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This is Section B: Planning the Church Building
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Overview of Section B
The present church of St. Paul’s, Bow Common
41 Overview of Section B
B 42-44 Back to basics – why do we need churches?
B 44-45 What did Maguire and Murray find going on in Bow Common?
B 45-48 The ‘First Design’
B 48-50 The ‘London Plan’ for rebuilding London – the context for the new church
B 50-51 The Final Design of the church emerges
B 52 The new church begins to be built
B 52-56 Commentaries published on the new building as it is built
B 56-61 The Foundation Stone is laid
B 62-64 The church is built
B 65-67 The church is consecrated
B 68-70 First reactions to the church in the press
B 70-73 Earliest images of the church
B 74-75 Maguire and Murray form an architectural practice
B 76-83 Architectural reviews of the new church, published 1963-1998
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A new church for Bow Common – but – do we NEED a church? If so, WHY?
Everything was now in place and the process of arriving at a final design for the new church was well
underway from 1956 with the first stone being laid at the very end of 1958 and this will soon be
Maguire and Murray were now on the map of architectural practice and there was growing interest in
what they were up to. Bob Maguire describes an early exercise in ‘going back to basics’:
26 ‘In 1958, Keith Murray and I put on a sort of double-act audio-visual show at a Theological Conference at
Swanwick using almost entirely every day, secular images to sketch out, as it were by tangential lines, the idea
of set-apart space as a deep need of the human psyche. As we were addressing theologians, we started
with the statement: “The Church does not need buildings”.
We said that if you want to celebrate the Eucharist, what you need is a loaf of bread, some wine and a cup and
perhaps a trestle-table; but a rock or a tree stump will do as well, according to whether you are doing it in the
school hall or the desert or a field. All you need for baptism is some water: that's all there was, after all, at the
most famous baptism ever.
We then went on to say that if you are keen to build a church, you are setting apart a place (like Sunday is - or
was - the setting apart of time). Otherwise, we said, build a community hall, and bring out a trestle-table. We
then went on to consider the nature of set-apart places; and that essentially was the analysis, and then the
synthesis, that went into St Paul's, Bow Common.
Now the fact that lots of Christian people are keen to build a church seemed to justify the activity - but why? The
conclusion we came to was that the Christian community needed a domain, a place peculiar to itself that reflected
its own nature and in some way re-formed it as a community constantly; a place consecrated to God; whence it
is sent out into the world. You will see immediately the distinction - this the place of the Christian Body, and
although public it is not secular.’
In 1995 he re-iterated:
19 ‘Now, the Church does not need church buildings. What it needs is, simply, people. The people do need to gather,
but they can gather in school halls and other such places. For the Eucharist, What they will need extra is some bread
and some wine and some kind of cup, and preferably a table. But you can do this thing on a tree - stump in a field, a
rock in a desert, a dining-table in a house, a trestle-table in a gymnasium. You do not need a special building called a
So if you decide to build a church — and people do keep deciding to — you have to see that you do it for a reason
beyond mere practicality. You do it to set apart a place for worship, to consecrate it for that purpose, to make a holy
place, set apart from the rest of the world. The idea is analogous that of Sunday, which is set apart in time. People have
always done it. Stonehenge is a set—apart place. The idea is not particularly Christian.’
At the heart of the manifestation of a ‘set-apart place’ in church architecture was the notion of a centrallyplanned
space. In 1998 Elain Harwood said this:
24 ‘”We all know the purpose of a church, which is a simple one in that it is fixed and unalterable and therefore does
not involve the architect in a search for improvements in the programme he is initially set as a factory often does, or a
hospital." So claimed J.M. Richards when writing of the new Roman Catholic church of St. Basil by Burles, Newton
and Partners at Basildon, in March 1957. But it was not a good year to make so sweeping a statement. Having evolved
in a continuous process from 1870, there were at last signs of change in the design of churches of all denominations.
The refined, abstracted Perpendicular style evolved then by G .F. Bodley and George Gilbert Scott junior had informed
church architecture for the next ninety years.
In part this was due to its universality and adaptability, in part it was because of the longevity of leading practitioners
such as Sir Ninian Camper and Sir Giles Gilbert Scot - both of whom died only in 1960. Long-term projects like
Liverpool and Guildford Cathedrals confirmed the supremacy of this tasteful tradition. With hindsight a subtle
evolution can be seen in the planning of churches by Comper, Scott, H. S. Goodhart-Rendel, N. F. Cachemaille-Day
and others, but by 1957 a younger generation was chafing to revolutionise church architecture just as they had other
forms of building since the war. This revolution was not merely one of style.’
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24 ‘The new generation of church architects explored the fundamentals of what the denominations required, at a
time when these were being questioned by the clergy and their commentators. Though the architecture parallels
the development of the New Brutalism in secular work, the fundamental changes made to the religious service
gives churches an underlying discipline which makes their study most rewarding. This was the Liturgical
Richards‘ piece prompted the first appearance of the Liturgical Movement in the architectural press. This was a
retort from Robert Maguire, a young architect then working for Richards on the Architects Journal, and Keith
Fendall, a pseudonym of the designer Keith Murray with whom Maguire went into partnership in 1959. ‘The
purpose of a church is not simple …. Requirements have changed in the past and are still changing. ‘
In October 1957 there was a broadcast on the Third Programme by Peter Hammond, which was subsequently
published in The Listener and the New Churches Research Group was founded. Within five years the Liturgical
Movement had brought about an entire rethink on church planning in Britain, most vocally in the Church of
England, most profoundly in the Catholic Church and with some of its effects imparted also to the Free Churches.
By 1969 the Council for the Care of Churches could claim that all the denominations were searching for a ‘common
liturgical expression’. The result was that the late 1950s and early 1960s were an exceptionally inventive time
for church architecture.
In the middle years of the twentieth century the Liturgical Movement was a major international movement aimed
at popularising Christian worship. Though it centred on the Eucharist, it embodied within the Catholic tradition
a nascent evangelism that has been far reaching. The word ‘liturgical’ is a product of the Greek ‘laos‘(people) and
‘ergon’ (work). In origin it meant any kind of public duty, and it must be stressed that the Liturgical Movement
is concerned not just with the form of the Eucharist, but it is about the relationship of the congregation or
‘brethren’ individually and collectively, to each other and to God.’
In October 1962, in an article for ‘Church Building,’ Bob Maguire had written:
6 ‘A church building exists to serve the life of the Church. This is a statement of function. Analysis of the
function of the church building formed the basis of the design of St. Paul's Church, Bow Common: we
tried to gain an understanding of the life of the Church in this place in order that the building should be creative
in that life.’
There are interesting echoes here of the student project in which he showed ‘function’ in the
movements of all the participants of the liturgy on his plan, which wasn’t understood by his examiners
and he was subsequently failed! And yet the irony is that here he is creating a ground-breaking church
on exactly these foundations of actuality and not potential – of what actually does happen in a church
and not what we might permit or prefer to happen!
6 ‘To that extent, our approach to the design of the church may be described as ‘functionalist'. But any attempt to
arbitrarily limit the concept of function, purpose or need to physical comfort and convenience destroys its value
as a creative discipline. This we believe to be so for the design of any kind of building. It becomes particularly
destructive when the building is a church.
The liturgical movement has shown the dangers that exist in the failure to appreciate the relationships created
and conveyed by the form and arrangement of a church. It has demonstrated that bad churches are destructive of
the life of the Church. It was this recognition that convinced us that a radical approach to church design was
essential. But we were also convinced that for the building to be creative in the Church‘s life, it should
grow out of the actual life of the real local Christian community whose needs were the reason for its
And so this community was not an external factor to be analysed and provided for, but played a necessary and
creative part in the design process. The particular character of the building is due to the fact that it grew out of
the life of this particular community at a particular time and in this particular place. Quite as much as it was
conditioned by more tangible external factors such as the site and the money and techniques available.’
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6 ‘We have met with strong criticism on this very matter of particularity but we are still sure that a building
which ‘lives' now for and because of the local Christian community will continue to be ‘alive' for others who
follow precisely in the way that good churches built in the past still have this quality.
The alternative is a building founded on generalisations about people and their worship and created by the
architect in isolation and we have found that because such buildings are not ‘near to the needs‘ of anyone in
particular, they are not meaningful to people in general ; they remain unendearing.’
In a lecture in 1995, Bob Maguire spelled out a basic principle:
18 ‘Now most discussions about planning for modern liturgy start with assertions about seeing well and hearing
what is going on; and so, proceeding within the classic modernist rational disciplines, churches usually end up
without columns (which are said to get in the way of the view) and often with plans which are wedge—shaped
like lecture theatres, or half—round or nearly so like an amphitheatre, or of course (Liverpool Roman Catholic
Cathedral being the most flagrant example) circular.
Liturgy, however, is not lecturing, nor theatre, nor is it a circus. And if one produces a building whose spatial
characteristics have been developed for one of these uses, liturgy will tend to be forced down that road — it can
easily become, through misunderstanding, a kind of lecture—seminar, and in particular, theatre. Throw in a
fervent choir and an ambitious organist, and parish worship aspires to the Albert Hall. The nature of Christian
worship is otherwise, and the Eucharistic liturgy, as I have said, properly involves complex relationships
between all present (and of course I include God in that).
This is not solvable by rational means … the thing cannot be worked out like the production process in a factory
to produce an optimum layout (although the converse is true - you can easily make such a hash of it that it is
hopeless). There are some simple rules. The presiding minister cannot greet people who are behind him: that rules
out central altars, those images of perfection beloved by those who have read Wittkover too hastily. And you do
need to keep down the distance between the two people furthest from each other.
None of this generates architectural form. And returning to observation as one’s recourse, these complex
relationships actually seem to look after themselves — the liturgy itself being the dynamic relationship
generator — in certain kinds of interior space which, we observed, possessed a definable character. The trouble
has been to find the words actually to describe this definable character.
I have opted for ‘inclusive space’. Inclusive space is a space within which, wherever a person is situated and no
matter how many others are also in the space or where they are situated, that person feels included in whatever is
going on.’ I remember first having this conviction about an interior architectural space in the Pazzi Chapel, which
also probably rates — and of course it is an absurd statement really — as my favourite building.’
