Roman Catholic Church, designed 1957 by Guy Morgan and Partners, completed 1965. Minor later alterations.
Reason for Listing
* Historic Interest: with its fan-shaped plan and light-filled interior, the church is an early example of the emphasis placed on the Eucharist in Roman Catholic worship after the Second World War, an approach which was officially endorsed at the Second Vatican Council in 1962-5
* Architectural Interest: a striking Modernist composition, with a vast curving frontage offset by a tall, slender campanile
* Detailing and materials: the façade is built with handsome local sandstone and good quality glass, and there is careful attention to detail, for example the soffit of the concrete roof and the cloister ceiling are coffered
* Sculpture: a Madonna by Dick Guyatt, a highly significant post-war designer
The Roman Catholic Church of Divine Motherhood was built from 1957 to designs by Guy Morgan and Partners, a London-based practice which specialised in commercial and residential buildings (two interwar London buildings by the firm are listed: Cholmeley Lodge in Highgate and Florin Court in Smithfield). The church replaced a small chapel on Rumbold’s Hill and was constructed in stages, with the main auditorium and campanile completed by 1962, the cloister constructed shortly thereafter, and the sculpture of the Madonna and Child by Richard Guyatt installed in 1965; the church was consecrated in May 1966. The campanile was not yet built when Ian Nairn visited the church for the Buildings of England volume for Sussex. Nairn’s entry is unusually long and opinionated, and is therefore worth quoting at length: ‘The church is modern, and very dignified and successful outside: all sandstone, a shape like a segment of a circle with the point rounded off to make the apse and the W front the circumference, divided into seven parts by vertical stone fins; six of the parts are glazed, forming the only (sic) lighting for the church, which consequently becomes one big trapezoidal room lit from behind. Unfortunately this takes away any directional emphasis, needed perhaps more in a Roman Catholic church than any other: the effect is very light and humane, but rather bewildering as the eye travels uninterruptedly from side to side through the altar. However, it is so much better and more responsible than most church building in England today that one feels that criticism is a bit churlish.’
The church’s internal fittings were installed before its consecration, but were not designed by the architects. Indeed, in a letter to the parish priest dated 26 September 1962, Guy Morgan wrote that his ‘design has been murdered … the terrible seats, ghastly altar and the awful side chapels … all this has nearly broken my heart’. The incumbent who commissioned the church, a Father O’Connell, had been succeeded in 1962 by a Father Waller whose taste clearly diverged from that of Morgan. Stylistic differences came to a head regarding the design of the external sculpture, which Father O’Connell and Guy Morgan had commissioned from Professor Richard Guyatt of the Royal College of Art, with Morgan & Partners contributing 100 guineas from their fees to the cost of a maquette. Photos of the model show an openwork bronze of a Madonna and Child, sculpted with flat, stylised features in a Romanesque manner. Morgan described it as ‘a complete inspiration of all the lovely brass engravings that are seen in most early English churches’. Yet Father Waller, with the support of the diocesan bishop, opposed the design and requested changes. Again, letters reveal Guy Morgan’s strength of feeling on the matter, which are likely to have been heightened by the death of his son in 1962. He argued that the design was not modernistic, but in the tradition of a the carved tympanum at Vezelay in France (a twelfth-century Romanesque abbey). The latter he described as ‘the most inspiring piece of religious sculpture I have ever seen’, adding ‘my son was there just before he died and it has inspired some of his best paintings’. The final version of Richard Guyatt's sculpture was a compromise: a solid bronze relief, compositionally similar to the original design, but with relief carving rather than openwork in a figurative, Renaissance style.
Richard Guyatt (1914-2007) was Professor of Graphic Arts at the Royal College of Art, the first post in a field which had previously been known as commercial art and largely ignored by fine art institutions. Before the Second World War, Guyatt designed posters for BP and Shell-Mex, two of which became classics. As a Professor and later Rector of the RCA, Guyatt was instrumental in the establishing graphic design as an important artistic medium. In addition to his teaching (he was at the RCA for 34 years), Guyatt co-designed the Lion and Unicorn Pavilion at the Festival of Britain in 1951 and created the packaging for Anchor butter, the WH Smith logo, coins for the Royal Mint, postage stamps, and commemorative mugs for Wedgewood.
The church is strikingly modern in its design, comprising a fan-shaped auditorium and a tall campanile, linked by a cloister. It is constructed of sandstone with a concrete roof. The curved front of the auditorium, which faces north-east, is divided into seven parts by projecting vertical stone fins. The central bay contains the main entrance, a hardwood double door with wood panelled reveals and a concrete lintel bearing the Papal insignia in bronze. Above are blind concrete panels on which is mounted the Madonna and Child sculpture. The remaining six bays are almost entirely made up of small panes of glass set in lead glazing bars, with solid sandstone wall below. The concrete roof projects from the curved north-east façade and its eaves soffit is coffered and painted. A single-storey aisle, accommodating side altars (where it runs alongside the main auditorium) and vestries (to the rear) wraps around all sides of the building, punctuated by square windows with concrete surrounds, and continuing as a cloister between the church and the campanile. The cloister has square stone piers and a coffered concrete ceiling. The square campanile has slightly battered sides and a pitched roof, and is blind but for three vertical bell louvres in the upper stage of each face. The only alteration to the exterior of the church is the insertion of a new door for a disabled toilet in the single-storey aisle.
Inside, the walls are brick painted white and the floor is paved with stone slabs. The ceiling is clad in radiating wood boards with an oculus above the altar. There is a choir and organ gallery above the main door, accessed via two concrete spiral staircases with hardwood treads and handrails. Three circular steps lead to the altar, which is cream and grey marble, as is the semi-circular altar rail. Original fixtures include: curved hardwood pews; a stained glass window in one of the side chapels; a Pietà sculpture; the Stations of the Cross carved on two stone bands along each wall (the artist is unknown); a stone font; and a Crucifixion (behind the altar) by Michael Clark. There is also a Saxon stone baptismal font and a piece of medieval stonework, each supported on sandstone plinths which appear to be contemporary with the church.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.