and traceried canopied reredos with figure of St Joseph. Rose window above east end with stained glass showing the Virgin Mary and Angels. West aisle window with figures of Saint Hugh of Lincoln and St Patrick, with a roundel of St Gertrude above, north aisle 3 lancets with figures of St John the Baptist, the Sacred Heart and St Thomas of Canterbury, all richly painted figures with pinnacle surrounds by Nathaniel Westlake, installed c1898-9. 

HISTORICAL NOTE: the architect of the church, Henry Clutton had been a partner of William Burges (with whom he won the Lille Cathedral Competition in 1853). Converted to Roman Catholicism in 1856, his ecclesiastical buildings also included St Francis of Assisi, Notting Hill, St Mary, Woburn and St Michael, Apsley Heath. The site for St Joseph’s Church lies to the south of the historic site of St Mary’s Priory, founded by Ralph de Limesi, a knight of William I, and dissolved 1536. (Page FM: History of Hertford: Hertford: 1993-: 21,27, 53-4,106; Dixon R and Muthesius S: Victorian Architecture: London: 1978-: 256; Hertfordshire Countryside: Heath C: Hertford remembers a forgotten epoch: 1973-: 40-1).

Listing NGR: TL3283912920

Heritage Details

Architect: Henry Clutton

Original Date: 1859

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II