Maguire and Murray had declared their manifesto and laid out their stall!
So what did they see going on already, with a congregation without a church?
In 2000, Maguire said:
26 ‘What we were trying to do at Bow Common was to create a space - to set
apart a place - in which the congregation could come to perceive that they were
one Body, the Mystical Body of Christ. We were concerned not to frustrate,
through an inappropriate setting, the intentions of Eucharistic worship. I think
it was this frustration we had felt, because of so much indifference in the
buildings and churchmanship we had experienced, that gave rise to our anger.’
After the old church had first been damaged in the bombing late in 1940,
the congregation of St. Paul’s, Bow Common was displaced and by the
time Fr. Kirkby arrived in 1951 they were worshipping in various places,
including the damaged but functioning neighbouring church of St. Luke,
Burdett Rd. When the War Damage Commission made its decision about
rebuilding St. Paul’s church, the St. Luke’s building’s days were
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numbered, and it was very cold in winter, and it was later demolished. The congregation had been camping
out in the church hall at St. Paul’s Lodge. Here, very much led by Fr. Kirkby, they experimented with
worship in ways allied to all his thinking, and that of the Liturgical Movement. It was here that Maguire
and Murray first met them and observed their experimental and provisional liturgical life and this
became the template for the rationale of their design of the new church.
In a paper written to me in 2013 Bob Maguire said:
30 ‘In 1954, when I was asked by Father Gresham Kirkby to design the new St Paul's, and my friend & close coworker
Keith Murray commissioned to design & execute the mosaics, the community of the parish of St Paul with
St Luke still reflected the traditional (social) structure (of the East End). Gresham's parishioners were a sizable,
tight-knit group of people totally committed to the Church in that place and to their leader, Gresham. They had
completely lost both their churches in the bombing, but they still had their church hall & the parish school, both
of them worn-out Victorian buildings which they took in hand and used creatively for radical experiments in
liturgy & education respectively. (They would have been utterly amazed had they known at that time that it
would be their very experiments which later would lead to revolutions & reforms in both fields directly
through the inspiration they imparted to the design of the two buildings they commissioned.)
Gresham and his people had a free hand in arranging and re-arranging the furniture for the services in the hall.
You are not allowed to do this in a parish church, except in minor detail, without being granted a Faculty from
the Vice Chancellor, via the Diocesan Advisory Committee. A hazardous business. None of that applies to a
church hall. Gresham had come from a ‘school’ of radical theological thinking within the Catholic tradition in the
Anglican Church, and was putting into effect his social convictions and his insights into the nature of liturgical
worship; both endeared him to a faithful and enthusiastic congregation.
At 25, I was a dissenting, reformist Roman Catholic campaigning for Mass ‘facing the people’ and in the
vernacular tongue, like the avant-garde in France and Germany, and for radical rethinking of church design to
match; it was possibly the mutual recognition of revolutionary tendencies that sealed my appointment … But in
the ’main-line’ Churches in Britain, habits of worship died hard. There was no concept of dialogue, of liturgical
participation. The congregation were effectively reduced to private prayer occasionally performed in unison (as
in the Creed). The usual physical stance of a member of the congregation was sitting or kneeling bowed forward
with forehead resting on joined hands, often as low as the top of the pew in front. This may serve, I think, to put
the radical nature of what Gresham & his people were doing into a proper perspective. For me it was a wonderful
breath of fresh air, to meet not just a priest, but his whole congregation, inspired by the Holy Spirit to worship
together as explicitly, demonstrably, the People of God.
It really is for this reason that St Paul‘s was revolutionary. That was all, already, in place, in the hall in which
they had been worshipping. Where we came in was to interpret that extraordinary understanding of what it was
all about, in terms of the physical reality of a building.’
The ‘First Design’ of the new St. Paul’s, Bow Common
When I first learned about it I was intrigued by the fact that there had been a ‘first design’ which was
so near and yet so far to the building we now have. The only place where I found reference to it was in
Edward Mills Book of 1956, already mentioned, ‘The Modern Church’ and in 2009 I corresponded with
Bob Maguire about this.
He wrote this in response:
27 ‘The arrangement was that I would design and supervise the contract for building the church, and Keith would
design and execute £8,000-worth of glass mosaics, also to be paid for by the WDC in lieu of the stained glass of
the bombed church. £8,000 was an immense commission then — the whole church was valued at £50,000.’
We then had to convince Archdeacon Michael Hodgins at London Diocesan House that I could do the job. He
agreed provided I went into association with a firm experienced in the field. When I left the AA my first,
temporary, job had been with Carden & Godfrey, a firm I had previously done vacation work with to support
myself; Andrew Carden had been one of my tutors at the AA. So I went back and asked them, and they agreed to
support me — for a cut of the fee — and graciously undertook not to interfere with the design. That is why the
‘First Design’ is credited to me ‘in association with Carden and Godfrey’.
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27 ‘Keith is also credited as ‘consulting designer’ under his artist’s alias Keith Fendall, as we were naturally in
constant discussion on how to produce a building that would carry that huge amount of mosaics we were
intending as an integral part of a space for Eucharistic worship. It was important to us both that the mosaics
should not feel ‘tacked on’ but to be part of the total concept.
It was Keith’s idea that they should depict the Heavenly Host in constant adoration, and surround the Christian
people, and this seemed to go well with the idea that I had developed of a wrapped-around colonnade defining an
ambulatory enclosing the central space on all four sides and this seemed to go well with the idea that I had
developed of a wrapped-around colonnade defining an ambulatory enclosing the central space on all four sides. ‘
The ‘First Design’ of the new St. Paul’s, Bow Common ~ Compromise! Compromise!
When I first learned about it I was intrigued by the fact that there had been a ‘first design’ which was
so near and yet so far from the building we now have. The only place where I found reference to it was
in Edward Mills Book of 1956, already mentioned, ‘The Modern Church’ and in 2009 I corresponded
with Bob Maguire about this.
He wrote this in response:
27 ‘The arrangement was that I would design and supervise the contract for building the church, and Keith would
design and execute £8,000-worth of glass mosaics, also to be paid for by the WDC in lieu of the stained glass of
the bombed church. £8,000 was an immense commission then — the whole church was valued at £50,000.
We then had to convince Archdeacon Michael Hodgins at London Diocesan House that I could do the job.
He agreed provided I went into association with a firm experienced in the field. When I left the AA my first,
temporary, job had been with Carden & Godfrey, a firm I had previously done vacation work with to support
myself; Andrew Carden had been one of my tutors at the AA. So I went back and asked them, and they agreed
to support me — for a cut of the fee — and graciously undertook not to interfere with the design. That is
why the ‘First Design’ is credited to me ‘in association with Carden and Godfrey’.
Keith is also credited as ‘consulting designer’ under his artist’s alias Keith Fendall, as we were naturally in
constant discussion on how to produce a building that would carry that huge amount of mosaics we were
intending as an integral part of a space for Eucharistic worship. It was important to us both that the mosaics
should not feel ‘tacked on’ but to be part of the total concept.’
27 ‘It was Keith’s idea that they should depict the Heavenly Host in constant adoration &surround the
Christian people, and this seemed to go well with the idea that I had developed of a wrapped-around colonnade
defining an ambulatory enclosing the central space on all four sides & this seemed to go well with the idea
that I had developed of a wrapped-around colonnade defining an ambulatory enclosing the central space on
all four sides. ‘
It was quite remarkable that
two such untried young (but
gifted) men should be
entrusted with such a
commission. It was clear that
this inexperience would be a
factor when approval to build
would finally be granted by
the Diocesan Advisory
Committee (DAC) and Bob
Maguire was wise to heed
advice given to him that he
would do well to compromise
on some of the details of his
vision for the building.
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He says this:
27 ‘(in designing the spandrels for the mosaic
Heavenly Host) ... there was slight compromise in the
first design because the corner panels were not wingspread
shaped, but many, many other things were
worse compromises! This was because Andrew
Carden and Emil Godfrey gently but firmly warned me
that the DAC contained Prof Corfiato and Sir Albert
Richardson — both of them extremely vocal classicists
— and Walter Godfrey, father of Emil and a convinced
Gothic man, and that the one thing these eminent
architects found they could agree on was that new
churches had to be in an historic style.
”You have to take account of them, Bob, otherwise
you’re out”, they said, “so decide what it is
that’s most important to achieve, and go for it,
then wrap it up in something you think they
might approve! The first
design is the result.
It was as far as I thought l
could go, and the ‘most
important’ thing was the
plan and the internal
relationships it and the
section and the overhead
lighting would encourage.’
It was essentially designed as an interior, somewhat but not entirely compromised by the external
appearance. But it worked; it got DAC approval. At this point I’m yielding to the temptation to throw
in the remark made by John Betjeman when he first saw the design for Coventry Cathedral, which I think is
apposite here: ‘The spirit is willing, but the fleche is weak!’’’
27 ‘The first design also received Town Planning consent. At the time the whole district had been scheduled as a
(CDA) a Comprehensive Development Area under the Abercrombie Plan for the London area, and a great ‘green
wedge’ was planned, stretching from outside London down to the docks, a vast park on the other side of Burdett
Road, of which the present park is a pale shadow.
The London County Council area Planning Officer for the CDA was a woman named Anne McEwen, and she
was the wife of a new colleague of mine at the Architectural Press, Malcolm McEwen. Malcolm and his sister
Sheila Wheeler had been journalists; they both came to the AP and Sheila became my PA — the perfect PA, noone
to match her since. Of staunch Presbyterian stock and moral principles, trying hard to be an atheist, so you
can imagine the interesting conversations we had. Sheila being my PA enabled me to do the job of Buildings
Editor of the Architects Journal half-time and so start an architectural practice with St Paul’s.’
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The illustrations and titles above are from Edward Mills’ book, ‘The Modern Church’ 1956. This is
the only book in which these two schemes for a church can be found. But in correspondence with
me in 2009, Bob Maguire was very clear that he did not endorse at all where Mills was ‘coming
from’! In a handwritten note prefacing a photocopy of an extract from Mills’ book, he wrote:
1 ‘This is emphatically a ‘pre-liturgical-movement’ book, voicing all the opinions, sentiments and confident
directions I was vigorously opposed to. It was largely ghost-written by Benita Cramer-Roberts, who had been
a keen fellow student of mine some 3 years before its publication in 1956. Benita came to me in 1955 saying
she was hard up for any really ‘progressive’ material from Britain, and knew of my Fourth Year scheme for
a church. She couldn’t publish a student’s scheme (Mills would not allow it) but could I design a hypothetical
‘Project’ for inclusion? The result was the scheme on p 97 (as shown above) … Benita just had time to
include it before submitting the final stuff for publication.’
The Abercrombie Plan – the New Church to be integrated with Post-War rebuilding Plans.
27 ‘Anne greeted the
First Design with
enthusiasm - just
what was wanted on
that corner. The
was to be 7-
storey flats in
courtyards, and l had
consulted with her at
an early stage to make
sure that the scale of
the church was in relation to that. The distinguished Town Planner, Sir
Patrick Abercrombie, had been appointed to prepare the County of London
Plan (more usually known as the Abercrombie Plan)’
The first two pages are shown here with a glimpse on the 2nd page of the huge challenge which
this Report of 1943 had to address.
Beneath this view of a ruined street the Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill wrote an
introduction: ‘Most painful is the number of small houses inhabited by working folk which have been
destroyed. We will rebuild them, more to our credit than some of them were before. London, Liverpool,
Manchester, Birmingham may have much more to suffer, but they will rise from their ruins, more healthy,
and, I hope, more beautiful In all my life I have never been treated with so much kindness as by the people
who suffered most.’
In fact, plans had been drawn up as early as 1935 to rebuild 700 acres of Stepney, Shoreditch and
Bethnal Green, in a corridor a mile and three-quarters long and three-quarters of a mile wide
between the London Docks and the Regents Canal. After the War the need here for slum clearance
was exacerbated by extensive war damage.
Abercrombie and Forshaw recognised that, "There is abundant evidence that for families with
children, houses are preferred to flats. They provide a private garden and yard at the same level
as the main rooms of the dwelling, and fit the English temperament. “
But the area was too small; if only houses were to be built (and not overcrowded), then two-thirds
or three-quarters of the people would have to move out. The planners would have liked half
houses, half flats, at 100 dwellings to the acre, but even this would have created a major overspill.
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This poster advertising a public meeting to learn more about the London Plan shows a kind of ‘before
and after’ view with (interestingly) the likely kind of 7 storey housing being planned for our part of the
East End and which Maguire consciously took account of in making his first design.
Bob Maguire in a paper to me (2013):
30 ’The Abercrombie Plan envisaged green ‘corridors’ wending
their way from the centre through the urban landscape to meet
up eventually with the Green Belt outside the city. Between
these parkland corridors, new housing would be planned on
modern principles, a mixture of houses and low and high flatblocks
with much open space. It was a Utopian strategy, and
involved consideration in minute detail of every local area to
decide exactly what, of what had been left after bombing, to leave
intact & what to demolish & start again.’
However, to achieve this Plan communities would have to
be dispersed and there were reservations which Bob
Maguire also shared: 30 ‘It was also a strategy which could
involve the force of governmental authority to dictate the
fortunes of local people in unacceptable ways, for the rearrangement
or often abolition of streets necessitated the moving
of cohesive communities while building to rehouse them. At that
date, it seems, the extent to which the street community was the
essential support group for the family and the individual was
unappreciated, and moving it most often meant uprooting and
The London Plan gave rise to estates such as the Lansbury Estate in Poplar still there today. It also
included a more careful definition of the ‘Green Belt’; a strip of land encircling London that is made up
of parks, farmland and recreation grounds, and subject to strict regulations concerning building and
development. Further out, Abercrombie proposed the construction of satellite towns around an ‘Outer
Country Ring’. In fact, many Londoners moved out to the eight ‘New Towns’ such as Stevenage and
Harlow after the war.
In London the first 10-storey council housing block opened in Holborn in May 1949. High-rise housing
– another Abercrombie recommendation - was touted as the solution to London’s growing population,
replacing housing lost during the war and London’s slums. By the 1960s, over half a million new flats
had been built, many of them in tower blocks.
Bob Maguire continues:
30 ‘Gradually, it became obvious that the strategy was not working, but causing serious breakdown of the cohesive
structure of working-class society which had sustained it so beautifully during the years of blitz.
… Soon after the completion of the (final design of the) church, the Abercrombie Plan was virtually abandoned,
the pressure to build homes caused politicians to go for more expeditious, piecemeal planning decisions. The wide
urban park on the other side of Burdett Road was slimmed down to its present size, and suddenly a previously
unplanned tower block appeared alongside the church, after the clearance of most of the local street housing.
People were rehoused far away from their home patch — many as far away as Basildon New Town — & the
indigenous, internally supportive community was dispersed. Many people lost their sense of identity; a whole
society was broken. Gresham lost his parish people. He, with a few others, had virtually to start again from
These were tough times and hard for us, living now many decades in a socially and demographically
unrecognisable East End, to imagine the huge challenges involved immediately post-War in getting a
church built here at all, and subsequently maintaining one and adapting its life and function as times
changed so dramatically.
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Maguire makes this reflection:
30 ‘When I sit back and take a long view of the vicissitudes of St Paul's, and of the ways in which God's hand
has been upon it, its people and its two unusually anointed vicars, of the extraordinary Christian work that
has been, and is being quietly done there, I find again the only word to express my refreshed astonishment:
Bob Maguire continues:
27 ‘The park and the 7-storey flats all went out of the window — if l remember rightly, because of Local Authority
reorganisation, political changes and the resulting abandonment of the Abercrombie Plan. What happened
generally during the late 50s, the 60s and later was that tower-blocks were seized upon by politicians as a quick
vote-catching solution to the shortage of housing, because you could demolish a small patch of old housing and
quickly put up a very high density replacement.
Architects, l am ashamed to say, colluded in this and many had delusions that they were creating something like
the Ville Radieuse of Le Corbusier. Of course they were totally mistaken because the inspired town planning
input was lacking, the necessary parkland setting never appeared and the thing was random and opportunist. So
Anne McEwen’s carefully considered plan for Bow Common was discarded and the church received surroundings
alien to the context it was designed for.’
In his MA Dissertation of 1995 Donald Williamson makes this reflection:
20 ’Now, looking back at his first scheme, Maguire describes how he felt that the place of worship should be “a
place apart from the rest of the world." Entry was though a modest door into a memorable baptistery, where the
pool-like font served not only for baptism but as a sharp reminder of the need for each to be baptised first before
(literally and metaphorically) “entering the church, “with the assurance of redemption. Once inside the main
body of the church, Maguire points out that (unlike the "sacred" classical temple) the columns were within,
supporting the roof and creating an ambulatory. Maguire placed his altar in a radical manner with seating on
three sides away from the east wall and more towards the centre of the church. His lighting was through clear
glass (not stained glass - Maguire does not believe in “over-manipulating the congregation"). With regard to
historical influences, Maguire avoids what he calls the compartmentalising Gothic ways, where e.g. the
celebration of the Mass is removed from the people. He draws from Byzantine ways, where liturgical and spiritual
focus and purpose are fused and centralised. Robert Maguire’s student project was a church devised to create a
new community atmosphere and “to open up possibilities". ‘
The First Design is abandoned – the way is clear for the church we now have.
Gerry Adler comments:
29 ‘The association with Carden and Godfrey established Maguire's professional bona fides, while the design in
its vaguely Festival of Britain pitched-roof manner persuaded the DAC members, classicists Hector Corfiato and
Albert Richardson, as well as the Gothicist Walter Godfrey, that it would give the appropriate ‘ecclesiastical’
stylistic signals. More important for Maguire than the disguise of stylistic clothing was the radical plan he
successfully smuggled through!’
Bob Maguire was well aware of the cost of obtaining acceptance for the first design with its many
compromises which constrained his fuller vision. But what should have been a crushing blow became
(in his words) a ‘small miracle!
27 ‘No sooner had Planning consent come through (for the first design) than the Archdeacon received news from
the WDC that they had had to revalue the payment on St Paul’s: it was now to be £40,000, not £50,000. My
rather hazy memory of the reason given was that the part which related to St Luke’s had been wrongly valued
because the Victorian building was of a far lower grade of Gothic revival than St Paul’s. (I may be wrong.) Michael
Hodgins rang me and asked if I would go over to Diocesan House immediately to discuss what was to be done.’
- 51 -
Gerry Adler tells us:
29 ‘Maguire’s ‘day job’ at the time was at the Architects' Journal as Buildings Editor Working with quantity
surveyors, he had been developing the practice — so familiar to us today — of cost planning, where there is a
breakdown of different parts of buildings into elements so that adjustments can easily be made to the budget.
Maguire was able to rejig the design, simplifying its external form, removing the spire and other features, thereby
realigning the scheme with his original design intentions. The Archdeacon believed in Kirkby's vision, and this,
combined with a simple card model, propelled the project through to completion.’
27 ‘Now, I had been working at the AJ on a new and very sophisticated method of controlling the cost of buildings,
both during design and then throughout construction. I’d been doing this in collaboration with a small team of
quantity surveyors mostly from the Ministry of Education, who had started the idea in order to control
expenditure over the vast programme of post-war school building. It consisted of breaking the budget down,
allocating it to each separate element (foundations, external walls, waste plumbing etc.) on cost-per-sq. ft. basis
so that recent buildings (my bit as Buildings Editor) could be analysed to inform the design of new buildings,
irrespective of size. It meant that you could, say, decide to have a very cheap floor in order to achieve a more
wonderful than usual ceiling. You were obliged to consider what you wanted from each element, do a balancing
act and make the bottom line equal the budget figure alter allowing for inflation and inevitable hazards. We called
it Cost Planning, and I applied it to the design of St Paul’s (and every building since).
So when I met the Archdeacon I was able to go along with a new Cost Plan for a hypothetical building of the same
area, using simpler materials and with less elaboration in the form of the building. I explained this but of course
I didn’t actually have a design for such a building. He accepted, with some reservation because no church of this
size had been built to such a low budget to his knowledge (or to mine) but told me that as the DAC had passed
the first design with
considerable internal disagreement,
it had better look
pretty much the same. I of
course was looking forward to
removing all the compromises
I had felt obliged to make.
It was a fairly quick operation
to produce the new design,
because I had already mused
much about what I would
preferably have done. I drew a
plan for the Archdeacon, but
no elevations because I
thought all that blank wall
would frighten him.
Instead, I made a little model in plain grey card. I took these over to him for initial discussion, but he looked at
the model and said that it really hadn’t changed much and he didn’t think it would be necessary to re-submit it
to the DAC. So I then took it to Anne and she said she could take the decision ‘at officer level’. We were through!’
I got to know the Archdeacon better later on; he had a reputation for crafty manoeuvring, getting his way by
stealth. But St Paul’s owes its existence, in its eventual form, to what I believe was his percep-tiveness and
determination not to have Gresham’s vision messed around with.’
Archdeacon Michael Hodgins’ clear instinct that Fr. Kirkby’s vision needed to be realised and that
Maguire and Murray were the people to do this makes him more one more vital piece of the human
jigsaw of vision, inspiration and instinct which came together to make possible the presence of this
remarkable building in Bow Common. The full story of St. Paul’s Bow Common relies on people such
as these, who should never be forgotten.
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The new St. Paul’s Bow Common begins to be built!
The Minutes of the Proceedings of the Parochial Church Council seem to make very little mention of
the actual construction of the new church – in fact none at all during the period of construction. There
were certain practical obstacles however, such as the demolition of the ruins of the old church and
whether this would be paid for by War Funds.
Extracts from the PCC Minutes:
‘The Vicar was going to get in touch with the contractors to find out when they would start on the demolition
of St. Paul’s.’
11 April 1958 Annual Meeting
‘New Church Fr. Kirkby had been in touch with the architect. The position at the moment is that the War Damage
Commission are (as usual) quibbling over the cost of the demolition
of St. Paul’s.’
30 May 1958
‘The War Damage Commission had agreed to pay in full for the
demolition of St. Paul’s.
It would be reasonable then to suggest that work on clearing the
site began during the summer of 1958 with the Foundation Stone
laid on 20th December of the same year.
There was a great deal to demolish and take away. As you will see
from maps later on, it is almost certain that nothing but meadow
land and open country had ever stood on this site until the first
church was built by William Cotton in 1858. And now the second
building was about to be constructed on this spot.
In Maguire’s costings for the project we see him mention that
some ‘extra’ foundations were required, which suggests that the
old church’s foundations were used. I’m puzzled by the mention,
though, of old ‘cellars’ being found as the series of old maps which
appears later suggests there were no previous buildings on this site but meadow land or rural
landscape, some distance to the nearest villages of Stepney and Bow and no more than cottages out in
the countryside. ‘Cellars’ imply grand houses such as were built, indeed, by William Cotton on that
road but to the north of the church. The Vicarage was well over to the east of the church so they would
not have belonged there either. I have never seen any mention of a crypt under the old church but
maybe there was some underground construction? No records remain.
Commentaries published as the church was being built.
What was being built at Bow Common was of great interest within the architectural community and
was being critiqued even during construction. In 1958 Peter Hammond wrote this:
A Liturgical Brief: Peter Hammond 1958
- 53 -
2 ‘The prospect for church architecture on this side of the Channel is at the moment somewhat cheerless. It is
to be feared that, as the ecclesiastical authorities begin to grasp the revolutionary notion that it is traditional
to be modern, we may expect to see still more examples of what are essentially medieval churches
masquerading rather self-consciously in contemporary fancy dress. There are, nevertheless, some grounds
for hoping that the next ten years will see an increasing awareness of the real character of the problems
confronting the church architect.
Robert Maguire’s new church at Bow Common may well prove to be of far greater importance than any
church built in this country since St. Philip’s, Cosham. It is the outcome of a systematic application of
functional analysis to the problems of church design; the unusual plan springs from an attempt to relate the
altar to the priest and people in such a way that they can best carry out their functions in the liturgy.’
This unpretentious parish church promises to be a notable landmark in the development of church
architecture in this country. One of the main factors in the renewal of sacred art on the Continent has
undoubtedly been the existence of enlightened ecclesiastical patronage: in France, for example, the
Dominican Order has played a crucial role. In this country, on the other hand, it may well be that the
initiative will come from the architect. I see no reason why an informed architect should not exercise upon
an ecclesiastical client the kind of salutary influence that he has already brought to bear upon the Ministry
of Education. The new church at Bow Common shows that it can be done, provided the architect knows what
he is doing. If the principles of the modern movement have any validity they are applicable to the design of
churches as well as schools. If this were more generally realized in architectural circles in this country we
should be well on the way to a more rational approach to the problems of church building.’
Two years later, in his important book, ‘Liturgy and Architecture’ 1960, Peter Hammond wrote:
3 ‘ST. PAUL, Bow Common, LONDON: A church of outstanding promise, which is essentially a building
for corporate worship, by a young architect who has been trying for several years to formulate a functional
programme for church design, and who is convinced that the new insights of the liturgical movement demand
‘a complete rethinking of the emblems of church planning’.
The Plan of this church has, in his own words, ‘grown from an attempt to relate the altar (considered as the
principal symbol of our Lord in the church) to the priest and people in such a way that they can best carry
out their functions in the liturgy’. The plan of the church is extremely simple: a rectangle almost as broad as
it is long.
The altar, with its ciborium, is placed beneath a large glazed lantern which provides the main source of
illumination. The sanctuary is further defined by special paving, as is the processional way which surrounds the
central space on all sides beyond the colonnade. The congregation will enter the church through the octagonal
porch in the north-west corner, passing though the baptistery. There is also a processional west door.
Behind the high altar, on the main axis of the church, there is a small chapel for the reserved sacrament. There is
a Lady Chapel opening off the processional way to the north of the sanctuary, and the organ is on the west wall.
There will be no fixed seating in the church and the position of the pulpit is to be decided in the light of experience.
This is a church of far greater importance than its unpretentious character might suggest. It is a true domus
ecclesiae, planned from the altar outwards. It may well prove to be something of a landmark in the re-creation of
a living tradition of church architecture in this country. The foundation stone was laid in December 1958, and
the church is to be consecrated in April, 1960.’
In December 1960, in a preface to Maguire and Murray’s article in the Architectural Review Rayner
Banham said this:
5 ‘To regard the Liturgical Movement as a most promising new source of valid forms in church architecture, is to
miss its point completely. It is clear that many entrants in the recent Liverpool Cathedral did regard it in this
light, and adopted what they believed to be liturgical forms. But, as readers of the Reverend Peter Hammond’s
pioneer article in AR April 1958 will know, even without reading his more recent book Liturgy and Architecture,
nothing formal or stylistic is advocated by the Liturgical Movement.’
- 54 -
5 ‘Rather it postulates a complex of spatial and functional relationships between priest and congregation, the
ritual and the instruments of ritual. It sees the liturgy as an exchange of actions between priest and people,
not as a passive spectator/actor relationship such as is implicit in arena planning of the sort often mistaken
for liturgical. If there is a tendency to centralised planning under liturgical leadership, it derives simply from
the difficulty of taking an active part in anything if one is too far away from it. The church of St. Paul, Bow
Common, the first notable representative of liturgical planning in Britain, illustrated on the next five pages,
has a roughly centralised space only, and is planned in concentric zones, within which the congregation can
almost be regarded as mobile, since the seating is not fixed.
The Liturgical Movement does not offer the architect forms, it sets him a double functional problem to be
resolved in a single solution: to create a functional space – part of the usable space of the parish — to house
the priest and congregation in the celebration of the ritual, and a symbolic space – part of the universal space
of the kingdom of God—to house the altar, the symbol of Christ’s presence among God’s people. This double
objective might be achieved by applying symbols to a functional structure, but that would simply be windowdressing.
The outcome is only architecture if the functional and symbolical are indissoluble.
The visitor - better, worshipper - can be left to judge for himself how far this is true of St. Paul’s; the reader
who must judge it by photographs and plans may need some guidance. The building offers a space which
gives the congregation freedom, but without being imprecise or vague. The structural form which houses the
space is at one with its symbolic meaning. Thus, the outer ambulatory is defined by the row of columns which
support the lower roof, and by the brick paving laid to withstand the wear caused by ambulation.
The central space, for worship, is defined by the columns and the higher roof; the seating is movable, but the
altar, properly, is fixed within a sanctuary defined by the hanging corona and the great skylight above. The
altar is raised, not only for sight-lines but also on steps that correspond to a liturgical hierarchy, but there is
no altar rail – the zone where communicants kneel is indicated by brick paving. Once more, laid to withstand
the wear caused by kneeling.
Usages such as this accord very well with the dictum that well-designed objects contain, in their very forms
instruction about their mode or use, and these changes of floor-surface make St. Paul’s recognisable as a
well-designed artefact even by those who know nothing of the Liturgical Movement. The point is worth
making because it underlines once more that the Liturgical Movement relieves the architect of neither
functional nor formal responsibilities. It sets a programme, and the architect’s task is to make a building to
satisfy the programme & his building will be architecture, or not, in accordance with the way he satisfies it.
The justifications of the Liturgical Movement are religious. Its interest for the architect lies in the kind of
brief it will give him when he is asked to design a church – not vaguely emotive in the recent atmospheric
manner, not fanatically precise over trivia, as with the Ecclesiologists of the last century, but concerned
with functions and people.
Such a brief, while in no way impairing the religious qualities of the building—quite the other way about—
puts the conceptual stages of church design on the same intellectual and imaginative footing as applies in the
most forward areas of secular architecture at present. Peter Hammond, in Liturgy and Architecture, makes
a specific comparison with the post-war schools building programme, but he might, with even greater force,
have cited the Nuffield Trust’s work on hospital planning and design, where psychological, if not spiritual
considerations have been given their due at last, alongside the functional and mechanical.
To propose such comparisons may seem shocking to some sincere churchmen and religious architects, but
the liturgical approach does enable today’s architects to tackle church design without feeling – as has so often
been the case – that they are abandoning the moral fundamentals of their architecture, based on truth and
honesty in material and function , and elapsing into a theatrical pseudo-mysticism. As a result, St. Paul’s
can serve the needs of the Church without ceasing to be a modern building. Modern, that is, not in terms of
current decorative clichés, structural acrobatics or fashionable formalisms, but modern in the sense of the
hard core of moral conviction that holds together any number of formal and structural concepts on the basis
of what Lethaby called ‘nearness to need.’ ‘
- 55 -
Following Banham’s introduction above, this article in the Architectural Review of December 1960 is
Maguire and Murray’s earliest account of the building only consecrated some eight months
previously. Interesting clues are given of the intended and expected context for the church in what was
clearly intended for a rebuilt post-war neighbourhood:
5 ‘St. Paul’s, Bow Common is at parish church built on the site (in Burdett Road, Stepney) of a Victorian Gothic
church destroyed in the war. It is within an LCC comprehensive development area, and most of the two- and
three-storey terrace houses near the church are due to be redeveloped, in part by multi-storey flats, and the fact
that the church will eventually be over- topped by neighbouring housing was borne in mind by the architect when
determining its scale and character. The latter is designed to possess some of the toughness of traditional East
End building and townscape.
The area across Burdett Road from the church will become a public open space and it is probable that St. Paul's
Way (bounding the site on the south) will at this point be closed to traffic and remain as a paved pedestrian street.
Later, a church school will be built to the east of the new church. Leopold Street, at present forming the eastern
boundary, will then disappear. A new vicarage has also still to be built alongside the church, near the north-east
The public open space was realised but none of rest of these plans came into being and, some fifty years
after the church was built much of the surrounding neighbourhood was radically redesigned during
widespread regeneration. The church somehow seems to hold its own through a second round of
reconfiguration of its context beyond the intended building programme which never did take place.
They go on to give their earliest description of the new church now built and in use:
5 ‘The church is designed to suit the requirements of a parish that had already developed a strong liturgical
tradition and had experimented with various internal arrangements in two buildings which it had previously
occupied temporarily. The whole shape and character of the interior, considered three-dimensionally, were evolved
from the church's liturgical practice (see the introductory article on page 400); in particular the placing of the
altar within the high central space beneath the lantern with seating on three sides of it. This seating is in the form
of portable four-seater benches, which allow the arrangement to be varied. A small congregation can fill the central
area and avoid a feeling of numerous seats being empty; larger congregations can expand into the surrounding,
lower-ceilinged areas as required.
The freestanding sanctuary is defined by a hanging corona of black—painted rolled steel sections, bearing candles;
also by a change in floor-texture from precast flags to white flint bricks. A path of similar bricks also marks a
processional way round the perimeter of the building outside the columns that support the clerestory wall. The
altar is raised on two steps, creating three levels corresponding to the hierarchic distinctions within the Anglican
Church and the font is placed in its traditional symbolic position near the entrance used by the congregation. This
is at the north-west corner, by way of an octagonal porch with a square roof resting on four external pillars. There
are also large sliding doors at the west for the congregation leaving church and for wedding and other processions.
There are two small chapels (a Lady Chapel on the north side and another on the east), both outside the main
liturgical space. An organ on the west clerestory wall will later replace the temporary instrument seen in 8 (page
405), but the console will remain in the position of the latter. The sacristy occupies a low wing projecting from
the south-east corner of the building. This also contains a parish meeting-room with kitchen recess, lavatories and
an electrical sub-station.
External walls are of load-bearing purple-grey Uxbridge flint bricks with recessed joints, laid in Monk bond
which, with a 13 ½ in. wall, provides continuous rectangular vertical spaces in the thickness of the wall. The
rainwater drainage is contained in these spaces so that no plumbing appears on the face of the building. The
internal columns are 12in. diameter reinforced concrete, cast in cardboard tubes. The aisle roofs are also reinforced
concrete, fairfaced from plywood shuttering in 4ft. squares. These conform to the 4ft. module on which the whole
plan is based, enabling the 2ft. paving squares, for example, to meet the walls without cutting. The aisle roofs take
the form of folded slabs 4in thick resting on a continuous concrete sill on top of the aisle wall which also acts as a
tie. The clerestory beam is an upstand from the aisle roofs and consists of a series of linked double cantilevers. A
groove in its upper surface takes electric cables with outlets to the nave light-fittings.
- 56 -
The nave roof has steel lattice-beams (a diagrid concrete structure was first chosen but steel was substituted in
the belief that it would be more economical) and a timber ceiling faced with white-painted asbestos acoustic tiles.
The roof covering is asphalt with marble chips and aluminium flashings. The lantern is of welded steel, painted
dark blue and double
glazed. It has a ceiling
of wood-wool painted
green and an
roof. Aisle windows
are steel, also painted
blue, with clear sheet
glass. The porch has a
strip between the
concrete slab roof.
Heating is by forced
warm air from 16
electric heaters in
eight pits sunk in
floor, each pit having
an inlet and an outlet
Fleetwood, Buss and
Anns. Electrical and
Peter Jay & Partners:’
A date was set for the laying of the Foundation Stone. This stone can still be seen from the street just
above ground level at the south-west corner of the church. The local newspaper cutting above reports
on this just a few days later. Almost certainly the stone was carved by Ralph Beyer. For me one of the
Maguire and Murray church buildings which has the nearest feel to St. Paul’s, Bow Common is the
Benedictine Community Chapel of West Malling Abbey in Kent (1964-66).
Their much larger Foundation
stone by Ralph Beyer is very close
in design to that at Bow Common
and being protected from the
elements still shows the incisions
picked out in paint as I’m sure was
the case at Bow Common and is
recorded as being so, somewhere
that I have read. The ‘signature’
colour used by Maguire and
Murray for all on Beyer’s carved
work at Bow Common, and also
for the fascia at the top of the
glazed lantern was called ‘Bull’s
Blood’! A very evocative name
and echoing the grittiness and
hard-edge of the building’s
The Bishop arrives flanked by Fr. Kirkby & curate, Fr. John Rowe
- 57 -
A sandstone was used for the
Foundation Stone and it is
delightful that when you look at
it closely you can see some tiny
fossils and remnants of
profoundly past ages. For me,
that too is a deeply connecting
thing that this radical ‘new’
creation is actually earthed and
connected to a far greater
history than just this passing
It was the building company,
Bovis, who held the
construction contract. Bob
Maguire remembers this: 27 ‘The
Cost Planning’ team who worked
with me at the Architects Journal included Peter Trench, who was Managing Director of Bovis Ltd., at that
time a medium-sized firm of builders who had invented a system of costing buildings in which they gave an
initial estimate of basic cost, free of profit, and a fee they would charge for the job. They then kept open books,
and the client paid the actual cost in labour and materials (being informed at monthly intervals of how this
compared to the original estimate, so that changes of mind could be made if necessary) and if the cost came
out greater than the estimate, the fee remained the same. The intention being that Bovis had no interest in
claims for extras on a contract price. Peter Trench was a person of integrity, and I decided to use Bovis to
build the church. The system worked.’
The photographs which follow are the surviving record of that day
Saturday 20th December 1958 at 11 am.
The Bishop of Stepney
who consecrated the
Foundation Stone was
the Rt. Revd. Everard
Lunt, a serious but good
and godly man, and it
was he who, almost
exactly 6 years later
would confirm me at my
home church of St. Johnat-
Hackney in the
in the East End!
Fifty years to the day and
to the minute, also a
Saturday, on 20th
December 2008 at 11 am
a small group of us
gathered to re-dedicate the Stone, mostly current church members but also three people from the
past including Mary McKenzie, still a church member from those days.
There may have been a blessing of the whole site of the church
The building site
- 58 -
When I looked at the photographs carefully I realised that we still had and were still using certain items
used on that day – a holy water bowl and sprinkler, a thurible for burning incense, a processional cross
and a church banner. These were concrete witnesses to that day and so we used them again 50 years
later to the very minute.
Before we processed out of the
church to rededicate the
Foundation Stone I took the
congregation to see these
mementos of that day and
explained to them what they
were and that we would be
using them again.
To my complete amazement,
one of the past church
members there, Julian
Edwards, then revealed that he
was the young boy of 15 we see
in the photographs carrying
the cross! He agreed to carry it
again to the same spot exactly
50 years later – a small but
amazingly powerful connection
to that day of the
genesis of St. Paul’s, Bow Common! How often in our lives to we ever manage to come full circle to
doing the same thing 50 years later?
Another similarly resonance event occurred in 2012 when the then current Bishop of Stepney, the Rt.
Revd. Adrian Newman, who was consecrated a bishop just days earlier, came to dedicate the newly
refurbished church hall at St. Paul’s, Bow Common. He saw the display in church of the church’s
history and noticed that he had brought back to the church the same Bishop’s pastoral staff as used by
Bishop Lunt (and as seen in the photographs)!
When they knew
Bishop Adrian was
going to be
Bishop Lunt’s family
made a gift to him of
their father’ pastoral
staff - and here it was
Even more extraordinarily,
as the bishop
observed the date of
the consecration of
Stone, he realised
that it was carried out
on the very day
before he was born!
The Foundation Stone is consecrated
Fr. John Rowe / Bishop Everard Lunt Fr. Gresham Kirkby
- 59 -
(Note the young Bob Maguire!) The Stone is set in place
The Foundation Stone is moved into place
- 60 -
Fifty years later, to the day and to the minute, we gathered to rededicate the Foundation Stone.
This gifted young man was the foreman of the bricklayers!
The Foundation Stone is finally and truly laid.
- 61 -
The four people shown above were present on the day of the laying of the Foundation Stone,
Mary MacKenzie (in red) still being a church member! Julian Edwards is shown beside her,
carrying the same cross he carried to the same place exactly 50 years earlier, aged 15!
The banner carried on that day was also used at the re-dedication of the Stone. Tiny fossil shell
fragments can be seen in both faces of the Stone itself.
Re-Dedication of the Foundation Stone: Saturday 20th December 2008 at 11 am
- 62 -
ST. PAUL’S BOW COMMON IS BUILT!
