High Street, West Wickham, Kent BR4
A church of polygonal plan, dating from the time of the convening of the Second Vatican Council, and reflecting the liturgical experimentation of that time. However, the furnishings and fittings are of little significance, and some elements of the original interior have been altered or removed.
Originally part of Beckenham parish, Mass was first said at West Wickham by Fr P. Byrne in 1936 in the Justin Hall. Two years later, a temporary church dedicated to St Mark opened in Braemar Gardens. It had been built for £800. In 1948 West Wickham became an independent parish, with Fr E. West as its first parish priest. As well as establishing the mission at Hayes, the parish organised from c.1962 a regular Sunday Mass at Coney Hall, serving the interwar Coney Hall Estate.
A site for a permanent church at West Wickham was acquired at the junction of High Street and Manor Park Road. After planning permission had been refused three times, the proposals were successful in 1960 and work on site started on 29 January 1962. The small triangular site, together with new liturgical ideas, influenced the irregular octagonal plan. The church was formally opened on 15 May 1963 by Bishop Cowderoy. The architects were Bingham Towner Associates, with the associate architect I. Holmes-Siedle. The consultant engineer was Simon Woolf, and the general contractor Bell & Co (Westminster) Ltd. The cost was £36,487. Apart from providing seating for 400, the church had sacristies, a baptistery and a meeting room. The central plan facilitated the close proximity of the congregation to the altar; no seat is more than five rows away from the sanctuary. The church was consecrated ten years after its opening, on 15 May 1973, by Archbishop Cowderoy. The old church was converted for use as a parish hall.
Subsequent alterations include the substitution of the porch’s glazed side walls by brickwork, the addition of an entrance ramp, the removal of the sanctuary canopy and the altar rails, and the conversion of the former baptistery into a multi-purpose room.
The church of St Mark’s was built between 1962 and 1963, to designs by Bingham Towner Associates, with associate architect I. Holme-Siedle. The materials are yellow stock bricks, laid in stretcher bond, for the outer walls, with a timber roof carried on a reinforced ring beam. The roof is of copper on felt insulation. The plan is polygonal, of a distorted octagon with a higher west bay protruding as a narthex. At the northeast is a small extension housing a parish room with an additional entrance to the east end. The roof is folded, with clerestory windows in the gables of each bay. At the centre is a 30-foot high copper-clad flèche of Douglas fir plywood on a frame of British Columbia pine, topped with a copper cross.
The west facade has an open timber porch (originally just a canopy) to the west doors. Above is the west window with mullions and transoms. To the left of the doors is a crucifix erected in memory of Fr Patrick Joseph Kehoe (d. 1958), a former parish priest of West Wickham. As the west bay is higher than the main body of the church, the upper portions of its side elevations are glazed as additional clerestory windows. (Originally, the lower side panels were also glazed; however, these have been bricked up at some point, presumably for security reasons.)
The narthex houses the stairs to the loft at the southwest, with a small repository below the stairs and a memorial stone for the official opening of the church. The space opposite, at the northwest, used to be the baptistery, and is now used as a crying room, confessional and library. Internally, the folded roof has a ceiling of Canadian pine with clerestory windows with some marbled coloured panes. The west window, of pink and blue panes, may be the original window of antique glass by Schott, made at Grünenplan, Germany. The west loft has metal railings entwined with vine branches and grapes.
At the northeast, a statue of St Mark with the lion (by a parishioner) stands on a corbel beside a door to the sacristy. (At the time of the visit, all the sculptures and paintings were covered in preparation for Holy Week.) A niche to the right houses the Lady Altar with a statue of the Virgin. Between this and the sanctuary is another niche (created from a door to the sacristy) which now houses the circular font of Portland stone with a Westmorland slate top.
At the base of the flèche is a narrow glazed band, with substantial cross-bracing supporting the structure. Originally, this was hidden by a suspended canopy whose shape mirrored – in inverted form – the folded timber ceiling. A linden wood crucifix at the west was carved in Austria. The altar, and the tabernacle stand in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at the southeast, are made from white Sicilian marble with a black skirting, while the lectern is of timber, painted to look like matching marble. (The shallow gabled niche of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, matching that of the Lady Chapel, is a later addition.) In the southeast corner of the Chapel is a statue of the Sacred Heart. The original doors and benches are made of polished utile, a West African timber. (The long-removed altar rails were of utile and aluminium.) The Stations are rectangular linden wood panels, carved in Italy.
Architect: Bingham Towner Associates
Original Date: 1962
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed