High Street, Waltham Cross, Herts EN8
An imposing design of 1931, and one of the best of T. H. B. Scott’s many churches in the diocese, placed in a prominent position in the townscape of Waltham Cross. The stately arcaded interior impresses more than the exterior, culminating at the east end with a marble-lined sanctuary and baldacchino of 1948.
In 1859 Cardinal Wiseman invited the Anglican convert priest the Revd George Bampfield (sometimes known as ‘the apostle of Hertfordshire’) to establish a new mission at Waltham Cross. A site was acquired on Eleanor Road, on which were built in 1861 a house with attached school, the latter serving also as a church. According to the parish history (p.8), the architect for these was George Jonas Wigley. Wigley is a significant if now little-known figure in nineteenth-century Catholic history; as well as being architect for a number of churches, he was a founder member of the Society of St Vincent de Paul and translator into English of St Charles Borromeo’s Instructions for Ecclesiastical Buildings.
The present church was built in 1931 on the site of the 1861 presbytery; a house to the north of the church, fronting onto the High Street, was acquired to serve as the new presbytery and the old chapel-schoolroom was retained to serve as a parish hall. The successor church is a substantial building, designed by T. H. B. Scott in his trademark stock brick, stripped Romanesque style.
At first the church was furnished with a plain wooden high altar. After the Second World War an appeal was launched for a permanent replacement; donations were sought far and wide, and were received from several notable figures of stage and screen, including Wilfred Pickles, Vivien Leigh, Bing Crosby and Dame Sybil Thorndike. The marble refitting of the sanctuary, with altar and baldacchino, was carried out by Burns Oates in 1948.
The Lady altar was installed in 1965, designed by Bernard Hammill, a local teacher. The Sacred Heart altar followed in 1966; both were built with volunteer parish labour. Sanctuary reordering after the Second Vatican Council involved the removal of the altar rails, and a new tabernacle over the high altar c1975, in memory of Norah and René Ronchetti.
The church was consecrated by Bishop Mahon on 3 July 1971. In 1990 Cardinal Hume blessed a new timber carving of the Madonna and Child over the Lady Altar, by David John. In the same year, the properties to the north of the church facing the High Street were demolished and a new presbytery built in their place. Soon afterwards the church was redecorated and improved; a suspended ceiling which had been installed at an indeterminate date was removed to reveal once again Scott’s king-post roof, and the entrance lobby was rebuilt, incorporating more glazing. More recently, the 1861 school-cum-church-cum-hall has been demolished and a large new parish hall built from designs by Kyle Smart Associates (completed in 2011).
A large, tall design in stripped Romanesque style, built of plum-coloured stock brick laid in Flemish bond, the roof of clay Roman pantiles. The church consists of a nave with narrow circulation aisle to the south and wider aisle to the north, western lobby and former baptistery, crossing with short north and south transepts, and a canted sanctuary with flanking chapels. Sacristies give off the north side of the church. The round-arched entrance is of four orders, with alternating voussoirs of plum-coloured and red brick. Stone imposts and the door lintel incorporate T. H. B. Scott’s familiar ‘wicket’ signature, a motif that recurs throughout the church. Over the entrance, on a stone pedestal and under a stone canopy, is an above life-sized Portland stone statue of Our Lady, from the studio of Philip Lindsey Clark. A circular window is placed in the gable above, and the gable itself has a raised parapet and a stone cross at its apex. Double height flanking bays form an imposing west front; the return south elevation is more plainly treated, with overhanging eaves and round arched clerestory windows. Bookending projecting bays to the east mark the position of the transepts. A raised gable surmounted by a cross marks the junction of the nave and sanctuary; the sanctuary roof is lower, and its canted walls are windowless.
The stately interior is faced with yellow stock brick, over a plum-coloured brick plinth. Arcades on square piers with primitive ‘capitals’ divide the nave from the narrow circulation aisle to the south and the wider aisle to the north. Over the nave is an open timber king-post roof, while the aisles, which are similar in height (creating a hall church effect) have flat ceilings and high clerestory windows. At the east and west end of the nave are tall round arches, with the western organ gallery giving off (organ by Henry Willis & Son) to the west and the crossing off that to the east – from which the sanctuary gives off via a similar arch in the next bay to the east, while short transepts give off to the north and south. Unlike its canted exterior, the internal walls of the sanctuary are apsidal; they are lined with coloured marbles at the lower level, with a wide strip of bare brick above, and plastered in the vault.
The chief sanctuary furnishing is the arched baldacchino, supported on four polished marble columns and with a coffered soffit. This and the marble lining of the walls date from 1948. The forward altar, reredos and ambo are of white marble, and belong to a post-Vatican II reordering, probably c1975. Also from this time is the modern tabernacle in the reredos. Plain marble side altars date from 1965 and 1966; over the (north) Lady Chapel altar is a large low-relief timber carving of the Madonna and Child, by David John.
The nave floor is of parquet blocks, and the church appears to retain its original Scott-designed oak benches.
Architect: T. H. B. Scott
Original Date: 1931
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed