Building » Lewisham – St Saviour, St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist

Lewisham – St Saviour, St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist

Lewisham High Street, Lewisham, London SE13

  • Southwark parish directory

An Italianate church of the early twentieth century by Claude Kelly, with an opulent interior of coloured marbles. The 126ft campanile was added in 1929 and is a major local landmark.

In autumn 1893 a meeting was held in Lewisham, with the aim of finding a local place of worship. A local French Catholic lady offered her house in Morley Road and Mass was first said there on 27 May 1894, by Fr (later Canon) Sheehan, of Blackheath. This soon became too small, as did two successive buildings, namely a hall in the School of Art which was rented for use on Sundays only, and a disused building in Rushey Green. The parish was founded in 1894 and a resident priest, Fr McClymont,  was  appointed. The Rushey Green building was dedicated to St Columba, which was changed by Fr McClymont’s successor, Fr George B. Tatum, to St Saviour, Sts John the Baptist and Evangelist.

Land was bought on the High Street, the site of a seventeenth-century mansion called The Limes. A school chapel was built there which opened on 9 November 1898 (now the hall of the school to the rear of the church). The new parish priest, Rev. James Connell, saw the need for a school and a new  church, which was realised with financial support by Patrick James Foley, founder and president of the Pearl Assurance Company and a Lewisham resident. Claude Kelly provided the original design, as well as the designs for the subsequent extensions. He was the son of John Kelly (1840–1904), also a church architect, and took over his father’s practice after his death. From 1905 until 1911, he was in partnership with Archibald Campbell Dickie (1868–1941). Shortly after completing the church at Lewisham, Kelly built a very similar building at Hove (St Peter’s church, completed 1915), also listed grade II. (Both churches are attributed in the list descriptions to John Kelly.)

The foundation stone for St Saviour’s was laid on 24 April 1909 and the church opened on 9 December that year. The builder was F. J. Bradford of Leicester and the cost was £2,000. The school at the rear of the church was opened the following year, and probably contributed in attracting Catholic residents to Lewisham. The original church only consisted of the nave with narrow aisles, the narthex, the apsidal sanctuary and the Lady Chapel on the north side. However, this was soon insufficient and a number of incremental extensions followed. In 1914 the high altar, pulpit, ambulatory, north aisle confessionals and St Patrick’s chapel were added. In c.1916 the fresco in the apse vault was finished, executed by a Belgian artist in exile, in gratitude to the people of Lewisham. In 1917, the debt of £3,000 had been paid off and the church was consecrated on 23 October. In 1917-18 the current Lady Chapel was constructed at the east end of the north aisle. In 1921 a chapel dedicated to St Joseph was created off the north aisle. Three years later the Sacred Heart chapel was added to the south side. In 1928-9 the last and largest extension was added to the church. The neighbouring houses to the south (including the old presbytery) were pulled down and on their site a new presbytery was built, a tall campanile and another long block behind the presbytery, containing an outer south aisle with a social hall above.

During the Second World War, the church sustained some bomb damage from a nearby parachute mine in 1940. In 1978-9 a comprehensive programme of restoration and maintenance was carried out by Tomei & Mackley architects. Apart from rewiring and the provision of new light fittings, the interior of the church was repaired and redecorated. Rising damp had been causing problems and disfigured some of the marble panels. Damp repellent was injected at ground floor level and the defective marble sections replaced. Corroded parts of stained glass windows were repaired and the apse mural cleaned and carefully restored.


The list entry (below) is fairly brief. The campanile is described in the list entry for the presbytery rather than that for the church.

