Crescent Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN1
A 1970s example of the work of Maguire & Murray, whose 1958 church at Bow Common Lane London was highly influential. St Augustine’s is well planned, attractive internally and fit for purpose, with many of the furnishings designed by the architects. It replaced a church of 1838 by Joseph Ireland.
Catholic Mass was probably celebrated in Tunbridge Wells from the later part of the eighteenth century and certainly from 1813 when Mass was celebrated at Jerningham House on Mount Sion. The first St Augustine’s church was built in 1838, on the corner of Grosvenor and Hanover Roads; a Classical design by Joseph Ireland. It was run by the Jesuits until 1866. This church was closed in September 1969 and demolished soon afterwards. Subsequently a hall on Hanover Road and the chapel at Sacred Heart School were used for worship. Mr & Mrs Ross (Ken Ross and Dr Mary Long) sold their house, Greystones, Crescent Road, to the parish around 1970. This became the site for the new church, designed by Maguire & Murray and erected in 1974-5. Greystones Cottage was retained and incorporated into the new building. The total cost was £177,500.
The site slopes from north to south such that the church is a two-storey building with the church on the upper level. The semi-basement is in brick whilst the church is tile hung. Externally it has no windows other than a continuous narrow clerestory band beneath the eaves, no more than a slot with regular timber supports that are the ends of the roof rafters. The roof is tiled and hipped but with the north and south slopes broken by glazed gables. Placed on the centre of the ridge is a cross which can be read from all directions. The entrance, into a narthex, is at the northwest corner, where the street level is at the same level as the church. It has a separate hipped roof.
Although the building is not high the interior feels lofty and spacious as there are only four thin steel columns interrupting the internal space and central roof structure is open and the closely set trusses all visible, lit from the glazed gable ends. The rafters are visible throughout and are stained green. The main altar is set on a podium towards the middle of the east wall with pews arranged in three banks facing it. The plan is a rectangle with the longer dimension being north to south. The Blessed Sacrament chapel is directly visible when entering the church and has a glass screen separating it from the main part of the church. The altars, font, holy water stoup, candlesticks and statue plinths were all designed by the architects, as were the initial design of the pews, finished in polished pine. The Stations of the Cross are by a French sculptor, René Gourdon, of Angers. The organ dates from 1994, by Harrison & Harrison of Durham. Off the narthex is the library, meeting room, offices etc.; whilst at the lower level is accommodation for clergy.
Architect: Maguire & Murray
Original Date: 1974
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed