Building » Market Drayton – St Thomas Aquinas and St Stephen Harding

Market Drayton – St Thomas Aquinas and St Stephen Harding

Great Hales Street, Market Drayton, Shropshire TF9


  • Parish website

A good design of 1886 by Edmund Kirby, notable for its rich sanctuary furnishings, donated by the Clifford family. The external design, with its brick banding and Gothic detail, forms a good group with the similarly- detailed adjoining presbytery. Internally, the church is little altered.

The conversion of the Hardings of Old Springs Hall, Tyrley was a key event in the revival of Catholicism in the Market Drayton area. With funds donated by Egerton William Harding the town’s Catholics were able fit out a large room in Cheshire Street for use as a chapel.  In due course E. W. Harding gave a plot of ground in Great Hales Street for the present church and presbytery. Opened on 7 November 1886, and paid for in its entirety by E. W. Harding’s son, Egerton Harding, the church was designed by Edmund Kirby and the builder was Thomas Brown of Market Drayton. The dedication is unusual, although St Thomas Aquinas and St Stephen Harding (co-founder of the Cistercian Order) are well enough known. No doubt Egerton Harding claimed some indirect lineal descent from the latter saint.

In 1896 the Clifford family funded the alabaster altar, the carved Caen stone reredos and the stained glass windows in the three oculi. On the sanctuary’s south wall were painted roundels depicting scenes from the lives of the church’s patron saints. The works of 1896 left the reredos incomplete. The works to finish the panels was undertaken in 1901. It is likely that the sanctuary fittings were designed by Kirby – their richness bears comparison to his work being carried out at that time in the south chapel of Shrewsbury Cathedral (qv).

A porch at the southwest corner of the church was constructed in the mid-1960s as a memorial to Fr Gerald Cavanagh, parish priest between 1933 and 1963. In 1966 the longstanding hope to have a meeting place was realised when a wooden hut, purchased from the RAF base at Tern Hill, was erected on the ground to the south east of the presbytery. In the early 1970s the orchard which stood between the hut and the church was grubbed up and tarmac laid to provide a car park.

In its centenary year works were undertaken to ‘decorate the church’ and ‘restore the beautiful sanctuary by bringing the alabaster altar forward and redesigning it’. It is understood that the ambo also dates from this time.  More recently (2010) tarmac has been laid in the southern and eastern parts of the site, and vehicular access to the car park improved. A retaining wall to the south of the presbytery now provides a separation between the drive and the footpath around the house.


The building is in the Early English style, faced with cream coloured Wollerton bricks with red Ruabon brick banding and dressings. The roof is covered with machine made tiles. The plan is longitudinal, consisting of an aisleless nave, twenty two feet wide and fifty feet long, with a chancel arch opens onto a canted apsidal sanctuary. The nave has an exposed timber roof and unusual curved pews of dark stained deal. It is well lit by three tall lancets in the west gable and further lancets, with plain glass, along the sides which alternate with blind openings framing Stations of the Cross. The sanctuary is lit by the three cinquefoil oculi and – in the north wall- by a pair of lancets with stained glass windows dedicated respectively to sons of the Harding and Clifford families who lost their lives in the First World War.

The contrast between the elegant simplicity of the nave windows and the decorative qualities of the sanctuary fenestration is considerable. From all parts of the nave the eye is drawn forward to the visual climax of the sanctuary where the ornamentation – both painted and sculptural – is generous and flamboyant. Carved figures of St Joseph and the Virgin are set within in niches on either side of the sanctuary arch. Within the sanctuary, the 1896 stained glass windows in the three oculi depict Our Lord, the Virgin Mary and St Joseph. The Caen stone reredos (made in 1896, possibly from Kirby’s designs, and completed in 1901) is formed about four vertical elements which occupy the apse’s corners and which are crowned by figures standing beneath spire capped canopies. The four figures (St Francis of Assisi, St Thomas Aquinas, St Stephen Harding and St Clare) were carved in 1896. The panels representing the Annunciation, the Nativity and scenes from the life of the Virgin were executed in 1901. At its centre the reredos encloses the tabernacle, with its gold and jewelled door.

The sanctuary’s visual richness is heightened by the elaborate painted decoration of the walls and the panelling and timber braces of its roof structure. Most visually arresting are the south wall’s six roundels (executed 1896) which depict scenes from the lives of the church’s patron saints. A door to the south of the chancel arch leads to the sacristy and presbytery, built of similar materials to the church.

Update: The church and presbytery were listed Grade II in 2014, following Taking Stock. List description at

Heritage Details

Architect: Edmund Kirby

Original Date: 1886

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II