Building » Plumstead – St Patrick

Plumstead – St Patrick

Hector Street, Plumstead, London SE18

A large Gothic Revival church built in 1901 as the Anglican church of St Paul. Acquired by the Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark and reopened in 1969 as St Patrick’s church, after a landmark Act of Parliament. As the first Anglican church to be bought by the Catholic Church it set an important precedent.

The mission at Plumstead was founded in 1890 when Bishop John Butt commissioned Fr Thomas Whelahan to establish a church and schools. At first Mass was said in a lecture hall at the back of the Sussex Arms in Plumstead Road. A site was bought at Griffin Road and the foundations for a temporary church were laid before the vendor, Mr Kersey informed Fr Whelahan that a temporary building was prohibited under the terms of the purchase. A new site was found in Coupland Terrace where a temporary iron building was erected. This served as church and school for two and a half years. Between 1892 and 1893, a permanent school and church were built at the corner of Griffin Road and Conway Road. As the fundraising made very slow process, the bishop stepped in as the main benefactor. The architect was Alexander Henry Kersey, the vendor of the site and partner in the practice of Kersey, Gale & Spooner. (Alternative plans prepared by F. A. Walters had not been accepted.) The builders were Messrs James Smith & Sons of South Norwood. The cost was £5,151. On 7 August 1892 the church was formally opened. This red brick building of a first-floor chapel with a school room below still exists, and is used as weekday and school chapel.

Initially the church was entirely unfurnished, apart from a wooden makeshift altar. Fr Whelahan died in 1906 and a memorial tablet was erected in 1907. In 1906 an eighteenth-century organ was acquired from the Anglican church of St Mary, Woolwich, which had been built by Messrs Jordan, Budge & Byfield. (It was rebuilt in 1922 by Messrs Bishop & Son, London.) In 1909, an additional school building was erected to the north of the church.

By the 1960s the church became too small for its large congregation. At the same time, the nearby Anglican church of St Paul was closed in 1966 due to its dwindling congregation. Negotiations began between the Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark and the Anglican Diocese of Southwark. As it could not be sold as a standing consecrated church, a special Act of Parliament was required to make this possible. In 1968, the Bill passed and received Royal Assent. St Paul’s became the first standing Anglican church to be sold to the Catholic Church, and set a precedent. After some alterations, the church reopened as St Patrick’s on 4 July 1969 by Archbishop Cowderoy, with the Anglican Bishop of Southwark, Dr Mervyn Stockwood in attendance.

The former St Paul’s had been built in 1901, to designs by William Basset Smith, apparently on the original football ground of Woolwich Arsenal FC. The church was extended and completed in 1909. In the 1920s the large east window was installed. In 1969, several furnishings were transferred from the old St Patrick’s church (now the school chapel), including fifteen stained glass panels which had been installed in 1960. Some furnishings from the Anglican use were left in situ, such as the war memorial in the north aisle and the memorial plaque near the east window.


The church was built in 1901 to designs by William Basset Smith as the Anglican church of St Paul. After some alterations, it reopened in 1969 as the Catholic church of St Patrick. The sacristy, parts of the hall, and possibly the built-in confessionals are later additions. The church is built in red brick, laid in English bond, with stone dressings and a slate roof. The style is a revival of the early Decorated style.

It has an aisled nave with a tall flèche at the west end. The entrance porch is at the northwest corner. An attached hall occupies the northwest corner and can be accessed from the north aisle. The organ chamber to the south of the sanctuary leads into the flat-roofed sacristy which also connects to the hall. The west front is hardly visible through the surrounding houses and gardens. It has two traceried windows below a central rose window. The most visible elevation is that to the north, which faces Hector Street. The gabled porch at the northwest is mirrored by a taller gabled bay at the northeast. To the left of the northwest porch is a small, modern gabled brick shrine to Our Lady with a statue behind glass. The flèche straddling the gable has a square-plan lower stage with louvre boards and a tall, slated pyramidal spire.

Internally, a small wind lobby and a larger carved timber lobby give access to the nave and aisles. The nave and lean-to aisles are four bays long with an additional narrower bay at the west. At the west end is the octagonal stone font, on marble columns, under a bricked-in stone arch with a stained glass window of the Good Shepherd (1909, ‘B.S.’). To the left is a large cast Pietà of 1930 (J. Strosl, Chelsea). The west windows have stained glass panels of the Virgin, St Joseph, St Patrick and St Brigid. The tall nave has a timber collar beam roof. The pointed arcade rests on quadripartite piers, with two clerestory windows per bay.

Three windows in the north aisle have three oval stained glass panels each, showing scenes from Christ’s Passion and Childhood, as well as the Annunciation and Visitation. (Together with the panels in the south aisle, these were transferred from the previous chapel where they had been installed in 1960.) There are statues of St Theresa (a cast, made in Lisieux) and the Sacred Heart (acquired in 1930, made by La Statue Religieuse, Paris). The higher northeast bay has a pitched cross roof and a war memorial plaque of Sicilian marble (by W. E. Smith), commemorating the Fallen of St Paul’s parish.

On either side of the sanctuary arch are statues of St Patrick (by J. Daniel, Paris) and St Joseph. The two-bay sanctuary has a panelled roof. The marble high altar of 1925 stands against a carved wooden reredos. Above is the east window depicting Christ’s mission to the Apostles, flanked by Saints Peter and Paul. The five-light window was erected in 1920 and dedicated to the memory of Right Rev. John Cox Leeke, D. D., first Bishop of Woolwich (died 1919), as well as Capt. Robert Thomas Smith, V. D., churchwarden (died 1900) and his family. This is recorded on a marble plaque on the north wall of the sanctuary (erected 1923). To the right of the high altar is a piscina and sedilia. The timber lectern and altar are modern. A large arch to the south is filled by the organ.

The sacristy is to the east of the organ chamber. The arch at the east end of the south aisle is filled with a traceried timber screen. Slightly west of the screen is a shrine to the Virgin with a fine statue of Our Lady with the Child. Further west is a cast statue of St Anthony, and three further windows with three stained-glass panels each depicting Marian and Passion scenes (1960). The two westernmost bays of the aisle have shorter windows, above two built-in confessionals and an inserted self-contained structure housing the repository; the latter complete with a fake chimney with chimney pot. A further door at the west end of the south aisle is now the fire exit. The Stations of the Cross are cast reliefs in quatrefoil frames.

Heritage Details

Architect: William Basset-Smith

Original Date: 1901

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed