Building » Presteigne – Assumption of Our Lady and St Therese

Presteigne – Assumption of Our Lady and St Therese

King’s Turning Road, Presteigne, LD8 2LD

Originally built by and for a community of Carmelite nuns, this was the first commission of the noted Catholic architect Francis Pollen. Constructed partly from the nuns’ own labours, using salvaged materials, the church is an elegant building is in the style of a Mediterranean mission chapel, with furnishings of note by Pollen, David Jones and others. It has group value with the adjoining listed former Carmel House.

The Carmelite community which came to Presteigne in 1951 was the last of the thirty-three communities founded from the monastery at Notting Hill by Mother Mary of Jesus. In1938 she sent nine sisters with Mother Michael Dawes as Prioress to found the Carmel at Watford, Hertfordshire. Two years later their house was requisitioned by the army and the nuns moved to Berkhamsted, Herts. In 1950 Bishop Petit of Menevia invited the community to move to Wales and they established themselves in a large early nineteenth century house on the eastern edge of Presteigne. A conservatory attached to the house was demolished and replaced by a temporary chapel.

In 1952 the sisters began the construction of a new choir next to the house, reusing old materials and providing the building labour themselves. In 1953 Lady Rennell, a recent convert and friend of Mother Michael, introduced the young Catholic architect Francis Pollen (1926-1987), a disciple of Sir Edwin Lutyens. This was his first commission (he went on t0 design the chapel at Worth Abbey in Sussex, several buildings at Downside Abbey and a number of imaginative private houses). Pollen produced a sketch design for a new chapel to be built at right-angles to the choir and in 1954 provided measured drawings at no cost, to guide the sisters in their construction work (the drawings are deposited at the RIBA). Bishop Petit laid the foundation stone in August 1954. The walls were built of blockwork, while stone for the plinth and dressings was acquired from local quarries and derelict buildings. The main door was salvaged from the Carmel at Berkhamsted. By November the church was sufficiently ready for the wedding of the daughter of Lord and Lady Rennell, and came into general use at Midnight Mass, Christmas 1954. Inside the building the simple stone altar was built by the sisters in 1955, apparently using stones from several Welsh medieval monastic foundations. The foundation stone set by the main door was carved by Mother Michael. The first Mass in the new chapel was celebrated on 13 November 1954.

In November 1956 the convent was enclosed and thereafter direct contact with the outside world was limited. In 1975 the sanctuary of the chapel was reordered and the tabernacle positioned on a new stone plinth, also designed by Francis Pollen. The convent closed in 1988, when Greenfield (Carmel) House was sold and the remaining sisters transferred to other Carmels. The chapel and choir were adapted to make them more suitable for regular parish use. The grill between the body of the chapel and the nuns’ choir was replaced by folding doors and various artworks were installed, notably an incised stone roundel of the Assumption over the main door by Jane Quail and two stained glass windows in the tabernacle alcove by her husband Paul. It was at this time that David Jones’s painted inscription, using words from the Canon of the Mass and by the fourteenth century poet Gryffudd Gryg, which Mother Michael had originally rejected as being ‘too esoteric’, was recreated by Teresa Elwes and mounted on the internal wall above the main entrance.

Today the church is served from Rhayader (qv). The building and its furnishings are described fully in the list entry, below. It can be added that the pews were made by Gortings of Ludlow.

List description

Reference Number: 87528
Building Number 
Grade: II  
Status: Designated  
Date of Designation: 09/08/2007  
Date of Amendment: 09/08/2007  
Name of Property: RC Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Therese  
Unitary Authority: Powys  
Community: Presteigne  
Locality: Presteigne  
Easting: 332051  
Northing: 263905  
Location: Towards SE end of built-up area of Presteigne; attached to Greenfield House.  

History: The church was designed in 1954 by Francis Pollen who went on to design notable buildings at Worth Abbey and Downside Abbey. The church is in a very simple Mediterranean style since it was designed to be physically built by the nuns of the adjacent Carmelite convent (now a private house). It is built of rendered blockwork on a stone plinth with some stone details. The deeply-set doorway and battered walls give the illusion of strength, but the building has standard cavity walls. The building served both as Nun’s chapel and as a parish church. The Nuns left in 1988. The refined design and careful use of simple materials recall Lutyens who was a great influence on Pollen at this early stage in his career, and had built and remodelled homes for Pollen’s family. Pollen later said “I believe that churches must feel as if they had just happened as a result of divine laws of geometry, mechanics and proportion; timeless laws” Inside the church, there are two inscriptions designed by the artist David Jones (1895-1974). Jones, a catholic convert, was a personal friend of the Pollen family, and came to specialise in inscriptions in the Welsh Language. At one end is a “chi rho”, and at the other words from the Mass in Welsh and Latin designed in 1956, but only painted in 1988. Two small stained glass windows of the rising and setting sun are by Paul Quail. The relief of the Assumption of the Virgin is by Jane Quail, carved in 1988.  

Exterior: Church in simple Mediterranean style, rendered blockwork on a stone plinth with some stone details; slate roof. Gabled entrance has bellcote, and deeply-set round-headed doorway above which is roundel with relief of Assumption. Side’s elevations each with two windows of grey slate, two lights with circular light above. On L side, roof slope continues over a small chapel with small windows to sides. On R side, at right angles is the annexe (formerly the Nun’s choir) with 4 square windows and porch. The rear of the church is attached to the house by a C19 corridor with vestries etc.

Interior: Inside, the roof has plain scissor trusses and plywood boarding; plastered walls. The sanctuary has 2 round-headed doorways to rear wall leading to sacristy. Rear wall with “chi rho” by David Jones. Plinth with altar said to contain stones from medieval foundations. To L, tabernacle on pier designed by Pollen in 1975. Chapel with small rectangular stained glass windows by Paul Quail. To R, the annexe with scissor truss roof as church. Above entrance doorway, inscription designed by David Jones.  

Reason for designation: Included as a very early work by an architect of some prestige, with quality artworks by distinguished RC artists and for Group Value with the adjacent listed Greenfield House.

Heritage Details

Architect: Francis Pollen

Original Date: 1954

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II