Building » Stanmore – St William of York

Stanmore – St William of York

Du Cros Drive, Stanmore, Middlesex Ha7

An elegant and little-altered example of church architecture before the Second Vatican Council, built from designs by Hector Corfiato, a French architect who taught in the classical Beaux Arts tradition at the Bartlett School, London, where he succeeded Sir Albert Richardson as Professor of Architecture. The design has certain characteristics in common with, yet is quite distinct from, Corfiato’s other churches in the diocese, at Leicester Place and Chelsea.

The parish was erected in 1938. The site in Du Cros Drive was acquired for a church in 1939, but it was only after the end of building licences in 1954 that work began on the new site. In the meantime, a convent and school of the Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of St Catherine of Siena in Marsh Lane acted as the focus of the parish. A house was built for the parish priest in 1955, and work began on the church on 5 October 1959. The foundation stone was laid on 7 June 1960. The parish hall adjoining the church is a later addition.


The church and its remarkably complete furnishings are described in some detail in the list entry of 2006, below. The facing bricks are two inch brown Bovingdon bricks. The church contains a number of non-fixed items designed by the architect, not mentioned in the list entry, including candlesticks and sanctuary furnishings.

List description


Roman Catholic church. 1959-60 to the designs of Hector O. Corfiato, builders C. P. Roberts and Co., Ltd., of Holborn. Brown brick with artificial stone dressings and shallow-pitched copper roofs. The liturgical East End in fact faces north, but all compass points in this description are liturgical. Rectangular plan with nave and sanctuary under a single roof, and having a single (north) aisle with a choir gallery over its east end. A sacristy is set behind this last item. Narthex has an apsed baptistery to one side, a square tower to the other and a gallery over, now used by the choir and part glazed in.

Elevations partly obscured. The entrance front has three pairs of double panelled doors set within round arches on concrete columns, and reached up two short flights of steps. Small square lights filled with yellow glass are set into the tympana over the doors. Five square windows above, under shallow gable. Tower, slightly set back to left, with copper-clad clerestorey, crucifixion to front and small, off-set square windows to the remaining elevations. Elevation to car park has projecting baptistery with a line of windows in stone surrounds at clerestorey level, then five square windows at lower level and nine round-arched windows above. All the fenestration comprises simple openings seemingly punched into the brickwork, the larger square windows with (artificial) stone surrounds. North elevation overlooks the priest’s small private garden, with square aisle windows, and a projecting round arched doorway, with moulded, stepped surround and reached up five steps, leads into the sacristy. Panelled timber door. Behind it, three tiers of round-headed windows light the East End. The East End wall itself is blind, with a small projecting niche for the high altar.

Interior: The interior retains its original fixtures and fittings to a remarkable degree, within a shell of beautifully laid brickwork. Narthex has curved screen to right, its yellow square motif repeating that of the tympana and giving on to former baptistery, which retains a large stone font with incised decoration and wooden cover – despite having been adapted as a book shop. To left is a water stoup, and stairs with simple steel balustrade and hardwood handrail lead to the balcony. All the doors in the Narthex and throughout the building have small inset glazed panels akin to the window motif. The nave has a shallow curved ceiling decorated with plaster reliefs of the four Evangelists and inset circular lights. shallow long timber benches, complemented by timber altar rails with twisted balusters. Stations of the Cross line the brick walls. Gallery adapted as meeting room and as choir gallery, with sliding glass windows and now containing the organ. Steps lead in two flights to the high altar, still set under Corfiato’s elaborate baldacchino (the marble nave altar in front is an addition of 2001). The baldacchino has carved round columns decorated in black and gold, and an arcaded canopy with scalloped hanging cloth and tassles. Altar has unmoulded columns within simple square framework, and fittings that match the baldacchino. Crucifix on rear wall of unrelieved brickwork. Round headed arcade with squat concrete Doric columns separates aisle and the Chapel of the Sacred Heart and Lady Chapel at its east end, with above it the former choir gallery has similar round-arched openings separated by a central column, and infilled by a screen of circular iron pieces. Side altars set in blind arcading. Confessionals of reeded timber and matchboarding at west end of aisle.

History: Stanmore, an important religious centre before the Reformation, was given its own Roman Catholic parish in 1938. The Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of St Catherine of Siena built a new convent and school in Marsh Lane, and this acted as the focus of the parish until a new church could be built. The site in Du Cros Drive had been acquired in 1939, but it was only after the end of building licences in 1954 that work began on the new site. A house was built for priest in 1955, and work began on the church on 5 October 1959. The foundation stone itself was laid on 7 June 1960.

Hector Othan Corfiato (1893-1963) studied in Paris at the École des Beaux Arts before coming to teach at the Bartlett School of Architecture, part of University College London, in 1922. He succeeded Sir Albert Richardson as its head in 1946, and retired only in 1960. Devoting so much time to teaching, he built relatively little, and his largest works were in Nigeria and Burma, mainly universities and technical colleges, together with housing for the Burma Oil Company. He extended University College London (LB Camden), and built three churches and two small chapels, all Roman Catholic, which the RIBA Journal described as ‘sensitive and beautiful’. His largest church, Notre Dame de France, Leicester Place, Westminster, for London’s French community and completed in 1956, is already listed. St William of York shares many common ingredients with Notre Dame de France in its use of simple brickwork and bold concrete columns, together with repetitive geometric square and circle motifs. Notre Dame de France is circular, the consequence of being built on the site of a diorama rather than of liturgical innovation, but the elements of St William of York are less diffuse, attention focussing on the altar under its powerful baldacchino. It is rare to find a Roman Catholic church retaining so many fine fittings and working so successfully and harmoniously as a single piece of creative design.

Reasons for Designation: Roman Catholic church of 1959-60 by Hector O. Corfiato, a French architect noted for teaching in the classical Beaux Arts tradition as Professor of Architecture at the Bartlett School, London, in succession to Sir Albert Richardson. He designed few buildings. This church is an elegant design in which every element has a consistency of approach, and every detail is carefully crafted. It is the more notable for being little altered, as an example of RC architecture immediately before Vatican II.

Sources RIBA Journal, vol.70, no.10, October 1963, pp.420-1 

Information from the Diocese of Westminster

National Grid Reference: TQ 17513 91921

Heritage Details

Architect: Hector Corfiato

Original Date: 1960

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II