Church of St Thomas of Canterbury and English Martyrs

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Summary[edit | edit source]

A Roman Catholic church situated on Magdalen Road. Construction started on 30 March 1888, although the foundation stone was laid on 21 July of that year. Builder Edmund Boniface executed Charles Alban Buckler's design, and the new Church of St Thomas of Canterbury and English Martyrs opened to the public on 6 July 1889. Between 1908 and 1911, Nathaniel Westlake (1833-1921) painted the interior with a range of vivid murals depicting scenes from the Bible. Much of this was stencilled, but the work is unusually extensive and it is unusual for such designs to have survived in churches.[1] This work blocked one of the original trefoil windows above the chancel arch.

History of Roman Catholicism[edit | edit source]

A Roman Catholic community in St Leonard's began in 1834 with the purchase of land by a Catholic priest, John Jones, using a legacy from Barbara, Lady Stanley of Puddington. In 1848 a recently founded teaching order of nuns, the Society of the Holy Child Jesus under Mother Connelly, was installed and a church begun.

Earlier Church[edit | edit source]

A dispute between the convent and parish over ownership of the church led to the parish moving to a site further up Magdalen Road. The foundation stone of the first church of St Thomas of Canterbury was laid on 21 August 1865 and opened on 24 May 1866, designed by Charles Alban Buckler. Unfortunately this building was destroyed by fire on 3rd January 1887 with only the charred walls remaining.

Deterioration[edit | edit source]

Weather damage during 1940 necessitated repairs in the 1950s; this being carried out by the local firm Pettit Bros., but by 1981 the murals' condition was so poor that whitewashing over them appeared to be the only course of action. Enough money was raised for a full restoration to take place; artist Charles Camm being commissioned to carry this out, including the stencilling work.[1] Unusually the chancel faces west as opposed to the normal east-facing layouts found in churches.

Grade II Listed (Historic England listing 1391831)