Armada Way, Plymouth, Devon
© Copyright N Chadwick and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence
A very late Arts and Crafts Gothic Revival church, built at the expense of a private benefactor on land given by the City Council. This was Giles Gilbert Scott’s last church, and the last Gothic Revival church to be built in the Diocese of Plymouth. It was opened in 1962, just as the Second Vatican Council was convening. The church interior is a design of particular quality and refinement, with furnishings of high quality, and is very little altered. With the slightly later church hall and presbytery, (by Scott’s son Richard) the church occupies a prominent island site in the Hoe Conservation Area and a significant place in the post-war redevelopment of Plymouth city centre.
The commercial centre of Plymouth was badly damaged in wartime bombing. A Plan for Plymouth by J. Paton Watson, City Engineer and Professor Patrick Abercrombie, was published in 1943. They proposed the total reconstruction of the commercial centre, with a new street layout designed to eliminate traffic. There would be a broad pedestrian avenue from the Hoe to the railway station. The site for the church of Christ the King was provided by the City Council, and the cost of its construction was largely met by a donation of over £50,000 given anonymously (the donor was Mrs Clare Rye, who in 1947 had acquired the Henry Clutton church at Tavistock for the diocese). The architect was Sir Giles Gilbert Scott OM, RA, his last work (he died in 1960). It is a small church, seating only 150, and was never intended as a parish church, but was built as a city centre chapel-of-ease to the cathedral, a status it retains to this day. The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Restieaux on 17 September 1961 and one year later on 19 September 1962 the bishop solemnly blessed and opened the completed church.
The adjoining hall and presbytery were completed eighteen months later, also from designs by the firm of Sir Giles Scott, Son and Partner (under the direction of Richard Gilbert Scott, son of Sir Giles). The cost of these buildings (over £30,000) was also met by Mrs Rye. The contractors for the building of the church, hall and presbytery were Messrs Dudley Coles of Plymouth. In 1973 the church was closed for two years for major repairs and strengthening after cracks developed in the tower and elsewhere.
As well as being a chapel of ease to the Cathedral, Christ the King is now the University Chaplaincy.
The church is orientated north-south, but this description follows conventional liturgical orientation.
Late Arts and Crafts Gothic Revival church by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, his last church and completed after his death. Pinkish-purple brick laid in English bond, with reconstructed Doulting stone dressings, pantile roofs. The church consists of nave of four bays with narrow circulation aisles, long square-ended chancel with sacristy to north and Lady Chapel to south (with attached projecting confessionals), offset tower at southwest corner of nave and aisles, projecting western narthex. A flight of steps leads up to the main west entrance which has a stone surround of a hybrid late Gothic and Baroque character, incorporating a cartouche of the Agnus Dei and sturdy hardwood doors incorporating lozenge panels. The narthex has a flat roof behind a raised parapet, with plain leaded light windows with stone mullions at the sides. Offset at the southwest corner of the nave and aisles is the campanile, tall and plain, with paired lancet windows to the belfry. Modern Perpendicular tracery to these, and to the aisle windows, the latter consisting of three lights each, the mullions continuing up as fins of Art deco character over flat trefoil heads, the window arches themselves simply glazed, without tracery. Hoodmoulds over the two-centred window arches. Narrower chancel with continuous high-level clerestory glazing on the sides. As so often with Scott’s churches, the east wall is left plain (now tile-hung externally) to accommodate an internal reredos. Single storey flat-roofed sacristies on north side of chancel, lean-to pantile roof over chapel in corresponding position on south side, continuing as the link to the slightly later hall and presbytery to the east.
The interior is one of particular quality and refinement, with an effortless manipulation of space that creates an impression of scale in what is actually a modest-sized church. Plastered white walls. A flight of stone steps within the narthex leads into the church (adapted on the left to incorporate a wheelchair lift). Over the nave, the low collars to the rafters in the roof create an almost flat effect, with polychrome detail. Simple incised Gothic arcades without mouldings or capitals continue down as piers, lozenge-shaped on plan, with octagonal bases. The aisles are of equal height, creating the effect of a hall church, and, as so often with Scott’s church designs, are built as narrow circulation passages rather than for congregational seating. Transverse walling at high level marks the aisle bay divisions. Recesses for confessionals off both aisles, that on the south side now used as a store and the internal oak partition removed. Pale coloured Cathedral-type leaded glass gives an even light to the well-lit interior. At the west end of the nave is an organ gallery over the narthex, containing a small pipe organ said to have been made by a monk from Prinknash Abbey (information from Fr Kirkpatrick). The underside of the gallery is enclosed with wrought iron railings and gates incorporating quatrefoils and the letters CR, which can be variously interpreted as signifying Christus Rex (Christ the King, the dedication), Cyril Restieaux (the Bishop who opened the church) or Clare Rye (the donor). At the west end of the north aisle the baptistery, retaining the font in its original location, with sunken floor. Tapering octagonal polished stone font with oak cover. oak gates enclosing the baptistery area. Fine original oak pews and brass chandeliers to the nave, woodblock floor with paving to the alleys. Simple wooden oak gates and communion rails at the chancel arch (recently unsympathetically adapted). The east wall is dominated by a large polychrome Crucifix and altar canopy. A rich brocade or curtain originally hung from the canopy as a backdrop to the Crucifix, but this was removed and not reinstated after recent redecoration. Polished marble high altar raised three steps above the rest of the sanctuary and marble forward altar below. Black and white floor slabs arranged diamond-wise. This being part of the Cathedral parish, a bishop’s throne was originally located on the north side of the sanctuary, with its own canopy and curtain backdrop; this has been removed but the component parts remain in the church. According to the Catholic Building Review (1962, p. 216), the bishop’s throne and altar hangings were not designed by the architects. To the south, the Lady Chapel has a pentice roof and marble altar with an original painted triptych over. Finely detailed stone stoups (narthex) and lavabo (sacristy).
The church, along with the attached presbytery and hall, was listed Grade II in April 2009, shortly after the above was written. List description at: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1393246
Architect: Sir Giles Gilbert Scott OM, RA
Original Date: 1962
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II