Building » Whyteleafe – St Thomas of Canterbury

Whyteleafe – St Thomas of Canterbury

Station Road, Whyteleafe, Surrey

  • 2015

A characteristic design of decent quality by a respected practice, built on a budget to serve as a chapel-of-ease. Notable for its glass by Pierre Fourmaintraux of the Whitefriars Glass Studio. 

*Church demolished*

A Catholic mission was established at Caterham-on-the-Hill in 1879 and a church dedicated to the Sacred Heart by E. Ingress Bell opened in 1881 (listed Grade II). The site of the present church, which was then occupied by a house, was acquired in 1957 by the Rev Cyril Scarborough for £3,850, with a view to building a chapel-of-ease. The architects, F. G. Broadbent & Partners of Manchester Square, London, were appointed in 1958, with J. F. G. Hastings the job architect. The foundation stone was laid on 7 May 1960 by Bishop Cowderoy of Southwark, and the completed church was opened by the bishop on 1 November 1961. The builders were Adam Brothers of South Croydon, the final cost being £43,425. The church seated about 250. Although built before the Second Vatican Council, it was built on advanced liturgical principles, with a freestanding altar and with the seating for the congregation arranged around three sides of the sanctuary. Furnishings included a large dalle de verre (slab glass in concrete resin) window by Pierre Fourmaintraux of the Whitefriars Glass Studio.

The church closed in 2010, and in 2014 planning permission was granted for its demolition for residential redevelopment of the site. The Whitefriars glass has gone to Our Lady of Lourdes, Thames Ditton (qv).


The church is built of loadbearing brick from Beare Green, Dorking, Surrey, laid in Flemish bond, with steeply pitched plain tile roofs and with an aluminium spire. The footprint is rectangular, with the main worship space T-shaped on plan and consisting of the sanctuary and transepts in the horizontal arm of the T and the nave in the vertical stem. Giving off the nave to the north are a former baptistery and chapel, and to the south an open covered balcony. A narthex with gallery above is located at the west end, while sacristies and confessionals lead off behind the sanctuary at the east. The slope of the site allowed for the construction below the church of a parish hall with kitchens, WCs, garage etc.

The church is set back from the street, to which it presents a gabled, mainly glazed elevation. The glazing in the upper half is clear, with alternating rectangular and large diamond-shaped glazing panels, with steel and timber frames. The diamond pattern is a motif which recurs in the spire and railings, and (originally) in the design of the font and communion rails (removed). Below, the dalle de verre glazing of the narthex is placed between vertical concrete subdivisions. The tower is slightly set back to the north, with a square brick lower stage and tall openwork aluminium spire surmounted by a cross. Inset near the base of the tower is the Portland stone foundation stone. In front of the tower a screen wall projects at right angles and contains a narrow splayed opening at its centre, with a shelf for a statue (the architect’s account describes the wall as ‘an angled shrine’, the shelf intended for a statue of St Thomas of Canterbury). A long railed ramp wraps around the entrance front and separate steps, also with railings, lead up to the entrance, which is on the south side, from a covered balcony area placed over a garage. The entrance has glazed and hardwood doors flanked by vertical mahogany panels, incised with emblems associated with St Thomas of Canterbury by Margaret Brand, a parishioner. The flank elevations are plain in character, with flat roofs to the sacristies, baptistery and chapel and large glazed openings to the transept gables similarly detailed to those of the main front.

The interior is T-shaped on plan, allowing the congregation to be seated around three sides of the sanctuary, in the nave and two shorter transepts. The sanctuary area is raised and carpeted (unusually, the original finish was cork); it is framed by semicircular arches and has a plaster groin vault. The nave and transepts have timber roof trusses of Opepe, a West African hardwood, rising from concrete padstones, with hardwood collars. Between these are painted timber purlins and boarding. The wall finishes are a mixture of plain brickwork and white painted plaster panels, while the floor is of herringbone woodblocks. At the west end of the nave is a choir/organ gallery, its underside enclosed by a glazed partition to form a narthex. Giving off the north side of the nave are the former baptistery, top-lit and with a sunken floor with hexagonal paviours, and a former side chapel.

Apart from a bench in the gallery and the metal gates to the former baptistery, all the readily removable furnishings have been removed. Surviving in situ and occupying an entire side of the narthex is a wall of dalle de verre glass, consisting of nine vertical panels each consisting of three sub-panels, and separated by concrete mullions. The predominant colours are yellow and blue, with motifs and symbols associated with St Thomas of Canterbury and his martyrdom in seven of the panels, against a backdrop of Canterbury Cathedral: a bishop’s ring, the royal seal of England, the mitre, the pallium, the crozier, four daggers and a pilgrim’s purse. The glass is by Pierre Fourmaintraux of the Whitefriars Glass Studio, and bears his signature in the bottom right hand corner.

Entry rewritten by AHP 14.02.2021, based on a report prepared by them in 2015, prior to demolition.

Heritage Details

Architect: F. G. Broadbent & Partners

Original Date: 1961

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed