High Street, Newport Pagnell, Bucks
The primary significance of the building lies in its architectural, historical and townscape interest as a mid-nineteenth century civic building on a prominent town centre island site. The upper floor (now the church) is a fine compartmented space carried on cast iron columns. Conversion to church use has not involved major structural change, and has allowed for the introduction of some furnishings of interest by Peter Koenig.
The church of St Bede was originally built in 1847 as a police station and courtroom. It was designed by the local architect Richard Shepherd, who was also responsible for the 1845 frontage of the nearby Town Hall Chambers. A new police station was built in 1871 and by 1881 the building had become a Temperance Hall. Ten years later it was a Mission Hall run by the Plymouth Brethren, until 1915 when it was taken over by the Baptists. It was later used as a paper bag factory and was unused for a while before being acquired as a Catholic Mass centre.
Before acquisition of the church, Newport Pagnell Catholics were occasionally served by travelling priests, but otherwise had to make the journey to Wolverton or Olney. In 1953 the old Mission Hall (the present building) was acquired for £4,000, with a view to establishing a Mass centre in the first floor former courtroom. Furniture was donated from various sources, and the building was blessed and dedicated by Bishop Parker in March 1953. There was at first some local resistance to such a prominent public building being put to use for Catholic worship.
In 1957 a resident priest was appointed and two years later a house in Bury Avenue acquired to serve as a presbytery. In 1969 Fr Nevill McClement was appointed, and soon afterwards was inducted as the first parish priest of St Bede’s. Various improvements were made to both the upstairs church and the downstairs accommodation.
In 1986 the church was repaired and refurbished under the direction of George A. Mathers ARIBA. A problem early identified (and still not wholly resolved) was that the church was on the first floor, presenting difficulties for the elderly and for the movement of coffins at funeral services. The feasibility of installing a lift or a hoist was investigated but cost and the lack of available space ruled these out. Instead, a weekday chapel which could also be used for funerals was created on the ground floor. The Blessed Sacrament was reserved downstairs, and a new social room, kitchen and WCs installed. New stairs up to the church from the entrance hall were formed, with a glazed lobby above. A moveable dais was installed for the sanctuary, to allow for flexibility in the internal arrangements. A ceiling painting and carved wooden furnishings by Peter Koenig were provided. The renovated church was dedicated in December 1987.
See list description, below. George Mathers’ report from 1986 (in the Diocesan Archives) states that investigation of the structure at the time of the refurbishment had produced evidence (not detailed) that the 1847 structure incorporated elements of an earlier building. He also discovered that the cast iron columns in the former courtroom, as well as serving a loadbearing function, also served as flues to (now blocked or removed) fireplaces on the ground floor. He noted that the boarding of the first floor is laid with narrow steel tongues between the boards to ensure a tight fit (and possibly as a fireproofing measure). There was an extensive system of ducting from the outside of the building to the various fireplaces and through the walls to the upper floors, carrying warm air to the former courtroom. The exterior was faced with standard bricks of various sizes and an early form of cast concrete was used in the architectural dressings. Some of the first floor joists spanned the entire width of the building, some 38 ft.
The list description mentions the central oval ceiling painting by Peter Koenig (photo above), showing Christ the Fisherman and featuring Newport Pagnell’s famous cast iron bridge in the background. Also by Koenig are the carved timber pulpit in the upper church and the tabernacle plinth in the weekday chapel. There are some stained glass panels, screwed to the window frames, while leaving the sash windows in situ.
Church, originally police station and courtroom. Built in 1847, designed by Richard Shepard in Classical style. C20 front door and some internal alterations. Built of red brick in Flemish bond with stone and yellow brick dressings and slate roof. Original plan was police station and cells on ground floor, together with two police flats with separate entrances to the street, and courtroom above. EXTERIOR: Main entrance front facing east on to former Market Square is of three bays with central open pediment with brick modillion cornice supported on giant Ionic pilasters with deep plinth. First floor has sash window with nine panes. Round headed arched doorcase with C20 door. Sides of one tall storey with hipped roof and tall blank round headed arches filled-in with cement rendering. North and south sides are of two storeys: three windows. Ends have open pediments supported on full-height Ionic pilasters with deep entablature to centre bay. Central first floor window is 6-pane sash, end windows are 9-pane sashes. Ground floor has central arched doorcase with plank door and four 12-pane sashes with cambered heads. South side has an added two storey brick addition with stair and porch obscuring an end bay. INTERIOR: First floor has original ceiling to courtroom divided into nine compartments by deep moulded beams and supported on four Tuscan columns at the intersections. The ceiling has a late C20 painting of “The river of Life” by Peter Koenig and three late C20 stained glass windows at the east end. The ground floor has been adapted in the C20 with a glazed screen to the west and folding screens opening to a meeting hall on the south side.
HISTORY: The Police were moved to a new Police station in 1872 and this building became a Temperance Hall in 1881. By 1891 it was a Mission hall for the Plymouth brethren, it was taken over by the Baptists in 1915 and adapted for use as a Roman Catholic church c1950 with refurbishments of c1986.
[“Buildings of England” Buckinghamshire p576.]
Architect: Richard Shepard; George A. Mathers
Original Date: 1847
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II