Church of St Cuthbert and St Matthias
List Entry Summary
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
Name: Church of St Cuthbert and St Matthias
List entry Number: 1266119
50 Philbeach Gardens, London, SW5 9EB
The listed building is shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.
The building may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
County: Greater London Authority
District: Kensington and Chelsea
District Type: London Borough
Parish: Non Civil Parish
National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.
Date first listed: 15-Apr-1969
Date of most recent amendment: 22-Sep-2014
Legacy System Information
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System: LBS
This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.
List entry Description
Summary of Building
Parish church, 1884-7 by Hugh Roumieu Gough, with embellishments of 1887-1910 by W Bainbridge Reynolds, Ernest Geldart, J Harold Gibbons and others.
Reasons for Designation
St Cuthbert’s Church is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:
* Artistic interest: an exceptionally rich and consistent scheme of fittings and decoration, including major pieces by the Arts and Crafts metalworker William Bainbridge Reynolds and the architect-priest Ernest Geldart;
* Architectural interest: a noble and lofty ‘town church’, its proportions modelled on those of Tintern Abbey, and its originally plain interior conceived as a blank canvas for later generations to enrich;
* Historic interest: the church is a high water-mark of turn-of-the-century Ritualism, and is also a remarkable expression of the contemporary cult of handicrafts.
Philbeach Gardens, a long, tree-lined crescent lined with prosperous three-storey terraces, was laid out and built between 1876 and 1880, part of an increasingly populous and densely developed area on the western fringes of Earl’s Court that so far lacked a church of its own. Attempts by the mother parish of St Philip, Earl’s Court Road to plant a new church in the district came to nothing, and the initiative was taken up by the Revd Henry Westall, curate at the notoriously High-Church parish of St Matthias, Warwick Road. A public meeting in February 1881 led to the formation of a building committee and the selection of an architect. This was Hugh Roumieu Gough (1843-1904), the son and former pupil of the mid-Victorian architect Alexander Dick Gough, and the joint designer (with JP Seddon) of the new St Paul's Church in nearby Hammersmith.
Despite opposition from St Philip’s and from John Jackson, the Low-Church bishop of London, a site was acquired in September 1882, and a temporary iron church opened in February 1883. The foundation stone for Gough’s church, brought specially from Holy Island, Lindisfarne, was laid on 7 July 1884, and the building was consecrated on 11 November 1887, with the Lady chapel completed the following year.
St Cuthbert’s is a prime example of the approach to church-building recommended by the great Victorian architect GE Street, who decried the early Ecclesiologists’ reliance on the English village church as a model for the Victorian urban scene, calling instead for big brick basilicas like those of the medieval Italian city-states, with all available resources channelled into erecting an imposing shell whose plainness would inspire later generations to great labours of enrichment. Gough shared these views, and apart from the stone pulpit, font and sedilia, and the richly-coloured marble used for the nave columns, the church as he left it was an austerely empty vessel.
Westall’s Anglo-Catholic Ritualism and vigorous powers of organisation ensured that it did not remain so for long. His parishioners, many of whom were affluent or ‘artistic’ or both, were corralled into medieval-style Guilds, each charged with undertaking a different aspect of the internal embellishment – the Guild of St Peter with the decoration of the internal walls, the Guild of St Joseph with the carving of the elaborate oak choir-stalls, and the Guild of St Margaret with embroidery for vestments and hangings. The congregation included a number of professional designers and craftsmen, who provided instruction in the necessary skills as well as designs for the major fittings. The most significant contributions were made by the Arts and Crafts metalworker William Bainbridge Reynolds (1855-1935), a friend of Gough's who had worked as one of Street's assistants on the Law Courts in the Strand. Other contributors included the architect-priest Ernest Geldart (1848-1929), who devised the huge Spanish-style reredos, and J Harold Gibbons (1878-1958); the latter's 1908 proposals for a mortuary chapel and cloister on the south side of the church went unrealised. Wealthy supporters gave money (totalling some £79,000 by 1905) and works of art, of which St Cuthbert’s possesses an extraordinarily large collection. The result is a remarkable synthesis of late-Victorian applied arts, and one of the richest ecclesiastical interiors in London.
The church was damaged during WWII, and was afterwards restored by Gibbons. The nave pews were removed at this time, and new glass installed in the Lady chapel. The parent church of St Matthias, Warwick Road was demolished in 1958, and its parish united with that of St Cuthbert. More recently, c.2000, Gibbons’ copper roof covering was replaced with the original Westmoreland slate.
Parish church, 1884-7 by Hugh Roumieu Gough, with embellishments of 1887-1910 by William Bainbridge Reynolds, Ernest Geldart, J Harold Gibbons and others.
MATERIALS: exterior of red brick with Bath stone dressings and Westmoreland slate roof (replaced c.2000). Interior originally brick-faced, with piers of Belgian and Ashburton marble; internal walls later clad with Ashburton marble revetments and carved stone diapering.
PLAN: five-bay aisled nave with small projecting baptistery to the west end; chancel of two bays with a Lady chapel to the south, organ loft and sacristy to the north and church rooms in the crypt below.
EXTERIOR: the style is an austere late-C12 Gothic, the sheer brick walls punctuated by plain lancets in the aisles and paired two-light Geometric Gothic windows in the tall clerestory. The east front faces the street, having in place of an east window a big arched recess containing two tiers of trefoil-headed niches; of the intended programme of statuary, only one item (lower right, St Gregory, of 1908 by Gilbert Boulton of Cheltenham) was ever completed. The recess is flanked by octagonal turrets terminating in massive stone pinnacles; the gable end between them is enriched with diaper-work and crockets. Below is the foundation stone, brought from Holy Island and inscribed A. M. D. G. [ad majorem Dei gloriam, ‘to the greater glory of God’] 2nd July 1884. To the left is the polygonal apse of the Lady chapel, before which stands a wooden Calvary group by J Harold Gibbons. On the roof-ridge above is a tall, copper-clad timber fleche with two open stages and a crocketed spire. The plain west front with its three tall lancets overlooks the railway cutting; a substantial stone bellcote was removed from the gable after WWII.
INTERIOR: the lofty nave is modelled on Tintern Abbey in Monmouthshire, one of the great Cistercian monastery churches that Gough particularly admired. The arcades have quatrefoil piers of coloured Ashburton marble, above which are canopied niches containing statues of saints by Boulton. The tall clerestory has deep paired window recesses framed by triple engaged shafts. The ceiling is an acutely-pointed timber barrel vault (the initial proposal for stone vaulting was abandoned on grounds of cost) with moulded ribs springing from slender wall-shafts. The arcade continues round the west end, with the central arch opening into the semi-circular baptistery; the piers here are of black Belgian marble – the intended material for the nave arcades before the supply ran out – and have heavy dogtooth ornament between the shafts. Above, three crocketed gables rise into the west window, in front of which runs a narrow gallery accessed from the clergy house. The aisle windows are single lancets set in deep cinquefoil-headed reveals. The outer walls, originally of bare brick, were clad by the Guild of St Peter in coloured marble revetments with carved stone diaper-work above, the latter copied from a variety of medieval sources ranging from Ravenna (baptistery) to Melrose (south aisle) and Kirkwall (west end of nave). The wall decoration is at its most riotous in the Lady chapel, which features ogee-headed statue niches, heraldic mosaic-work in the window reveals and, in the apse, a flock of amorini (winged cherub-heads) carved to a design by the Italian sculptor Andrea Lucchesi. The ceiling here bears a painted depiction of the Virgin and Child with angels by Julia Allen.
The division between nave and chancel is marked by a double ceiling rib and by the great timber rood-beam (see FITTINGS, below). The chancel itself, up three steps from the nave, is floored in Tenos and Connemara marble, and has big double arches opening north and south into the organ chamber and Lady chapel. The sanctuary walls are sheathed in green marble with gold mosaic florets and scrolls (these, like the other mosaics, were done by the Guild of St Joseph). The windowless east wall is dominated by Reynolds’ high altar and Geldart’s gigantic reredos (see below).
FITTINGS: these form one of the most lavish and consistent schemes in any Victorian church. Apart from the font, pulpit and sedilia (designed by Gough and carved by Harry Hems and the Polish sculptor Felix de Sziemanowicz), they all post-date the consecration of the church in November 1887, and belong to the great programme of embellishment that continued into the early 1900s. From west to east, the principal elements include the following:
In the baptistery is Gough’s octagonal seven-sacrament FONT (1887) with its elaborate oak cover. The windows contain STAINED GLASS (1888) by CE Kempe. In front are semicircular iron SCREENS (1905) by Reynolds, with fleur-de-lys finials and ribbon-like text. Hanging above is a gilded representation of the HOLY SPIRIT, also by Reynolds. In the blind arch to the left of the baptistery is a CLOCK (1898), again by Reynolds, with gold numerals on blue enamel discs.
In the nave is Gough’s massive PULPIT (1887), positioned – in the Continental manner - halfway down the left-hand side rather than at the chancel steps. Of Caen stone with a balustrade of orange marble colonettes, it has twin curving staircases and a big bowed front, and is embellished with a thick band of leaf carving and a series of portrait miniatures depicting John Keble, EB Pusey and other leaders of the Anglo-Catholic Revival. The oak CANOPY (1907) is by J Harold Gibbons.
Opposite is Reynolds’ extraordinary, quasi-Art Nouveau LECTERN (1897), of wrought iron with decorative panels of stamped, pierced, incised and beaten copper. From a stepped base emblazoned with the arms of the provinces of Canterbury and York, there rises an octagonal central shaft from which two sinewy arms branch out to support hexagonal candle-sconces set with angels and scrolls. The reading desk or penthouse is two-sided and revolvable, with leather supports on each side to accommodate separate Old and New Testaments. The latter are represented in turn by repoussé roundels in the gable ends showing, respectively, the Fall of Man and the Crucifixion; these are encircled by twisting rope-like ornament that resolves itself at one end into the coils of the Serpent, and at the other into the Instruments of the Passion. The whole ensemble is topped by a statuette of St John the Baptist.
Hanging in the south arcade are the ROYAL ARMS (1904), Reynolds' interpretation in gilded and enamelled metalwork of the painted wooden hatchments of the C17 and C18; along with the STAINED GLASS in the clerestory above depicting SS George, Andrew, David and Patrick (by Kempe's pupil Charles Tute), they form a memorial to Queen Victoria. The clerestory glass was badly damaged during WWII; other surviving windows are by Tute, Reynolds, Burlison and Grylls and Percy Bacon Bros.
The aisles contain various statues and paintings, including a set of STATIONS OF THE CROSS (1888) by Franz Vinck of Antwerp, and have STAINED GLASS by Tute depicting scenes from the life of St Cuthbert. Both aisles terminate in iron and copper SCREENS (1895-1904) by Reynolds. That in the north aisle, leading to the organ chamber, was given in memory of the Revd William Teale, and its uprights accordingly bear thirty-six miniature representations of teals. The south aisle screen leads to the Lady chapel and has Marian monograms picked out in blue and gold. The Lady chapel itself contains a REREDOS (1908) by J Harold Gibbons and post-war STAINED GLASS (1947-1960) by Hugh Easton, replacing Kempe’s original windows that were destroyed in WWII.
Above the chancel steps is the great carved and embattled ROOD BEAM, part of Gough’s original design but not put up until 1893. The figure of the Crucified Christ is copied from the Capilla Reale at Granada Cathedral in Spain. A gilded inscription reads: Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis (John 1:14: ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’). The rood loft contains a small oratory where the Blessed Sacrament was formerly reserved. Immediately below are two CLERGY STALLS (1891 and 1899) by Boulton, with tall Gothic canopies bearing statues of St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede; the vicar’s stall on the right has as its misericord an ass-eared caricature of the Protestant agitator John Kensit, who attempted to disrupt Westall’s Good Friday service in 1898. The oak CHOIR STALLS (1896-1901) were made by the Guild of St Joseph and have carved back panels and misericords copied from various medieval originals. Behind these are Reynolds’ SCREENS to the organ chamber and Lady chapel, continuous with those in the aisles but here with paintings incorporated into the ironwork. Those in the organ screen - which, like the ORGAN itself (a cathedral-sized four-manual instrument by A Hunter and Son, installed 1900), extends up into the clerestory - are gesso panels by RG Crawford depicting figures associated with the development of the liturgy, including King David, St Gregory and St Ambrose. The freestanding PASCAL CANDLESTICK (1905) is by Reynolds.
The decorative scheme culminates in the sanctuary. At the steps are Reynolds’ Cinquecento-style COMMUNION RAILS (1905), in steel, brass and copper with symbols of the Passion. These are complemented by two tall bronze CANDLESTICKS (1904) with elaborate figure sculpture, copies of Renaissance originals in the Certosa di Pavia in Lombardy. To the right are Gough’s richly-carved stone SEDILIA and PISCINA (1887-8), embellished with mosaics by the Guild of St Joseph. The east wall marks the final crescendo. By Reynolds are the gilded copper HIGH ALTAR FRONTAL (1910) and TABERNACLE (1933, his last work), but the overwhelmingly dominant note is struck by the immense REREDOS, designed by Ernest Geldart in 1899 and realised by Boulton (with the carvers Taylor and Clifton) in 1913-14. Inspired by medieval Spanish altarpieces, it forms a 50-foot cliff of carved woodwork in a flamboyant late-Gothic style, organised architecturally into a broad centrepiece flanked by great octagonal turrets and side panels. The sculptural programme, fittingly enough for a church of this character, concerns the worship of the Incarnate God with incense and lights. The centre panel shows Our Lord with censing angels and the symbols of the four evangelists; the other panels depict appropriate biblical scenes with accompanying text; the turrets contain statues of the four Latin Doctors and the four major Prophets, along with numerous smaller figures of saints; and the whole is crowned by a representation of the Virgin and Child in glory with angel attendants.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: in front of the apse of the Lady Chapel at the south-east corner of the site is a free-standing wooden Calvary or Crucifixion by J Harold Gibbons.
Books and journals
Cherry, B, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: London 3 North West, (2002), 456-7
Hobhouse, H, Survey of London: Volume 42: Kensington Square to Earl's Court, (1986), 368-86
Donald Findlay, , 'Victorian Society Annual' in All Glorious Within: An Appreciation of St Cuthbert’s Philbeach Gardens, (1991)
Rosemary Hill, ‘Reynolds, William Bainbridge (1855–1935)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.,
National Grid Reference: TQ2503678466
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