Prescot Street, London E1
A late town church by Edward Welby Pugin, completed after his death by his younger brothers. The establishment of this East End mission and the building of a church in the vicinity of the Tower of London, place of execution of many martyrs, were highly significant for the Catholic community. The design makes the most of a small site, with added seats in the galleries.
In 1864, Cardinal Wiseman authorised the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate to set up a mission at Tower Hill. It was founded by Fr Robert Cooke, the Vicar Provincial, the following year. A temporary corrugated iron building was erected at the back of the present site, serving as both church and school. This was opened and blessed by Archbishop Manning on 12 December 1866. In 1870-72, it was replaced by a school building with a chapel on the top floor.
On 18 May 1873, Archbishop Manning laid the foundation stone for the current church, designed by Edward Welby Pugin. Building work was delayed due to difficulties in acquiring the freehold title for the site. Building resumed in 1875 and was continued after Pugin’s death on 5 June by his brothers, Cuthbert Welby and Peter Paul, trading as Pugin & Pugin. The church was opened and dedicated by Cardinal Manning on 22 June 1876. Site constraints and the size of the mission – in the 1870s some 6,000 people – dictated the maximising of space by the insertion of galleries. The builder was Mr Lascelles of Bunhill Row, and the contract sum was £10,000. The northwest tower and the spirelet are very similar to those at E. W. Pugin’s St Alexander, Bootle (1866-67).
In 1881, the presbytery at 26 Prescot Street was rebuilt (by Pugin & Pugin) and fitted out with a donation from the Carthusians in memory of one of their brethren executed in 1535. In the 1890s, the school behind the church required some alterations and additions which resulted in the demolition of the original sacristy which was then incorporated in the presbytery.
In 1930, in anticipation of the canonisation of Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher, the high altar became a shrine to the English Martyrs, with additional statuary, a wrought-iron grille with the arms of ten martyrs, and the east window with thirty two martyrs. In 1940, the church was damaged by a 500kg bomb which fell through the roof, damaged the side wall and destroyed the pulpit (1877, Pugin & Pugin) but did not explode. In 1970, the school moved to a new site in St Mark Street and the old school became a community centre.
In 1985, the Holy Family Sisters left. Their convent at 24 Prescot Street (listed grade II), an eighteenth-century house at no. 25 (also listed grade II), the former presbytery at no. 26 and the 1870-72 school building to the rear were all demolished. The site was redeveloped as part of Juno Court at 24-26 Prescot Street, initially an office block later converted to hotel use (now a Premier Inn). The parish priest moved into an early nineteenth-century house on the west side of the church, no. 30 (listed grade II).
In 1991, the sanctuary was restored and the church redecorated. In 2007, the church received a grant of £123,000 under the Repair of Listed Places of Worship scheme which paid for the repair of the roof and the painting of the interior
The current Crypt Bar below the church evolved from a club formerly in the buildings to the rear of the church.
The church is facing south. The following description uses conventional liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar was at the east end.
The list description (see below) briefly describes the plan, exterior and interior. The compact plan on a constricted site is more than compensated by the height of the interior, the carved capitals, the rich furnishings and the effects of light on the alabaster altar rails.
The main furnishings are:
1875 by Edward Welby Pugin. Gothic, aisled building with (liturgical) eastern transepts and sanctuary formed within a rectangle. Brick with stone dressings and banding to (liturgical) west front to street which has double portico and octagonal bell-turret to one side. Interior has plastered walls and vault. Gallery at west end and to aisles supported on shallow arches, the polished granite piers being in 2 stages. Sanctuary apsed beneath large window which is repeated at west end.
Listing NGR: TQ3388880911
Early C19. Yellow stock brick with coped parapet. Roof not visible. Stucco band at 1st floor sill height and stucco basement. 4 storeys and basement 3 windows. Centre window top floor blank. 1st floor casements, rest sashes with glazing bars under flat gauged brick arches. Doorway with plain fanlight and panelled door.
Nos 23 to 25 (consec), No 30 and Church of the English Martyrs form a group.
Listing NGR: TQ3388280917
Architect: E.W. Pugin; Pugin & Pugin
Original Date: 1873
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II