Underwood Road, London E1
A large and impressive early Gothic Revival design by Gilbert Blount, for the Marist Fathers. Ambitious early plans had to be simplified, omitting a tower and transepts. Several historic furnishings survive, as well as parts of a paint scheme by Joseph A. Pippet of 1904. The church, the large presbytery and the presbytery’s garden wall are all listed and make a positive contribution to the Brick Lane and Fournier Street Conservation Area. The church is now home to the Brazilian Chaplaincy.
In 1829, land was bought in Buxton Street for a Catholic school which was erected soon afterwards. From 1848, Mass was said by Fr William Young in one of the classrooms. In 1850, Fr Quiblier opened a chapel in Spicer Street, presumably in the school house. The same year, he invited the Marist Fathers to take over the mission. A site was purchased at the corner of (what is now) Underwood Road and Deal Street. A further adjoining strip of land acquired in 1851 made the site large enough for a church and presbytery. Gilbert Blount (1816-76) submitted plans for the presbytery to the Office of Metropolitan Buildings in December 1851 and January 1852. The presbytery was completed in 1852.
In April 1853, Blount submitted his ambitious plans for the church for approval (figure 1). They showed an aisled nave with transepts, apsidal sanctuary and central crossing tower. The chancel was to be reserved for use by the Marist community. The nave was completed in 1855, with the altar in a temporary apse. The first Mass was said on 12 September 1855. The builders of the church were Messrs Locke and Nesham of Theobalds Road. The total cost of £11,351 12s 2d was borne by the Marist Order in France. On 31 May 1857 the organ was blessed.
Tenders for the church hall, also by Blount, were invited in April 1858, with that by a builder called Kelly for £1,130 being successful.
The incomplete church was renovated in 1877. In 1894, the church was completed with a simpler apse and side chapels, omitting the planned transept and steeple, and with other deviations form Blount’s plans. The marble altar was added in 1901. Three years later, the church was renovated and decorated by Joseph A. Pippet. In 1905, the church was consecrated. In 1935, the marble altar rails were installed, followed by a marble pulpit in 1939. During the Second World War, the church lost most of its original stained glass. In 1972, a new day chapel was added by Burles, Newton & Partners, built between the liturgical north side of the church and the presbytery (see figure 2).
In 1991, Duane Paul Design Team prepared proposals for a new reconciliation room in the place of the old sacristy, a new sacristy and new cloakrooms at the liturgical south, the repositioning of the altar and a new seating arrangement. Their plans also included a link to the planned parish centre. None of these proposals were executed.
The L-shaped hall by Blount (on the 1875 OS map this included classrooms for the RC school) was demolished in the 1990s and replaced by a flat-roofed brick-faced parish hall (St Anne’s Hall). The church is now home to the Brazilian Chaplaincy
The list entry (below) briefly describes the exterior of the church. The interior and furnishings are not mentioned.
The church is facing south. This description uses the conventional, liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar faced south.
The plan is rectangular of a five-bay nave with aisles, side chapels and a canted apse. The nave has a steeply-pitched roof, as have the side chapels, while the side aisles have lean-to roofs.
The west gallery projects D-shaped into the nave, supported by two thin cluster pillars. The pipe organ by Bishop and Starr (blessed 1857) is split on either side of the west window. The clock on the gallery front is by C. J. Muncaster of Commercial Road. At the west are large statues of St Theresa, Our Lady of the Rosary, St Patrick and St Joseph.
The pointed nave arcade is supported on cluster pillars whose colonnettes have Early English foliage capitals. These, like all the sculpture in the church, were by Farmer & Brindley. Each bay has a double clerestory window set into rere-arches on slim colonettes. On either side of the clerestorey window are musician angel corbels supporting the arch braces of the open roof. The paired aisle windows are treated like the clerestory windows. Below them are doors to small confessionals, three forming a group under a common hoodmould on sculpted head stops (four groups on each side).
At the west end of the north aisle is the original font, with an octagonal bowl on eight short marble columns; its sides are carved with the symbols of the Evangelists and the Crucifixion. Nearby is a recent, unpainted timber shrine to Our Lady, a Sacred Heart statue, a statue of St Anthony and a marble First World War memorial to the fallen boys of the school (F. Osborne & Co Ltd).
The north aisle has two stained glass windows depicting the Risen Christ and the Ascension, and the Agony in the Garden and the Crucifixion, respectively (attributed to Goddard & Gibbs, c.1950s). The south aisle has two further stained glass windows: St Stephen and St Agnes (1888, memorial to Stephen Chaurain), and St Joseph and St Paul (no date, by Mayer of Munich, in memory of Fr Stephen Cummings).
The south porch is screened off with an etched glass door. (At the time of Evinson’s visit this had been converted to a shrine to the Venerable Jean-Claude Colin, founder of the Society of Mary.)
The side chapels and the apse have rib vaults. The northeast chapel dedicated to St Anne has painted decoration by Pippet and an unsympathetic modern altar and reredos with a statue of the saint. The former marble altar rails for 1935 have been re-erected in the side chapels.
The Lady Chapel at the southeast also has restored wall decoration by Pippet (photo bottom right). The altar is of marble with floral and quatrefoil decoration in the frontal. The timber reredos has crocketed gables and finials, flanking a much taller canopy with the statue of Our Lady. The chapel’s south window has a two-light window dedicated to Mary Potter (died 1913), the founder of the Little Company of Mary (Goddard & Gibbs, 1992). A large crucifix hangs on the southeast chancel arch pillar.
The sanctuary has a timber forward altar with a brass frontal of paired arches between colonnettes. The high altar has a Carrara marble reredos (1901 by Edmund Sharp of Dublin to designs by Rev. M. J. Watters) (photo bottom left). Four gabled niches with angels bearing the symbols of the Passion flank the canopied monstrance throne. At either end are canopied niches with statues of St Anne and St Joachim. Below the two-light apse windows are blind panels of quatrefoils. Only the central window has stained glass, depicting St Margaret Mary and the Sacred Heart (Goddard & Gibbs, 1955). A large brass sanctuary lamp hangs from the ceiling. Above the restored wall paintings of Pippet’s scheme is an inscription from Psalm 46 (‘Psallite Deo nostro…’). The Stations of the Cross are coloured casts in Gothic timber frames (by Besand).
At the northwest is a door leading to the weekday chapel and the presbytery. The weekday chapel has the decorative stonework of the formerly outer north wall exposed and the remainder plastered over. The furnishings are modern and include a Byzantine-style crucifix, a statue of a saint, a timber altar and a metal tabernacle set on a ledge in front of a small east window.
Last updated: 20.11.17.
Architect: Gilbert Blount
Original Date: 1853
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: II*