A large modern design of 1963-4, capturing the mood of the time of the Second Vatican Council, with a fan-shaped plan and a striking and dramatic roof profile. Furnishings of note include coloured glass made by the monks of Buckfast Abbey, Devon and the Stations of the Cross.
Reasons for Designation
The Roman Catholic Church of the English Martyrs, Strood, 1963-4 to the designs of E Dodds and K C White, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: as a notable contemporary design of the early 1960s, combining striking geometrical and sculptural forms in brick, concrete and copper, and providing a large, well-lit worship space focussed on the sanctuary;
* Historic interest: as a church dating from the time of the Second Vatican Council, which successfully encapsulates the mood and aspirations of the time;
* Artistic interest: for its dalle de verre glass by the Buckfast Abbey workshop (Devon), and atmospherically-lit Stations of the Cross.
In about 1903 the Sisters of St Chretienne arrived from France and founded a convent in Mill Road, Frindsbury. In 1910 Fr Bolger, mission priest at Chatham, bought land for a future church in Hillside Avenue in the Frindsbury area, but this was found to be too small and was sold, and a nearby site at the corner of Mill Road and Frindsbury Road acquired instead. Here a church was built by Messrs Durrant & Sons of Rochester, opening in 1922. Around the same time, Strood became an independent parish, with Fr Nugent, until then a curate at Chatham, the first parish priest. In the meantime, the convent and school were taken over by the Oblates of St Benedict and subsequently the Olivetan Benedictines. In the inter-war years, the parish hall and presbytery were built.
After the Second World War, housing developments and the building of several factories led to an increase in population, for which the 1922 church was not adequate. It was demolished in November 1962 and the first Mass in the new church celebrated on the First Sunday of Advent 1964. The building of the church coincided with the Second Vatican Council (1962-5) and the first Mass was said in the new rite, which came into effect on that day. The architect for the new church was the Anglo-Argentine Eduardo Dodds, who died in 1963; work was continued by Kenneth White, Dodds’ partner. In 1964 the practice disbanded, and the project was completed by the successor practice of Brian Ring, Howard & Partners, of Berkeley Square, London. The church cost over £100,000, of which the roof alone cost £20,000. The contractors were again Messrs Durrant & Sons. The new church was consecrated by the Bishop of Southwark on the feast of the English Martyrs, 4 May 1965. Before his death in 1967, the parish priest, Fr Francis Corley, commissioned the coloured glass windows in the two chapels from the Benedictines of Buckfast Abbey in Devon. The Stations of the Cross appear to have been added incrementally, starting with designs by Bernard and Ann Davis and completed by Sister Concordia Scott OSB of Minster-in-Thanet, Kent.
Roman Catholic church, a large modern design of 1963-4 by E Dodds and K C White, completed by Brian Ring, Howard & Partners, reflecting the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
MATERIALS: the exterior is built in brown bricks laid in stretcher bond, while the interior is faced in pale blue-grey bricks in Flemish bond. The roof is of folded timber construction, clad in copper.
PLAN: broadly a raised irregular hexagon set within a lower square. The raised section comprises the main worship space, the lower sections the ambulatories, porches, side chapels, confessionals and sacristies.
EXTERIOR: the exterior is dominated by the dramatic folded roof, with deep copper fascias, rising at the ends and dipping in the middle. The raised section has unperforated brick walls apart from two very large glazed openings on either side of the projecting organ chamber, with opaque glass (possibly intended as temporary, pending stained glass) lighting the main worship space. There are also narrower side lights to the organ chamber. The lower sections are flat roofed, their horizontality broken on the front (Frindsbury Road) and side (Mill Road) elevations by groups of raised elliptically-headed window openings containing slab in resin glass, three to the Lady Chapel and four to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Adjoining those on the Frindsbury Road is the recessed main entrance, approached by a flight of steps, and raised over lower ground accommodation. On the corner, the parapet steps up and the wall is curved; early plans (a model illustrated in Catholic Building Review, 1962) show a raised lantern over this area, suggesting it was the original location for the baptistery (it is now the confessional). Beyond this, the inset foundation stone is placed low on the return ‘rear’ elevation. This wall has triple cantilevered concrete apsidal projections (for an internal shrine); the organ gallery is also externally cantilevered. Angled concrete projections (lit on one side) denote the internal location of the Stations of the Cross.
INTERIOR: the focus of the interior is the sanctuary, at the southeast corner of the hexagon. The pine boarded folded ceiling descends from the rear of the church towards a shallow curved arch over the sanctuary, before rising again over the altar. Large windows on either side of the organ gallery light the interior. The interior is faced in light blue-grey bricks, with the raised section carried on a concrete ring beam and pillars. The floor is of woodblock, with screed tiles in the ambulatory and carpeting in the nave between the benches. The sanctuary levels are unchanged; the first level shows the fixings for now removed communion rails (although none are shown in early photographs, e.g. Catholic Building Review 1965). There are two further steps, and a fourth level for the altar. The sanctuary and steps have a polished white marble floor, with a carpet run on the approach to the altar. Around the main space is an ambulatory, with side chapels, sacristies, confessionals and porches giving off. The principal ancillary spaces are the Blessed Sacrament Chapel (on the Mill Road elevation) and the Lady Chapel (Frindsbury Road elevation). Both have coloured abstract dalle de verre (slab in resin) glass by the Buckfast Abbey workshop.
FIXTURES AND FITTINGS: in the sanctuary, the original forward altar remains in situ, with a polished black marble mensa and tapering central support. The black and while marble font and ambo and the sculpture of the Risen Christ against the wall of the sanctuary are later additions. The altar in the Blessed Sacrament chapel dates from 1992. In the ambulatory, the fine Stations of the Cross are each placed on an angle within the concrete external projections, and are side-lit by yellow glass. They are bronze or aluminium casts, nos. 1-9 by Bernard and Ann Davis and variously dated 1964-7, and nos. 10-14 by Sister Concordia Scott OSB, 1977-8. The larger concrete projections from the northern ambulatory house a shrine to the English Martyrs, with catalogue statues. In the Lady Chapel is a life-size bronze statue of St Pio (not signed or dated). Placed high on the walls of the main space are two large square canvas paintings of the Crucifixion and the Baptism of Christ, signed N Dennis, 2005. The church and side chapels retain their original plain open-backed bench seating, that in the nave arranged in a fan shape around the altar. There also some older benches in the side chapels with more elaborate bench ends, presumably from the previous church.
Architectural History Practice, ‘English Martyrs, Strood’, Taking Stock report: Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark, 2011
Catholic Building Review, Southern Edition, 1961, 127; 1962, 156, 159; 1965, 82–3, 85
Catholic Herald, 10 April, 1964
The Catholic Church, Strood, near Rochester, Kent. Church Handbook, 1971