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Church of the Holy Saviour, Hitchin

Description: Church of the Holy Saviour

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 17 June 1974
English Heritage Building ID: 161529

OS Grid Reference: TL1907129637
OS Grid Coordinates: 519071, 229637
Latitude/Longitude: 51.9525, -0.2688

Location: Radcliffe Road, Hitchin, Hertfordshire SG5 1QB

Locality: Hitchin
Local Authority: North Hertfordshire District Council
County: Hertfordshire
Country: England
Postcode: SG5 1QB

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Listing Text


1864-5 by William Butterfield. 1880 N aisle. 1882 S aisle and porch. Late C20 parish rooms to SE and E.

MATERIALS: English bond red brick with black-brick diapering and bands. Bath stone dressings. Slate roofs with red-tile crested ridges.

PLAN: Nave, wide N and S aisles, S porch, chancel, SE chapel, SE vestry, projection for former (?)organ chamber N of chancel, projection for N entrance.

EXTERIOR: The church presents its W elevation to the road. It consists of a boldly treated W end to the nave with flanking aisles in slightly darker brick, under their own gables. The nave has three large buttresses with set-offs and gable heads which rise to the level of the eaves of the main roof. Between the buttresses are two-light windows with a foiled circle in each of the heads. The upper part of the W front of the nave is corbelled out for a two-tier triple bellcote under a hipped gable. The W faces of the aisles have extensive diapering and each has a two-light window similar to those in the W end of the nave. The lean-to aisles have diapering and black brick banding and single-light windows with cinquefoiled heads but no hood-moulds. The chancel has limestone banding and a three-light E window with tracery of c1300. Its side windows are similar to those in the W end of the nave.

INTERIOR: The walls are of bare brick except in the chancel, which was unfortunately whitewashed by Martin Travers in the 1930s. The interior is dark due to the extensive presence of added stained glass and is not the effect that Butterfield intended (Thompson, pp 107, 227). The five-bay nave has extensive polychrome patterning of the kind favoured by Butterfield in many of his churches: there are bold lozenge patterns in buff brick with black bricks at the intersections, and in the upper part of the E wall a large circular motif. There is a clerestory, arranged with pairs of windows either side of the apices of the arcade arches. These arches die into the piers which are square and have red-brick and stone banding. The valleys of the arches have various incised motifs which are picked out with black mastic. The nave roof is of scissor construction and the ones on the aisles are of four sides and are divided into large panels. The chancel roof is six-sided and has rather spindly rafters which branch into Y patterns. The patterning incorporates large-scale cinquefoil patterns over the sanctuary. The floors (apart from the seating areas) are tiled, including Minton's encaustic tiles in the chancel. The church was reordered in 1971-2.

PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: The most lavish feature is the reredos in the chancel which has mosaic decoration in the panels. The higher central portion depicts the Tree of Life and incorporates a brass cross. The flanking panels have the figures of early fathers of the Church. Below the side panels the walls are decorated with variously coloured stone tiles. The pews have shaped ends characteristic of Butterfield's work: most of them survive but there has been some rearrangement. The pulpit too is original to the church and has carvings of flowers and fruit: the canopy was added in 1904. The font is Butterfield's, again of a design which is characteristic of him. There is an important collection of stained glass. Between the nave and chancel is a wrought-iron screen of, perhaps, c1900. Work in the 1930s involved the reredos now in the S chapel, by Wilfred Lawson, and a set of wooden Stations of the Cross, completed in 1938. The organ was built in 1865 by Walker, enlarged in 1915 and rebuilt in 1987 by Grant, Degens and Bradbeer. The E window is by one of Butterfield¿s favoured makers, Alexander Gibbs, and depicts the Ascension, 1865. The sanctuary N window is by Clayton and Bell, 1880: they also made the N aisle Christ Blessing the Children (1880). John Hardman and Co provided all the N aisle windows (except that by Clayton and Bell) in 1899 (W) and 1880 (the rest), all the S aisle windows (1882), the S clerestory windows (1888-90), N clerestory windows (1890-1) and the window in the S chapel (1879, fragments). Frederick Preedy was responsible for the nave W windows (1877), that in the projection N of the chancel (1875) and the porch window (1877).

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: In the churchyard to the NE of the church is a mortuary chapel. This is a highly unusual feature at a C19 urban church and was no doubt built to receive bodies from the almshouses and orphanage which lie across the road and which were associated with the church.

HISTORY: The founder of the church was the Rev. George Gainsford who used his considerable wealth to establish an Anglican place of worship in this relatively poor part of Hitchin. The church was not built in isolation but was the focal point of a wider set of buildings aimed at providing education and security to the local poor - a school (opened 1872), orphanage (1873) and almshouses (1869), all facing the church across the road. The foundation stone of the church was laid on 24 May 1864 and the consecration took place on 25 May the following year by the bishop of Rochester. The cost was £3,040. The need for extra accommodation led to the addition of broad aisles in 1880-2 which cost a further £1,642.

The architect, William Butterfield (1829-99), is recognised as one of the very greatest C19 church architects. His career flourished from the mid-1840s when he was taken up by the influential Cambridge Camden (later Ecclesiological) Society as one of their favourite architects. He was responsible in the 1850s for the great church of All Saints, Margaret Street in London which broke new ground in terms of Victorian church-building, making use of brick for the facing and the use of extensive polychromy for the detailing. Butterfield had an astonishing fertility of invention and his work often has striking originality, seen for example, in intriguing uses of geometry and the bold use of colour. Apart from All Saints, his best-known work is probably Keble College, Oxford. A devout High Churchman himself, his clients were usually of similar leanings.

Pevsner, N (rev. Bridget Cherry), The Buildings of England: Hertfordshire (1977)199-200.
Thompson, P, William Butterfield (1971) 107, 227, 240, 431.
Anon, A Guide to Holy Saviour Church, Hitchin (n d, c2000).
Anon, Welcome to Holy Saviour Church, Hitchin (n d, c2000).
Anon, Holy Saviour Church: Guide to the Stained Glass (n d, c2000).

Holy Saviour church, Radcliffe Road, Hitchin is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* It is an outstanding church by one of the most important architects of the Gothic Revival, displaying many characteristics of his work.
* It has an extensive and important collection of stained glass by leading Victorian designers and makers.
* It has a number of other furnishings and fittings of interest.
* Its foundation was representative of High Victorian Anglican piety, and the presence close by of a mortuary chapel, orphanage and almshouses makes for an unusual group.

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

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