Alas, there is no record that I have been able to trace of the actual construction of the church, either
photographic or written. The larger newspaper cutting above, of December 1958 mentions that the
building was scheduled for completion in October 1959 whereas the smaller cutting sets the 2nd
week of October 1960 as the completion target! The few of our oldest church members who
witnessed all of this have confirmed that the church was indeed in use late in 1959, although not
consecrated until 30th April 1960.
Again, sadly, the PCC Minutes provide no running commentary during this period of building,
completion of building works and early use up to the Consecration. As mentioned earlier, from
the time when demolition was probably taking place (July 1958) through to 8 Feb. 1959 there is no
record of any PCC Meetings and the only buildings-related item briefly mentioned is the possible
sale of the old organ stored since the bombing in St. Luke’s Church and then moved elsewhere.
The sale of it was a vital contribution to the provision of a new organ in the new church. No Annual
Church Meeting is recorded for 1959 but the meeting in April has this interesting little fund-raising
24 April 1959
‘Appeal: It was suggested that we should (go) round the parish selling bricks on Friday evenings and ask the
people if they would like to have a collection box.’
As the building nears completion in October 1959 there is this note:
16 October 1959
‘It was suggested by Fr. Rowe that we should have a meeting soon after the Bazaar to discuss the interior
decoration of the church, and ask Bob and Keith Murray down.’
There are no meetings for the next 4 months and then in February 1960 the Consecration is being
planned only two months away.
17 February 1960
‘Appeal: The Appeal Fund now stands at £919.7s.1d (including Post office account) and we expect to
reach our aim of £1000.0.0d by the time of the consecration on the 30th April 1960.
Heating in the new church: It was suggested by Mrs. Walden that we start a fund for heating in the new
church. Each member of the congregation should give 6d a week towards the fund which will be run by Mr.
Consecration: It is almost certain that the Consecration will be held on Saturday the 30th April 1960 at
7.00 pm. Invitations are being printed and all those people connected with the church be sent one. It was
suggested that a leaflet should be printed, and that every house in the parish should receive one. M. Walden
will design the leaflet. It was also suggested that a week of celebrations should follow the Consecration, and
that people in the parish would be invited to visit the church on any evening during that week, and that
one of the members of the congregation should be on hand to answer any questions they may ask.’
21 April 1960 Annual Meeting (Nine days before the Consecration)
‘Consecration: The Bishop of London will preside at the consecration. It was suggested by Fr. Kirkby
that there be an all-night vigil of prayer, on the Friday night prior to the consecration. Fr. Kirkby also
suggested that during the week following the consecration thee should be sung mass on Wednesday and
Friday evenings. Immediately following the consecration refreshment will be served in the school hall.’
I have seen Fr. Kirkby’s own explanation for the date of Consecration – that the International
Workers’ Day – or ‘Labour Day’ - was on May 1st (Since 1955 it was also the Feast of St. Joseph the
Worker) and he wished for the church to be dedicated as close as possible to that significant date!
- 63 -
In his ‘Church Building’ article of 1962, Bob Maguire ended his account of the building with some
costings and also with a tribute to the work force who built the church.
6 ‘This result could have been impossible without the co-operation of an excellent general foreman and a
building team who entered into the spirit of the work. Among these the foreman bricklayer (who was 24) was
an out-standing craftsman, and the brickwork of this building is better than any we have seen in recent
For me, as well as the great names we have considered should also be included people such as that
young foreman of the bricklayer (who is identified in a photograph a few pages earlier). His skill and
standards were exceptional and the quality of the brickwork wherever you look in the building is its
(not so) hidden glory. Were the brickwork set to a poorer quality the building could have looked
shabby or an embarrassment. With such expanses of brick defining its appearance the skills of this man
and his team were crucial. Both inside and out there is a wonder of uniformity which I admire
enormously. I had heard stories (I think from Keith Murray) of how, young as he was, he would have
no hesitation in taking men off the job who were twice his age if their work did not satisfy his high
It is faultless throughout and is of an unusual bond called ‘Monk Bond.’ I remember standing outside
the church with two young visiting architects, one of whom had a degree of autism. Some people with
autism have an enhanced visual perception which can be hugely focused on standards of detail. In the
middle of our conversation he broke off and walked up to the brick face of the church just by the main
doors, laid his arms and face against it and with closed eyes absorbed the perfection of the brick
patterning in a way the other two of us would be quite unable to do. It was a remarkable experience to
see the quality of the craftsmanship of the church through his eyes and giftedness.
When we had the major celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the consecration of the church in 2010 I
twice wrote to Bovis, at high level and also at office level to ask about the whereabouts of the foreman
brickie, now in his 70’s and (someone who seemed to know told me) still very much alive and active. I
especially wanted him to see what he had helped create 50 years on and to fete him as one of the heroes
of the event. Alas, neither letter ever received the courtesy of a reply. Presumably dismissed as some
strange Vicar barking on about something or after some favour! They didn’t seem to appreciate what
a credit to Bovis that man had been. Standards change, maybe.
Just two years after completion of the building, Bob Maguire made this summary of costs:
6 ‘The inexpensive materials used in the church were a stimulus. They have a part in the relationship between
this church and the place and people. In trying to use ordinary industrial materials well, we have been
concerned to affirm the intrinsic value of cheap, good materials and good work. The use of some rich materials
is part of the same concept; they affirm by their relationship to the simple materials the value of both. They
are intended to "sing" together, setting each other off.
The following are final account figures:
Church, including porch and meeting room £40,970
Outside works (pavings, walls, fences, etc.) £ 2,516
The cost of the building includes some £1,000 for extra foundations due to the discovery of old cellars on the
The cost of outside works is perhaps a rather higher proportion of the total than is usual, and is accounted
for by the very long road frontages: there are roads on three sides of the site.
The following figures are in the form used in cost analyses in the Architects’ Journal:
Total floor area (inside external walls) 9,503 sq. ft.
Cost per sq. ft. of floor area 86s. 3d.
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This view is possibly the earliest
that there is of the newly built
church, from either late in 1959 or
early in 1960. There is no notice
board on the church as yet and
also no ropes have not so far been
fitted to the two church bells –
both a sign that the building is
not yet formally in use.
It is also interesting to see the
houses beyond the church which
would soon be replaced by an
enormous tower block!
For purposes of comparison, readers may find the following information valuable:
Number of "places" 500
Cost per "place" £ 82
Floor area of main church per "place" 15.4 sq. ft.
Cube of total building 270,250 cu. ft.
Cost per ft. cube 3 s
Height to main roof 37 ft.
Height to top of lantern 60 ft.
So far as we can at the moment ascertain (there is almost no detailed information published on this) the cost
per "place" is well below the national average for Anglican churches, while the floor area per "place" is
considerably more generous than average.’
- 65 -
The Bishop strikes the main door
three times with his pastoral staff
to seek admittance.
The Bishop blesses and
consecrates the new building
with holy water.
The Bishop goes in procession
around the perimeter of the
church to bless the building.
with holy water.
SATURDAY 30TH APRIL 1960 ~ 7 PM
THE CONSECRATION AND DEDICATION OF ST. PAUL’S, BOW COMMON
BY THE BISHOP OF LONDON,
THE RT. REVD. HENRY MONTGOMERY CAMPBELL
- 66 -
~ The Order of Service ~
- 67 -
~ The Press ~}
East London Advertiser 5th May 1960
- 68 -
~ First Reactions to the New Building ~
The first formal but ‘unofficial’ comment on St. Paul’s, Bow Common was not at all encouraging!
The Bishop of London who consecrated the building, Bishop Henry Montgomery Campbell, is
recorded in the press cutting above as having ‘indirectly dismissed the unusual structure of the
church’ in his sermon when he said, “We come here not to criticise but to perform a duty.” I’m
told that the disapproving look on his face in all the photographs of the event was more his
common demeanour than a specifically sour response to the building he was having to dedicate.
I have it on good authority that in the small selection of press clippings which follow the
anonymous ascription of the comment, “I hope the inside is not as bad as the outside …. It’s
worse!” to ‘a bishop,’ was made, in fact, by Bishop Winnington Ingram as he entered the church
for the first time on that night of Dedication! At the major celebrations 50 years later to the day, led
by the present Bishop of London, Bishop Richard Chartres, he confirmed that this generally dour
outlook was, indeed, something for which his predecessor had a bit of a reputation! Interestingly
and purely by chance, Bishop Chartres brought with him the same pastoral staff as had been used
on that night of dedication 50 years earlier!
These press clippings which follow (not quite complete) come from the church archive:
- 69 -
- 70 -
Some Early Photos of the New Church
The Church School had been founded in 1860, two years after the first St. Paul’s, Bow Common
was built. The churches of St. Paul’s and St. Luke’s each had their own church school but after the
War and post-War reorganisation, just St. Paul’s School continued, now with the name, ‘St. Paul
with St. Luke.’ Maguire and Murray built a new school (their first school) near the church in
Leopold Street in 1972. Up to then the school remained at its original site near to St. Luke’s Church
on the other side of Burdett Rd. In 1960 one of the first major services after the dedication was to
give thanks for the School centenary and these three photographs witness to that occasion. It is
interesting to see the church as it was at first, with no mosaics as yet, no canopy (ciborium) over
the altar & the organ not yet installed up on the west wall of the church but with a temporary small
organ/harmonium which can be seen in the background. Fr Kirkby and Fr. John Rowe preside.
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This and the following are
two of the very few early
views that remain of the
inside of the church.
- 72 -
There are no mosaics yet
nor has the steel and
marble canopy ‘ciborium’
been installed over the
altar, both very much part
of the original design but
not yet in place.
Charles Lutyens did not
start work on the mosaics
until 1963 and that places
these views as taken at
some time between 1960
Without the ciborium in
place there is an extraordinary
sense of the huge
open volume of the church.
The small wheat sheaf
against a pillar is a clue that
this may have been taken at
Harvest-tide in 1960.
In 1965 English Heritage took the 4 views below of the still new church:
- 73 -
- 74 -
In correspondence with me in 2009, Bob Maguire wrote:
27 ‘We organised conferences of clergy and architects, and in early 1959 Peter Vowles, Vicar of Perry Beeches,
Birmingham, asked me to be me architect for his new church after attending one of them. A few weeks later
Sir Arthur Norrington, President of Trinity College, Oxford, wrote to me with an invitation to design a
large scheme of new rooms (two quadrangles) within the College’s grounds. It was obvious that I could no
longer do the job at the Architectural Press, but more than that, I needed help with the management of what
had become an architectural practice.
Keith was working on the design for the mosaics (for St. Paul’s, Bow Common) and also starting to carve
a large figure of Christ in Majesty for the east wall at St Katherine’s, as well of course as doing his job as
MD of Watts & Co. I raised the question as to whether, as he had management skills and as we had such a
common understanding of the general task we were committed to, he thought a partnership might work.
It was a difficult decision for us both. He would have to give up a fairly well-paid and secure job and probably
pass the mosaic work over to someone else (it turned out that he was already in doubt as to whether he could
satisfactorily achieve the Christ figure), in order to do a job which was as yet a complete unknown. I would
be taking a gamble in taking on a partner who had no idea how to design a building, let alone construct it,
and had no experience of the building world or the awful intricacies of building contracts.
But we jumped in. Just at that moment the Murrays left the Regents Square studio house having bought a
house in Islington; Keith took over the living quarters and we moved into the studio as our office. In October
1959 we became Robert Maguire & Keith Murray. I negotiated my departure from under the aegis of
Carden and Godrey. I felt we needed to give the new practice a firm identity in the form of an oeuvre. St
Paul’s was nearing completion and Perry Beeches had been approved by the parish; discussions were under
way with Trinity College. It seemed a good idea to bring all the work under the name of the new practice.
That is why, in publications, St Paul’s is correctly credited to Robert Maguire up to 1959 (e.g. in Liturgy
and Architecture, the Architectural Review and reviews by Ian Nairn) with or without the Carden & Godfrey
attachment and reference to Keith Fendall as consulting designer, and after 1959 it appears with the RM &
The way in which Keith and I worked together always seemed a mystery to our friends outside the practice.
While it was true that Keith handled the administrative, financial and personnel side of things, and the actual
design of all our buildings originated on my own drawing-board, it was far from that simple. He and I had
totally similar appreciations of how architectural space ‘works’, although I was conscious that the image in
his mind’s eye was always more ‘traditional’ or perhaps ‘historical’ than that in mine.
This however didn’t matter, because as I gave architectural form to a building he accepted with enthusiasm
its more radical appearance. So we were able to discuss design strategy and the ‘feel’ of what a project seemed
to need, with complete understanding, and in fact we developed a ‘shorthand’ way of talking about
architectural concepts which was rapid and incomprehensible to others, even those near to us in the office.
Also, he was the most incisive critic; he could see immediately where a design wasn’t going to work. Besides
all this, he developed a fine knowledge of building contract law and of procedures on building sites.’
The mosaics of the Heavenly Host were an integral part of the design of the church and were to
have been executed by Keith Murray but were then handed on to Charles Lutyens. Over a period
of five years he created this extraordinary work using War reparation funds for stained glass in
the old church and there is more about Lutyens and his work later.
The spandrels above each of the columns remained blank, therefore, for a while, and from 1963
single-handedly he created what is probably Britain’s largest contemporary mosaic executed by
one person. Photographs follow which are from this period and any of the interior show the
mosaics in the process of being created. Charles Lutyens’ scaffolding can be seen in this view.
- 75 -
With the new church now consecrated and in use, and everything was not yet in place with funds still
needing to be raised. These extracts of Minutes of PCC meetings hint at this need in the year following:
15 March 1961
‘Moved by Miss McKenzie, seconded by Mrs. Edwards, that Mrs. Payne’s bequest of £417 be sold and the
money spent on furnishings for a chapel. Carried.
Moved by Miss McKenzie, seconded by Mrs. Edwards, that Miss Jeffrey’s original bequest be sold and the
money to go towards furnishings for the high altar. Carried.
Father Kirkby reported that Sheffield Cathedral was considering buying the old organ for £2,500.
The crucifix for the south wall and a hymn board were now ready to be put up and the processional
cross will be ready for Easter.
Vicarage The Diocesan authorities have indicated that they ae anxious to have work on the new
vicarage started, since Robeson Street is scheduled for demolition within the year.’
5 April 1961 Annual Meeting
‘New Vicarage: To be started this year. Plans were being made and the Archdeacon had approved them
Agreed that we should have the evening service around 4 p.m. and have a tea party afterwards.’
In the section which follows is a fairly comprehensive collection of responses and reactions in the
architectural world to the new building, from 1963 – 1998.
- 76 -
How the architectural world responded to St. Paul’s, Bow Common
in the decades that followed its construction.
1963: G. Cope
8 ‘The most striking new Anglican church is London, Bow Common, St. Paul (Maguire, 1960) where no
special choir accommodation has been provided — the singers occupy one section of the nave seating which
is arranged in wedgeshaped blocks around three sides of a square sanctuary - itself very much' in the midst
of a rectangular building. This is definitely a room for the eucharistic gathering and the font is symbolically
well placed near the entrance: there is no fixed pulpit or lectern. This church, based on a radical analytical
approach to the liturgical requirements constructed with an uncompromising use of common materials, is
undoubtedly a landmark in the English scene.’
1964: Ian Nairn
9 ‘The only modern building in the London Transport area to reflect any real credit on the Church of England.
What a judgement! A compact, tough-minded cube of purple bricks, top-lit, in a tough-minded area.
Passionate and original to the cross on the dome but a truly religious originality, not an applied or
architectural one. In terms of sincerity, Robert Maguire is a twentieth-century Butterfield and this is our
All Saints Margaret Street. The plan is based on a central altar. Inside, columns and light fittings decorously
frame what for once really is a holy place - the light fittings off-centre inside the columns, which is
tremendously effective. The passages around have saw-toothed roofs which let in light unevenly like a broken
prayer. The porch carries vibrant lettering, not conforming to any current cliché, which says: ‘Truly this is
none other but the house of God. This is the gate of Heaven.’ Indeed it is and what else is there to say '!’
1964: G.E. Kidder-Smith:
10 [Construction—reinforced concrete inner frame carrying brick tower walls: load-bearing brick outer walls;
steel-framed roof over centre, folded concrete roof over sides.
Finish and colours—purple-grey brick outside and in; white concrete finish; reddish stone and white flint
brick floor laid in processional pattern; natural wood pews with red cushions. 200 moveable seats at present,
expandable to 500 as neighbourhood grows. Protestant]
10 ’Bow Common represents the Church of England’s first substantial essay into post-war church building,
and, further, its first positive statement of the new Liturgical Movement. It must be judged, therefore, as a
pioneer, and a brave and somewhat experimental one at that. In a nondescript neighbourhood that is destined
for redevelopment into eleven-storey apartment buildings, the church stands out with an angular
forcefulness which, though a mite awkward in the prominent ‘lantern’, promises a welcoming retreat inside.
The plan is squarish with low aisles around all four sides and a lofty inner nave and sanctuary. The octagonal
entry terminates one end of the diagonal and the sacristy and offices, etc. the other.
Only the font and the altar are permanently fixed. Maguire particularly wanted an intimate relation between
altar, priest and congregation; he therefore placed the altar well forward and surrounded it on three sides by
pews. There is, thus, a respectful grouping about the sanctuary, and a focus on it intensified by the downpouring
of light from the great lantern directly above. There is also, however, a certain amorphous and
temporary quality along the outer edges of the interior space which is particularly unsatisfactory behind the
altar. The wall here, with small chapel centred behind, serves scarcely more than a service and circulation
area that as background detracts from the holiness of the sanctuary.
Moreover, the visibility of the small triangles of clear glass (in the folded roof planes) behind the altar does
not help-clear glass behind an altar rarely does. Another disturbing detail can be seen in the guillotine
appearance of the wrought iron corona lucis, defining the sanctuary. In some respects, thus, the church is
weak. However, in basic thinking, particularly as regards the plan and the altar’s relation to the
congregation, Bow Common can exert a powerful and salutary influence on British religious architecture. A
church school and eventually a new vicarage will be added adjacent to it.’
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1965: Maguire and Murray
11 ‘A church is a place for the assembly of the people of God. lt is a holy place, consecrated, set apart for this
purpose.‘ While these two linked ideas were the basis of the design, it was developed to fulfil the special needs
of the place and a particular Christian community. For instance, while the church had to be able to seat 500
people its normal congregation would be much smaller. The central space within the colonnade and the
continuous aisles around it are so arrangecl that a small congregation within the columns will not feel lost,
since the columns, white and brightly lit on their inner faces, produce a strong feeling of enclosure, On the
other hand, these columns do not cut off people in the lower aisles, since the form oi the aisle roofs projects
the space towards the centre.
The church may be seen as a pattern of relationships, which are significant because of their
function in the context of an actual liturgy; a liturgy seen as a movement towards the place of the
altar and communion, a movement towards the light. In this church the movement is inwards through
the dark porch, past the font, through the procession to the place of the Ministry of the Word – synaxis - into
the light of the sanctuary.‘ In this the colonnade, and hanging corona of lights around the sanctuary, and the
ciborium define the spaces without preventing free movement between them.
The church is built out of cheap flint brick and fair-faced concrete, exposed rolled steel sections and ordinary
concrete paving slabs like the pavement of the street outside; each thing carefully done, an affirmation of the
intrinsic value of ordinary industrial materials and good work. Contrasted with these materials will be
mosaics of angels in the panels above the columns.’
July 1965: Nicholas Taylor:
12 ’The Church of St Paul, Bow Common, built in the eastern part of Stepney in 1958-60 to the design of Robert
Maguire and Keith Murray, has recently been described with justice as ‘the only modern building in the London
Transport area to reflect any real credit on the Church of England’. The Established Church has spent over £20
million on new church buildings in England since 1945. The vast majority of these, designed by a strange breed
of ‘ecclesiastical architects’, have been watered down versions of the traditional Gothic pattern or, more recently,
attempts at the spectacular art-modern, á la Coventry Cathedral. This is partly the result of the general quiescence
that lay upon English architecture between 1905 and 1935, at the time when modern architecture was reaching
maturity on the Continent. Yet some of the most important roots of this new architecture lay in the church
architecture of the English Gothic Revival, in the work of Butterfield, Street, Norman Shaw and William Morris.
