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Roman Catholic Church of St Boniface

A Grade II Listed Building in Whitechapel, London

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Latitude: 51.5159 / 51°30'57"N

Longitude: -0.0673 / 0°4'2"W

OS Eastings: 534201

OS Northings: 181431

OS Grid: TQ342814

Mapcode National: GBR YB.0S

Mapcode Global: VHGR0.S588

Entry Name: Roman Catholic Church of St Boniface

Listing Date: 4 December 2017

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1445649

Location: Tower Hamlets, London, E1

County: London

District: Tower Hamlets

Electoral Ward/Division: Whitechapel

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Tower Hamlets

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London


Church of 1960.


German Roman Catholic Church commissioned by Father Felix Leushacke (on behalf of the German Catholic Church) and the Diocese of Westminster, built 1959-1960 to the designs of Donald Plaskett Marshall with Dr Toni Hermanns of Kleve. Sgraffito mural and font by Heribert Reul of Kevelaer. The Stations of the Cross of 1912, brought from the old church, are by Georg Lang of Oberammergau in Bavaria. Decorative iron work is by Reginald Lloyd of Bideford, England. Liturgical compass points are given in brackets where appropriate below.

MATERIALS AND STRUCTURE: constructed using concrete encased steel portal frames on deep concrete piles, with external walls to the east and west faced in dark brown brick, and mosaic cladding to the north and bell-tower. The roof is clad in copper.
PLAN: a broad nave, with a tall bell-tower at the north-west corner. Internally there is an organ loft to the north (liturgical west), with the sanctuary to the south (liturgical east).

EXTERIOR: the north (liturgical west), façade is approached by four steps. The ground floor has timber and glass panelling with a central, louvred double processional door flanked by two pedestrian entrances, all with their brass fittings. Above, the jettied north wall of the narthex is clad with mosaic black crosses between chamfered panels of yellow mosaic inset with alternate red blocks. The west return wall of the narthex is clad with yellow mosaic panels. At the north-west corner is the slender concrete bell-tower some 40m high, clad with mosaic panels with tesserae in shades of grey, yellow and white. At the top is a belfry within a steel cage, open to the north, west and east, housing four salvaged Victorian bells.

The west and east elevations of the seven-bay nave are of hand-made, dark brown bricks laid in stretcher bond rising to a clerestory comprising four lights in aluminium frames between piers clad with grey mosaic panels. At the south end of the west elevation, a triple-height window on a mosaic-clad wall lights the sanctuary within. The corresponding bay on the east side has quadruple-height windows and is recessed to accommodate the sacristy, built with the same materials as the presbytery. The shallow-pitched roof has concrete eaves cast on plastic-lined shuttering for a coffered effect.

INTERIOR: the interior is largely plastered in white, with a timber screen with louvred doors separating the nave from the narthex under the gallery. The narthex and nave have a wooden block flooring, with Sicilian white marble flooring to the sanctuary. The nave and sanctuary ceilings are panelled between the concrete trusses. The nave is lit by the original pendant lights.

The full-width narthex has a brass panel with the history of the church, a brass plaque listing the names of the parish priests, a bronze plaque (by Joseph Welhing of Koblenz) commemorating the link of the church with the Pallotine fathers from 1903 until 1996, and a plaque to Father Leushacke (1913-97). A stair at the north-west leads up to the gallery above with an organ of 1965 by Romanus Seifert and Sohn of Kevelaer and Cologne.

Inside the nave, the fourteen Stations of the Cross are grouped together in a frieze below the gallery, set in the timber screen that separates the narthex and church and which also contains the confessionals. They were made in the workshop of Georg Lang at Oberammergau in 1912 and donated to the old church. Eleven panels had been put into storage and thus survived the bombing in 1940, but three larger ones were lost, and were replaced by three from the original workshop so they now are of consistent size. The font by Heribert Reul is also at the north (liturgical west end), of dark green marble and symbolically shaped like a triangle with curved corners. To the west of the sanctuary opening is a statue of Our Lady with marble altar beneath; inset on the adjacent nave wall is the commemoration stone marking the re-consecration of the old church in 1925. The foundation stone of this church is set into the east wall of the nave near the door into the sacristy.

Reul also designed and executed the dramatic sgraffito mural of coloured and textured plaster that dominates the rear wall of the sanctuary (liturgical east end) over the High Altar. The mural represents Christ in Glory with St Boniface, the English missionary of the Germans and the country’s patron saint. Below is a tabernacle with a blessing hand, two fish and five loaves in beaten copper and silver with rock crystals, also designed by Reul (made by Paul van Oyen of Kevelaer) on a green marble stand made from the marble left after the altar was reconfigured. Reginald Lloyd designed a wrought-iron communion rail, removed during reordering, which now hangs in sections on the south wall; these depict symbols of the Eucharist, the Passion, the Agnus Dei, the stag from Psalm 42 and the wedding at Cana. To the west side of the sanctuary the gallery has another wrought-iron balustrade depicting the Crucifixion with the Nativity and Resurrection. Lloyd also designed the north (liturgical west) window above the gallery, a semi-abstract depiction of the Pentecost in vivid red, yellow and blue.

The sacristy’s interior is plain, but retains contemporary timber cupboard doors and other joinery; it integrates with the presbytery.

The adjoining presbytery to the south and hostel to the east are excluded from the listing.


There has been a German community in Britain since Roman times, prospering in the medieval period. From the C16 Protestant refugees entered Britain in considerable numbers, and were bolstered by connections between the English crown and the Palatinate and Hamburg. Many settled in Whitechapel because of their work in shipping and sugar refining. Greater numbers of Roman Catholics arrived in the early C19, when Germany’s agriculture and industry could not support its growing population, and migrants in transit to the United States sometimes settled here. Between 1861 and 1891 the community formed the largest continental grouping in the country, when it was overtaken by that of the Russian Jews, and Germany’s own industrial revolution meant that emigration declined. A Protestant church, St George’s, was built in Alie Street in 1762-3, which survives and is listed at Grade II*, and was followed by others in London, Birmingham and the port cities. The country’s one German Roman Catholic church was St Boniface, first established in 1809 in the City of London, which had several locations until in 1862, the community, struggling financially, bought the former Zion Chapel on the corner of Adler Street (then known as Union Street). This building collapsed in 1873. A new church opened in 1875 to the designs of John Young, a design by E W N Pugin having been rejected. Its activities included support for female servants as well as families and the business community.

The church of 1875 survived a Zeppelin attack in the First World War and, following repairs, it was consecrated by Cardinal Schulte, Archbishop of Cologne. However, it was destroyed in 1940, although Mass continued to be held in the surviving school building alongside. War-damage assessment was handled for the Archdiocese by Plaskett Marshall & Son, architects, who prepared a first conservatively historicist scheme for a new church in 1947. Without funding, this was premature, but the Archdiocese advised that the firm be kept on. Rebuilding was funded by war damage compensation and the West German Government, and led by the parish priest, Father Felix Leushacke, who, disappointed with the earlier scheme, was advised by Dr Toni Hermanns, an architect from Kleve (Cleves), North Rhine-Westphalia.

Hermanns visited the site, prepared numerous possibilities in sketches and then presented worked-up plans and a model that were photographed and published. It is understood that the model and preliminary sketches survive at the church. Hermanns, a powerfully imaginative architect best known for the Liebfrauenkirche in Duisburg of 1958–1960, proposed a cuboid block, to be lit by numerous small round windows in a radiating pattern on its long west (liturgical south) elevation. The Archdiocese vetoed the scheme, leaving Plaskett Marshall to work up revised plans in close consultation with Leushacke in 1955–6, encountering many more objections from Bishop George Craven at Westminster. Leushacke wanted a discreet building but the parish wanted to reuse four old bells from the previous church, cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, to create a landmark guiding members of the congregation who had by now scattered across London and the Home Counties. The result is a very tall but slim concrete tower, the top being an exposed bell cage of tubular steel. The scheme was settled with approval from the newly installed Archbishop William Godfrey in 1957 after debate over the cubic or auditory nature of the main space, progressively non-processional for a Catholic congregation at this date. Higgs & Hill Ltd undertook construction beginning in November 1959 and the new Church of St Boniface opened in November 1960. The presbytery, attached to the south, was complete in 1962 and the hostel to the east in about 1970, both of which are excluded from the listing.

The consultant architect in London was Donald Plaskett Marshall, who built extensively for the Roman Catholic church in the London diocese. He has one listed church, the Sacred Heart, Camberwell (LB Southwark), of 1952-8, also a replacement for a church destroyed in the war, which features similar timberwork and green marble but has none of the artwork found at St Boniface’s, save for three small baptistery windows that have been moved. Marshall also built Our Lady Help of Christians, West Byfleet, Surrey (1958-9), St Joseph in St Mary Cray (now Our Lady of the Crays, 1958-9), and St Augustine’s Convent Chapel, Brighton (1958-9). Dr Toni Hermanns does not seem to have been involved in the rebuilding project after 1954, but it is reasonable to assume that he continued to influence the design of the church through Father Felix Leushacke. Leushacke commissioned mainly German artists for the fixtures and fittings, the exception being Reginald Lloyd who designed the ironwork.

There have been few changes to the building, the most significant resulting from the liturgical revisions of Vatican II, when the sanctuary was reordered, bringing forward the altar and removing Lloyd’s communion rails, which were re-sited on the south wall, flanking Reul’s mural. Three of the Stations of the Cross, brought from the old church, were destroyed in 1940, but replaced by the same firm. The original pulpit was replaced with a lectern by Lloyd in 1980.

There are some church furnishings which are not fixed and therefore are not listed, these are: the wooden bench pews; the lectern; the 1977 font cover by Reul which commemorates Father Joseph Simml, the priest in 1940; the statue of St Joseph and the candlesticks.

Reasons for Listing

The German Roman Catholic Church of St Boniface, Adler Street in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, built 1959-1960, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* an eclectic composition with elegant bell-tower, lofty nave and imaginative use of materials and colour externally;
* the light interior worship space which features a dramatic sgraffito mural by Heribert Reul, the tabernacle and font also by Reul, ornamental ironwork and stained glass window by Reginald Lloyd and Stations of the Cross by Georg Lang of Oberammergau;
* it is little altered externally, and the light internal reordering after Vatican II has not affected the character of the Sanctuary or detracted from the significance and cohesion of its fixtures and fittings.

Historic interest:

* funded and commissioned by the German authorities, heavily influenced by German architectural and artistic traditions and serving the German community present in this part of London from the C19 and earlier.

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