Building » Swiss Cottage – St Thomas More

Swiss Cottage – St Thomas More

Maresfield Gardens, Swiss Cottage, London NW3

A boldly-handled design of the late 1960s by Gerard Goalen, built in the back garden of the former house of the society painter, Philip de László, whose studio became the previous church (now parish hall). The elliptical galleried interior is impressive, with well-handled concrete detailing, and there are some internal furnishings of note. The church is in a conservation area, but is largely hidden by surrounding buildings.

The parish was erected in 1938.  The first parish priest was Fr Bernard Whelan, who remained until 1956. He created a long narrow church from the back garden studio of the successful society portrait painter Philip de László (1869-1937). De László had purchased 3 Fitzjohns Avenue (known as Hyme House) in 1921 and built a large studio in the back garden, linked to the house.  After de László’s death in 1937 the Archbishop of Westminster acquired Hyme House and invited the Swiss-based Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross to occupy the building as their first English establishment.  The sisters subsequently purchased numbers 5 and 7 Fitzjohns Avenue and linked the three houses to form a Girls’ School, which operated until 1985; the property then became a hotel. As well as converting de László’s studio into a church, Fr Whelan built the substantial neo-Georgian presbytery within de László’s former back garden.

The present church was also built in what was de László’s back garden, on the site of a former tennis court.  It was built from designs by Gerard Goalen, with Ove Arup & Partners acting as consultant engineers, and opened in December 1968 (builder J. Murphy & Sons, information from Chris Fanning). When the new church was built the old church was converted to serve as a parish hall. The church was consecrated by Cardinal Basil Hume on 8 May 1977.

 

The church occupies a restricted site, which dictated the form of the building. It is elliptical on plan with the longer sides to north and south.  The main approach from the road up a steep flight of steps is sandwiched between the presbytery and the church hall, which obscure most of the front of the building.  At the top of the steps is a broad flat-roofed porch with a concrete bellcote above.  The body of the church is of red brick with a heavy concrete clerestory and what appears to be a flat roof.

Internally, the walls are of bare-faced brown brick with ornamental brickwork to the lower part apparently intended to improve the acoustic.  Eighteen slim concrete piers support the clerestory and a timber gallery along the south (entrance) side and the roof itself is supported on massive reinforced concrete rafters running north-south.  The slightly sloping floor is concrete with terrazzo finish to the passageways.  The altar is raised on marble steps against the north wall. Three clerestory windows above the sanctuary are filled with abstract stained glass by Alfred R. Fisher of Whitefriars Studios. The remaining clerestory windows are clear-glazed. The fittings include a bronze and steel crucifix by David John on the wall behind the sanctuary.

Heritage Details

Architect: Gerard Goalen

Original Date: 1968

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: II