Larkhall Lane, Stockwell, London SW4
One of several churches in South London built by F. W. Tasker in the first decade of the twentieth century with the support of Miss Frances Ellis, who supported a large number of building projects in the diocese. Like Tasker’s churches at South Bermondsey and Catford, it is built on a Greek cross plan. The interior has been greatly altered. The building makes a positive contribution to the Larkhall Conservation Area.
A mission was established in a temporary church at 87 Stockwell Street in 1899, but this lasted only a few months. However, in 1902 the site of the present church was acquired and a new church built, with the help of Miss Frances Ellis, a great benefactor to the diocese at that time. The church was built from designs by F.W. Tasker, and in its Greek cross plan the design is similar to those for Tasker’s Ellis churches at South Bermondsey and Catford. The first Mass in the completed church was on 9 October 1903. The congregation was poor, and largely Irish.
In 1940 and 1941 incendiary bombs damaged the church and presbytery, and destroyed a terrace alongside the church (never redeveloped, this is now a recreation area). The church and presbytery were repaired with assistance from the War Damage Commission in 1949.
In 1959 St Francis’s was raised from mission status to that of a parish. The sanctuary was reordered after the Second Vatican Council (but the present altar was introduced in 1991, donated by a Franciscan house in Hindhead, Surrey). In 1982 a parish hall was built filling the gap between the church and the presbytery to the rear. In 1991-2 major alterations were made to the interior and a lean-to entrance porch added, under the direction of William Thuburn, architect.
The church is orientated north-south, but this description follows conventional liturgical orientation.
The church of St Francis de Sales was built in 1902-3 from designs by F. W. Tasker. It is built of London stock brick under a Welsh slate roof, and is loosely Romanesque in style. On plan it forms a Greek cross, with a later (1992) entrance narthex. This is of matching brick, and has a glazed lean-to roof. Above this is a large circular window, leitmotif of the Ellis churches, and a gable with dentil cornice and cross at the apex. Windows are in the re-entrants and are paired, with a central dividing brick mullion and exposed stone lintels. At the corner of the building at low level is a datestone recording the building of the church in 1902.
The main body of the church is entered from the modern entrance narthex. The light and bright internal character is largely a creation of the 1992 rebuilding and reordering, with plastered white painted walls and clear plate glass glazing in the windows. Aisles have been formed by the introduction of tall cylindrical columns on either side of the nave. These rise up to an ‘entablature’ consisting of a grid of open timber struts. Above this is a timber-boarded barrel vault over the nave, with flat roofs to the aisles (Fr Gee says a flat ceiling was introduced throughout at the time of the reordering, presumably to keep down heating costs, but this has been removed). A modern gallery has been formed at the west end of the nave, enclosed by glazing at the upper level to form a meeting room.
Furnishings of note include the altar, brought here from Hindhead in 1991, a marble piece inscribed ‘Unigenitus Dei Filius qui est in sinu Patris’ on the front. Behind this on the east wall is a painted crucifixion with flanking figures of Our Lady and St John, in Early Italian/Byzantine style. This replaced a more modernistic depiction of the same subject by Robert Kiddie of Newark, which is now over the doors at the west end. Modern canvas paintings of the Stations of the Cross described in Evinson have been replaced by standard off-the-peg items. There are statues of Our Lady (by Duport of Bruges), the Sacred Heart and St Anthony (a cast of 1895). Other furnishings are modern, c1992. These include a statue of the Risen Christ, mounted externally on the north wall.
Architect: F. W. Tasker
Original Date: 1902
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed