Burnt Ash Hill, Lee, London, SE12
A church of 1939 in the Early Christian style, designed by an architect member of the congregation. The tower has landmark value and the church makes a positive contribution to the centre of Lee. Within the bright and impressive interior, the sanctuary furniture is of particular note, especially the baldacchino.
In 1891 the mission priest of Blackheath, Canon Sheehan built a school in the Lee area, at the junction of Manor Lane and Handen Road. In 1892 the school opened and at the same time the mission of Lee was given a separate chapel, dedicated to St Winifred. Mass was first said on Whit Sunday 1892 in the school’s upper rooms. Later, a school hall served as chapel of ease. In 1910 the freehold of the school site was acquired and the mission was separated from Blackheath. Priests lived in rented accommodation until 1924, when a presbytery was acquired in Manor Park. By 1927 the chapel had become too small and the following year it was extended at a cost of over £600.
Around the same time, a new site was acquired near Lee Station for a new church. An adjacent plot of land was added in 1936 and the Kentish Mercury of 10 January 1936 announced that a new church was to be built there as soon as funds became available. The architect was Francis M. Panario, a member of the congregation. On 25 March 1939 the foundation stone was laid by Bishop Brown, Bishop of Pella. The outbreak of war slightly delayed the opening ceremony and the completion of the new presbytery next to the church. The church was ceremonially opened on Christmas Eve 1939 by Bishop Amigo. The original estimate was £12,000; wartime costs added another £1,500. (£5,000 was contributed by an anonymous benefactor, who is possibly the benefactress commemorated with a plaque in the narthex.)
In 1941 the sanctuary was bomb damaged, while the former presbytery in Manor Lane was destroyed. After the war, in 1947, Lee was canonically erected as a parish. From February to December 1949 the parish was administered by Mgr Cowderoy, the Diocesan Chancellor, until he became Bishop of Southwark (from 1965 Archbishop of Southwark). In 1950, the church’s debts were paid off and the church was consecrated by Bishop Cowderoy on 3 May that year.
After the opening, the church still lacked some of its furnishings. However, by 1951 the magnificent baldacchino had been installed in the sanctuary. The original organ was manufactured by Guildersleeve of London. This was replaced in 1954 by an organ built by John Compton of London at a cost of approximately £3,500. The organ loft at the west end appears to have been an afterthought to the original building, as its stair in the narthex awkwardly cuts across a pair of windows at the west end of the nave. The space below the stairs was converted into a baptistery (now a confessional). The upper storey of the flat-roofed two-storey sacristy to the north is possibly another later extension. Following Vatican II, a freestanding altar was installed in the sanctuary. Since the publication of Evinson’s book in 1998, a further reordering has taken place, removing the communion rails and moving the font from the former baptistery to the sanctuary. At the time of the visit, neither of the two side chapels had the opus-sectile and mosaic retables mentioned by Evinson. Within the last few decades, a church hall was built to the east of the apse.
The church was erected in 1939 to designs by Francis M. Panario, a parishioner. It is in the Early Christian style popular in the interwar years, built in dark brown bricks laid in Flemish bond. In plan it is a long, rectangular basilica with narrow passage aisles, an ambulatory around an apsidal sanctuary, side chapels and a narthex at the west. In the northeast corner is a two-storey sacristy and to the north of the west front a campanile.
The west front has three round-headed windows set below a relieving arch. Below is a lean-to narthex, with a tall gabled central section with a niche for a figure of Our Lady of Lourdes above the west doors. On either side of the doors are pairs of round-headed windows. Another entrance door is on the north side of the narthex. The base of the campanile includes the foundation stone. The tower has two pairs of small windows on each elevation, with the two upper stages slightly receding in width. The top storey has triple-arched openings. Thin metal crosses mark the east and west gables of the nave and the apex of the campanile’s pyramid roof.
From the narthex, two doors lead into the nave, while a stair leads up to the organ loft. The nave is five bays long with astylar arcades with round-headed clerestorey windows above. The interior impresses with its brightness, clear lines and uncluttered appearance. The walls are plastered and painted white, contributing to this impression. The timber queen-post roof structure is exposed and supports the long chandeliers in the nave. The narrow aisles have timber lean-to roofs. The church has parquet floors, which in front of the sanctuary are carpeted, with carpet leading up the sanctuary steps to the altar. All the windows, including the clerestorey windows, and smaller external windows, as well as those in the wall between the nave and narthex, are of coloured panes, mainly purple, green, blue and yellow, mixed with clear glass. The pews in the nave and the chapels are modern.
Opening off the fourth nave bay from the west are two side chapels, one each on the north and south sides. Both chapels have hipped timber roofs and similar altars of varied marbles, the one in the north chapel dedicated to the Saviour (with the ‘IHS’ monogram), the other one dedicated to Our Lady (with the Marian monogram ‘AM’ for ‘Auspice Maria’). In c.1998, they still had retables with opus-sectile work in front of a golden mosaic background; the retable in the north chapel depicting the Sacred Heart, the one to the south a pietà. However, these have since disappeared. The north chapel altar has a temporary decoration with a poster, while the south altar features a figure of Our Lady of Lourdes, with a carved statue of St Bernadette on a pedestal nearby. Several confessionals lead off the aisles and the ambulatory. A large chancel arch frames the sanctuary and its ambulatory. The sanctuary is lit by small twin clerestorey windows and round-headed windows in the ambulatory. An arcade of triple and twin openings separates the ambulatory and the sanctuary, with verde antico marble columns with stone capitals carved with ecclesiastical symbols including the pelican, the Agnus Dei, grapes, the papal tiara and keys, Marian and the ChiRho monograms. The imposing baldacchino over the altar rests on four marble columns with gilded Corinthian capitals. The underside of its roof is decorated with a mosaic showing Our Lady surrounded by six angels. The altar table in front of it, the pulpit and the font are all of stone decorated with verde antico marble panels.
In the south aisle hangs a painting (oil on canvas) depicting the Betrothal of the Virgin Mary. There are four statues in the nave, set against the arcade piers, including a cast figure of St John Bosco by Vanpoulle, carved figures of St Theresa of Lisieux by EGD, St Joseph by Mayer of Munich, and St Anthony of Padua. The Stations of the Cross – square cast panels in low relief, with gilded details – are placed against the arcade piers and the west wall.
Architect: Francis M. Panario
Original Date: 1939
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed