London Road, Knebworth, Herts SG3
A nicely-detailed and externally little-altered design of the early 1960s, with a high peak roof, such as enjoyed a vogue at that time. The interior is fairly plain in character, but retains some features of note. The church replaced a temporary building of 1935 (now the parish hall), which was the first church anywhere dedicated to St Thomas More, its dedication taking place on the day of the saint’s canonisation.
A temporary church, the present parish hall, was built in January 1935. This was the first church anywhere to be dedicated to St Thomas More, the ceremony taking place on the day of his canonisation on 16 May 1935. The present church was designed to seat 350 and was built in 1962 on land between the first church and the early twentieth-century presbytery. The architects for the new church were F. G. Broadbent & Partners of London W1. The design had a fashionable A-frame, with a high peak roof, and was illustrated in Bryan Little’s Catholic Churches Since 1623 (1966, plate 39A). The church site was shallow in depth, with a sharp fall to the rear. According to the account in the CBR for 1963, the steep roof form was adopted to ensure that the new church was not dominated by the large adjoining presbytery. In order to save money it was also agreed that the floor of the church should slope downwards, with the sanctuary some nine inches below the nave floor and Lady Chapel at a lower level still.
The building is of steel portal frame construction, clad externally with cavity brick walling up to eaves level. The entrance front has a flat entrance canopy below which are splayed side walls with projecting crosses in the brickwork. Above the canopy is a large segmentally-headed west window with stone surround and in the apex of the gable hangs a bell. The gable is surmounted by a cross. There are screen walls on either side of the entrance continuing on one side as a brick re-fronting of the old church, which became the parish hall. At the sides, the roof slopes are pantiled, with dormer windows with tile-hung cheeks (originally weatherboarded).
An entrance lobby leads into a single undivided and aisleless worship space. The steel frames are cased in painted softwood and the roof is of timber construction supported on steel purlins and ceiled at collar level. There is a gallery at the west end, with baptistery below it to one side. The nave is of five bays, while the sanctuary is of one double bay. A Lady Chapel gives off the south side of the sanctuary, while a smaller shrine to St Thomas More and the sacristy give off the north side.
The church is simply furnished. At the east end is the tapering triangular steel frame of the original baldacchino, now minus its canopy. The original high altar has been replaced by a forward altar in front of this. The tabernacle is placed in the northeast corner of sanctuary and the font on the south side of the sanctuary. This is a modern piece, doubling as a water feature, replacing the original font, which was located in the baptistery at the west end of the nave. Now used as a repository, the former baptistery retains its original metal gates (similar to those on the outside on either side of the main entrance), floor finish inlaid with a design of waves and fishes, and a stained glass window depicting the Baptism of Christ. Other windows include an etched glass full-length portrait of St Thomas More in the west window, with the saint’s last words, ‘I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first’. Stained glass includes a series of roundels set in the internal doors, richly coloured and artist unknown, three triple clerestory panels in the Lady Chapel by Maria Glenn, a parishioner, entitled Creation, Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ the Living Word’ (1991), and a triple window in memory of Robert Ellis, parishioner and Leader of Hertfordshire County Council (loaned by the council in 2006).
Architect: F. G. Broadbent & Partners
Original Date: 1962
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed