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Roman Catholic Church of St Michael, including boundary wall and entrance screen

A Grade II Listed Building in Ashford Town, Surrey

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.4325 / 51°25'56"N

Longitude: -0.4627 / 0°27'45"W

OS Eastings: 506964

OS Northings: 171507

OS Grid: TQ069715

Mapcode National: GBR 26.G1Q

Mapcode Global: VHFTQ.X8R6

Entry Name: Roman Catholic Church of St Michael, including boundary wall and entrance screen

Listing Date: 8 April 2016

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1428691

Location: Spelthorne, Surrey, TW15

County: Surrey

District: Spelthorne

Civil Parish: Non Civil Parish

District Council Ward: Ashford Town

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Surrey

Church of England Parish: St Matthew Ashford

Church of England Diocese: London

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Summary

The church of St Michael was built in phases between 1927 and 1960, to unified designs by Giles Gilbert Scott. Campanile tower was added c1960, completing the extension which had been started in 1938. The current (2016) parish hall and presbytery are not included the listing

Description

The church of St Michael was built in phases between 1927 and 1960, to unified designs by Giles Gilbert Scott. The style is Italianate, drawing inspiration from Early Christian architecture, and finished with a campanile tower, which was added c1960, completing the extension which had been started in 1938. The church is oriented to the north-east, and all directions in this report are liturgical. The original layout, detailing and fittings are generally intact, with a south porch added c2006.

MATERIALS: the church is built of thin, dark red Dutch bricks and has a roof covering of Italian pantiles. Windows are glazed with plain leaded lattice lights, subtly coloured.

PLAN: the layout comprises a long nave with sanctuary (a single vessel), narrow nave aisles, and north and south chapels (at right angles to the body of the building). Sacristies are located beneath the sanctuary and there is a modern (2006) south porch. To the east, accessed via the Lady Chapel, is a set of steps leading to former priest’s quarters consisting of two rooms.
EXTERIOR: the church, designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, is styled in a free adaptation of Early Christian Italian architecture. The exterior is characterised by its considerable bulk and height, tall, sheer walls, and an impressively high clerestory. There are no external buttresses. The roofs have prominently overhanging eaves (which dispense with the need for gutters). All the fenestration is round-arched, that in the clerestory being the most prominent, having tall, three-light windows with a hemisphere set above a triple-opening arrangement. The faces of the tall, plain campanile are unadorned and the tower culminates with small, triple belfry lights and a low pyramidal capping. The parish centre is attached to the church at the east end and extends out to the north-east of it. Part of it incorporates the original presbytery where the first priest of the new church is said to have simply occupied the extraordinarily cramped quarters on the first floor. The current (2016) parish hall and presbytery are not included the listing.

INTERIOR: the interior is a long, uninterrupted space, the walls of which are covered in rough render and slope inwards slightly to counter the lateral thrust of the roof. This has a low-pitched tie-beam roof, delicately decorated in a style which Stamp suggests is, perhaps, Swedish in character. At the west end is an organ gallery set above a broad semi-circular arch. At the east end there is no window and the sanctuary is raised high above the sacristies; in all there are fourteen steps, the first three of which were installed (brought forward) as part of the 2006 reordering. There are eight bays to the nave and the six easterly ones have low semi-circular arches to the narrow aisles: there are no mouldings or carved decoration, only very slight bulging out where capitals might be expected to be. Only the twin columns in openings north and south of the sanctuary have any decoration (spiral ornament and foliage and other decoration). The sanctuary floor tiling dates from 2006, that in the nave from c2010.

Fixtures and fittings include a large triptych reredos designed by Scott, with figures of the Evangelists flanking a central canopy. The folding wings have multiple panels with triangular motifs. A series of fine wooden figures of saints standing on stone corbels between the nave piers, carved by Anton Daprè (an Austrian artist living in Twickenham) and his sons. The original font is octagonal stone with geometric decoration. There is unusually low, original sturdy bench seating. The forward altar and ambo is of limestone, and dates from the 2006 works, incorporating carved panels by Stephen Foster.The original wrought-iron light fittings in the aisles (in the nave until 2006).The organ was brought from a disused church in Egham, Surrey and rebuilt in 1974.There is a figure of St Michael, by Anton Dapre, opposite the main entrance but formerly surmounting the central part of the reredos. The Stations of the Cross are relatively conventional, in painted cast metal.

To the east of the church is a boundary wall and a well-proportioned entrance screen in red brick, the latter with a pantiled pitched roof, and both part of Scott's composition.

History

In 1899 the Sisters of the Order of the Good Shepherd opened a convent and an Inebriate Home for Catholic women in a property called ‘Ecclesfield’. The convent chapel was used for Mass by the few Ashford Catholics, offered by a priest from Beaumont College, Windsor. In 1906 a resident priest was appointed, with a brief to build a church. Opened the same year, this was a simple brick structure designed by Leonard Stokes. In 1925 a house and site for a new permanent church were purchased in Fordbridge Road. Construction took place in three phases to a unified design, provided by Giles Gilbert Scott, who was also responsible for the design of the reredos and tabernacle. The foundation stone was laid on 21 July 1927 and the first part to be opened consisted of the sanctuary, sacristies and three bays of the nave. During the second phase in 1938 work continued with the extension of the nave but this was halted by the outbreak of war. In 1958, work began again, including the completion of the tower, side chapels, choir gallery and west end of the nave, marked by the opening on 13 March 1960, shortly after the death of Sir Giles on 12 February. A letter from Scott’s office manager and partner Frederick G Thomas, sent to Parish Priest Fr O’Callaghan in response to a sympathy letter sent on the death of Sir Giles, states that ''he was very much looking forward to seeing it himself, as he considered it one of the most successful Churches he had ever done''. The building of the campanile (to a revised design) was supervised by Frederick G Thomas. In 1968 the previous church in Felham Road, which had been used as a church hall, was sold and demolished, replaced by a new hall and presbytery on the Fordbridge Road and Clarendon Road site. The organ itself was not included within the original design but purchased from a disused church in Egham and rebuilt in 1974.

Reordering took place in 2006 under George Mathers; which saw the addition of the south porch, a new stone altar, lectern and sanctuary flooring. The wrought iron light fixtures of the nave were relocated to the side aisles. In recent years the previous linoleum of the nave and aisle floors were re-laid with tiles and stonework (Ormesby of Scarisbrick, in collaboration with architect Jane Ferra).

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960) was one of the most highly esteemed architects of the C20, whose career spanned the first half of the C20 and included several ecclesiastical commissions for both Anglican and Roman Catholic parishes, including St Joseph’s, Sheringham, Norfolk (1936, Grade II), to which St Michael’s bears a resemblance, St Alban the Martyr, LB Camden (1932, Grade II), and Our Lady Star of the Sea, Broadstairs, Kent (1931, listed Grade II). Scott’s Anglican Cathedral at Liverpool is listed at Grade I.

St Michael’s represents a departure from Scott’s preferred simplified Gothic-Revival style. The design is Italianate neo-Romanesque drawing inspiration from early Christian architecture and characterised by assured but spare historical references embodied in a unified whole which is unmistakably contemporary. The style had first been explored by Scott two years earlier at Our Lady and St Alphege’s, Bath (Grade II*), following a visit to the Continent and, particularly, to the Roman basilica at Santa Maria, Cosmedin, Rome (c780). St Michael’s is representative of Scott’s characteristic use of sheer brick walls, relying for effect on clean lines, carefully specified materials and skillful massing, rather than surface detail, a fact also representative of the drive towards economy necessitated by the fiscal stringency of the inter-war period. The church is a good example of the architect’s innovate and skillful interpretation of historical references, articulated in a contemporary manner. St Michael’s is widely acknowledged to be among Scott’s favourite works, a fact confirmed by the aforementioned letter from Scott’s practice held amongst parish papers, written shortly after his death.

Reasons for Listing

The Roman Catholic Church of St Michael, Ashford, of 1927-1960 by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, and its boundary wall and entrance screen, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: a notable work by a nationally esteemed C20 architect, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, and representative of Scott’s distinctive and innovate style;
* Design and execution: a large and imposing church, constructed in a restrained neo-Romanesque style with due regard to economy, the church successfully combines carefully considered architectural historicism with contemporary restraint in detailing and materials, and high levels of craftsmanship;
* Degree of survival: the historic fabric and layout is generally intact throughout, with the exception of some minor changes;
* Interior: the interior space is cohesive and assured, distinguished by striking spatial massing, and clean simplicity, serving to enhance the exceptional sanctuary fittings and patterned ceiling;
* Fittings: the sanctuary contains a notably exuberant triptych reredos designed by Scott, and fittings are generally of high quality and craftsmanship. The fine sculptural representations of saints by Anton Dapré are also of particular note.

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