Shernhall Street, Walthamstow, London E17
A large new church, built in 1995-96 after its predecessor burnt down. The interior is a successful compromise between longitudinal and central plan forms. The design, described by The Buildings of England as ‘impressive and unusual’, was awarded a Civic Trust Awards commendation.
The mission was established in 1847 and Mass was initially said in private houses. In 1847 Capt. George Collard conveyed some land to his wife, including a two-acre site in Shernhall Street, which she then gave by deed to build the mission chapel of St George. This first church, of Kentish ragstone, was opened on 15 August 1849 by Dr (later Cardinal) Wiseman, who was then living at nearby Shern Hall. However, by 1851 differences had arisen and in 1853 Mrs Collard revoked all her gifts and locked up the chapel. A second and temporary church opened in 1853, but from the following year, Mass was said again in the first church. In 1855, the 1847 conveyance of the title to the trustees was legally confirmed. The third church was opened in December 1901 by Cardinal Vaughan. This was Early English Gothic in style, built in red brick, with six chapels being added later. The parish was erected in 1918 and the church consecrated in 1925.
This church was destroyed in a fire on 2 April 1993. The parish held a limited competition for its replacement, which was won by Plater, Inkpen, Vale & Downie (now Inkpen Downie). The current church was built in 1995-96. It was consecrated by Bishop McMahon on 23 April 1997. The contract sum was £1.1m and in 1998 the church received a Civic Trust Awards commendation. According to the architects’ website, the geometrical complex design was intended ‘to achieve a sense of celebration and degree of richness without recourse to decoration, and to provide an environment in which both joyful and reflective worship have a place’.
The sanctuary is at the northwest of the site, with the separate Blessed Sacrament Chapel at the south. This description will use the conventional, liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar in the church was at the east.
The exterior materials are pale yellow brick in stretcher bond, with white brick in stretcher bond on the interior. In plan the church is oval, with the apse at the east mirrored by a curved entrance above which rises a short bell tower with spire. Beside the entrance, at the southwest is another narrower semicircular projection housing a shrine. The church’s entrance is linked to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel by a lobby with access to a meeting room, the sacristies, the repository and toilet facilities.
The nave has a pitched roof with skylights and flat roofs over the aisles. Apart from the glazed lobby entrance and the west front, the facades are mostly blind brick walls, relieved only by semicircular buttresses to the aisles, and canted buttresses between the large circular clerestory windows. The apses, the east end and aisles have white- glazed cornices which pull together the different elements of the exterior.
The interior of the church successfully combines central and longitudinal plan forms. While the five-bay oval aisles with their plain columns still read as side aisles, the sanctuary projects forward so that the altar is surrounded by benches. The interior is lit by rooflights hidden in the complex lattice-ribbed ceiling, as well as by the circular clerestory windows, the large west windows and lateral sanctuary windows. Over the west entrance is a large circular drum – the base of the bell tower, which also acts as a passive ventilation device. Also in the entrance area is the immersion font in the shape of a fish.
At the northwest is the entrance to the sacristies, as well as a folding wall to the meeting room which can be used to enlarge the church space. At the southwest corner is a small shrine to Our Lady, lit by lateral windows and with a glazed aumbry in a brick pillar. The organ (built by Peter Collins Ltd, 1997), in a limed oak case, stands at the northeast, to the side of the sanctuary. The westernmost portion of the raised stone platform of the sanctuary is circular, echoed by a smaller circular chandelier above the altar and a circular skylight. The lateral sanctuary windows combine the attributes of the patron saints: St Mary’s blue mantle and St George’s red cross.
The architects designed the liturgical furnishings in the church, apparently on a theme inspired by the crusades and their link to St George: for example, the candle stands and sanctuary lamp have metal elements shaped like curved swords. The altar, the tabernacle stand, the pulpit, the crucifix and the chair have short, metal-capped timber columns as their unifying feature.
The architects also coordinated the commissioning of artworks and stained glass. The artists are as follows:
• stained glass: Ray Bradley
• bronze statue of the Virgin Mary: Bernard Merry
• painted Stations of the Cross: Dennis Allaway
• The curved timber benches are by Hayes & Finch.
The Blessed Sacrament Chapel has a top-light apse with the tabernacle, beside lateral windows depicting grapes and wheat, and a panel painting of St George. A small room beside it is used as a reconciliation room.
Original Date: 1995
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed