Church of the Ascension
- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Statutory Address:
- The Avenue, Wembley Park, HA9 9QL
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- Statutory Address:
- The Avenue, Wembley Park, HA9 9QL
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Greater London Authority
- Brent (London Borough)
- Non Civil Parish
- National Grid Reference:
Anglican church, 1957 by J Harold Gibbons with Derrick Humphrys and Reginald Hurst. Not included in the listing are two structures within the grounds of the church: the church hall (erected in 1937 as a temporary church), and a smaller hall to the south.
Reasons for Designation
The Church of the Ascension, of 1957 by J Harold Gibbons with Derrick Humphrys and Reginald Hurst, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architect: the last work of J Harold Gibbons, a noted C20 church designer working within the high Anglican tradition; * Architectural interest: an assured essay in a free and simplified Gothic, incorporating characteristic detailing, good craftsmanship and an emphasis on simple planar forms; * Interior: notable for its clarity of line, spatial organisation and the rich colour scheme of the wooden vaults; * Artistic interest: the Ascension mural of 1958 is a notable work by Hans Feibusch, combining neo-Classical realism with an Expressionist palette of vibrant blues, pinks and oranges; * Degree of survival: the church is little altered and retains its liturgical fittings.
The parish of the Ascension was founded in 1937 to serve the fast-growing suburb of Wembley Park. A temporary church was provided later that year – at the time of writing (2015) it survives as the church hall – but the provision of a permanent church was delayed by the Second World War. J Harold Gibbons was commissioned to design the Church of the Ascension, with Derrick Humphrys and Reginald Hurst as executant architects. It was consecrated on 14 September 1957. Parishioners raised £12,000 towards the £50,000 cost of construction, the rest being met by the War Damage Commission. Unsigned elevation drawings held at the church show a more elaborate elevational treatment, probably scaled down due to cost. Hans Feibusch added a mural of the Ascension in the central recess behind the High Altar, studies for which are held at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. Stained glass by several artists was installed, funded by war damage insurance.
John Harold Gibbons (1878–1958) was an ecclesiastical architect working in the Gothic revival tradition. Beginning his career with his architect father, John, in Manchester, Gibbons was articled to the Manchester firm of Thomas and Percy Worthington, before working in the office of Temple Moore in 1902-03. In 1907 Gibbons established his own practice at Victoria Street in London. Best known for a series of inter-war churches for the London suburbs, Gibbons’ mature work varied between a stripped, modelled interpretation of Gothic and a round-arched style derived from early Christian and Romanesque models. Gibbons was the sole designer of five churches on the National Heritage List for England (NHLE), of which two are listed at Grade II*: St Mary's Church, Kenton of 1935-36, and SS Peter and Paul, Bromley of 1949-57.
The muralist and sculptor Hans Feibusch (1898–1988) was born in Frankfurt am Main and studied in Munich, Berlin and Paris. He started his career in Frankfurt in 1925 but left for England in 1933. A 1940 commission from Bishop George Bell of Chichester led to a long association with the Church of England, into which he was received in 1965. He worked throughout the country in a total of 30 Anglican churches. Notable commissions in the Diocese of London include a triptych on the east wall at St Ethelburga, Bishopsgate, executed in 1962, and the large mural of the Trinity in Glory at St Alban, Holborn (Grade II*). Feibusch painted a number of Ascension murals, including one of 1955 at St Mary the Virgin, Welling, Kent.
Anglican church, 1957 by John Harold Gibbons with Derrick Humphrys and Reginald Hurst.
MATERIALS: the church is constructed of stock brick with some vitrified headers, dressings of Weldon limestone and clay roof tiles. The interior is rendered with hardwood doors, floors and fixtures.
PLAN: due to a constrained site the church is oriented north west – south east, but in the following description points of the compass refer to liturgical direction, not compass orientation. The church comprises an aisled nave of two bays and a single-bay chancel with transept-like projections to the north and south and a Lady Chapel beyond the latter. Above the narthex to the west entrance is a choir gallery, with an organ chamber to the south.
EXTERIOR: the exteriors are of stock brick with a continuous corbel table of red tile. The corner projections are treated as tall cross-wings, their roofs variously hipped or gabled, and the Lady Chapel is a single-storeyed structure with a flat roof and shaped concrete rainwater gargoyle. The fenestration comprises square-headed, three-light windows, and tall lancets with traceried or cusped heads. At the west front is a chamfered plinth, an arched central entrance with hoodmould; and a carved consecration cross. Central to the east end is a slim octagonal bell turret with a relief of the Crucifixion and terminating in an ashlar bell stage with latticed openings and an ogee dome.
INTERIOR: the church is entered from the west via a narthex with panelled oak doors and shutters flanked by piers which step out towards the architrave. Incorporated into the west wall of the narthex are architectural fragments from St Mary’s Church, Harrow, St Paul’s Cathedral and Canterbury Cathedral, acknowledging the churches of the deanery, diocese and ecclesiastical province. The interior of the church is simply finished in lime render, which forms a neutral ground for the bright colour schemes of the vaulting. The nave vault is painted blue with mouldings picked out in yellow, the chancel vault is decorated in gold with blue stars and red ribs, with red and green chosen for the side projections. The church is floored in hardwood parquet, with quarry tiles to the chancel and narthex. There are pendant lights to the nave and the aisles have bracket lights.
The central nave has a wooden tunnel vault and wide, un-moulded arcade arches which spring low from chamfered piers. The aisle bays are articulated by half arches: those to the north develop from internal buttresses which incorporate a passage aisle with shouldered arches, and those to the south spring from wall arches with deep, round arches. The Lady Chapel has a low ceiling with deep beams and is lit by mullioned windows set in deep round-arched recesses. At the west end of the north aisle is the former baptistery (now St Anselm’s Chapel), and the octagonal ashlar font is located in front of the west door. Opposite is the organ console and steps to the choir gallery.
Three splayed recesses are let into the east wall, incorporating a passage aisle at the base. The visual focus of the interior is the Feibusch Ascension mural, which occupies the tall central recess of the east wall. This depicts Christ rising up into heaven, drawn by three angels and witnessed by the Apostles. The figures are representational but the use of colour typically intense and expressive, with vibrant mid-tones dominating. Above is a ribbed vault. The chancel is defined by oak altar rails, dark steps of Purbeck marble and low side walls with built-in clergy seats and Purbeck top including a small scalloped piscina. The wooden pulpit is currently located at the east end of the north aisle. The stained glass is in a variety of styles including windows attributed to Leonard Walker (a floriated design in the chancel passage aisle); W T Carter Shapland (St Anselm in the baptistery, the abstract panels in the Lady Chapel and St Michael in the north transept) and G E R Smith (Dorcas, Hannah and Samuel and the Magnificat in the Lady Chapel). To the north east of the church is the vestry and other rooms for the use of the clergy. They include oak fixtures including fitting cupboards, parquet flooring and panelled doors and architraves in oak.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the grounds of the church are slightly lower than street level. The area to the west of the main entrance is paved and is bounded to the north and east by a brick retaining wall.
Books and journals
Cherry, B, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: London 3 North West, (2002), p.141
Lever, J., Powers, A., Stamp, G., Twentieth Century Architecture 3 - The Twentieth Century Church, (1998), p.113
‘In search of J. Harold Gibbons in the NW London suburbs’ - notes by Robert Drake for a Twentieth Century Society tour
Edmund Harris 2014 ‘The Ascension, Preston Road, Wembley Park’, Places of Worship Statement of Significance
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 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.
End of official listing