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Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, and associated gate piers and railings

A Grade II Listed Building in Harpenden, Hertfordshire

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Latitude: 51.8163 / 51°48'58"N

Longitude: -0.359 / 0°21'32"W

OS Eastings: 513209

OS Northings: 214346

OS Grid: TL132143

Mapcode National: GBR H7J.01L

Mapcode Global: VHFRV.QLKZ

Plus Code: 9C3XRJ8R+G9

Entry Name: Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, and associated gate piers and railings

Listing Date: 30 May 2017

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1430712

ID on this website: 101430712

Location: Harpenden, St. Albans, Hertfordshire, AL5

County: Hertfordshire

District: St. Albans

Civil Parish: Harpenden

Built-Up Area: Harpenden

Traditional County: Hertfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Hertfordshire

Church of England Parish: Harpenden

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans

Tagged with: Catholic church building

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Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, built in 1928 to the designs of F A Walters, and its associated gate piers and railings.


Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, built in 1928 to the designs of F A Walters, and its associated gate piers and railings.

MATERIALS: the church is externally faced in Bath stone, laid in random courses, with slate roofs which were described in the parish history of 1936 as ‘Cornish green and brown slates’.

PLAN: the church is orientated north-south, but this description follows conventional liturgical orientation. The plan consists of a western tower flanked by a baptistery to the north and flush porch to the south, aisled nave with flush transepts, sanctuary flanked by Lady Chapel to the south and sacristies to the east.

EXTERIOR: the exterior is dominated by a centrally placed tower in the Hertfordshire style, being square and short, with a needle spire. It is of three stages, and rises to approximately 15m, with offset corner buttresses that on the right (south) incorporates the foundation stone. The entrance doors are flanked by carved figures of St Thomas More and St Nicholas in canopied niches. The second stage of the tower has two two-light windows with Perpendicular tracery flanking a central figure of Our Lady in a canopied niche. The third (belfry stage) has two two-light cusped openings with louvres. Above the embattled parapet is a copper-covered spire topped by a weathercock with cross keys (symbols of St Peter). A porch with aide door gives off the south side of the tower. Protruding in front of the tower are the new glass panels marking the sides of the stone stairs down to the facilities in the undercroft. At the sides of the church, the aisle windows are each of two lights, with Perpendicular tracery, while the taller gabled bays (transept and former organ loft on north side, transept on south side) have three-light windows. At the east end there is a high five-light window, with the sacristies below.

INTERIOR: the total internal length is 30m and the width 13m, while the height of the nave is 9m. Inside, the tower area is as recently remodelled, with lift down to the undercroft and new screen doors to the tower, which incorporate an etched glass design. The main space of the nave consists of a three-bay arcade with octagonal Bath stone piers and arcade, and a coved and panelled ceiling with moulded ribs and cornices, all in unvarnished pine. The wall surfaces are plastered and painted. At the transepts the arcades are taller and the timber ceiling over the crossing is rib vaulted. The chancel is higher than the nave, and has two two-light clerestory windows on the south side and one on the north, as well as the high five-light east window. The timber ceiling is similar to that in the nave, but shallower in profile.

The church is relatively unaltered and retains its chief liturgical furnishings, designed by the architect but in some cases adapted, with stone carving by Earp and Hobbs and stained glass by Burlison and Grylls, A A Orr and others. The main features are the high altar and reredos (now separated), made by Earp and Hobbs. They are of Seaton stone, with the mensa and some other trim of black marble. The altar frontal has a richly-carved central panel of the Agnus Dei and blind traceried panels at the corners. In the reredos, the original super-altar has traceried panels with emblems of the Passion.  Placed upon this at the centre, the tabernacle has a metal repousse door, gilded with enamels. Above this, the reredos covers the entire east wall up to the window. A central monstrance throne with a tall canopy is flanked on either side by saints under canopies: from left to right, Saints Lucy, Owen, Leonard, Helena, Bernard and Agnes. Above them is an embattled cornice.

The communion rails survive only in part. They are also in Heaton stone, with Hoptonwood marble top and are ornamented with a panel depicting the emblems of the Blessed Sacrament. On the south side is an inscription requesting prayers for the donors, E St G Mivart and M Mivart. On the north side is the (relocated) pulpit, of Seaton stone, with four traceried panels and high-relief carvings of the emblems of the Evangelists.

An oak Gothic screen divides the Lady Chapel from the south aisle. The Lady Chapel was erected by Mrs Stowell in memory of her husband, Lt. Wilfrid Stowell, killed in action in 1918. Like the high altar, the Lady Chapel altar is of Seaton stone, with a black marble mensa and trim. At its centre is a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, flanked by St Anne and St Joachim, all under rich canopies and crowned by a cornice.

The baptistery, at the west end of the north aisle, was fitted out from a legacy of over £2000 from Mrs Emily Upperton (d. 1928). It retains its wrought iron, painted and gilded gates and marble floor. However the font is now at the west end of the nave, where it also serves as a holy water stoup, and an enclosed stair to the organ loft (accessed from the tower area) has been formed within the former baptistery area. The relocated font is also of Seaton stone, octagonal in form, on a marble step. The bowl is supported by angels with traceried panels, the centre one depicting the Baptism of Christ.

The subjects for the stained glass windows were chosen by F A Walters, and several were installed before his death in 1931. The five-light window over the high altar was given in memory of James Robarts Briggs, his parents and his wife’s parents. It depicts Christ enthroned, flanked by Our Lady and St James on the left and St Joseph and St Catherine on the right, by Burlison and Grylls, 1928. In the north ‘chapel’ (more a passage to the sacristies), two single-light windows depicting St Peter and St Aloysius Gonzaga, dedicated to Fr. Peter Louis Martin (d.1916), the first priest to say Mass in Harpenden since the Reformation (in 1905), by A A Orr, 1936. In the south (Lady) chapel, a two-light window depict Our Lady of Sorrows and St Wilfrid, in memory of Wilfrid Stowell (d.1918) and erected by his widow, by Burlison and Grylls, 1928. In the transepts, three-light windows depicting on the north side the Crucifixion and scenes from the Passion, given by James Robarts Briggs ‘in gratitude to God for a good wife’, and on the south side scenes of Our Lady of Lourdes. The date and designer of these windows is not known; the parish history of 1936 suggests that the installation of these windows was imminent, and stylistically they look to be by Burlison and Grylls.

In the aisles, a series of two-light windows depict the English Martyrs. Starting on the north side, working from east to west; Cuthbert Mayne and John Southworth, given anonymously in 1934, signed A A Orr and F D Humphreys; William Howard and John Fisher, erected by public subscription in 1935 in memory of Cardinal Bourne, signed A A Orr and F D Humphreys; Richard Langhorne and Margaret Clitherow, 1946, given by Arthur H J Miller, artist not known.

In the south aisle, from east to west; Edmund Campion and Alban Roe, to Eric Yeo (d.1929), the first of the martyrs’ windows to be installed, from designs by Burlison and Grylls; Margaret Pole and Thomas More, given in memory of Fr. Longstaff’s silver jubilee in the priesthood (1931), by Burlison and Grylls; Henry Heath and John Houghton, installed in 1945 in thanks for protection of the church and parish in the Second World War.

At the west end, the west window is of four lights and depicts the Annunciation and the Ascension; by the Harpenden firm of Hendra and Harper, 1945. In the baptistery, a two-light window depicting the Baptism of Our Lord and an angel holding Christ’s robe, to the donor Mrs Emily Upperton (d.1928), by Burlison and Grylls.

The other furnishings most worthy of note are the Stations of the Cross, high relief polychrome panels executed in composition by the Belgian sculptor Aloys de Buele (1861-1935) and original to the church.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: seven ashlar stone square-plan piers to south boundary to Rothamsted Avenue, linked by wrought-iron railings on an ashlar stone plinth wall. Double-leaf wrought iron gates to centre. Wrought-iron railings on kerb wall along west boundary of site.


In 1905 a corrugated iron chapel was opened in Rothamsted Avenue, to serve the small Catholic community in Harpenden. This was served by priests from St Albans; the intention was that a permanent church would follow as numbers and funding allowed. In 1919 Fr. Bernard Longstaff was appointed first resident priest, and his first action was to acquire a house in Kirkwick Avenue to serve as the presbytery. In 1920 he brought a community of Dominican nuns to Harpenden, who established a convent and school. He then secured the purchase of the land adjoining the presbytery for the building of a permanent church. In 1923 Harpenden was formally recognised as a parish, and a fund was opened for the building of the new church. Fr. Longstaff rejected the designs of at least two unnamed architects before asking the well-known Catholic architect F A Walters to prepare designs in 1927. Walters had recently completed additions to the chapel at St Edmund’s College, Old Hall Green. It was noted that Walters ‘… at once seemed to recognise what was wanted in style, and material, and he has succeeded in creating a really beautiful church, dignified and graceful in design and a masterpiece of construction’.

The foundation stone was blessed by Cardinal Bourne on 4 August 1928 and the church was opened by the cardinal on 26 September 1929. The cost of the church was about £20,000; construction was supervised by Mr Eric White, from Walters’ office, and the contractors were J Longley and Co. of Crawley, Sussex. Walters designed all the major furnishings including the high altar and reredos, pulpit, Lady Chapel altar and baptistery. The stone carving was by Earp and Hobbs of Lambeth and the oak screen in the Lady Chapel by Messrs Longley and Co. Over time the church was enriched with stained glass by T H (‘Harry’) Grylls of Burlison and Grylls, Arthur A Orr, F D Humphreys and others. A second-hand organ was acquired for the organ gallery overlooking the sanctuary. The church was consecrated by Cardinal Hinsley on 28 May 1936.

In 1975, post-Vatican II reordering by Francis Bartlett involved changing the sanctuary levels to allow the altar to be separated from its reredos and brought forward, relocating the pulpit from the nave to the chancel arch and removing the gates and a section of the communion rail. The organ and choir were relocated to the gallery at the west end, and the organ gallery enclosed. In 1989 Winkley and Associates prepared plans for the remodelling of the sacristy area at the east end, for the relocation of the font from the baptistery to the west end of the nave, and a new spiral stair to an enlarged organ gallery in the tower.

In 2011, a more radical scheme was implemented. This has involved the excavation of the nave and the creation of new meeting rooms and other facilities in a new undercroft below the church, reached externally via new steps outside the church at the west end, and internally from a lift in the tower area. A new oak woodblock floor has been laid, incorporating underfloor heating, and the benches reinstated. New glass entrance doors and an extended gallery with glass frontal have also been installed in the tower area. The architects were Kyle Smart Associates of Sewell, near Dunstable, in conjunction with Linda Tait of Tait Design Ltd, Harpenden.

Reasons for Listing

The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Lourdes and its associated gate piers and railings, built 1928 to the designs of F A Walters, are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural Interest: as a strong example of the mature work of F A Walters, a noted ecclesiastical architect of the late C19 and early C20, several of whose churches are listed;
* Architectural detailing: for the sympathetic reordering of the interior and survival of high quality fixtures and fittings, stone carvings and stained glass windows
* Group value: for the strong group value the church holds with the nearby parish Church of St Nicholas (Grade II*) and the town war memorial (Grade II).

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