The style of St Saviour’s church is variously described as Italianate or Roman, executed in red Dutch brick with tiled courses. The architect Claude Kelly designed the original building, as well as its later extensions (not his father John Kelly as stated in the list description). The roof coverings are predominately slate. The basic plan form is axial, with a five-bay nave with an apsidal east end. The nave is flanked by a north aisle with confessionals and chapels, an inner south aisle and a larger outer south aisle with an apsidal chapel. The entrance front has a large open Tuscan pediment above a circular window and statues of St Peter and St Patrick, with the Sacred Heart above. Three crosses are executed in raised brickwork. The lean-to narthex has another open pediment supported by Ionic columns. Above the narthex gable is a Calvary of 1919, with a mosaic of the Madonna and Child in the tympanum. An inscription above the pediment, together with two wall tablets, form a memorial to the fallen of the First World War. The campanile is 126 feet high and features a 12 foot-high statue of Christ the King at its apex. The lower campanile storeys are decorated with tall, blind brick arches, an open double-arched belfry stage and a stepped pedestal to the sculpture.

The interior is obviously Italian in inspiration. The nave is barrel vaulted with clerestorey windows and an arcade of Doric columns of Nailsworth stone. The arcade narrows at the east end, where it is continued by Corinthian pilasters below a frieze with inscription. The fresco of the Transfiguration was painted c.1916 by Hugh Chevins, in the style of the Italian Renaissance. The high altar is of Carrara marble, with panels of carved swags and gold mosaic. The pulpit is of marble with a small bust of the Saviour. To the south of the sanctuary is a wooden Calvary scene. The narthex contains a former baptistery (now repository) with stained-glass panels of the Presentation and the Baptism of Christ, and a Lourdes shrine at the west end of the north aisle. The north aisle contains several confessionals, as well as small chapels dedicated to St Patrick (1914) and St Joseph (1921) (both with saints’ statues set in aedicules) and the Lady Chapel at the east end (1917–1918). The latter contains a Madonna and Child statue by La Statue Religieuse of Paris and a stained glass window of Our Lady of Lourdes by Arthur Orr of 1935, and a window showing Our Lady and St Anne of 1957. The side of the Lady Chapel has been glazed with sliding panels, in order to provide a separate prayer space.

The outer north aisle is a broad space, with a low coffered ceiling and square Doric pilasters, against which further sculptures of saints are placed. It has four stained glass panels of English martyrs, executed between 1935 and 1937, again by Arthur Orr. At the west end is a carved pietà. To its east is the Sacred Heart chapel, an apsidal space framed by two Ionic columns of onyx marble presented by Cardinal Bourne and reputedly from Westminster Cathedral. The chapel’s altar is lit by a concealed skylight in the apse. Throughout the interior, wall surfaces are sumptuously decorated with coloured marble facings, indicating the influence of Bentley’s Westminster Cathedral (1895–1903). The attractive opus sectile Stations of the Cross are set into the outer walls of the interior. They are reminiscent of the work of Eric Gill (who designed the Stations for Westminster Cathedral between 1914 and 1918) and his pupil Joseph Cribb.

List descriptions



1909 by John Kelly. South aisle and integral presbytery added later. Red brick building in Italian style. 2-storey, 1-window front. Overhanging mutuled eaves forming open pediment. Niches, in centre and in wide side pilasters, hold figures of saints. Large round window beneath upper figure. 3 crosses in raised brick below this. Projecting ground floor has entrance with Ionic columns and open pediment. Mosaic in tympanum. 3 stone figures of crucifixion above pediment. Flanking 2-light windows with baluster mullions. Inside an entrance lobby with arcaded screen. 5-bay nave with arcade on Tuscan columns. Apsidal East end with ambulatory. Barrelled roof with round arches to clerestory windows. Richly lined in coloured marbles.



Presbytery of 3-storeys, 3 windows in late Art and Craft style. High pitched slated roof. Open centre pediment with chimney on stone corbel rising through roof peak. 2 and 4-light casement windows, some under segmental relieving arches. Canted bay at right. Stone steps, with wrought iron rail, to door. Tall square campanile of 1925-9 has open arcaded top floor and huge figure of Saint as finial. Listing NGR: TQ3829675307

Heritage Details

Architect: Claude Kelly

Original Date: 1909

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II