This section introduces the church's rich architectural heritage. This page provides an overview of the building's history - please see the section subpages for details of various architectural features.
A PDF version of the Brief Guide to St Mary's Bourne Street is also available, providing further details about the building.
The architect of St Mary’s was RJ Withers (1823–1904) a little-known church architect practising for the most part in the West Country.
He carried out some church alterations in London, notably at St Mary le Strand, and so was engaged at St Paul’s Knightsbridge at the time the decision was taken to build St Mary’s as one of its mission chapels. Withers, who according to his obituarist built ‘a good cheap type of brick church’, was the obvious choice as architect.
St Mary’s was built in the Early English style using indeed cheap machine-made red brick. The only full external view is of the south side from Graham Terrace. Low windowless aisles support a tall clerestory with a plain slate roof surmounted by a bell cote housing a solitary bell. The buttressing was added by Goodhart-Rendel following bomb damage in World War II.
The Church Times described the interior of St Mary’s in its report of the dedication on 4th July 1874:
A spacious nave is terminated in an apsidal chancel and there are two aisles. The nave is very lofty and the interior of the roof is elaborately decorated with colour. Bold figures of Our Lady and St John on either side of a crucifix appear on the reredos, in front of which stands one of the most effective altars we have seen of late. It is formed of sweet cedar, and is richly ornamental with gold and colour. The chapel as a whole is remarkably effective, and has a solid and substantial look which is highly satisfactory. It is, in a word, an excellent specimen of an inexpensive church, the cost of the whole, not counting special gifts such as the reredos, altar, font etc., being about £4,500.
The stencilled decoration on the interior of the roof was later varnished over but can still be made out, as can the faded remains of some friezes around the walls.
Only one colour of brick was used but the monotony was relieved by the use of decorative brick projections. These can still be seen in the clerestory but were most apparent in the spandrels to the arches and the lunettes in the chancel where they are now concealed by pictures added in the 1890s. The canvasses in the spandrels may be by Nathaniel Westlake (1833–1921) of Lavers & Westlake. The artist of the paintings in the chancel is not known, but the Annunciation was given in memory of Fr Liddell (Vicar of St Paul’s Knightsbridge).
The chancel originally contained a double row of choir stalls on either side as well as stalls for the officiating clergy. Early drawings show it separated from the nave by a stone or brick wall but this was replaced by iron railings, probably quite early on, part of which can now be seen on the south side of the Seven Sorrows chapel.
In 1913 the organ was moved from what is now the Chapel of St John the Baptist to its present position at the west end of the church. Sidney Gambier Parry (1859–1948), another little-known architect, who had earlier replaced the Withers reredos, was engaged to build a new organ case and loft.
‘This is a magnificent example of Wren baroque revival’, wrote Roderick Gradidge who was himself to do important work at St Mary’s:
with splendid Grinling Gibbonesque carving, in dark mahogany which greatly enhances the west end of the church and gives it the quality of a grand house that Canon Brindley talks of. This is particularly so of the panelling at the ground floor which wraps itself around the west end of Wither’s church and continues under the organ gallery which is supported by a pair of perfectly proportioned square Doric columns with finely carved brackets.
Extensions commissioned by Fr Whitby
When Fr Whitby came to St Mary’s in 1916 he formed ambitious plans for the church and had the resources to carry them out. He had commissioned Martin Travers to design a set of High Mass vestments for his first mass in 1911 and the result was the superb red-silk set afire with the golden flames of Pentecost still in use today. Travers was asked to redesign the High Altar and reredos and, later, the statue of Our Lady of Peace which remain such distinctive features of the church. This work is discussed more fully on ‘the Tour’.
In order to extend the church Fr Whitby acquired some neighbouring houses and a public house, The Pineapple, on the corner of Graham Terrace and Bourne Street. H S Goodhart-Rendel (1887–1959) was to become a distinguished architect but he was yet to establish his reputation when, in 1922, he was commissioned by Fr Whitby to turn The Pineapple public house into a Presbytery for St Mary’s. A new floor was added in a mansard roof, new brickwork used on the ground floor and the rest hung in blue slate. Some traces of the original Victorian building can still be seen in the Library and Dining Room on the first floor and there is a window etched with a Pineapple on the ground floor.
The church extension was built using red hand-made brick of a much finer quality than that used by Withers and with wider mortar pointing. The main entrance to the church was moved from Graham Terrace (formerly Graham Street) to Bourne Street and is angled through a courtyard into a porch beneath an octagonal tower housing the Choir Room.
Roderick Gradidge describes the extension thus:
On entering we find that the splendidly vaulted porch is not an octagon but rather an irregular seven-sided room which, were it regular, would be a nonagon. As you enter through the wide door the opening seems to repeat directly in front, leading to the new north aisle of the church. It is only by looking carefully that it becomes obvious that this is in fact not a direct entrance for, far from being a regular octagonal porch, there are in fact three sides to the left and only two to the right. Goodhart-Rendel has rather subtly turned the visitor some thirty degrees to the left and brought them into line with the main church without being aware of it. This is clearly seen by looking at Goodhart-Rendel’s floor decoration in the porch which shows a star with nine points each separated from the next by 40 degrees leading to the new north aisle of the church [and the Seven Sorrows Chapel].
In place of Withers’ north wall Goodhart-Rendel has built an arcade of arches, which reflects Withers’ arches but spring at a lower level, which when seen from the main body of the church suggests, by false perspective, a wider aisle. This arcade is particularly successful where it frames Our Lady of Peace. The granite columns themselves rise to the arches without any capitals with mouldings in granite then in brick dying smoothly into the brick arches, in contrast to Withers’ rather stiff gothic capitals.
On the new north wall, now largely concealed behind the confessional, Goodhart-Rendel marked the outline of a door beside which is a holy water stoup. This marks the route of an old passage between the houses of Chester Row that led to an entrance in the old north wall.
Among Fr Whitby’s purchases had been 26 Graham Terrace which was intended to be replaced by a saddle-back tower that would have dominated the area. Sadly, although Goodhart-Rendel drew up the plans, this project has yet to come to fruition.
Roderick Gradidge (1921–2000) was an architect of some renown and a commanding presence at St Mary’s for forty years. In 1974 he replaced the gold-painted hessian panels on the walls beneath the panels in the Sanctuary with mahogany fielded panelling in memory of Fr Langton, Vicar from 1948 to 1964.
In 1999 Gradidge designed a striking Columbarium and Shrine of the True Cross at the west end of the church beside the Bourne Street entrance.