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Roman Catholic Church of St Anselm, Wandsworth

Description: Roman Catholic Church of St Anselm

Grade: II
Date Listed: 15 May 2014
Building ID: 1418431

OS Grid Reference: TQ2806672357
OS Grid Coordinates: 528066, 172358
Latitude/Longitude: 51.4358, -0.1590

Locality: Wandsworth
County: Greater London Authority
Postcode: SW17 7BA

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Listing Text


1932-33 Roman Catholic church to designs by the architect J B Mendham. The style is a mixture of Classical, Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic and Mudejar influences. The 1988 parish halls to the rear added by Michelmore Associates are not of special interest.

Reason for Listing

St Anselm's Roman Catholic Church, of 1932-3 by J B Mendham, is listed Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: a possibly unique fusion of Classical, Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic and Mudejar styles. The principal front is elaborate and decorative and the interior has considerable spatial quality;
* Fixtures, fittings and decoration: the principal front has good quality decorative stonework, and fittings include a grey marble baldacchino, marble and stone altars and low relief Stations of the Cross;
* Degree of intactness: no alterations to the principal front and internally the 1979 re-ordering had little impact.


A small priory was established by monks from the Benedictine Abbey of Bec in Normandy after the Norman Conquest in the manor of Totinges. This is the origin of the place name Tooting Bec. In 1092 St. Anselm, Abbot of Bec came to England and was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093.

In 1905 a Catholic mission was established in a former Baptist chapel in Balham High Road and was initially served from Holy Ghost, Balham but became a separate parish in 1909. The chapel was dedicated to St. Anselm in that year because it was the 800th anniversary of St. Anselm's death. By 1928 the church was dilapidated and the rector, Father Cornelius Le Warne, planned to replace it. Designs were chosen for a new church by John Bernard Mendham (1881-1951) who had been brought up in Buenos Aires and his design was influenced by Spanish and Mudejar architecture (a partly Gothic, partly Islamic style prevalent in Spain in the C12 to C15). Work commenced in 1932 and the new church was in use by Easter 1933.

In 1952 a baldacchino was added in the sanctuary as a memorial to Father Le Warne by his successor Canon Alfred Gilliard. The designer has not been identified.

A re-ordering took place in 1979.

In 1988 the undercroft of the church was remodelled by Michelmore Associates and a separate parish hall was built to the rear of the church facing Tooting Bec Road. In 2009 this area was remodelled and re-landscaped by Baxter Phillips Architects, including a large figurative mosaic, to mark the centenary of the parish and the 900th anniversary of the death of St. Anselm.

The architect of St. Anselm's Church, John Bernard Mendham (1881-1951) was born in St. Leonard's on Sea in Sussex but was brought up in Buenos Aires where his father worked as an engineer. As a result his designs have a strong Spanish colonial influence. He was a surveyor and architect to the Bournville Village Trust before the Second World War and in private practice in London between 1922 and 1939. Towards the end of his career he worked on Coventry Cathedral. Besides St. Anselm's he also built a number of churches in Sussex including the Roman Catholic church at Burgess Hill in 1939 and the Roman Catholic Church of St. Anthony of Padua at Rye, which was built in 1927-29 in the Romanesque style and is listed at Grade II.


DATE: 1932-33 to designs by the architect J B Mendham. The style is a mixture of Classical, Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic and Mudejar influences. The attached 1988 parish halls to the rear added by Michelmore Associates are not of special interest.

MATERIALS: red brick with white stone dressings to north side to Balham High Road but stock brick to the south elevation. The east and west sides are concealed by other buildings. Slate roofs with copper clad dome.

PLAN: church of five bays with parish hall below. The west narthex leads into the nave and aisles of three bays with a central octagonal dome. The eastern bay comprises the sanctuary and flanking chapels.

EXTERIOR: the north elevation to Balham High Road is a fusion of Classical, Mudejar and Gothic styles. It is of five bays, the central bay with a stone balustraded parapet and above this the stock brick octagonal cupola with copper dome, the penultimate bays projecting under hipped roofs and the end bays recessed. The central bay has a large statue of St. Anselm under an elaborate canopy and above a plinth with the Chi Rho symbol flanked by palms. Above the statue is a small quatrefoil opening and to its sides are narrow lancets with similar canopies. The penultimate bays have similar quatrefoil openings and windows. The three central bays bear a stone frieze with the inscription DEO OPTIMO MAXIMO IN HONOREM SANCTI ANSELMI ARCHIESCOPI CANTUARIENSIS in Roman Lettering. A wide stone band at the level of the statue plinth incorporates six small elliptical arched openings which light the parish hall below. There is a low brick boundary wall in front, interrupted towards the west end where steps lead up to the main entrance, through a Classical Corinthian doorcase with broken segmental pediment bearing the papal arms and the date 1933. There is a plainer stone entrance to the east end.

The south elevation facing towards Tooting Bec Road is plainly treated in stock brick and is largely hidden by the 1988 parish halls.

The east and west sides are completely covered by other buildings.

INTERIOR: the west entrances lead into a narrow narthex with grey brick arches and low plastered groin vaults supporting a choir/organ gallery above. At the centre of the narthex is a canted recess flanked by stone columns with Romanesque capitals, probably inspired by the capitals in St. Anselm's crypt at Canterbury Cathedral. The recess is top-lit with iron gates and probably was used originally as a baptistery.

A polished hardwood door leads into the main space of the nave which consists of two large square bays separated by grey brick piers with transverse arches. The first bay is barrel-vaulted, with half columns with capitals to half-height suggesting an intended gallery. The next bay opens up to the octagonal dome above, supported on squinches. One of the aisle bays has conventional groin vaults and the other unusual interrupted groin vaults. The aisles are lit by narrow lancet windows of Gothic/Mudejar character.

The sanctuary and the flanking chapels are barrel-vaulted, with clerestory windows penetrating the curve. There is a large sanctuary arch and triple arcades on each side of the sanctuary with elaborate Romanesque capitals. The eastern arch is blind and the other two open onto the side chapels.

Furnishings include the 1952 round-headed arched baldacchino over the high altar of Early Christian character, supported on grey marble columns with Romanesque capitals. Beneath this the 1952 marble high altar and its tabernacle survive intact. The sanctuary also has a Bath stone suite of forward altar, ambo and font dating from the re-ordering of 1979 by Kendal Building Services. The Lady Chapel to the south has a marble altar within a shallow apsidal recess and two late C20 mosaic panels. The Sacred Heart chapel to the north has a stone altar with marble panelled reredos behind.

Other fittings of note include a relief of St. Anselm in the south aisle, showing the Tooting church and Canterbury Cathedral in the background, reliefs of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher also in the south aisle, a statue of St. Joseph in the nave by Mayer of Munich, wooden confessionals at the west end of the aisles, Stations of the Cross comprising low-relief figures rather in the manner of Eric Gill, and plain oak benches for the congregational seating which are probably original.

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.