Church of St John the Baptist
- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
- Statutory Address:
- Church of St John the Baptist, Holland Road, London, W14 8HA
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- Statutory Address:
- Church of St John the Baptist, Holland Road, London, W14 8HA
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Greater London Authority
- Kensington and Chelsea (London Borough)
- Non Civil Parish
- National Grid Reference:
Parish church, 1872-1910 by James Brooks with JS Adkins.
Reasons for Designation
The church of St John the Baptist, Holland Road, of 1872-1910 by James Brooks with JS Adkins, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: a major work by this distinguished Victorian church architect, cathedral-like in scale and ambition, combining Brooks's devotion to severe early Gothic models with a degree of material opulence not seen in his better-known East End churches; * Fixtures and fittings: an exceptionally complete and fully-realised ensemble embodying a complex iconographical programme, that enriches (without in any way distracting attention from) the noble architectural qualities of the interior.
The development of the north-western part of the Holland Estate began in 1849 and was complete by 1874. The area fell within the parish of St Barnabas, Addison Road (built 1826-9 during the first phase of development on the estate), but by the 1860s there was a need for a second church further north. In 1868 the Revd George Booker obtained permission to build a temporary iron church on a piece of land at the western end of Addison Gardens, intended for residential development but left vacant after the failure of the builder. This church, dedicated to St John the Baptist, opened in February 1869, although a permanent lease on the site was not obtained until 1875.
Meanwhile, in 1872, designs for a replacement building – a large and ambitious stone structure of cruciform plan, with a big west tower and (at least in early versions) an octagonal central lantern – were commissioned from the architect James Brooks. The foundation stone was laid in the same year, but shortage of funds and the disputed ownership of the site made for slow progress. Construction began in 1874 with the apse, built by Thomas Blake of Gravesend; the work was then taken over by the firm of Turtle and Appleton, and the eastern arm as far as the crossing was completed in 1885. (The octagonal lantern, unrealised here, reappeared in Brooks’ 1886 competition design for Liverpool Cathedral.) The nave was built by Kilby and Gayford between 1890 and 1892, by which time the west tower had also been abandoned, obliging Brooks to prepare an alternative design for the west end featuring a wheel window and triple open porches. The lower portion was not completed until 1909-11; Brooks had died in 1901, and his former assistant JS Adkins reworked his design, enclosing the outer porches and turning the central one into a baptistery. The builders for this final phase were EA Roome & Co., with carving by JE Taylerson. The total cost of the building was approximately £25,000.
James Brooks (1825-1901) was born in Berkshire and trained under the London architect Lewis Stride, also attending classes at University College and the Royal Academy Schools before setting up in private practice in 1853. He made his reputation during the 1860s with a number of large brick churches in London's impoverished East End (e.g. St Michael, Shoreditch; St Chad and St Columba, Haggerston), whose compact plans, soaring proportions and severe Early Gothic details became Brooks's signature. Later churches, some completed by other architects, include the Ascension, Battersea (1876-98), Holy Innocents, Hammersmith (1886-1891) and All Hallows, Gospel Oak (1892–15). Brooks became vice-president of the RIBA in 1892, and was awarded the RIBA gold medal in 1895.
Parish church, 1872-1910 by James Brooks with JS Adkins.
MATERIALS: the exterior is faced in snecked Ancaster stone with Bath stone bands and dressings; the interior is entirely of Bath stone. The nave aisles are lead-roofed, all other roofs being of slate.
PLAN: St John’s occupies a constricted mid-terrace plot, and its cruciform plan is correspondingly long and narrow. (The true alignment is SW-NE; the cardinal points given in what follows are the liturgical ones.) The church is entered from the west via a narthex comprising an octagonal baptistery-cum-porch flanked by two smaller square porches, the latter afterwards converted into chapels (St Saviour’s to the south and SS Michael and George to the north) and now used as offices. The plan of the main body of the church is characteristically Brooksian: an aisled nave of four short bays is followed by a crossing with transepts projecting only slightly beyond the aisles, and then by a two-bay chancel with a deep rounded apse; this is flanked to the south by an apsidal Lady chapel and to the north by a chapel dedicated to SS Peter and Paul. A two-storey vestry block occupies the north-east angle of the site, with the Blessed Sacrament Chapel between it and the main apse. Beneath the church is a large modern undercroft (not of special interest).*
EXTERIOR: the church is viewed almost exclusively from the west, where the impressive west front, recalling a scaled-down French cathedral, appears – improbably – in the midst of a typical four-storey west London terrace. The style is Anglo-French Gothic of the early C13, with bar tracery rather than the simpler plate tracery used in Brooks’s east London churches. The dominant feature is a big wheel window in three concentric rings, the outer one formed of twelve quatrefoiled circles. Stepped arcading fills the gable above, with projecting angle-buttresses on either side rising into cylindrical pinnacles. The narthex below is in five parts, stepping up from the low twin-arched outer portals to the taller gabled porch/chapels, to the central baptistery – an almost free-standing octagon with gabled windows, pinnacles and a segmental main doorway topped with a canopied niche. The side elevations (glimpsed from between the houses on either side) are much plainer, with tall lancets in the clerestorey and heavy flying buttresses spanning the nave aisles.
INTERIOR: this will be described from west to east, including fittings and glass. The BAPTISTERY contains Brooks’s massive square font (1892, originally in the north aisle), of grey Devon marble with quatrefoil relief panels depicting Baptism, Confirmation, Penance and Holy Communion, beneath a pinnacled wooden canopy crowned by a statue of St John the Baptist. (The original corner statues, representing the Four Rivers of Paradise, have been lost.) The main west portal – which Brooks intended to be open to the street, but which is now enclosed within Adkins' baptistery – has multiple orders of shafts with rich foliate capitals and equally rich mouldings in the arch above. Between the shafts are stone statues of the Wise and Foolish virgins (1909-11 by JF Taylerson). The traceried wooden screen that spans the arch has further figures, also by Taylerson: SS Gabriel and George; the Virgin and St Joseph; Synagogue and Ecclesia. The two WESTERN CHAPELS have blocked double archways that formerly opened into the aisles; the chapel of SS Michael and George, created as a WWI memorial, retains its furnishings, including a traceried wooden screen with painted figures of the two saints and a reredos with figures copied from the main rood screen (see below). A series of windows depicting Aspects of Christ runs across the two chapels and the baptistery; there is also, in St Saviour’s chapel, a stained-glass roundel of the Pelican in her Piety.
The body of the church is stone-vaulted throughout – an exceptional feature that testifies to the wealth and devotion of the early congregants. Brooks’s design for the NAVE was supposedly influenced by the great Cistercian abbeys of Yorkshire, e.g. Rievaulx; the effect is one of austere strength articulated by means of vigorous linear detail. The arcades are carried on compound piers and the springing of the vault on tall clustered shafts which rest on tapering corbels. Prominent string-courses give a countervailing horizontal emphasis. The clerestorey windows are single lancets set in deep splayed recesses, while those in the aisles are double lancets with detached shafts to the central mullions. The aisle and transept windows contain stained-glass figures of saints, installed between 1894 and 1914; most are by Clayton & Bell, though one window in the south aisle is by CE Kempe. The great west window (the Virgin and Child with Patriarchs and Angels, by Percy Bacon & Bros., 1910) is set within a deep arched recess with a blind-arcaded parapet in front. Lighting is supplied by hanging globes suspended from big polychromatic angel brackets, the latter recalling those found in the roofs of East Anglian churches. The pulpit (designed by Brooks and executed in 1902 by HH Martyn of Cheltenham) is of stone with red marble shafts and inlay, and has figures in canopied niches representing St John the Baptist and the four Latin Doctors. The wooden tester (added in 1912 to Adkins’ design) bears a figure of Our Lord. The pew-ends have turned decoration (1930s), apparently executed by members of the church’s scout group. The aisles contain mosaic Stations of the Cross in aedicular surrounds (also by Adkins, of 1912-15).
Four massive cruciform piers with engaged shafts define the CROSSING. Attached to the eastern piers are twin ambones or lecterns, similar in design to the pulpit and also made by HH Martyn; they are of stone with red and green marble shafts and inlay, and have book-rests in the form of an angel (south) and eagle (north). By the northern ambo is an immense Paschal candlestick (designed by Adkins, 1910), of golden marble with onyx banding and inlaid crosses of Egyptian porphyry, bearing figures of the Four Archangels. Behind, almost filling the chancel arch, is an immense triple-arched stone screen (1894-1900). The sculpture is by Taylerson: censing angels and foliage in the tympana, then a tier of niches with small statues of Christ and the Apostles, and crowning the whole a great Rood with angels and archangels bearing the Instruments of the Passion. The central arch contains elaborate wrought-iron gates and railings, designed by Brooks and made in 1894 by JW Singer & Son.
The TRANSEPTS are distinguished by very long single wall-shafts that rise from ground level right up to the springing of the vault. Canopied statues of St John the Baptist (north) and Our Lady (south) are prominently displayed. Across the arches to the side-chapels are further stone screens, of the same date as the chancel screen and similar in design, with wrought-iron gates and railings (by Hart, Son, Peard and Co., 1903), and figures (again by Taylerson) representing missionary saints and illustrating ‘the spread of the Catholic Church throughout the world’. The CHAPEL OF SS PETER AND PAUL, on the north side, has wall-panelling and an altar (designed by Brooks) with figures of Christ and the two saints. The altar rails (1920s) have little medievalising figures at the base. In a vaulted chamber above is the organ, originally of 1896 by August Gern, rebuilt by Henry Willis and Sons in 1928; there is no decorative organ case, only a plain pipe-rack. The LADY CHAPEL has blind wall arcading with ballflower ornament, enclosing mosaic panels and numerous memorial tablets, beneath a frieze of quatrefoils and shield-bearing angels. Its apsidal sanctuary, floored in black and white marble, is filled by an elaborate gilded stone reredos (of 1907, designed by Adkins): canopied figures of the Virgin and Child with Faith, Hope, Charity and Ecclesia (the latter holding a model of the building) alternate with reliefs of the Annunciation, Nativity, Purification and Assumption. The altar frontal (1905 by Gosse & Sons) is a painted wooden tableau illustrating the history of the Church.
The CHANCEL is floored with stone slabs and encaustic tiles arranged diamond-wise, and contains stalls carved (by M Spencer, daughter of the second vicar) with foliage, scrolls and shields bearing the Instruments of the Passion. In the arches to north and south are more stone screens, again with iron railings and gates; there is a frieze of shields emblazoned with various musical instruments, and above are statues of musician angels along with saints and Old Testament figures associated with music.
Beyond the arcaded altar-rails (1897), the SANCTUARY has a polychromatic marble pavement (1902), with three stone steps rising to the high altar. The latter, of 1895, displays painted panels showing the Placing in the Tomb, the Resurrection and the Harrowing of Hell. The crucifix above is of C15 Spanish make. The dominant feature, however, is the enormous arcaded stone reredos that fills most of the wall of the apse. Originally of 1892, it owes its present form to a series of enrichments and enlargements, notably of 1909 when Adkins added the lower tier of arcading with its angel spandrels and coloured marble inlays, and inserted the tall pinnacled piers that frame the projecting central section. Here the upper two tiers, along with an intervening tier of roundels, are filled with painted panels of patriarchs, prophets, saints and angels, and in the gabled central panel is represented the Adoration of the Lamb. The reredos as a whole is intended to represent the Heavenly Jerusalem as described in Revelations 7:9: ‘a great multitude…of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb.’ Above, the central clerestorey window contains vividly-coloured glass (by Hardman) depicting Christ in Glory.
The low-ceilinged VESTRY has a polychromatic tiled floor and built-in cabinets for vestments etc. Steps lead up to a tall wagon-roofed chamber above, and down to a small rib-vaulted crypt below. The little BLESSED SACRAMENT CHAPEL (added in 1912 by Adkins) was used for the Reservation of the Host for the sick and dying - a favoured practice in Anglo-Catholic churches, severely frowned upon by Low Churchmen. It has the character of a closet or hidden chamber: a narrow, confined space top-lit via a small lantern with glass representing the Four Cardinal Virtues, its walls lined with oak wainscoting tricked out with coloured prints and miniature figures of the Twelve Apostles. At the far end is a canopied reredos with painted figures of Christ and the Apostles. The Host itself was reserved in a small aumbry, whose door bears a medieval relief carving of the Risen Christ.
* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the modern undercroft beneath the main body of the church, along with its fixtures and fittings, is not of special interest.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
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Books and journals
Halsey , William Richard , History of St John Baptist Church, Holland Rd, Kensington
Pevsner, N, Cherry, B, The Buildings of England: London 3 North West, (1991), 458
Sheppard, FHW, Survey of London: Volume 37: Northern Kensington, (1973), 126-150
Geoffrey Tyack, ‘Brooks, James (1825–1901)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2007, accessed 4 Nov 2014 from http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/63613
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
The listed building(s) is/are 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.
End of official listing