High Lane, Stansted, Essex CM24
A new church, designed to evoke the great aisled medieval barns of Essex, reflecting its location in a sensitive semi-rural setting. The building manages to combine an intimate liturgical layout with a linear form, and the interior is enriched by some notable artworks by Stephen Foster.
In 1933 a temporary wooden church was built at Henham, on land given by the de Steen family. In 1958 the diocese also acquired a former mill house at Millside, Stansted Mountfitchet, the ground floor of which was converted into a church, with the priest’s accommodation on the first floor. This church opened in October 1958. It too was served from Saffron Walden, until 25 September 1970, when Stansted was erected as an independent parish.
In the 1990s a decision was taken to sell the site of both churches for residential development, and to build a large new church on land given by the Braeckman family on the northern edge of Stansted Mountfitchet. The site was outside the development boundary, with views over open countryside. It was therefore considered appropriate for the new buildings to adopt a vernacular form, evoking the large granary barns which are such a feature of the rural landscape of north Essex. James Boutwood of Thaxted was a suitable choice of architect; working for Essex County Council, he had been closely involved in the renovation of the great medieval aisled barns at Cressing Temple, near Braintree, and Coggeshall. These buildings greatly influenced the design, as did another modern East Anglian church evoking the form of a medieval tithe barn, Purcell Miller Tritton’s Chapel of Reconciliation at Walsingham, Norfolk.
The funds realised by the sale of the previous two sites allowed for the construction not only of a large new church but also of a presbytery, parish hall, and landscaped grounds, all free of debt. A local firm of surveyors, Barker & Associates of Manuden, acted as project managers. The foundation stone was laid by Paul Braeckman in 2002, the first Mass in the completed building was on 30 November 2002, and the church was dedicated on 3 October 2003.
The church evokes the form of a medieval aisled barn, with a central midstrey front and back and prominent sweeping tiled roofs overhanging low outer aisle walls. Raking brick buttresses at the north and south ends add visual weight and solidity to the design. Light is achieved via narrow slit windows in the low brick walls of the aisles but mainly through large areas of glazing in the midstreys, lighting the entrance area and sanctuary.
The architect’s brief required an open and spacious setting for the liturgy and a close relationship between celebrant and congregation. These needs were reconciled with the essentially linear nature of the plan by the adoption of a fan-shaped arrangement, with the seating radiating out from the altar, placed at the front of the sanctuary on the short axis from the entrance. A baptistery area and the place of reservation for the Blessed Sacrament were placed in the midstrey aisles on either side of the sanctuary, while the WCs, a store and repository are located in the equivalent position in the entrance midstrey. The length of the long axis is reduced by the provision of a sacristy and reconciliation room at one end and a multi-purpose room dedicated to St Theresa at the other. The walls and ceiling around the sanctuary, baptistery and tabernacle areas are plastered and painted white, whereas the rest of the interior is plastered only up to the wall plate, with the timber roof covered with stained boarding.
The main furnishings were specially designed for the new church, and include a suite of stone altar, ambo, font and tabernacle stand. Contrasting with the simplicity of these items are the artworks, large bas-relief painted timber carvings, highlighted in gold leaf, in a modern version of Italian Primitives such as Giotto. These are by Stephen Foster of Ware. They include a large circular relief of the Resurrected Christ on the back wall of the sanctuary and reliefs behind the font (the Baptism of Christ) and the beaten silver and bronze panels of the tabernacle, depicting the supper at Emmaus flanked by representations of the former churches at Henham and Millside, all set within a sunburst roundel.
The seating is arranged around the sanctuary, and consists of open-backed benches, by Irish Contract Seating of Co. Leitrim. Lighting takes the form of three large chandeliers placed centrally on the long axis, supplemented by localised spotlighting.
Architect: James Boutwood
Original Date: 2002
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed