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Church of St Barnabas, Oxford

Description: Church of St Barnabas

Grade: I
Date Listed: 29 January 1968
English Heritage Building ID: 245369

OS Grid Reference: SP5050206842
OS Grid Coordinates: 450502, 206842
Latitude/Longitude: 51.7580, -1.2697

Location: Canal Street, Oxford OX2 6BL

Locality: Oxford
Local Authority: Oxford City Council
County: Oxfordshire
Country: England
Postcode: OX2 6BL

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Listing Text


1868-9 by Arthur Blomfield. Campanile 1872 (reroofed with a lower pitched roof 1893). Morning chapel (now Lady Chapel) and N aisle erected 1888-9.

MATERIALS: Rubble walls, cement rendered. Concrete used in parts, e.g. lintels and sills. Brick details for ornamental bands, arch heads and other details. Slate roofs. Copper roof to campanile. Lead roof to sanctuary.

PLAN: Clerestoried nave, five-bay N and S aisles, sanctuary with semi-circular apse, W end baptistry apse, NE Lady Chapel, SE war memorial chapel, SE campanile with vestry block off W side, SW porch with W and S doors.

EXTERIOR: The style is Italianate Romanesque, in complete contrast to the prevalent Gothic style of church-building in the 1860s. The other fundamental characteristic of the exterior is the use of cement rendering for the facing. This is decorated with narrow brick banding and polychrome red and brick arches to the openings. The sanctuary is blind with a corbelled brick cornice and is ornamented with three brick crosses. The nave has tall, round-headed clerestory windows and brick string-courses. To the aisles there are low lean-to roofs and small two-light square-headed windows, each with a central column with moulded capital and base. The blind E wall and gable of the NE chapel projects E beyond the end of the sanctuary apse. A smaller apsidal chapel projects E from the link block to the campanile. The N elevation has brick banding and seven windows with three pairs of round-headed windows and a one-light window to the W. The W-end baptistry has recessed windows with stepped detail to the jambs. Above there is a large oculus in the nave W wall. The campanile has three stages demarcated by brick banding. Its lowest stage has narrow paired one-light windows with brick relieving arches. The next stage has square-headed one-light windows to each face recessed under round-headed brick arches. The S face has a larger window under a gable. In the belfry stage there are very large three-light windows with three cusped circles in each of the heads. The clock faces below the belfry stage are framed by paired brick pilasters. Capping the campanile is a low pyramidal roof. At the SW corner of the building the S porch wraps it and is a continuation of the S aisle. The S doorway has corbelled detailing to the jambs and an outer door with good strap hinges. Above the lintel, the wall is pierced with three openings for an overlight. There is a more elaborate doorway to the W with a polychromatic round-headed arch recessed under a corbelled gable.

INTERIOR: The interior is brightly lit and has simple lines and its effect comes from the rich decoration which is but a part of what was intended. Unlike Gothic church plans of the time, the chancel forms part of the main body of the building with just the stepped-up sanctuary projecting as a separate structure beyond a tall polychromatic arch. The area of the choir is defined by low walls on three sides. Either side of the chancel arch the wall is gilded and painted with the emblems of the Evangelists. The arcades, both N and S, are of six bays with round, unstepped arches with cylindrical stone piers with broad waterleaf capitals with some figure carving: the bases rest on brick plinths. The arch to the W baptistry is round too, the responds having waterleaf capitals with some figure carvings. The W oculus is recessed behind a round-headed arch. Covering the nave is a tie-beam and king-post roof with broad arch-braces to the collar. Three pairs of purlins divide the roof into panels which are richly decorated with sun-burst motifs. In the aisles the lean-to roofs are plainer but are also painted. The flat, boarded roof to the baptistry is also painted. In the E apse the roof is painted with a large gilded figure of Christ in Majesty above a wall frieze of the Apostles and a depiction of the Lamb of God behind the altar, work dating from 1893. The area of the choir is defined by low stone walls with inlaid marble panels and a large hanging cross. The choir stalls do not rise above the level of the wall. The N wall of the nave above the arcade is covered with a mosaic frieze illustrating the Te Deum with tiled texts below and patterned tiles in the spandrels of the arches and above the springing of the clerestory windows. The S and W walls of the nave and the Lady Chapel are decorated with brick string-courses. The steps to the sanctuary are of marble and tile, the choir floor being tiled. In the nave the flooring is of wood blocks.

PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: Over the altar, which has three inlaid marble panels, there is an elaborate baldacchino with cusped arches and crocketed gables. In the Lady Chapel the altar is gilded and painted. The polygonal pulpit and tester of 1887 form an outstanding piece of neo-C17 work with the painting and gilding being the work of Heaton, Butler and Bayne. The font is a square bowl decorated with roundels on a squat cylindrical base with marble corner shafts with waterleaf capitals and bases. The gilded font cover is in the shape of a domed baldacchino, dedicated to Herbert Moore, d 1942. The SE chapel was dedicated as a war memorial chapel in 1919 and is divided from the aisle by a three-bay classical arcade of polished marble columns and a low iron and timber screen with gates It has a fine green and white marble altar. The nave is seated with wooden chairs.

HISTORY: St Barnabas' church is one of the most interesting and unusual churches from the great era of church-building in the mid-C19. It was designed to provide a place of Anglican worship in the poor area of Jericho and was built at the expense of Thomas Combe, superintendent of the Clarendon Press, a strong Anglo-Catholic and an early patron of the Pre-Raphaelites. He stipulated that at the church there should be `strength, solidity and thoroughly sound construction' but that `not a penny was to be thrown away on external appearance and decoration'. Internal embellishment was to be added gradually. His architect, Arthur Blomfield, one of the most active and successful church architects of the Gothic Revival, responded to the challenge and initially proposed to build the whole church of concrete (then a very new and experimental material which was being tried out in a number of places) but elected for rubble walls faced with cement.

Arthur William Blomfield (1829-99) who was the fourth son of Bishop Charles J Blomfield of London (bishop 1828-56), was articled to P.C. Hardwick and began independent practice in 1856 in London. His early work is characterised by a strong muscular quality and the use of structural polychrome often with continental influences. He became diocesan architect to Winchester, hence a large number of church-building commissions throughout the diocese. He was also architect to the Bank of England from 1883. Blomfield was knighted in 1889 and was awarded the RIBA's Royal Gold Medal in 1891.

The choice of style at St Barnabas is most unusual and is evidently to do with the patron's desire to break the mould of church-building and provide something that is economical yet dignified. Non-Gothic Anglican churches would remain extremely rare for the rest of the C19. The objective was to provide a place of worship that could be embellished over time, as intended by the founder, and the final intentions have never been fully realised. The use of a W baptistry in the late 1860s is quite unusual and is a feature that was promoted by Blomfield in his early work. The baldacchino is a rarity and is an Anglo-Catholic feature that attracted much hostility c.1870 from those suspicious of Romanising tendencies in the Church of England.

Jennifer Sherwood and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire, 1973, pp 289-91
The Builder, 53, 1887, p 191
Antonia Brodie et al., Directory of British Architects 1834-1914, vol 1, 2001, p 204

The church of St Barnabas, Oxford, is designated at Grade I for the following principal reasons:
* It is a building of outstanding importance in the history of church building in the C19 and whose use of Italianate Romanesque is unparalleled at the time in Anglican church-building.
* It is a major work by a leading church architect of the C19.
* It uses innovative methods of construction.
* There is internal decorative work of outstanding significance, enhanced by its little-altered condition.
* It is an important monument to the influence of the Oxford Movement in the city where it began.

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.