Grove Road, Stevenage, Hertfordshire SG1
The earliest modern Catholic church in Stevenage, built in 1914, enlarged in 1937 and significantly remodelled in 1984. The building has a cosy and welcoming interior, and is fit for purpose. The cumulative effect of change is of historic interest, but architecturally the claims of the building are modest.
A Catholic mission chapel was opened in Albert Street, Stevenage in 1911. This modest building sufficed until 1913, when a strip of land was bought between Basil’s Road and Grove Road. Dr Adrian Fortescue laid the foundation stone for a new church designed by E. H. Major of London on 1 October 1913; the builders were Messrs Austin & Sons and Mr W. J. Spratt of Stevenage. The building was a curious sub-Romanesque red brick design, self-effacingly unchurchlike. It was formally opened on 25 January 1914. The church was served from Hitchin and then from Baldock until the first resident priest arrived in 1919. A presbytery was built in 1925-26. In 1937 the church was extended, with a larger and higher sanctuary.
After the Second World War, Stevenage was designated a new town, work on which started in 1947. The church of the Transfiguration was to become one of five Catholic churches, the other four being St Joseph, Bedwell (qv), St Hilda, Shephall (qv), All Saints, The Oval, and Christ the King, Symonds Green (the last two are shared churches, not included in this review).
In 1984 the church was radically reordered by Williams & Winkley, with an extension on the Grove Road frontage and a new top-lit sanctuary placed on the long axis on the south side. The church was now capable of seating 185 (including seating in an overspill space formed from the 1935 sanctuary).
There were three phases of construction – Major’s original church, the former sanctuary of 1937 to the rear and Winkley’s addition of 1984 at the front. The double height sanctuary is of red brick, with a hipped concrete tile roof, and incorporates in its buttressed (ritual) east wall a small Portland stone panel with low relief carving of a chalice with Host and an inscription, Ecce Agnus Dei. The surviving flank wall of the aisle has large windows of pointed lunette form. In front of this is the 1984 front section, built of red brick and pilastered, pantile roof with overhanging eaves, and long monopitch dormer lighting the nave. Behind this, a similar skylight at right angles lights the sanctuary area.
The interior is roughly square on plan, with a top-lit sanctuary placed on the ritual south side. Some of the old structure remains, but the internal character is modern. The walls are mainly of exposed brick, with some areas plastered and painted white. There is a low flat ceiling with exposed polished pine trusses, broken by the dramatic top lighting. Seating takes the form of chairs arranged around the sanctuary. The furnishings appear to date from the reordering and include a carved stone Greek cross suspended over the altar and metal tabernacle, somewhat in the manner of David John.
Architect: E. H. Major; Williams & Winkley
Original Date: 1913
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed