Leavesden Road Baptist Church
- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Statutory Address:
- Leavesden Road, Watford, WD24 5ER
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- Statutory Address:
- Leavesden Road, Watford, WD24 5ER
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Watford (District Authority)
- Non Civil Parish
- National Grid Reference:
Baptist church with hall and institute. Constructed in phases 1895-6 to the designs of Kennet John Beecham and 1908-9 to designs by George Baines and Son.
Reasons for Designation
Leavesden Road Baptist Church, hall and institute, constructed in two stages between 1895 and 1909, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* for its high quality Gothic and Art Nouveau architecture and the imposing and positive contribution it makes to the surrounding streetscape;
* for its well-preserved church interior with high quality fixtures and fittings and elements of plan form particular to Baptist worship at the beginning of the C20;
* as a good example of the work of George Baines and his son Reginald Palmer Baines, who were leading designers of Nonconformist churches in the Edwardian period.
* as a valuable illustration of the important social role played by Nonconformist congregations in the development of English towns at the turn of the C20.
Leavesden Road was developed at the centre of a residential suburb to the north of Watford from agricultural land in the 1890s and connects the town to the village of Leavesden.
Watford’s first Baptist church was established in Beechen Grove in 1707 with the congregation occupying a succession of chapels until the construction of the present building in around 1877 to the designs of JW Chapman (Grade II, List entry number 1101128). With the town’s expansion members of the Beechen Grove congregation established the Leavesden Road Baptist Church in 1895, laying the foundation stone for their new chapel in that year to the designs of Kennet John Beecham, a Member of the Society of Architects active between 1889-1896.
By 1908 the surrounding area had continued to grow and plans for the expansion of the church at Leavesden Road were drawn up by George Baines & Son and built by Charles Brightman, a local builder. The earlier chapel was retained to serve as a hall whilst a large church was built alongside to the north. At the rear of the site the two buildings were joined by an Institute with a separate entrance on Garfield Street. The new church, estimated at the time to seat about 700 people, cost around £4,300 and was opened in November 1909.
Over the course of the C20 the principal uses of the church building and hall have remained the same, while the ancillary spaces to the rear of the church and the institute have been more susceptible to reconfiguration with some alterations leaving their marks in the building fabric. The most notable interventions include the installation of a stage and a suspended ceiling in the hall, concealing most of the roof structure (in the second half of the C20), and the reconfiguration of the vestibules and lobbies at the east end of church in 1996.
George Baines (1852-1934) was a prolific London-based Scottish architect who specialised in Nonconformist churches. He was joined in practice by his son, Reginald Palmer Baines (d.1962) in 1901. Sixteen church buildings attributed to George Baines are already included in the List, all at Grade II. His practice may have been responsible for the design of as many as 200 churches in his lifetime. The majority of Baines’s listed buildings were built as Baptist chapels, and share an affinity in their planning and their Art Nouveau detailing with the church at Leavesden Road.
Baptist church with hall and institute. Constructed in phases 1895-6 to the designs of Kennet John Beecham and 1908-9 employing instead George Baines and Son, the latter architects notable for the design of Nonconformist chapels in the late Victorian and Edwardian period.
MATERIALS: all three parts of the site are constructed of brown and red brick, with some limestone and terracotta dressings to the Edwardian phase. The hall is roofed in late-C20 plain tiles and the church and institute are both covered in Welsh slate.
PLAN: the buildings fill the site with a narrow alley between the hall and church. The hall is at the corner of Leavesden Road and Garfield Street, with the church parallel to the north, and the institute to the west. The plan of the church features a T-shaped auditorium focused on a raised pulpit and dais in the crossing at the west, with raked galleries to the north, south and east. Within the dais is a sunken baptistery which connects to a pair of angled doors beneath the pulpit, these lead to a pair of vestries with a folding partition enabling them to be separated. Above the baptistery vestries is a large organ loft and a small choir gallery behind the pulpit facing into the auditorium. To the rear of the auditorium are a number of ancillary spaces including vestries for the choir, deacons and pastor. The plan of the institute at ground floor has been altered but still communicates with a staircase to the rear of the church to access a large classroom at first floor. The hall is a single large space with a stage at the west end.
EXTERIOR: the principal exterior elevation is at the east front of the church facing Leavesden Road. This is a two-storey elevation with a wide central bay flanked by stair turrets to north and south. At the ground floor are three entrances, that in the central bay is larger and has a late C20 or early C21 replacement glass door with a glazed over-light of cusped perpendicular tracery. Either side of the central doorway are windows with paired ogee lights in rectangular openings, all of which projects slightly beneath a crenellated cornice and a gable terminating in wave-moulded copings. The gable is decorated with a chequerboard of limestone and red brick, and its top penetrates the sill of the window above with a ball-flower finial. Both stair turrets are lower in height than the central part of the building, though they maintain the banded limestone masonry and red brick appearance of the rest of the elevation. They are canted at their outer corners, and each has a hipped roof with decorative ridge tiles and finial. At ground floor they have wooden double doors with iron handles, decorative strap hinges, and Arts and Crafts stained glass motifs set into their upper panels. The tympanum above the door is decorated with blind-tracery. At first-floor level the stair turrets have a rhythmic series of four narrow windows of cusped ogees in upright rectangular openings. At the centre of the elevation is a large window of five lights with elaborate perpendicular tracery, at the head of which is an arrangement of mouchettes forming a heart shape. The upper part of the elevation terminates at either side in square pinnacles, each topped with four square finials, connected to the central gable by an open gothic parapet. The coping of the gable is interrupted in its upper half by wave moulding, and a further band of chequerboard decoration beneath a broad limestone finial with a wave-moulded cap.
The side elevations of the church maintain the consistent use of gothic detailing to all fenestration, however the limestone banding to the wall surfaces is replaced with the use of blue brick bands.
Hall The hall is separated from the pavement of Leavesden Road by a modern boundary wall. Its principal elevation is a large gable facing east and features a projecting gabled porch with a terracotta finial and a plain two-centred arch over the doorway. Either side of the porch are paired lancets. Above the porch is a large window of four lancets and three occuli set in two-centred arches. The elevation is divided into five stages by brick string courses, with a small pair of louvered lancets at the uppermost stage, and a broken terracotta finial at the top of the gable. The Garfield Street elevation of the hall consists of five bays of paired lancets separated by stepped brick buttresses, beneath a cogged-brick eaves cornice.
Institute The institute faces Garfield Street and is a two-storey building with a hipped roof and a central gable. The ground floor connects to the adjacent hall and features two windows with terracotta mullions and transoms with three main lights and clerestorey lights above. The entrance has a modern doorway in a brick surround. At first floor the institute is separate from the hall and has a central window beneath the gable arranged as a pair of lancets with a quatrefoil oculus above. To either side of the central window is a smaller rectangular window with modern plain glazing. In front of the institute a cast iron railing with heart-shaped decoration guards a staircase to the boiler room.
Across the exterior of the church and the institute stylised terracotta ventilation bricks can be found with a heart-shaped tulip motif. Almost all of the historic glazing on the institute and hall has been replaced in uPVC.
INTERIOR: the galleried auditorium of the church has an exposed hammerbeam-style roof with elaborate iron tie-bars, supported on moulded gothic capitals and slim iron columns. Pews, exceptionally and distinctively in concentric curves, fill the church floor though a small number of benches have been removed, and the gallery retains its complete set of raked pews; most pews retain book rails and umbrella stands and trays. The central pulpit has carved blind tracery to the front and is reached by flanking staircases with decorated brass balustrades. The original mosaic tiling of the baptistery has been replaced in the later C20, but the marble treads to the steps are largely intact. A number of free standing chairs in the auditorium appear to be consistent with the carved furniture around the dais and may also be original. The organ was originally installed in the Royal Military Academy Memorial Chapel at Sandhurst (Berks) in 1878 and was relocated here in 1924 by Blackett & Howden Ltd.
To the east of the auditorium the vestibule was reconfigured in 1996, reusing some original stained glass. The stair lobbies retain their doors and staircases. Throughout the church and its ancillary spaces the building’s first heating system survives. Doors retain hand painted signage. The stained glass is a consistent scheme of Arts and Crafts floral motifs that survives throughout the church and most of its ancillary spaces. Stone staircases with simple iron balustrades and broad wooden handrails survive in each stair lobby and in the interconnecting lobby between the institute and the vestries at the rear of the church.
Hall The hall retains an arch-braced king-post roof structure concealed beneath a later suspended ceiling. The westernmost bay of the hall has been divided to provide a stage and a short corridor, leaving the remaining four bays as an open interior space. The floor has been replaced.
Institute The institute at ground floor has been subject to later C20 subdivision and alteration with a meeting room and kitchen inserted. At first floor there is a single room with a partially exposed roof structure and surviving stained glass in the north-facing window.
Books and journals
Brodie, A, Felstead, A, Franklin, J, Pinfield, L, Oldfield, J, Dictionary of British Architects 1834-1914, (2011), 150
A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908., accessed 16 December 2019 from https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/herts/vol2/pp464-469
Chapels Society Newsletter, Vol. 52, January 2013., accessed 16 December 2019 from https://www.chapelssociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/NL-52.pdf
Chapels Society Newsletter, Vol. 57, September 2014., accessed 16 December 2019 from https://www.chapelssociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/NL-57.pdf
Dictionary of Scottish Architects, accessed 16 December 2019 from http://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk/architect_full.php?id=203023
National Pipe Organ Register, accessed 16 December 2019 from https://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=D00693
Architects drawings (May 1895) supplied by the applicant.
Architects drawings (November 1908) supplied by the applicant.
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
End of official listing