Building » Rainham – St Thomas of Canterbury

Rainham – St Thomas of Canterbury

London Road, Rainham, Kent ME8

A  modern  church  of  1956-58  by  Eduardo  Dodds.  The  atmospheric interior is decorated with fine sculpture by Michael Clark, and ceramic panels by Adam Kossowski. The tower is a local landmark. The former temporary church of 1934 survives as the Parish Centre.

In 1921 a plot was bought for a future mission in Rainham. From 1927 Mass was said by clergy from Gillingham in a hall in Church Lane rented from the Rainham Brotherhood. In 1933 plans were drawn up for a temporary church which could also be used as a hall. This was completed in 1934 and opened by Bishop Amigo on 10 November that year.

In 1954 the decision was taken to build a new church, with the former temporary church retained as a parish hall. Bishop Cowderoy laid the foundation stone on 29 December 1956 and the church was opened on 28 April 1958. The architect was Eduardo Dodds and the builder was J. H. Durrant of Strood. Early drawings apparently show a few unexecuted features, such as murals on the side walls of the sanctuary and clock faces on the tower. The overall cost was £44,000. The church was decorated with several pieces of sculpture by Michael Clark FRBS (1918-90), and ceramic panels by Adam Kossowski (1905-86), an important Catholic post-war ceramicist famous for his work at Aylesford Priory, St Mary’s Leyland and elsewhere. Several  of  these commissions  were  only  installed  after  the opening.  (Apparently, Kossowski also made a crib for Rainham.) The organ was built by J. W. Walker & Sons, costing £3,206. It was blessed on 20 January 1960.

The first priest to serve the newly-created parish was Fr John Gleeson, who arrived in 1963. The first post-Vatican II re-ordering included the removal of the tabernacle to the northeast chapel, and the moving of the Sacred Heart statue from there to the north aisle. The church was consecrated on 11 June 1970 by Bishop Cowderoy.

In about 1973 the altar rails and sanctuary gates were removed, a new wooden font erected in the sanctuary, and the positions of the Blessed Sacrament chapel and the Lady Chapel were reversed. The timber pulpit was probably then removed too. Keith Morris made a new altar and lectern for the Blessed Sacrament chapel for weekday services, using panels and wood from the pulpit and a former tabernacle stand. In 1979 the wrought iron baptistery gates and the font were offered to the church of the English Martyrs in Strood; however, the font was too heavy to be moved and was left outside the south door. In 1984 Sister Concordia OSB coloured Michael Clark’s statue of Our Lady and the Stations. In 1992 the original font was restored and placed in front of the Lady Chapel altar. The Sacred Heart statue was moved to the west. 

In  the  1990s  Fr John Bliss  found  a 15th  Station  of  the  Cross  by Michael  Clark, depicting the Resurrection, in the organ loft annexe. It was also coloured by Sister Concordia and erected in the church. In 1996 a new ambo was installed, to replace the simple one installed after the removal of the pulpit. The hall (the Parish Centre) was altered and refurbished after a fire in 1980 and again in 1996-97. A repair programme for St Thomas’s was carried out between 1997 and 2000.

The church was built in 1956-58 from designs by Eduardo Dodds. It is built using brick, laid in stretcher and English bonds, with blue tinted panes in artificial stone windows,  and  a  copper  roof.  The  plan  is  of  a  rectangular  nave  and  narrower sanctuary under a pitched roof, flanked by flat-roofed aisles, a south chapel, and a sacristy at the southeast. The entrance is at the northwest, beside the tall bell tower which is linked by a walkway to the organ gallery.

 The south front has a ceramic tympanum above the porch depicting the murder of St Thomas of Canterbury by Adam Kossowski, and a sculpture of the same saint at the east end (probably by Clark). The foundation stone is at the east end, below the sanctuary windows. The nave windows are large rectangles subdivided into smaller rectangles, while the windows of the sanctuary, aisles and tower are small squares arranged vertically or horizontally.

Inside the entrance lobby are lavatories  and  storage rooms.  The west end  has  a cantilevered organ gallery with an organ by J. W. Walker & Sons (1959-60). The five- bay nave with a flat ceiling is divided from the aisles by circular pillars, with further pillars dividing the south aisle from the Blessed Sacrament chapel. The Stations comprise 15 scenes, and are by Clark (later coloured by Sister Concordia OSB). The northeast chapel is now the Lady Chapel with a circular skylight, which might have been the original baptistery. It has a blue-green tiled background with four angles (Kossowski), and a statue of the Virgin and Child (by Clark). This is framed by brick pillars with two further ceramic angels by Kossowski. In front stands the circular stone font with a carved dove.

The sanctuary has a basket arch framing the east wall and hiding the five square windows arranged vertically on either side. The east wall has a Risen Christ with two angels (by Clark). The ambo of 1996 matches the original stone altar with its round pillars. To the south of the sanctuary, beside the entrance to the sacristies and a confessional, is another ceramic panel by Kossowski. It depicts St Joseph with the Christ Child, surrounded by four scenes showing St Joseph’s dream, the Flight into Egypt, the Betrothal and the Finding in the Temple.

To the south is the Blessed Sacrament chapel (formerly the Lady Chapel). The simple rendered rear wall might be an indication that the decoration was altered when this became the Blessed Sacrament chapel. In 1959 Clark was paid for carved decoration on the Lady Chapel canopy; however, this appears to have been removed. The tabernacle stand of timber and rubble stone and the timber altar are by Keith Morris (1970s), incorporating timber from the former pulpit and a previous tabernacle altar. In the corner is a gilded statue of St Thomas of Canterbury, a gift from Fr Scott who had bought it when travelling abroad. The chapel is lit by two circular skylights. A former confessional at the southwest is now the repository. Nearby are statues of the Sacred Heart, St Patrick, St George, and St Jude, all by Clark (some were later coloured  by  Sister  Concordia  OSB),  as  well  as  a  standard  modern  statue  of  St Anthony.

Heritage Details

Architect: E. G. Dodds

Original Date: 1956

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed