Bentham Road, Thamesmead SE28
A functional ecumenical centre of 1976-78, with a dedicated Catholic worship space. The building is jointly owned and managed with the Church of England and is also used by the United Reformed and Methodist Churches. Its primary interest is as a rare (not wholly successful) example of interdenominational collaboration.
Thamesmead, a new town planned from 1962 onward, is sited on land released from the Crossness outfall works and the Woolwich Arsenal. The ecumenical centre at Thamesmead was built between 1976 and 1978, to designs by the architects Hinton, Brown, Langstone of Warwick. The consultants for the Catholic chapel were Broadbent, Hastings, Reid & New. The building has two worship areas, one for the Catholic congregation, the other shared by the United Reformed, Methodist and Anglican churches. The main block houses the two chapels and four meeting rooms, all of which can be connected to each other internally. An attached ancillary block accommodates offices, spaces originally intended for the local radio station and a caretaker’s flat. Originally, there was a freestanding openwork corona in the forecourt, which has since been demolished.
A local artist painted two octagonal paintings for the two worship areas, depicting Our Lady with the Child in contemporary dress and in front of a local view of the Thames (for the Catholic chapel), and Christ breaking the bread (for the Anglican chapel). The painting of Our Lady was later given to the Anglicans. Originally, joint services were regularly held with an altar in the corridor between the two worship spaces, whose folding partitions were opened to form one large space.
The building is managed by a management committee with members from both Anglican and Catholic congregations. Management problems have hindered adequate maintenance, security and finding a new use for the empty caretaker annex. As a whole, the centre currently suffers from regular break-ins, as well as a lack of use for the community spaces. One of the meeting rooms was until recently used by St Paul’s preschool, which was discontinued due to health and safety concerns. Although underused, the meeting rooms continue to be available to outside groups.
St Paul’s Ecumenical was built in 1976-8 to designs by Hinton, Brown, Langstone. It is a single storey structure built in load-bearing brick and concrete block walls supported on reinforced concrete beams and slab. In the worship areas, the roof structure is a solid timber deck on timber trusses. In plan, the centre is a polygon to the north linked via a corridor to a diamond-plan annex with a courtyard in the south. The latter houses small offices and the caretaker’s flat (disused) with garage.
The Catholic worship space in the main block is facing east, opposite the mirror- image Anglican space. The polygonal apse is facing the road, with a stylised metal crucifix on the blank brick wall. Internally, the structural materials are left exposed. The ceiling and trusses of the Catholic chapel are of whitewood timber. The room is lit by a clerestorey window band, and concealed windows in the west side of the slightly higher sanctuary. To the west is a glazed timber partition. At the west end are two small spaces, used as the sacristy (north) and the parish priest’s office (south). Beyond these to the east are folding partitions to the adjoining meeting rooms, which are opened for Sunday Masses. The nave has modern timber pews, which were introduced in the last few years to replace the original chairs. The sanctuary has a large cross at the east end, painted green, whose horizontal band continues below the clerestorey. (This is matched by the corresponding purple cross in the Anglican chapel.) A timber crucifix is affixed to the centre of the green cross. The sanctuary furniture is of light coloured timber. Behind the altar is a narrow sacristy. On the left is the Blessed Sacrament altar, with the font and a small shrine to the Virgin Mary to the right. The small Stations of the Cross are carved in timber. The adjoining meeting rooms are used as additional spaces for Sunday Masses. That to the south has a timber statue of the Madonna and Child, formerly in the sanctuary. Another small room is being used as repository.
Architect: Hinton, Brown, Langstone
Original Date: 1976
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed