History in Structure

Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady and St Catherine of Siena

A Grade II Listed Building in Bow East, London

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Latitude: 51.5288 / 51°31'43"N

Longitude: -0.0182 / 0°1'5"W

OS Eastings: 537568

OS Northings: 182956

OS Grid: TQ375829

Mapcode National: GBR KY.637

Mapcode Global: VHGQV.MTQX

Plus Code: 9C3XGXHJ+GP

Entry Name: Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady and St Catherine of Siena

Listing Date: 22 May 2017

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1429491

ID on this website: 101429491

Location: Bromley, Tower Hamlets, London, E3

County: London

District: Tower Hamlets

Electoral Ward/Division: Bow East

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Tower Hamlets

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: St Mary Bow and Holy Trinity

Church of England Diocese: London

Tagged with: Catholic church building Church building

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The Church of Our Lady and St Catherine of Siena is a stone-built Gothic-Revival church, originally built in 1869-70 to designs by Gilbert Blount, extended in 1882 by Alfred E Purdie, and partially rebuilt c1950 by John E Sterrett.


The Church of Our Lady and St Catherine of Siena is a stone-built Gothic-Revival church, originally built in 1869-70 to designs by Gilbert Blount, extended in 1882 by Alfred E Purdie, and partially rebuilt c1950 by John E Sterrett.

MATERIALS: the walls are of Kentish ragstone with Portland stone dressings, beneath a slate roof. The nave roof timbers are Glulam.

PLAN: the church does not comply with the liturgical compass and all orientation is described using the geographical compass. Its principal elevation faces south on to the A11 main road and has a projecting entrance porch to the west. The church is longitudinal in plan with the main altar, east-west transept and sacristies to the north.

EXTERIOR: both the nave and chancel have double-pitched roofs, the junction demarcated by a slightly lower ridge height. The gabled south front is framed by angle buttresses with a shorter stepped buttress in the centre, rising to the cill of a large wheel window having female figurative carvings set into the lower spandrels, all within a semi-circular arched opening. The window is flanked by canopied niches with statues of saints. Beneath this, the narthex is lit by a row of six diminutive lancet windows with hood moulds. In the apex of the gable, below the gable cross, is a vesical-shaped relief of Our Lady. The south-western porch is also buttressed, having large finials on raised stone verges; the southern front has a pointed-arched entrance opening surmounted by a niche with a statue of Our Lady. The nave is lit by simple lancets, with buttresses between. The chancel is abutted by a lower M-profile sacristy, above which sits a five-light window with three trefoil lights.

The northern elevation has a gabled end with a central five-light gothic window. At ground level there are twin gable ended sacristies. They each have two tripartite gothic windows and a central internal chimney stack rising at the northern end of the roof ridge. To the east, the Lady Chapel shares its northern wall with the former convent. It is gabled to the east and has a wide six-light round headed window to the upper section, and two transomed tripartite gothic windows at ground level. On the southern elevation there are three tripartite gothic windows with trefoils to the upper section, and two rendered C20 flat-roofed small projecting extensions* at ground level.

INTERIOR: the porch leads to a narthex below the organ gallery, supported on two octagonal stone columns between three shallow pointed arches. A plain timber staircase to the gallery is at the south-eastern corner. The gallery has a fixed organ to the western corner. The south window has a stained glass panel in the central multifoil depicting the Sacred Heart (c1950s). The gallery parapet is solid.

The aisleless, six-bay nave has an open, Glulam arch-braced roof structure, supported on metal wall plates. The western wall of the nave has a door to the porch with a small rose window above. To the north of the door there are two tall lancets and three shorter ones. At the northern end, two unembellished pointed arches lead to a small lobby with doors to confessionals and the sacristy. The eastern nave wall has a door with a small rose window and four tall lancet windows above. At the north-eastern corner of the nave there is a door to a confessional and a cambered arch leading to a small porch. The latter dates from the reconstruction, and is a variation on the original configuration. The timber font is C20*.

On either side of the chancel arch are canopied stone niches with statues of St Joseph and Our Lady. The five-sided stone and marble pulpit is set against the west side of the chancel arch. The three-bay chancel is narrower than the nave and has a timber rib vaulted ceiling. The corbels and capitals in the sanctuary and north-western chapel are elaborately carved with foliage and angels. The reredos was designed by Blount and made by Farmer and Brindley (installed 1874). It comprises four canopied niches containing statues of St Dominic, St Hyacinth, St Catherine of Siena and St Rose of Lima, flanking the monstrance throne and a brass and timber tabernacle. The frontal of the high altar depicts the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. The five-light Decorated east window was made by Hardman in 1901 and depicts Our Lady flanked by St Peter, St Catherine, St Thomas and St Patrick. On either side of the bottom of the window are the images of the two main benefactors. The C20 stone forward altar* has some blind tracery.

Three pointed arches on two polished Aberdeen granite columns lead into the Sacred Heart chapel to the west, which houses the former nuns’ choir and c1926 small Rosary chapel. The flat roof with skylights is supported by timber transverse arches, having pierced spandrels, on corbels. A door to the sacristy at the west is blocked. A central painted wooden altar has a statue of the Sacred Heart by Mayer of Munich. The chapel also contains two sections of stone and marble altar rails. Beside the arch to the south there is a marble plaque to the Rev W O’Brien (parish priest 1921-26).

On the east side of sanctuary, two pointed arches with a central red sandstone column of clustered shafts open into the Lady Chapel, which is lit by six cusped lights to the east and three two-light windows to the south. The ceiling is canted and boarded. At the eastern extent there is a glazed and panelled timber screen below a gallery. Behind this is the corridor with the gallery stairs, a blocked door to the former convent to the north and the C20 toilets* to the south. Other furnishings in the transept include a crucifix and a shrine to Our Lady.

The nave seating consists of oak pews* from a 1990s refurbishment (Irish Contract Seating). The narthex, central alley, and part of the transept have Victorian tiled floors, as do the sanctuary and the Sacred Heart chapel. Other areas have herringbone woodblock floors. The Stations of the Cross are conventional modern reliefs*.

* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest.


In 1866, the Dominican Sisters of Walthamstow were sent by Archbishop Manning to undertake teaching work in the Bow area. Alfred House in Bow Road became St Catherine’s convent; adjacent to this a chapel was built for their use. The site also had a private and public school, and a large laundry facility. The foundation stone of the church was laid by Manning in 1869 and the building was later opened by him in November 1870. The architect was Gilbert Blount (1816-76), and the builder was a Mr Perry of Stratford. Original plans by Blount indicate that the church incorporated the earlier nuns' chapel. The organ by Norman, Hill & Beard came from Holloway Prison, Islington.

Blount (1819–1876) began his career as a civil engineer under Isambard Kingdom Brunel, working as superintendent of the Thames Tunnel works. Following a period of employment in the offices of Sydney Smirke, he was appointed as architect to Cardinal Wiseman, Archbishop of Westminster, working almost entirely on ecclesiastical commissions. In 1882, Blount’s pupil and assistant Alfred E Purdie (1843-1920) added a large eastern extension to form a nuns’ choir, now called the Lady Chapel, where unusually the nuns could be partially seen by the congregation. It also seems likely that Purdie created what is now the Sacred Heart chapel at the west side of the sanctuary, which was previously the nuns’ altar, visible from the eastern transept. This chapel is not present on Blount’s original plans and so is likely to be accredited to Purdie. On either side of the altar are shallow niches with hood moulds, possibly former windows blocked by a later sacristy extension. They now hold statues of angels, which presumably date from the post-war restoration.

In 1923, the Dominican sisters departed for Stone (Staffordshire) and the church was transferred to the Diocese of Westminster. Following the departure of the nuns the convent adjoining the church became the presbytery. During the Second World War the nave and the major part of the presbytery were bomb damaged, but services continued in those parts of the church still standing. The nave was rebuilt as a faithful reconstruction of the original, under the supervision of architect JE Sterrett and utilising Kentish ragstone, with dressings of Portland stone. Due to the scarcity of large timbers after the war, the roof beams were made from Glulam (an engineered wood product comprising multiple layers of timber bonded together with structural adhesives), and sit on steel shoes inserted in to the masonry, rather than as previously, on the corbels. Probably at this time, statues were also added to the niches on the south elevation, and the flat roofed extensions added to the east which house a confessional booth and toilets. Internally, the Sacred Heart altar has moved from a former north chapel (which is now a lobby to the sacristy) to the north-east chapel, which formerly contained the nuns’ altar and the entrance to the old sacristy. At some time, the metal altar rails were removed .

A new presbytery with linking corridor was built, c2000, to the north-west of the church.

Reasons for Listing

The Roman Catholic church of Our Lady and St. Catherine of Siena, Bow, of 1869 by Gilbert Blount, extended in 1882 by Alfred E Purdie, and partially rebuilt c1950 by John E Sterrett is listed Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: an impressive Gothic-Revival church in the Early English style, by the ecclesiastical architect, Gilbert Blount, featuring a fine trademark south wheel window, and demonstrating the innovative use of Glulam for bomb damage repairs;

* Interior: the interior has particularly high quality work at the north end, including a finely carved reredos, a high altar in its original position, and Hardman's stained glass window;

* Historical interest: association with the Dominican Sisters of Walthamstow, and evidently part of a holistic wider mission to relieve the effects of poverty in the Victorian east-end of London;

* Group value: adjacent to the listed St Marys Church, Bow and Gladstone's monument;

* Degree of survival: although bomb damaged, the church was skilfully repaired using quality materials and craftsmanship. Reordering has also been modest.

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