Building » Petts Wood – St James the Great

Petts Wood – St James the Great

Lakeswood Road, Petts Wood, Bromley, Kent BR5

A modern church with  a rectangular plan, built from designs by an architect parishioner. General de Gaulle, who lived at Petts Wood during the Second World War, contributed to the fundraising for the church. Notable for coloured glass by Hardman of Birmingham and Pierre Fourmaintraux.

A significance increase in Catholic residents in Petts Wood during the 1930s prompted the parish priest at Orpington, Fr Lawrence Bovington, to look for a suitable Mass centre there. In 1937 he rented the ballroom of the Daylight Inn in Station Square, where the first Mass was held on 24 October. Two years later a site for a new church was found in Lakeswood Road, where a brick church, dedicated to St James the Great, was built for £1,943 8s 5d. The first Mass was held on 23 July 1939.

In 1941 Fr Hubert Simes was given charge of the mission. The following year, the care of the mission and Fr Simes were transferred to Chislehurst. Fr Simes bought the site for the future school in Petts Wood, and in 1944 purchased 283 Crescent Drive for £1,200 for use as a presbytery. In 1946 Fr Cyril Scarborough became the first resident priest. By the 1950s, a new larger church had become urgent. General de Gaulle, who lived at Petts Wood during the Second World War, contributed to the fundraising effort. The architect W. R. Duck, a parishioner, developed the design between 1959 and 1960 in partnership with the parish priest, Fr John Wright. Building work started in 1962. Bishop Cowderoy laid the foundation stone on 4 May 1963, and the church opened later the same year. The cost was £37,500. The new church was formally opened on 4 March 1964 by Bishop Cowderoy. The old church was converted in 1964 to a parish hall.

In 1979-80 several alterations were made, including the introduction of the present altar and the reordering of the sanctuary. The church hall was enlarged and new facilities added. No. 281 Crescent Drive was purchased as an addition to the presbytery. The church was consecrated by Archbishop Bowen on 17 July 1988. In 1992 a narthex with side entrances was added, as well as a small extension at the southwest corner for a disabled toilet. In 1994 the interior was redecorated with matt white tiles to the walls, and a timber panelled ceiling to improve the acoustics. (Originally, the walls were rendered in white plaster.)


The church is facing west; however, this description uses conventional liturgical orientation.

St James’s church was built between 1962 and 1963, to designs by architect W. R. Duck. In 1992 several small extensions were added, including the narthex at the west end and the disabled toilet at the southwest corner. The church is built in brick, laid in Flemish bond, with some stone dressings. Nave and sanctuary have portal frames (possibly reinforced concrete, now clad in timber). The tower’s east and west faces have Kentish flint panels. The pitched roof of the nave, original porch and tower are clad in copper. The plan is a rectangle containing nave and sanctuary, with lower gabled projections at the east and west, a flat-roofed north aisle and a bell tower at the southwest. At the south side, a semi-circular baptistery projects beyond the outer wall. The original main entrance was at the southwest corner, between the main body of the nave and the tower. The new (1992) lean-to narthex is in a sympathetic style and extends across the width of the west facade, creating an additional side entrance at the northwest corner, as well as narthex space. Sacristies and the boiler house are housed in ancillary rooms at the northeast.

The main elevation is the west facade. The 1992 narthex is of brick in stretcher bond, with a band of short, gabled windows, echoing the forms of the west and nave windows. At the northwest and southwest corners are the entrance porches. The large west window is stone-framed and has four lights. There is a glazed link at first-floor level between the tower and the organ loft. The foundation stone is located in the west face of the tower. Above the flint panels, the top storey of the bell tower has concrete mullions instead of louvre boards. There is a copper cross at the apex of the tower roof.

The narthex houses the repository at the northwest. Inside the tower is the stair to the organ loft and the bell floor. (The bell is electrically operated.) Access to the small toilet extension is also via the tower’s ground floor. The interior of the church has five bays, divided by timber panelled portal frames, of which the easternmost  bay is occupied by the sanctuary. Each bay has one window with frosted glass of slightly yellow tint. The west window has panes of blue and purple colour. The organ loft in the gabled west projection has an organ by J. W. Walker & Sons of 1963, set against the north wall. Below are confessionals, storage cupboards and additional seating. The  walls  are  tiled  with  matt  white  tiles,  while  the  ceiling  and  main  structural features are timber panelled (both of 1994). The north aisle has dalle de verre windows with coloured glass by Hardman, 1965-66, and the baptistery concreted windows by  Pierre Fourmaintraux of James Powell & Son (Whitefriars Ltd), 1962. At the east end of the aisle is the Lady Chapel with a stone altar, a timber panelled reredos and a statue of the Virgin. (At the time of the visit, all the sculptures and paintings were veiled in preparation for Holy Week.) Set against a nave pier nearby is a statue of St Joseph.

The sanctuary has a central gabled recess with a canopy and lateral windows. Above the canopy is a stone framework against a panel of black bricks, with the letters Alpha and Omega in metal on either side of a cross with sunburst. The altar rails, pulpit, lectern and chair are made from timber, while the altar is of white stone. Set into the east wall is a niche for the tabernacle with a crucifix above. On either side of the sanctuary are statues of St Joseph and St James, each with a small stone altar below. The baptistery is in a semicircular projection on the south side, in the second bay from the west. The two windows on either side, as well as the whole outer wall are occupied by coloured glass windows set in a concrete resin framework, by Pierre Fourmaintraux. The baptistery houses a large circular stone font, as well as a smaller timber one. The metal rails feature the dove and St James’s scallop shell. The Stations of the Cross are unframed reliefs made from brown ceramic.

Amended by AHP 05.02.2021

Heritage Details

Architect: W. R. Duck

Original Date: 1962

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed