London Road, Newbury, Berkshire
An ambitious town church in Italo-Byzantine style by W.C. Mangan, the design and layout clearly showing the influence of Bentley’s Westminster Cathedral. The church is notable for its external massing, the patterning and colour of its external brickwork and its rich fitting out, with much use of Italian marbles. It is a major local landmark, the campanile and the Sacred Heart statue being particularly prominent.
In 1790 Woolhampton was recorded as one of Berkshire’s Catholic congregations, served by priests touring the mission stations on horseback. From this grew the Newbury and Basingstoke missions. In 1852 Father Robert Hodgson, spiritual director at Woolhampton, started a mission to serve the Catholics of Newbury, who were destitute and few in number. In 1853 priests from St Mary’s Woolhampton purchased a site at 105 London Road, with its adjoining land, and established the first mission there. An existing early nineteenth-century house became the presbytery. Fr Hodgson was the first resident priest, and set up in the house a small preparatory school for St Mary’s, Woolhampton. In 1864 a small church was built adjoining the presbytery, at a cost of £800. This was to remain in use until the building of the present church in 1928, at which time it became the church hall.
The present church was built in 1926-8 by Canon Francis Green who, it is said, raised funds for the rebuilding by collecting from successful punters boarding the train after race meetings at Newbury. The foundation stone was laid on 19 January 1926, and the first service held on 21 November 1928. It was built to the designs of W.C. Mangan, who had in the previous year worked on major extensions to A.W. Pugin’s church at Reading. The builders were Hoskings & Pond Ltd of Newbury. On account of the poor ground conditions, a specialist firm (Simplex and Co. of Victoria St, London) was brought in to build the foundations and campanile, at a cost of £2062. The overall cost was about £20,000.
A new forward altar was consecrated by Bishop Emery on 18 June 1978.
The church is cruciform in plan, 120ft long and 93ft wide across the transepts. It is in Italian Byzantine style, with a campanile of some 100ft crowned by a copper dome, clearly inspired by Bentley’s campanile at Westminster. Faced in multicoloured sand-faced Daneshill bricks laid in English bond, with soldier courses, herringbone patterns and other elaborate brick detail. Interlocking ‘Lombardic’ tile roof with overhanging eaves.The nave and transepts have two-light round-headed windows to each bay, with the bays marked by recessed ‘pilasters’. Large lunette windows lighting the central crossing, which is surmounted by a large statue of the Sacred Heart.
The church is entered through a semicircular porch at the west (geographical north) end with sandstone steps, columns of Verde Corona marble and a cornice built in Siena, Pavanazzo and Petitor marbles. Doorways, porches and steps to each transept. There is a small baptistery to one side beyond the west porch. Inside, an aisleless nave with panelled and arcaded walls, the panels faced in Daneshill bricks and the piers and wall surfaces generally plastered and painted. Exposed timber roof of British Columbian pine in nave, transepts and retro-choir, with oak plywood panels between. The raised sanctuary is arranged in Byzantine manner at the crossing, and is surrounded by a spacious processional aisle with a short chancel, high groin vaulted ceilings and lower corner features with balconies. There is large baldacchino over the original high altar, some 23 feet high, which, like that at Westminster, is supported by four massive Cippolino marble columns, with a barrel vaulted canopy with mosaic and marble decoration (Siena and Paranazzo). The altar, baldacchino, sanctuary steps and paving, the oak block flooring, and the fibrous plaster and cast stone work are all by Messrs Marchetti of Portsmouth. The high altar is placed three steps above the rest of the sanctuary, and has a gradine with onyxes and other coloured marbles and a bronze gilded tabernacle; hanging rood figures above. Beyond the sanctuary is a raised retro-choir (with organ, pine console with 14 central pipes and five base pipes on each side, by J W Walker and Sons of Brandon, Suffolk), with sacristy below. Raised side chapels on either side, confessional on south side of east transept and a smaller sacristy to the west of the main one. The communion rail is of white marble with colonnaded twin columns of Siena marble and gates of gilded bronze. Oak pews to the nave.
The old church is a small, plain Gothic structure, brick with stone bands, under a slate roof. It has a gabled porch with decorative bargeboards. Its interior has not been inspected.
The (Grade II listed) presbytery dates from the early-nineteenth century and is a two-storey red brick villa under a hipped slate roof with projecting eaves. It has sash windows with stucco voussoirs and glazing bars and a round-arched doorway with stucco archivolt and keystone, radial fanlight, and raised and fielded panel door. It has a slightly-later looking range to the right, similar in style to the original building, which links it with the old church.
The boundary wall facing London Road appears to be contemporary with Mangan’s church; red brick, incorporating pre-cast concrete panels with decorative and symbolic motifs.
The church was listed Grade II in May 2023. List description at: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1482847?section=official-list-entry
Architect: W.C. Mangan
Original Date: 1926
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II