Building » Limehouse – Our Lady Immaculate and St Frederick

Limehouse – Our Lady Immaculate and St Frederick

Island Row, Commercial Road, London E14

An Italianate inter-war church with a fine interior and several original or early furnishings of note. The northeast tower and the statue of Christ at the west end are landmarks in the St Anne’s Church Conservation Area, designed to be seen from the Limehouse Basin and the Thames.

The mission was founded in February 1881 to serve the large Irish population around Limehouse. Initially, Mass was said in a room over a chandler’s shop and then in the priest’s house in 9 Turner’s Road. Later that year, a temporary church by H. J. Hansom opened.

A new, permanent church was in planning by 1925, when A. J. Sparrow ARIBA prepared designs for a church with a hall in the basement, a presbytery and convent. Lack of money delayed the building of the church and the mission priest Fr Higley acted as his own contractor, clerk of works and foreman, supervising just five skilled workmen as well as volunteers who worked in the evenings. Cardinal Bourne laid the foundation stone on Whit Monday 1927. The church and presbytery were completed in 1934; the convent adjoining the presbytery was never built. Galleries over the aisles were planned but remained unexecuted. In 1938, Cardinal Hinsley opened the parish school, also designed by Sparrow.


The church is facing north. This description follows conventional liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar was at the east end.

The style is Italianate. The church is built using purple brick laid in Flemish bond, over a plinth of black brick. The plan is rectangular, comprising an aisled nave, a northeast tower and an apse. There is a basement below the church. The nave roof is pitched, and the aisle roofs are flat.

The street elevation consists of the blind semicircular apse with red brick banding and a cross of red brick. Alongside this is the five-stage tower, also with red brick bands, with a niche containing a statue of the Virgin Mary and a clock to the north. The belfry stage has three small round-headed louvred windows under a larger arch. The pyramidal tower roof is covered in copper. At the base of the tower is a granite tablet in memory of Fr Higley (1888-1934), founder of the church. In front, is a cruciform sculpture of Christ Crucified on a brick plinth (1997, Sean Henry, made by Bronze Age, a nearby foundry).

The side elevations have pairs of round-headed windows to the aisles above various doors to the church, presbytery and tower, sacristy windows and small basement windows. At the west end of the north elevation is a fibreglass sculpture of Our Lady with the Christ Child. Above roof level at the west end is a tall chimney-like brick plinth supporting a statue of the Sacred Heart, sometimes known locally as ‘Christ the Steersman’, carved of oak in the manner of a ship’s figurehead. It was designed to be seen from the Limehouse Basin and the Thames.

The four-bay nave has a round-arched arcade on square pillars. Below the barrel vault, cut by five Diocletian windows on either side, is a cornice which continues through the apse. At the west end is a concave gallery with an iron balustrade but without the supports indicated on the plan. The organ is by Conacher, Sheffield & Co Ltd (rebuilt in 1960 by Robert Slater & Son). There are two small west windows with stained glass depicting St John the Evangelist and St Frederick.  In the gallery stairwell at the southwest is a circular stained glass window (attributed to Lavers & Westlake) dedicated to St Joseph with the saint, the Flight into Egypt and his death.

Directly below the gallery is a confessional. In the northwest corner, beside a door to the presbytery, is the baptistery with tall iron gates and the large font of yellow Sicilian marble with a square bowl with chamfered corners. Two of the windows in the north aisle have stained glass depicting saints. The aisle has a skylight of glass bricks. At the east end of the north aisle is the Lady Chapel with a marble altar with a nineteenth-century French white marble statue of the Immaculate Conception, originally from the convent of the Daughters of Charity, Mill Hill. It is set in front of a silkscreen print of a red oval on a blue background (Pauline Corfield, c.2000).

Behind the Lady altar is the sacristy with the Higley Room above, which is accessed via the tower stair (on the drawing this is labelled the Club Room, then the Choir Boys’ Robing Room). Above the nave entrance to the sacristy is a small statue of Bl. John Roche as a boatman (by C. H. Sheill). This is framed by a blind arch, continuing the nave arcade in this bay and one further east, just short of the apse.

The apse is marble panelled to below the cornice. Until relatively recently the apse ceiling was painted with a mural of Our Lady Immaculate and adoring angels (not original). Its place is now occupied by a modern painting of the Crucifixion (Armando Seijo, c.1999). The marble altar rails have been removed. The high altar of white and yellow marbles has a small aedicule as monstrance throne with a segmental pediment. The forward altar is a plain Travertine marble piece from the convent of the Sisters of Mercy, Hardinge Street, E1 (information from Fr Peter Harris). The sanctuary floor is, like that in the baptistery, of black and white chequered marble.

At the southeast is a shrine to the Sacred Heart, behind a section of the former marble altar rails (site of the former Sacred Heart altar, removed c1996). A statue of the Sacred Heart stands on wooden pedestal. Set against the easternmost nave pillar on the south side is the square pulpit of white and yellow marble.

Set against the nave pillars are various statues of saints: St Joseph, St Anne, St Vincent de Paul and St Louise de Marillac (the last two by La Statue Religieuse, Paris). The Stations are painted on canvas over copper in a Flemish late-Gothic style by Louis Beyaert-Carier of Belgium (b.1876). They were erected in 1935.

Heritage Details

Architect: A. J. Sparrow

Original Date: 1927

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed