Building » Kennington Park – St Wilfrid

Kennington Park – St Wilfrid

Lorrimore Road, London SE17

A brick Gothic church by F.A. Walters, fairly cheaply built but with a tower of striking design which is a landmark in the local conservation area. The church was bombed in 1940 and the nave subsequently largely rebuilt. The chief features of the church are the fine and little-altered marble and gilded furnishings in the sanctuary and Lady Chapel.

In 1904 the site for the present church was purchased through the generosity of Miss Frances Ellis, a major benefactor in the diocese. An existing stable building (which survives as the sacristy) was adapted to serve as a temporary church. The building of a permanent church became possible through a benefaction from a Wimbledon lawyer Henry Smail and his wife, who gave £5,000 in 1914. The church was built within eighteen months, the first Mass being held in November 1915. The architect was F.A. Walters and the contractors Goddard & Sons of Farnham. The two altars were also given by the Smail family.

In 1920 the mission became an independent parish. In November 1940 the church was hit by an enemy bomb, causing major damage to the nave, although the tower survived. The church was restored in 1948-9, with help from the War Damage Commission. Further repairs and renovations were carried out between 1957 and 1959 under the direction of F.G. Broadbent, with Messrs Campbell Smith of London responsible for the decoration. The church was consecrated by Bishop Cowderoy in June 1960. In 2004 the church was repaired and adaptations made to facilitate wheelchair access. A forward altar was installed and the pulpit adapted to serve as an ambo, but the old arrangement was otherwise left intact.


The church is in Perpendicular Gothic style and is built of red brick laid in English bond, with sparing use of stone for the dressings. It consists of a nave, sanctuary and north aisle, with a Lady Chapel at the east end of the aisle and sacristy (a former stable building and the original, temporary church) giving off the north side of the aisle near the Lady Chapel. There is a western gallery with enclosed lobby or narthex below and a side entrance with a former baptistery to the north of this.

The exterior is architecturally plain, but is given some townscape presence by the tower, offset over the northwest corner of the church. It is of four stages, with an entrance and baptistery on the first stage and a statue of St Joseph in a stone topped niche in the second stage. The tower narrows at the third stage, with north and south gables giving the effect of a saddleback tower (as at Vauxhall) which is broken through by the top belfry stage. Above this are an embattled parapet and a slender spire of Hertfordshire type.

The main west doors have iron strapwork detail and are placed within a projecting porch with embattled parapet and swept pediment. There are small windows to either side of this, and above the porch a large west window of six lights with curvilinear tracery. The distinction between the original brickwork and the areas of rebuilding after war damage is plain to see on the west elevation. There is a further entrance to the church on the north side, via a ramp and modern entrance porch which links with the adjacent presbytery.

Inside, the nave and sanctuary consist of six bays, the only differentiation being in the painted ceiling panels of the two bays of the sanctuary. Otherwise the shallow-pitched roof is of bare oak. There is an organ gallery at the west end of the nave, its underside enclosed to form a sound-proof narthex or lobby. The nave is separated from the north aisle by an arcade of four bays, the arches carried on octagonal piers. Above this is a clerestorey, consisting of two-light windows in each bay. On the south side of the bay there are larger three-light clerestorey windows. The windows all have clear glass. The aisle has a lean-to roof, with raking struts springing from the arcade capitals.

The chief features of the interior are the sanctuary furnishings, consisting of the high altar (with reredos and canopy), pulpit and altar rails, and the Lady altar to the north. Both altars were given by the Smail family and are original to the church. It is assumed that Walters was responsible for their design. The delicately carved panelled frontal of the marble high altar is inset with sacred symbols. There are four gold candlesticks on the gradine, two on either side of the tabernacle, and above this a raised backing with carved cusped detail inset with shields bearing the Instruments of the Passion. The reredos consists of five tall blank arches with a gold patterned background and elaborate carved tracery at the heads. In the centre arch a crucifix is placed on a central short octagonal colonette, designed for a monstrance and with a mandorla with sunburst rays behind, for exposition. Above the mandorla is a carved Agnus Dei in a canopied niche. In the arches flanking this centrepiece are four polychrome statues of saints within canopied niches, on a patriotic theme: St Wilfrid, St Augustine of Canterbury, St George and St Thomas of Canterbury.  Above this is a painted canopy.

The sanctuary is enclosed by a stone communion rail with solid marble carved panels incorporating gilded sacred symbols. To the south is the polygonal pulpit, slightly cut down to form an ambo, also with enriched Gothic surface decoration. A stone Gothic screen provides intervisibility between the north side of the sanctuary and the Lady Chapel beyond. The Lady Chapel is even more richly fitted out than the sanctuary. The altar is of marble, with carved and gilded panels at the centre and projecting ends. Behind this a marble plinth supports the reredos, which is divided into three bays flanked by small figures in niches and topped by canopied niches, all lavishly gilded. At the centre is a figure of Our Lady in a mandorla, supported by angels. The flanking bays are occupied by figures of St Ann (left) and St Joachim (right), mother and father of the Virgin Mary. The painted ceiling of the chapel acts as an altar canopy. The chapel has richly carved marble altar rails and brass gates, incorporating quatrefoils and floral motifs.

Other furnishings:

  • The octagonal font, with sacred symbols carved in quatrefoils on the faces, originally in the west end baptistery but now in the north aisle before the Lady altar
  • Also in the north aisle, a marble plaque to Henry Smail, d.1915, founder of the church, in whose memory the Lady altar was given
  • Another marble plaque recording the parish dead from the Great War
  • A white marble plaque commemorating the restoration and consecration of the church, 1960
  • A brass plaque to the Rev George Palmer, rector 1905-19, in whose memory the organ (subsequently destroyed by bombing) was erected
  • A post-war pipe organ in the gallery, by Gray & Davison
  • High-relief Stations of the Cross, given in 1921 by members of the parish
  • Various polychrome statues of saints in the nave
  • A  small baptistery at the base of the tower at the west end with painted wrought iron gates and flat panelled painted timber ceiling.
Heritage Details

Architect: F.A. Walters; F.G. Broadbent

Original Date: 1914

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed