Building » Purley – St John the Baptist

Purley – St John the Baptist

Dale Road, Purley, Surrey CR8

A very late Gothic Revival design, started just before the Second World War and completed in the late 1950s. The detailing is solid and worthy, but the overall architectural effect is a little dull.

In 1931 an Arts and Crafts house called the Gables was acquired by Fr Pritchard of St Gertrude’s South Croydon, as the site of a future church, presbytery and possibly a school. A hut behind the house was adapted to serve as a church. In 1938 plans for a permanent church were drawn up by Edward Walters, and the foundation stone was laid in October of that year. It was built in the Gothic style at a cost of £6,500, and the 60ft nave and a short narrow chancel were completed in 1939. The former temporary church became a parish hall.

In 1957-8 the sanctuary was rebuilt by Walters & Kerr Bate in enlarged form, with chapels giving off either side, at a cost of £30,000. In 1969 the sanctuary was reordered by Anthony Stalley of Broadbent, Hastings, Reid & New. The changes in levels were reduced and a new forward altar introduced, incorporating the old mensa (cut down). The canopy was moved forward to hang over it, along with a suspended crucifix (previously against the east wall). The tabernacle was placed on a pedestal against the east wall. Two years later the communion rails and gates were removed. There was a further reordering in 1981, when the altar was again moved forward slightly, the canopy raised and fixed uncomfortably tightly against the underside of the ceiling, and the crucifix returned to the east wall. In 1975 the old hut which had been serving as a parish hall was replaced by a large new parish hall costing £65,000, again from designs by Mr Stalley.


The church is orientated from north to south, but this description follows conventional liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar was at the east end.

The church was built in two phases. The first consists of the nave and was built in 1938-9, from designs by E.J. Walters. The second consists of the sanctuary and north and south chapels, which were added in 1958, from designs by the successor practice of Walters & Kerr Bate. Although the second phase departed from theoriginal design intention, it is a seamless addition in keeping with the original work. The church is a late example of Decorated Gothic Revival design, built of red brick laid in English bond, with stone dressings and a tile roof. It consists of an aisleless nave, sanctuary with north and south chapels, and attached sacristies.

The main entrance front has a shallow projecting gabled entrance with a carved stone representation of St John the Baptist in the tympanum. Above is a large four-light west window with curvilinear tracery, flanked by attached pinnacled buttresses and a main gable with stone coping, kneelers and cross at the apex. On either side of the entrance doors, which are boarded with elaborate strapwork hinges, are smaller windows lighting the narthex. The flank elevations of the nave have buttresses marking the bay divisions  and  large three-light windows with  alternating  tracery patterns. Small lean-to structures (one on each side) are the external expression of the confessionals. There is a secondary entrance in the first bay on the north side, with ogee arch, and beyond this the single storey sacristies, with steeply-pitched hipped tile roof.  At the east end, the external treatment of the chapels and sanctuary continue the architectural language of the nave.

The entrance doors lead into a narthex of lobby, with gallery over. The nave is of seven bays, wide and aisleless, with plastered walls and an arch-braced timber roof. There is a wide chancel arch to the sanctuary, with has a plastered panelled roof, with arched openings giving off to the side chapels. These have timber roofs (that to the north is enclosed to form a weekday chapel). The sanctuary is a little bare, following two post-Vatican II reorderings. The crucifix against the east wall is of some interest; according to Kennedy (The Story of St John the Baptist, Purley, p.63) the cross is of seventeenth-century date and the corpus of Latin American provenance. There are no other furnishings of particular note.

Heritage Details

Architect: E.J. Walters; Walters & Kerr Bate

Original Date: 1938

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed