Building » Sevenoaks – St Thomas of Canterbury

Sevenoaks – St Thomas of Canterbury

Granville Road, Sevenoaks, Kent TN13

An austere German Romanesque-style church by the prolific Frederick Walters, built over a protracted period and later altered. The church and presbytery form an important group in a conservation area.

The history of the parish begins in 1880, when Mass was said in the home of the Buchanan  family  in  Granville  Road.  They  owned  the  land  on  which  the  present church stands and sold it to the Church in that year. By October an iron church had been erected and the congregation numbered 7. This iron church still exists (or did in 1996), in use by St John Ambulance at Bat & Ball, Sevenoaks. In 1883 drawings were produced by Herbert Gribble, architect of the London Oratory, but nothing came of this. In 1884 a more permanent sanctuary was built and this is apparently incorporated as the sacristy of the new church of 1895-96 by Walters, though it must have been remodelled externally as it is indistinguishable from the later building. By 1896 only half of the nave was complete when work ceased due to shortage of funds. The nave was eventually completed in 1925-26 to Walters’s original design. In 1994-95 the present north porch was added to design by Burns, Guthrie & Partners.

The church comprises nave, small transepts and a sanctuary with apsidal east end. Unusually the centre portion of the sanctuary is raised well above the height of the nave roof and slightly higher than the apse roof, forming a kind of low tower with saddleback  roof,  and  is  surmounted  by  a  shingled  spirelet.  Together  with  a saddleback roof to the northwest tower, this gives a striking silhouette to the church. The church is roughcast with ashlar dressings, in a German Romanesque style ‘of very simple and severe character’ in the words of the architect, quoted in the Sevenoaks & Westerham Chronicle, 17 July 1896.  It is indeed quite austere but not unattractive. The west front has a gable porch with carved tympanum, set within a blind giant round arch in which are set two round-headed windows. There are small round-headed windows to either side. The northwest tower has recessed panels rising to a stepped triplet of arches to east and west, and to a pair of arches to north and south. Louvred bell-openings but otherwise only very small round-headed windows. The north side of the nave is now obscured by the 1990s porch (though the walls of the older church can be seen inside). This too is roughcast but the character is less severe, with pinched-up gables to the porch itself and to two adjacent dormers, all with a shallow lower section and steeper upper section. The faces of the dormers are completely glazed. The sanctuary and apse are blind apart from two round-headed windows to north and south, high up on the ‘tower’ part. Eaves corbel table around the apse. Otherwise round-headed windows either single or in pairs. Much of the south side of the church is covered by the attached former presbytery, built in 1887. This is of yellow brick with red brick dressings. In the centre of the main front is a canted bay window surmounted by a statue of St Thomas of Canterbury, beneath a gabled canopy. In 1981 this presbytery was converted to a parish room etc., library and retired priest’s flat. In 1925 it had been intended to demolish the presbytery and build a south porch, aisle and sacristies. Nos. 12-14 Granville Road, immediately to the south, now form the presbytery and parish office.

Internally the transepts are seen to be no more than shallow projections for side altars, each with carved stone and marble altars and reredos. The sanctuary arch is a fairly plain round arch, its shallow inner order on corbels. A second arch before the apse is completely plain.  What  is  memorable about  the sanctuary is the painted decoration of the  walls, executed  in 1929-30 by  an  unnamed  Belgian artist.  The sanctuary was re-ordered in 1981, when the coloured marble altar was brought forward. Carved reredos behind with baldacchino over the tabernacle. At the foot of the sanctuary steps an oval marble baluster font with gadrooning to the underside of the bowl. It may be 18th century and is certainly of 18th-century style. (Outside, at the southeast corner, is a redundant stone octagonal Gothic-style font with trefoiled ogee arches. It should really be found a suitable home and protected from further decay). The west gallery dates from the 1960s. Several stained glass windows, one in the south transept of 1930 by John Hardman & Co.

Heritage Details

Architect:

Original Date: 1895

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed