THE BLESSED SACRAMENT, CATHOLIC CHURCH, ISLINGTON Copenhagen Street, London N1
A small urban church with a lively domestic-looking frontage and plain side elevation, now opened to view. The church was doubled in length in the post-war years. Recent structural problems led to the shortening of the church, the demolition of the presbytery and the redevelopment of the site to the rear and side. The frontage makes a characterful contribution to the Barnsbury Conservation Area.
Building work started in 1913 and the church was completed in 1916. The architect was Robert Leabon Curtis, an East London architect who designed several churches in the Diocese of Westminster as well as several local board schools. The builders were E. Lawrence & Sons. When opened by Cardinal Bourne on 24 June 1916, the church was almost square in plan, comprising four bays and occupying the site of two houses with a third used as presbytery. The church was paid for by Mr (later Commendatore) James J. Hicks KCSG (died 1916). The west elevation ‘in a domestic-looking Free Style’ (Buildings of England) originally terminated in a tall bellcote. By c.1926, the church had an organ gallery over the entrance, a high altar and font of marble (both designed by Curtis, both since removed), as well as two side altars of marble, and a small parish hall below the church. In c.1926, a new sacristy was added.
In 1957-59, the church and hall were extended to the liturgical east by Thomas G. Birchall Scott, the son of T. H. B. Scott, diocesan surveyor to Westminster and Brentwood, who had taken over Curtis’s practice after his death. The extension doubled the size of church and hall and included a new apsidal sanctuary (figure 1). Scott rebuilt the presbytery (since demolished), which by c.1998 had monopitch roofs.
By the 1990s the church developed structural problems. The apse and three bays at the east were demolished as well as the presbytery (planning permission of 28 May 1996). A proposal of 1997 for the redevelopment of the site of church and presbytery to provide a new church and twenty nine residential units was withdrawn. Solway Brown Partnership designed a ramp along the west (liturgical south) side to provide level access to a new door, and a courtyard in front of the hall (below the ramp). The site of the former sanctuary and presbytery was redeveloped by the New Islington & Hackney Housing Association providing twenty eight dwellings in two three-storey blocks now known as Julius Nyerere Close. The church is now served from Clerkenwell (qv)
The church faces south. This description uses conventional liturgical orientation.
The four western bays of the church were built by R. L. Curtis in 1913-6. In 1957-59 the church was extended by T. G. B. Scott by four more bays and an apse to the east. The apse and three bays were demolished in the late 1990s, terminating the east end with a straight wall with an oculus window. At the same time, the lower part of the south wall was rebuilt to provide a new side door which is accessible from a new ramp.
The church is in a free domestic style, built of dark red brick, rubbed red brick and stone dressings (western half), and stock brick and red brick dressings (eastern half). The brick is laid in Flemish bond. The plan is rectangular, covered by a pitched roof along the axis and a cross roof to the west end. The west elevation presents a ‘rather crowded symmetrical façade’ (Temple) to the street. The side bays are covered by the cross roof, while the roof of the taller central bay is a continuation of the main roof. The central bay has three blocked windows to the raised basement. The windows on the three levels above are encompassed by a recessed arch of red brick: three windows to the baptistery with red brick relieving arches, three windows to the organ gallery and a Diocletian window. The windows are all straight-headed but the stone dressings to the basement and ground floor mimic segmental window heads. Above the gable of the central bay is the shortened remainder of the original tall bellcote. Placed centrally below the ground floor windows is an incised plaque with the name of the church. The side bays have recessed Romanesque doorways with splayed reveals and cushion capitals set under gables. Above them are three small straight-headed windows. The north elevation has three stepped staircase windows below three windows at gallery level – all straight headed and set into arched recesses. The east ends of the north and south walls have semi-circular windows to the easternmost two bays (probably due to adjoining buildings, including the sacristy at the northeast), with one large arched window on the north side (third bay from east). Otherwise, the side elevations are blind, apart from a modern south door.
The stairs inside the northwest door lead up into a small porch, past a marble plaque to Hicks set below an aedicule niche with a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. Below the gallery is the baptistery at the centre, flanked by the porch and gallery stair. The modern font – consisting of a timber pedestal with a glass bowl – is placed just outside the baptistery. Inside the baptistery, a marble pedestal supports a pieta (La Statue Religieuse, Paris), surrounded by several statues of saints: Padre (St) Pio, St Antony, St Patrick, St Teresa and St Martin de Porres. To the nave, the gallery is framed by three arches on square pillars – the central arch being semi-circular, the flanking ones lower and segmental. The whole interior is five bays long, without any division between nave and chancel. It is covered by an exposed kingpost roof on corbels with struts and arch-braced collar beams. Where the side walls have no windows, shallow plaster arches on pilasters with abstract capitals structure the walls.
On the north side is a side altar to the Sacred Heart, with marble altar, tabernacle and statue – presumably the side altar described in c.1926 by Rottmann. The east wall has a circular gable window with modern abstract stained glass. The sanctuary area is marked by a square white marble floor with two steps. The furnishings are by James Keegan, mason: a forward altar on red marble columns, a marble lectern and a white marble reredos, the last an adapted altar from the church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street (information from Chris Fanning). The southwest corner of the nave has two statues of Our Lady of the Rosary and St Joseph. The Stations, unpainted casts set into the pilasters, date from at least 1959