Building » Tonbridge – Corpus Christi

Tonbridge – Corpus Christi

Lyons Crescent, Tonbridge, Kent TN9

A church of some architectural distinction by a local architect, in a Free Gothic style characteristic of the period around 1900.

On 15 August 1894, the Feast of the Assumption, a Catholic chapel was opened in Waterloo Road, Tonbridge. This was a temporary iron or ‘tin’ chapel. Towards the end of the century Fr Stapley purchased four plots on Lyons Crescent at £200 per plot. It was not until late summer of 1903 that work began on the present permanent church in Lyons Crescent. The official opening early the following year was reported in the Tonbridge Free Press of 19 February 1904. The bell was blessed on 21 February 1906, marking the final completion. Together with the presbytery, Corpus Christi is the last known work by William Barnsley Hughes (1852-1928) in England. He emigrated to Canada in 1910. With offices in London and Tunbridge Wells, most of his work as an architect was in Tunbridge Wells. A new entrance narthex was provided in 1974 and rebuilt in 2002.


The altar faces west but for the purposes of this description all references to compass points will assume a conventional eastward facing altar. The church comprises an aisled nave and sanctuary under one roof, with a northeast chapel, a recent narthex across the west front and an almost detached northwest belfry. The contemporary presbytery is attached. The church is built of red brick, from the Quarrye Hill Brick Co., Tonbridge (exterior) and G. Riches, of Cromer (interior) with Bath and Portland stone dressings, and is in a Free Gothic style, with a slightly fin de siècle character, especially internally. The structure, as reported in The Architect & Contract Reporter, is concrete with steel joists. The west front has a tall pair of lancet windows flanked by pilaster buttresses which taper in their upper half. The aisles are screened by side buttresses which have two steps down, giving the effect of a broad façade. Placed across this at low level is the 2002 narthex which has a broad central entrance with timber screen, flanked by groups of three lancets. The belfry is a distinctive feature, with sides of diamond plan with tapering buttresses merging in. The side elevations have paired lancets to the aisles and clerestory with paired windows with segmental-arched heads set beneath a stepped pointed arch which dies into the imposts, repeated in each bay and separated by plain flat pilaster buttresses.

The interior continues the Free Gothic character, with arcades, triforium and clerestory. The barrel-vaulted ceiling is lattice steel framed with timber members bolted on and carried on corbels, and stone shafts which separate the bays. The sanctuary is treated differently, with additional transverse arches supported on corbels. The side walls have circular windows north and south, whilst the east wall is blind. The nave arcades have stone piers and three-stepped brick arches which describe a shallow segment and die into the imposts. The triforium has paired Gothic arches open to a wall passage and the clerestory has the paired windows set within shallow transverse openings in the barrel vault. The aisles are no more than circulation passages but the north aisle has an additional arcade opening into the Lady Chapel, so there is an unusual arrangement of a double arcade with passage between, separating the nave from the chapel. The chapel has a circular window with a quatrefoil set in. The fittings and furnishings do not appear to be of great importance. Standard Gothic-style furnishing in the Lady Chapel, the sanctuary with marble altar etc which must date from a reordering, though the tabernacle stand is made from parts of the original high altar and has carved stone panels with figures of saints. Brass eagle lectern. A stained glass window, recording the names of the architect and contractor, is dated 1906 and is by William Morris & Co. of Westminster, i.e. not the more famous Morris & Co of Burne-Jones etc fame.

Heritage Details

Architect: William Barnsley Hughes

Original Date: 1903

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed