Mitcham Road, Tooting, London SW17
Originally a plain early twentieth century church, typical of many built under the patronage of Miss Frances Ellis, transformed in the 1920s by the addition of a new west front and tower, fusing Italian and Egyptian detail. The basilican interior was extended and enriched at the same time; Ludwig Oppenheimer & Co’s mosaic Stations of the Cross lining the aisle walls are a particularly striking and original contribution. This is the best of the architect-priest Fr Benedict Williamson’s churches.
Before the building of the present church the Catholics of Tooting were served from the 1890s by priests from Holy Ghost, Balham whence a priest said Mass at Holly Lodge, a house on Mitcham Road, and, from about 1899, in a chapel in Hereford Lodge, also on Mitcham Road. In 1903 Catholic schools were opened in Undine Street, at which time there were about 2,000 Catholics in Tooting. The site of the present church and the cost of the first phase of building were met by Miss Frances Ellis, benefactress of many building projects in the diocese in the opening decade of the twentieth century. The foundation stone was laid on 17 November 1906 and the church opened on 18 April 1907. The architect was Benedict Williamson, and this was his last architectural commission before he left for Rome to start his priestly studies. As originally built, the church was an economical design in stock brick, loosely Romanesque in style, typical of the Williamson/Ellis churches. It consisted of a five-bay nave and corresponding aisles, with a temporary sanctuary in the eastern bay of the nave. The west front was a relatively plain design of Italian basilican character, incorporating a rose window.
In 1927 the church was significantly augmented and embellished at the expense of Mary Allanson, who also paid off the debt on the presbytery and parish schools. The additions included a new west end, from designs by Fr Williamson and J. H. Beart Foss. This incorporated a tall square campanile at the northwest corner, with alternating bands of purple brick and Portland stone and a copper spire, and a western narthex, its central entrance flanked by arcading with smaller entrances to the aisles. The capitals of the arcades show an Egyptian influence, while the campanile has a more Venetian character. Inside, the nave was extended to seven bays, with an apsidal chancel and flanking chapels. The aisle walls were lined with striking mosaic renditions of the Stations of the Cross, designed by Ludwig Oppenheimer & Co., and installed in about 1930.
A new organ case was added in 1950, from designs by C. S. Kerr Bate. In 1960-1 a large parish hall was built alongside the church to the north, from designs by Conor Fahy ARIBA.
The building is described in the list entry, below. This misspells the name of Williamson’s partner, J. H. Beart Foss, describes the pine pews as oak, and does not mention the attribution of the aisle mosaics to Ludwig Oppenheimer & Co.. Other fixtures and furnishings of note not mentioned in the list description:
Church; Roman Catholic. Begun 1906-7; completed 1927. Architect: Father Benedict Williamson, with J.H.Benet Foss. Brick with stone dressing in Venetian Romanesque style. Nave with side aisles and integral square brick tower with stone banding around the belfry at north-west corner. Slate roof; copper-covered spire. Basilican plan. West elevation to Mitcham Road: Central double-height gable of nave pierced by large recessed rose window. This is framed by a simple segmental band of stone springing from stone lintels supported by four short columns with abstract Egyptianised capitals. Below these are two projecting features with stone Byzantine- style hoods with a single recessed window. Tripartite ground floor with central round-arched entrance divided by a single column. The columns on the ground floor all have the abstract, neo-Egyptian capitals. Above the middle column dividing the entrance is a carved stone figure of Christ.
INTERIOR. Two six-bay arcades, smooth and flat with clerestory windows above. plain round columns with carved letters on the capitals. Timber tie-beam roof to nave. Lean-to aisles with timber ceilings. Aisle walls lined with mosaic panels in the form of tryptichs depicting the Stations of the Cross. Simple wooden panelling below. Apsidal chancel at east end with curved fitted altar of stone, with Egyptian-style capitals. South altar: statue in niche within larger architectural surround with triangular hood. North altar: Madonna and Child in niche within surround with semi-circular hood. Original simple oak pews. Organ gallery at west end.
Benedict Williamson (1868-1948) trained as an architect but became a priest in 1906, the year work on this church began. He returned to architecture in the 1920s, when he was amongst the first architects to take up Egyptian style motifs. This is recommended as the best of his later works.
Architect: Benedict Williamson & J. H. Beart Foss
Original Date: 1906
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II