Watling Street, St Albans, Hertfordshire AL1
A good design of the early 1960s, built shortly before the Second Vatican Council on a pentagonal plan and containing furnishings of note by Angela Godfrey. Outside, in the words of , ‘the profile of steep grey roof and lantern above stock brick walls makes a decisive contribution to the road’.
The church was built for a new parish serving the south of St Albans, from designs by George Mathers ARIBA of St Margaret’s, Ware (builder George Davies of Broxbourne). The foundation stone was laid by Auxiliary Bishop Cashman on 30 September 1962 and the church was completed in February 1964. It was designed to seat 450, and cost £40,000, not including fees. The church was consecrated by Cardinal Heenan, and according to a note on Mathers’s biographical file at the RIBA, the cardinal is reported to have said that it was the finest he had consecrated.
The plan is based on a pentagram. The building is externally clad in loadbearing brick laid in English garden wall bond (five courses of stretchers to each course of headers), surmounted by a reinforced concrete ring beam and a steel framed main roof covered with Cornish slates. The form of the roof calls to mind medieval precedent, e.g. the Abbot’s kitchen at Glastonbury. It is surmounted by an aluminium spirelet and cross and lit by dormer windows, considered by The Buildings of England to be ‘unfortunately spiky’. The pentagram of the main space is wrapped around on the front elevation by a lower flat-roofed ambulatory, incorporating a baptistery, and in front of this an entrance narthex, flanked by more recent single storey flat-roofed additions, housing a WC and reconciliation room. The gable above and the bays flanking the entrance are faced with large pierced concrete panels; a statue of St Bartholomew is fixed to the gable (artist not identified, possibly Angela Godfrey).
From the narthex, doors into the church are placed on either side of the central glazed baptistery. Inside, the walls and roof are finished in textured plaster, and the floors, which rake down towards the sanctuary, with cork and precast concrete panels. The church appears to retain its seating of 1964. Triangular dormers and a pentagonal opening for the lantern give light from above. High level clerestory windows light the main space, apart from two large windows with semi-abstract coloured glass on either side of the sanctuary. A top-lit Lady Chapel (previously the Blessed Sacrament chapel) gives off to the left of the sanctuary. Although modern in style, the church was built just before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and the original high altar is placed against the (ritual) east wall. In front of this is a more recent forward altar, of stone and with a pelican in her piety carved on the frontal (by James Keegan, information from Chris Fanning). The original high altar frontal is of concrete, incorporating brass inserts on a loaves and fishes theme; this and the crucifix over, back-lit on the (later, by Rodney Foors) timber boarded reredos, are by Angela Godfrey of Roydon, who also worked with Mathers at Marychurch, Hatfield (qv). New stained glass in the windows on either side of the sanctuary is by Kate Baden-Fuller (information from parish priest). The square font in the ambulatory at the (ritual) west end is of similar design and character, and can be attributed to Godfrey. It is of concrete, with a granite aggregate finish, incorporating fishes; opus sectile floor panels on either side continue the theme.
The church was consecrated by Bishop Sherrington in October 2012.
Architect: George Mathers
Original Date: 1962
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed