Church complex, including galleried church, attached hall, church rooms, residential accommodation, and boundary walls. Built as Trinity Congregational Church, 1949-1951, by Cecil Handisyde and D Rogers Stark, with the engineer Felix Samuely.
Reasons for Designation
Calvary Charismatic Baptist Church (formerly the Trinity Methodist Church), East India Dock Road, London Borough of Tower Hamlets, built 1949-1951 by Cecil Handisyde and D Rogers Stark with Felix Samuely, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* as one of the first buildings in Britain to adopt a consciously modern Scandinavian style, an architectural idiom particularly associated with the Festival of Britain and, in this case, specifically influenced by the Ragnar Östberg tower for Stockholm Town Hall which is reflected in the tower and cupola design by Handisyde and Stark;
* for its bold, innovative structural form designed in collaboration with the pioneering engineer Felix Samuely, consisting of a roof suspended from a reinforced portal frame, enabling the integration of an unbroken clerestory to create a light and airy interior without compromising acoustic performance or distracting from the focal point of the chancel at the east end.
* as one of the most successful and influential buildings to form part of the 1951 Festival of Britain ‘Live Architecture’ exhibition at Poplar, which constituted a key exemplar for post-war redevelopment and modern building practices;
* as an exceptionally well-preserved and early example of an English Nonconformist church in a Modern idiom, which pioneered the concept of the ‘church centre’, with its meeting rooms and recreational facilities as well as worship space. The design was widely published in the contemporary architectural press and became a model for subsequent churches of many denominations.
The first Congregational church on East India Docks Road was built in 1841 by William Hosking and paid for by George Green, shipbuilder, philanthropist, and supporter of numerous civic and religious causes in Poplar and Blackwall. As with much of the surrounding area, Hosking’s Greek Revival church fell victim to bombing in the war, suffering a direct hit during a raid in 1944. Post-war clearance was well advanced by February 1950, when Jack Godfrey-Gilbert, architect and Festival of Britain executive, made his first visit, recalling that the whole area ‘had been completely devastated by the bombing and cleared away’ leaving behind ‘an atmosphere of foreboding, gloom, and despondency’ (Banham and Hillier, p160). There were however opportunities afforded by the extent of war damage at Poplar and its relative size as the largest of the LCC’s designated development areas, which contributed to its selection as the site for the 1951 'Live Architecture' exhibition. The exhibition was staged as part of the Festival of Britain, to demonstrate new architecture, town planning and building science with a focus on post-war reconstruction. The premise was to create a cross-section of a residential neighbourhood, to be known as Lansbury (after George Lansbury, former Mayor of Poplar and Leader of the Labour Party), with around 400 new homes and associated buildings required by the community. Although on the fringe of the new neighbourhood, the Trinity church was included in the exhibition, with encouragement from J R Stark, a member of the congregation and a senior architect with the LCC who was initially appointed by the church to produce designs. Stark was approaching retirement at the time of the commission and decided in 1949 to pass the project on to his son, Douglas, also an architect with the LCC. Lacking the time to take on the commission alone, Douglas Rogers Stark brought in Building Research Station (BRS) architect Cecil Handisyde, for what would be their only collaboration. Plans for the new Trinity Congregational Church were drawn up by the pair in October 1949, with important contributions in the portal frame design from the renowned structural engineer Felix Samuely.
The brief required an adaptable church capable of seating a congregation of 400, but so arranged as to be appropriate for smaller services when required. The building was therefore planned by Handisyde and Rogers Stark to incorporate a gallery on three sides, projecting externally with the supporting pilotis forming a sheltered cloister around the main body of the church. This arrangement provided a compact ground floor small congregation, with the galleries used for larger services. The new church also had to serve as a community and social centre for the area, so a hall and smaller meeting rooms for Sunday school classes and church groups were provided to the rear of the church, set back from East India Dock Road. Work progressed swiftly following the finalisation of plans, with the necessary land transfers arranged between the LCC and church authorities. Foundations were laid in time for an open-air dedication service held in September 1950. Although the building was substantially complete for the Festival of Britain Live Architecture exhibition in the summer, it was not officially opened until 29 September 1951. The full estimated cost of the church was £80,000, towards which the War Damage Commission contributed £49,000, while the Congregational Union of England and Wales contributed a further £15,000 (Survey of London, p226).
The Trinity church had been built in the belief that the congregation would continue to thrive in the post-war years, but as numbers dwindled it became increasingly difficult to maintain the buildings. In June 1976, the Poplar Methodist Mission on the opposite side of East India Dock Road acquired the site and moved across to the Trinity Church, which became known as the Trinity Methodist Mission. A programme of refurbishment followed, carried out under the direction of the architect Edward D Mills, who had previously featured the church in his book The Modern Church (1956). The first floor of the meeting and club room wing was converted into six residential flats as part of this work. In 1980, further alterations were carried out to plans by John Brunton & Partners, involving the conversion of the caretaker's accommodation into a community house, plus another self-contained flat. The Methodists brought several items from their old premises and installed them within Trinity Church. These relocated features included a round stained-glass window showing Christ the burden-bearer by Frank O Salisbury (1933), set at the west end above the gallery, and the metal royal coat-of-arms on the front of the west gallery (both since removed).
In 2006, the site was acquired by the Calvary Charismatic Baptist Church. The building has had structural problems with the roof for many years and was added to the Heritage at Risk register (as a Category C building) in 2001. The most recent programme of works carried out from 2014 was overseen by Historic England, with repairs to the roof structure and renewal of the roof lights undertaken as part of this phase. Further repair and restoration work is scheduled.
Calvary Charismatic Baptist Church, including attached hall, church rooms, residential accommodation, and boundary walls. Built as Trinity Congregational Church, 1949-1951, by Cecil Handisyde and D Rogers Stark, with the engineer Felix Samuely. Restored by Edward Mills as part of the conversion to a Methodist church in 1976. Further residential accommodation was provided to the Annabel Close side of the site by John Brunton & Partners in 1980.
MATERIALS AND STRUCTURE: reinforced-concrete frame with concrete panels, varied stock brick, copper wall sheeting, and an aluminium cupola to the tower. There is terrazzo flooring to the external cloisters and tiles to the entrance area. The chancel floor and steps are of polished Hopton Wood stone.
PLAN: the roughly square site is planned as a three-sided complex of buildings set around a central courtyard opening to Annabel Close to the east. The church itself is a tall, long, galleried space. It is attached on its north-west side to the church club room range, a two-storey block which runs back across the site and connects to a double-height hall, which is positioned parallel with the church across the open courtyard. The church occupies the south-eastern corner of the site and is set-back from East India Dock Road. A recessed entrance block and bell tower mark the south-west corner of the plot, with a small sunken garden area in front. There are residential flats (created through the reconfiguration of part of the east end to the hall and the original caretaker’s flat) in the two-storey building to the north-east corner of the site, with a boiler room in the basement beneath.
EXTERIOR: the main church building is dominated by the angular structure of the portal frame from which the roof is suspended. The east and west end walls of the church are clad in dark precast concrete panels (using crushed London stock brick aggregate), with the angled north and south walls inclined inward and clad in copper sheets with chevron joins. Above the side walls is a continuous band of clerestory windows. The ground floor on both sides is recessed behind a colonnade of thin pilotis. A lower brick chancel is set to the east, with a series of angled, narrow windows to its upper level. The exterior brickwork seen here on the east elevation is a mixture of regular and dark stocks, with the darker bricks used as headers in a bond of two stretchers to one header in each course, to give a slight overall texture. To the west of the church is the recessed two-storey, glazed entrance and staircase area. The rectangular brick tower to the south-west corner of the plot is crowned by a delicate, open octagonal cupola with slender aluminium supports to a circular top with top-lights and a finial above. The return wing is of two storeys with metal-framed strip windows. The main hall (the George Green Memorial Hall), has a similar suspended concrete roof to the church, though with metal-framed glazing flush with the portal frame and a recessed clerestory set above. There is a blind brick elevation to the footpath which marks the north side of the site, with a band of clerestory windows again set-back behind the portal frame. The windows throughout are metal-framed casements and most internal doors are original, with ply fronts or part-glazed with thin batons separating the lights (as with the entrance doors to the main hall and church club room range). The residential accommodation to the west is of stock brick with metal-framed windows; those to the first floor along with the inset central entrance being set into projecting concrete frames. The southernmost bay of this eastern range continues the elevation, but is a later stock brick addition built to match, forming part of the extension and reconfiguration carried out in 1980 by John Brunton & Partners.
INTERIOR: the main body of the church has a gallery to three sides set above a compact ground floor. Daylighting comes mainly from small dome-lights set into the suspended roof. To prevent glare from the roof lights, there are high-level clerestory windows to both the north and south walls. Lighting for this upper level also comes from a series of angled windows set on either side of the chancel, which are mostly invisible to the congregation, but focus attention on the east end of the church. The angled chancel windows on the south side are amber coloured to give a warm effect and reduce glare. In the body of the church there are smaller side windows at ground-floor level below the gallery; those on the south side, to the noisy East India Dock Road, are double glazed, while an etched window from the old Trinity Church has been incorporated into the north side; this designed by A L Moore & Son of Southampton Row and dedicated to the memory of H T and G E Nye, who were both killed in the First World War. The chancel floor and steps are of polished Hopton Wood stone. Original fittings and furnishings in the church include a flared, decagonal pulpit, flush-panelled balcony fronts, moulded plywood pews (to the gallery) and pendant light fittings, each with a bowl and five down-lighters in a distinctive Festival of Britain manner. The interior walls of the church at ground-floor level are of fair-faced, sand-lime bricks. The concrete walls above the gallery level are lined with hardboard on timber battens, with an infilling of glass fibre to improve thermal insulation and sound absorption. Several of the hardboard panels to the west wall are perforated and arranged to form a chequerboard pattern. A sound control booth has been added to the south-west corner of the gallery.
The main entrance area from East India Dock Road is a light, double-height space giving access to the main body of the church, the rear club room wing, and the gallery level of the church (via the concrete staircase with steel balusters to the west end). The bell tower has its own entrance from the small garden to the front of the church and has a steel ladder to give access to the belfry and the roof. The bell is from the original church, salvaged from the rubble of the destroyed Trinity Congregational Church in 1944. The return club room range has a central corridor with a small church hall and kitchen to the east and a series of club rooms (now in use as a nursery) to the west side. These are all simply furnished. The rear main hall has a raised western stage with a projecting surround. This area is lit by clerestory windows to the north and south walls and has three sets of original double doors to the south. The residential flats to the upper level of the club room range and those created through the 1980 reconfiguration and extension of the eastern range to the side of the main hall were not inspected.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: stock brick walls with concrete capping slabs and steel railings mark out the extent of the plot to East India Dock Road to the south and to Annabel Close to the east. The gates to the courtyard to Annabel Close are later replacements, though those to the small courtyard area to East India Dock Road are original.