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Description: Parish Church of St George
Date Listed: 28 May 1954
English Heritage Building ID: 358467
OS Grid Reference: TQ3747769644
OS Grid Coordinates: 537477, 169644
Latitude/Longitude: 51.4092, -0.0247
785/2/8 HIGH STREET
PARISH CHURCH OF ST GEORGE
1885-7 by W. Gibbs Bartleet. Choir vestry on N 1890. Tower completed 1902-3.
MATERIALS: Rock-faced Kentish ragstone with limestone dressings. The internal stone is from Corsham Down and Reigate with Forest of Dean shafts. Red clay tile roofs
PLAN: Nave with narthex (former baptistry) and NW porch, SW tower, N and S aisles, N and S transepts, chancel, N organ chamber and vestries, S chapel.
EXTERIOR: This is a large town church built in the Decorated style of the early 14th century. Its most prominent feature is the SW tower, built in four stages with angle buttresses and terminating in an embattled parapet with pinnacles at the corners and also in the middle of each side. On the N part of the W face of the tower there is a polygonal turret extending up into the second stage and with a demi-octagonal capping. The third storey is a clock stage. The belfry level has twin two-light windows with transoms and straight-headed crocketed gables over each opening. Across the W end of the nave is a narthex with a gabled head in the centre. In the W wall of the nave is a very large window filled with a circle of intricate flowing tracery. The nave has a clerestory with pairs of two light windows in each bay with flowing tracery while the lean-to aisles have three-light windows with varied Decorated tracery. The S porch has a richly moulded arch with shafts and panel tracery above. The transepts have large N and S windows with a transom: each has a different design in the tracery but in both cases based on a circle. At the E end the chancel has a low parapet pierced with trefoils, a five-sided apse and crocketed pinnacles at the angles of the apse. The main windows of the chancel are of three lights with rich flowing tracery and there are circular clerestory lights to the N and S walls. The S chapel has a semi-circular apse and a series of one-light cusped windows. On the N side of the chancel is a complex assemblage of structures for the organ chamber and vestries.
INTERIOR: The walls are plastered and whitened and the originally bare stone surfaces have also been painted. The nave consists of four bays plus the width of the transepts. There are arcades to the aisles of four bays N and three bays S (reduced by a bay by the presence of the tower). The arcades have hoods over the arches which have an outer moulded order and an inner chamfered one: the piers are quatrefoil with rolls in the re-entrant angles and have moulded capitals and bases. The arches to the transepts are similar but larger; so is the chancel arches but its responds rise from corbels. At the W end of the nave there is a triple-arched opening to the narthex, now glazed off to create a meeting room; the openings to the tower are also glazed in to form an office space. At the E end of the chancel the walls below the windows have arcading with shafts, cusped heads and straight-sided crocketed gables over. The roof over the nave has hammerbeams and that over the chancel is a keel shape. The latter retains its coloured decoration with the IHC, harps and other emblems in red green and gold embellishing the rectangular panels: the roof of the apse is painted blue and is peppered with gold stars. The floor of the nave has tile patterns in red, cream and brown.
PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: The oldest feature is a much-damaged square 12th- or 13th-century font with the common design of shallow arches on each face: it had originally been in the old church (taken out c1801 and returned 1876). The font in use today is a conventional octagonal Victorian one. In the apse of the Lady chapel is a piscina with credence shelf that also came from the previous church. Extensive amounts of the Victorian pewing and stalls remain. The pulpit is polygonal, has open sides and stands on a stone base of 1906.
There is Victorian stained glass in a number of windows, notably the large W window and that in the S wall of the S transept. Much was lost in World War II and extensive replacement took place from c1960. The artist was Thomas Freeth (d 1994), an art teacher at Beckenham Art School. His first work was the W window in the former baptistry and his designs fill the apse windows and thirteen other windows throughout the church. It is in a powerful modern idiom `in the vein of John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens (Cherry and Pevsner). The colours are rich and have a kaleidoscopic effect.
A large number of monuments were resited from the old church. Of them it has been rightly said `None is a major work, but together they make up an unusually fine collection of consistently good work ` (Cherry and Pevsner). They range in date from the mid-16th century (e g the remains of a tomb chest to Sir Humphrey Style (d 1552)) to the mid-19th century. The principal monuments are listed in Cherry and Pevsner and in more detail, with transcriptions in Notley.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: Timber lychgate (separately designated at Grade II: no. 358468) to the S of the church and containing, in part, medieval timbers said to date back to the 13th century. To the SE of the churchyard and walled off from it are the three Rawlins Almshouses (also separately designated at Grade II: no. 358355): originally built in 1694 they were rebuilt in 1881.
HISTORY: The rapid expansion of Beckenham in the late 19th century (6,700 people in 1871, about 16,000 in 1883) led to a call to rebuild the parish church on a grander scale. Moves to do so began in 1883 and the foundation stone was laid in May in 1885: the builders were the major contracting firm of Cornish and Gaymer of North Walsham in Norfolk. The architect was William Gibbs Bartleet (1829-1906). He was born in Handsworth (later part of Birmingham) and was articled to a London architect, John Walker until 1850. He then spent some time in an architect's office in Chichester. He was in independent practice by 1860. In 1891 he took his son into partnership.
The new church was built on a generous scale with elaborate detail based on sources in the early 14th century. Not only was it ambitious architecturally but it was also richly decorated. Some of this survives, notably the coloured decoration on the chancel ceiling and the tiled flooring of the nave, but the painted Crucifixion scene and foliage decoration on the E wall of the nave (illustrated in Notley, p 13) has been lost. Other losses are the low stone screen at the entrance to the chancel while overpainting of the freestone surfaces internally is much to be regretted. Bomb damage in July 1944 cost the church much of its stained glass but an ambitious scheme of replacement from c1960 has provided the church with an important collection of modern work.
Rachel Lendon Notley, An Historical Guide to St George's Parish Church Beckenham, 1995.
Anon., Stained Glass Windows in St George's, 2000 [leaflet].
Serek Carpenter and Rachel Notley, The Freeth Windows, St George's Church, Beckenham, Kent, 1994 [folded card leaflet].
Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 2: South, 1983, pp 158-9.
Antonia Brodie et al., Directory of British Architects 1834-1914, vol 1, 2001, p 128.
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION:
The church of St George, Beckenham, is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* It is of considerable interest as a town church rebuilt in the Decorated style on an ambitious scale between 1885 and 1903. Its impressive tall tower is an important local landmark.
* It has a very good collection of monuments resited from the old church.
* It has a particularly notable collection of stained glass installed from about 1960.
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.