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Roman Catholic Church of St Thomas More

A Grade II Listed Building in Frognal and Fitzjohns, London

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.5466 / 51°32'47"N

Longitude: -0.1772 / 0°10'37"W

OS Eastings: 526490

OS Northings: 184654

OS Grid: TQ264846

Mapcode National: GBR D1.809

Mapcode Global: VHGQR.WD56

Entry Name: Roman Catholic Church of St Thomas More

Listing Date: 2 December 2016

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1430929

Location: Camden, London, NW3

County: London

District: Camden

Civil Parish: Non Civil Parish

Locality: Frognal and Fitzjohns

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: Holy Trinity Hampstead

Church of England Diocese: London

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Summary

Roman Catholic church, 1968 by Gerard Goalen. Whilst contributing to the church's history, the presbytery to the west and the street frontage building to the east, Laszlo Hall, are not included in the listing.

Description

The Roman Catholic Church of St Thomas More is an elliptical plan brick-built church occupying a restricted site on Maresfield Gardens, built in 1968 to designs by Gerard Goalen. The internal layout reflects changes in liturgical approach brought about by Vatican II, and survives relatively intact, with minor changes in layout.

The presbytery to the west and the street frontage building to the east, Laszlo Hall, are not included in the listing.

MATERIALS: walls are faced in dark brown brick with an exposed concrete-framed clerestory and roof structure. Portland stone, Tinos marble and Travertine fixtures and fittings.

PLAN: the church is approached by a flight of steps from the street. It is almost-elliptical on plan but slightly truncated to the east and west, with the entrance bay sits forward to the south with stairs to the gallery and administrative rooms leading off it. The sanctuary projects into the main body of the church, which is embraced by an ambulatory carrying a gallery to the south side. To the west of the sanctuary is a side chapel dedicated to St Thomas More (formerly the Blessed Sacrament chapel); to the south-east is a further projection, originally accommodating the baptistery, now the Lady Chapel. The relocated baptistery sits on a raised platform to the west of the sanctuary.

EXTERIOR: the main approach is via a steep flight of steps which span the space between the presbytery and the church hall, and subsequently much of the principal elevation of the church is obscured. At the top of the steps is a broad flat-roofed porch, projecting from the main body of the church, which presents as an elliptical drum-type structure, crowned by a rising concrete-framed clerestory fronted by a bellcote. The latter consists of a rectangular enclosure of closely-spaced vertical members supported on two tapered concrete piers topped by a stylised cross finial. The roof appears to be flat. Universal access is provided via a north-west porch. Other elevations are generally blind, and are concealed from view, with the exception of the west end. There is, however, a rear clerestory lighting the sanctuary, which is composed of glazed panels set between the deep concrete supporting beams, carried forward beyond the face of the wall.

INTERIOR: internally, the walls are of bare-faced brown brick enlivened by vermiculated brickwork of double ‘hooked’ profile, which fully lines the ambulatory and forms large panels on the north wall. These were originally backed by polystyrene blocks (now decayed) intended to improve the acoustic. Eighteen slim fluted concrete columns support the rear clerestory and the timber gallery along the south (entrance) side. The roof is supported on deep reinforced concrete beams spanning from north to south. The floor is slightly raking, and is of concrete with a linoleum tile finish to the aisles, which converge at the sanctuary. A Tinos marble altar and matching ambo are raised on the sanctuary platform, which is accessed by terrazzo steps and retains a steel communion rail. The tabernacle is located in a rectangular niche inset to the north wall, set on a Blessed Sacrament altar of Portland stone (relocated from the former Blessed Sacrament chapel). To the west side of the church, the baptistery is raised on a marble platform and has a later travertine font with timber cover.

Fittings include, three clerestory windows above the sanctuary, filled with abstract stained glass by Paul Jefferies of Whitefriars Studios. The remaining clerestory windows are clear-glazed; a bronze and aluminium crucifix by David John on the wall behind the sanctuary (the unusual positioning of Christ is intended to depict the rising Christ, with intentional exaggeration of the arms); a statue of St Anthony near the main entrance, also in the style of David John, and a more conventional Madonna and Child in the Lady Chapel by Mayer; the St Thomas More chapel (formerly the Blessed Sacrament Chapel) is a shallow apse, having a travertine stone altar and a triptych by Peter Lyall (dated 2008), depicting scenes from his life and original timber benches on concrete supports are fixed to the floor.

History

The parish was established in 1938 and the first parish priest was Fr Bernard Whelan, who remained until 1956. The present church is the third on the site in Mansfield Gardens, since the first Mass was held on 29 September 1938. The original church was a long narrow building, which was formerly the studio of the successful society portrait painter Philip de László (1869-1937). No 3 Fitzjohns Avenue (known as Hyme House) was purchased by De László in 1921 and he subsequently built a large studio in the back garden, linking to the house. Following the death of de Lászlo in 1937 the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Hinsley, acquired Hyme House and invited the Swiss-based Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross to occupy the building as their first English establishment. The Sisters subsequently purchased Nos. 5 and 7 Fitzjohns Avenue and linked the three houses to form a Girls’ School, which operated until 1985, after which the property then became a hotel. The former studio was converted into a place of worship, and a substantial neo-Georgian presbytery was also constructed within de László’s former back garden. By 1950 the congregation had outgrown the existing church, and a second church was built on the site.

In 1967, the third and current church was constructed on the site of a former tennis court, sited within what was de László’s rear garden. The architect’s brief required that the church should maximise accommodation on what is a restricted site, and also that the completed church should afford the maximum opportunity for participation by the laity in the Mass, reflecting the liturgical developments of the Second Vatican Council. The resulting building, built to designs by Gerard Goalen, is composed on an almost-elliptical plan, capable of seating 700 people, whilst ensuring that no member of the congregation is more than 40 feet from the altar. The consultant engineers were Ove Arup and Partners, and the contractors were John Murphy and Sons (information from the Solemn Opening and Blessing booklet, 1969). The structure sits on substantial foundations comprising over 150 concrete piles, each around 17ft deep. The foundation stone was laid on 15 October 1967, blessed by Bishop Casey and the church opened by Cardinal Heenan on 20 April 1969. Following construction of the new church, the previous church was converted for use as a parish hall. The church was consecrated by Cardinal Basil Hume on 8 May 1977.

Goalen was influenced by the pioneering work of ecclesiastical architects such as Dominikus and Gottfried Böhm, Rudolph Schwartz, and others, in Germany, Switzerland and France, taking note of the innovatory nature of much of their work, and their fresh approach to liturgical planning. Centralised plan forms had also become increasingly popular in the 1960s, following influential precedents, including Francis Pollen’s circular church at Worth Abbey, West Sussex (1964; listed Grade II*), and Weightman and Bullen’s Church of St Mary, Leyland, Lancs (1959-64; listed Grade II*). St Thomas More continues to develop ideas first explored in Goalen's earlier buildings such as the church of Our Lady of Fatima, Harlow, Essex (1958, listed Grade II), one of the first churches in England to express the influence of the Liturgical Movement, the Church of the Good Shepherd, Woodthorpe, Nottinghamshire (1962, listed Grade II*), and the Church of St Gregory the Great, South Ruislip (1965, listed Grade II).

Reasons for Listing

The Roman Catholic Church of St Thomas More, Swiss Cottage, of 1968 by Gerard Goalen, is listed for the following principal reasons:
* Design interest: a powerful interior space, achieving maximum accommodation on a narrow restricted site, executed in good quality, expressed materials, and designed by a noted C20 Roman Catholic architect influenced by Continental models and by the Liturgical Movement;
* Plan: in line with the Liturgical Movement, internally arranged in the round, on a gentle raking floor, setting a forward sanctuary within close proximity of the congregation;
* Materials: a simple and effective composition, with assured use of in-situ reinforced concrete and bare brick, enhanced with stained glass windows, marble and timber fixtures and fittings;
* Degree of survival: little altered, retaining the majority of its original finishes, fixtures and fittings;
* Historic interest: replaced the first church of 1938, formerly the studio of the successful society portrait painter Philip de László (1869-1937).

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