The pioneer churches of the Oxford Movement in the East End - St Columba's, Haggerston; St Chad’s, Hoxton;
St Peter’s, London Docks - were strong, ‘realistic’ buildings of hard red brick with clearly defined liturgical plans
for the circumstances of the 1860’s. St. Paul’s Bow Common, is an attempt to provide their equivalent for the
changed conditions of the 1960's.
It stands on the corner of Burdett Road and St Paul’s Way, replacing a blitzed Gothic Revival church (1856,
architect Rhode Hawkins). The immediate surroundings are bleak: prefabs, decayed terrace houses, land cleared
for new housing - and the vigorous outline of the railway viaduct which slices through that part of the East End.
The first sight of the church is of a solid, rather stumpy mass of dark purplish brick (the mass is designed to
contrast with tall flats which are shortly to be erected on the cleared site next door). Three elements are clearly
apparent at close quarters: the continuous 12-ft. high blank wall surrounding the church at ground level, topped
by the saw-toothed ‘folded slab’ roofs of the aisles; the high box-like enclosure of the main space for the
congregation, with the two bells and their machinery roughly clamped onto it; and the central pyramidal lantern
lighting the sanctuary, steel-framed and clad in ribbed aluminium sheet.
On the south side the bounding wall is prolonged to encircle an electricity sub-station, the sacristy and the
meeting room, which has a massive beamed roof. The geometry of these parts is superbly calculated and the brick
surfaces are of a quality rarely found in England. To the east a courtyard has recently been formed with the
erection of the vicarage. The church has an astonishing immensity when seen from this side, with the diminutive
eastern chapel playing up the volume of the main rectangle. The vicarage itself is an attractive yellow-brown brick
villa, with a large glazed upper room rather like that of a signal box (perhaps an appropriate image for a vicar).’
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1966: Ian Nairn:
13 ‘ One worthwhile new church in a city region of ten millions, at a time when France and Germany have
dozens. Make what you like of the implications. Anyway, here it is, burningly honest but not aggressive on
a run-down steet corner (Budett Rd. and St. Paul’s Way) in Stepney. It is completely fresh, the perennial
force seen again for the first time. Purple brick, a top-lit cube on a long podium, with a porch almost detached
with quivering letters on it: This is the Gate of Heaven. And it is.
Not one thing has come out of slickness or reaction oi a wish to be original. Hence it is tuly original, like All
Saints, Margaret Steet, a centuy before. Often locked, but it is worth digging out the keys, for it was built
from the inside out, around a central altar. This is under the cube. Around it lights dance on a square iron
frame, better than all the copies of parclose screens. Demure, yet full of fun, reverent, yet completely lighthearted:
the place seems to heal you.’
1969: Michael Webb:
14 ‘One of the main canons of good architecture is fitness for purpose. Purposes are constantly being
redefined, but it is usually possible to judge a secular building objectively. With churches it is not so easy,
partly because the activities they enshrine are concerned more with spiritual than material ends & partly
because of dogmatic distinctions hallowed by centuries of tradition. Between Calvinist austerity & Roman
Catholic theatricality lie a wealth of subtle gradations affecting plan, structure, lighting & furnishing,
Attempts to build non-denominational churches have made little headway, despite all the talk of Christian
unity. What progress has been made has come in the form of separate initiatives directed towards similar
ends. On the Continent, the Liturgical Movement has inspired a quantity of churches that dissolve the
barriers - physical and psychological - between clergy and laity, and speak to the 20th century in the language
of the living. Britain remained, even 10 years ago, isolated from this movement, but since then there has been
a gradual stirring.
The most outspoken apostle of change in Britain is an Anglican, Peter Hammond, whose books ‘Liturgy and
Architecture’ and ‘Towards a New Church Architecture’ have exerted considerable influence. Hammond's
views are worth quoting at length, for they represent the impatience and idealism of a whole new generation
in the Anglican Church. ‘The majority of our post-war churches are anachronistic - whether they are built
in a contemporary idiom or not – because their layout embodies a conception of the Church and its worship
which is essentially medieval. The fact that many of them exploit the possibilities of new structural methods
and materials does not make them modern churches. Everywhere today one finds Christians ‘attempting to
worship in buildings that imply beliefs they do not hold and patterns of worship they do not practice.
A church is essentially a place for doing, for corporate action in which all are participants and each has his
appropriate function to perform; it is not a sort of jewelled cave in which the solitary individual may find
some kind of worship experience, and where his emotions may be kindled by the contemplation of a remote
spectacle.’ Jewelled caves and medieval plans are still being designed, and a majority of the clergy probably
feel more at home in them than they would in the functional interiors preferred by Hammond. But nowhere
does he propound doctrines of the sort that made the gothic style almost obligatory for 19th-century churches.
In fact, he is chiefly concerned with planning and with a logical relationship of the different elements. He
suggests that, just as the stage is the starting point for a new conception of theatrical space, so should the
sanctuary be for the church. Symbols should be relevant and well thought out, not decorative additions. The
altar stands both for sacrifice and for the table used at the Last Supper; its form should express this, and it
should be set well forward so that the priest or minister can celebrate communion while facing the
congregation. Choir stalls interposed between nave and sanctuary (as in Coventry Cathedral) create a barrier
to corporate worship. These are fundamental precepts that need not inhibit the architects’ creativity, but do
establish certain priorities. Churches are, above all, functional buildings, not excuses for artistic selfindulgence
or tasteful exercises in revivalism.’
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14 ‘The architects whose beliefs accord most closely with those of Hammond are Robert Maguire and Keith
Murray. The fact that they have so far designed only Protestant churches merely reflects the greater
conservatism of the Roman hierarchy in this country; Robert Maguire is himself a Catholic, and their work
has equal relevance to all denominations.
St Paul's. London E.3
Their first job together was St Paul's, Bow Common - an austere, inwards-looking church in a tough
neighbourhood. Construction is of loadbearing purple bricks, with columns defining wide aisles and
supporting both the saw-tooth reinforced-concrete roof and the brick tower above. Church and hall are linked
by a continuous wall, and partly enclose the garden of the priest's house on the far side of the site. An
octagonal porch projects out to the north-west.
The interior is similarly down-to-earth. The altar is set well forward on an island sanctuary, and its centrality
is emphasised by an iron baldacchino. Pews seating 200 are grouped round three sides of the sanctuary, with
space for larger congregations in the aisles. The font is placed just inside the porch on the axis of the north
and west aisles.
As a breakthrough in church architecture, Bow Common is a remarkable achievement. But it has several
faults. The asymmetrical tower and lantern are subject to optical distortion. The interior lacks coherence:
there is an excess of decoration (including mosaics which were not installed when the photograph was taken),
and insufficient alignment—always a risk with centralised plans.’
1970: Nigel Melhuish:
15 ‘St. Pauls, Bow Common in still the best known modern church in England. For some years it was the
only one worth talking about. It was discussed in Sunday papers, on TV, in countless lectures on liturgical
reform, and even got a review in the New Statesman with Peter Hammond’s ‘Liturgy and Architecture’.
Between them, Hammond’s book and Bow Common had a decisive influence on the renewal of church
architecture during the sixties and both have suffered the penalty of becoming respectable. In the ecclesiastical
world (as in all societies with poor systems of internal communication) creative innovations tend either to
be ignored, or tuned into a superficial orthodoxy. In due course everyone feels stifled, and any further
development has to appear as a ‘breakthrough’ – yet another radical departure from the recent past.
Ten years after Bow Common, church architecture is again in the throes of reappraisal. A neutral observer
of the English scene – Gunter Rombold, editor of the Austrian journal Christliche Kunstblatte – wrote in
February 1970: ’The churches by Maguire and Murray are the best English churches of the ‘sixties. But
although they are ‘good architecture’ they presuppose a traditional building programme. Today church
building of the old style is being questioned fundamentally by sociologists and pastoral theologians.
… The growth of Christian unity is creating a demand for churches shared by different denominations; other
factors – notably shortage of money and clergymen – are leading to the creation of social structures alongside
the parishes and Free Church congregations. By and large the church building programmes of the last few
years have been geared to denominational and parochial systems that are likely to be changed beyond all
recognition by the end of the century. In the late ‘fifties problems of this sort were vaguely recognised, but
the main issues in church building were architectural and theological. In this country church architecture
was still under the spell of historicism, and theologians were trying to get rid of liturgical concepts inherited
from the nineteenth century. The meeting of liturgy and modern architecture may have been a limited
encounter, but it involved considerable mental adjustments on both sides. In the process it has enlarged our
understanding of the human environment, and the best churches of the ‘sixties embody ideas which are likely
to become increasingly relevant in secular architecture as well as the small world of church building.’
15 ‘… the problem of church design is not only to provide appropriate places for the various rites considered
separately but also to establish meaningful relationships. In an abstract way the connections between baptism
and communion etc. are a matter for theologians, but the spatial expression of these relationships is the
architect’s job and depends on the given situation.’
- 80 -
15 ‘Most of the churches by Maguire and Murray look straightforward enough, but the appearance of
simplicity is deceptive. Each one is a complex three-dimensional exercise based on sensitive understanding
of the various social events which make up the liturgy. Although the buildings are all different, they have
certain points in common. In each case there is one main volume, which is articulated to provide distinct but
clearly related ‘places’. The lighting is all at high level, and the quality of the interior depends on the varying
intensities of reflected light on the walls, floors and ceilings. For this reason there are no low level windows
and no views of the world outside.
These churches are all open-plan buildings, providing for several kinds of activity within the same volume.
In this respect they differ from many modern churches – especially on the Continent – where the problem
posed by the differing requirements of mass, baptism, private prayer etc., has been overcome by providing
separate compartments for each. This sort of solution makes the architect’s task easier, but only at the cost of
an impoverished symbolism.’
1973: Nigel Melhuish:
16 ’Church architecture was not a subject which interested modern architects in the 1920s and 30s. Anything
in the nature of civic or religious ritual was regarded as one of the dustier relics of the past— a part of the
disposable rubbish which formed so much of our cultural inheritance. ln the Wellsian epoch the new
movements in art and architecture were not concerned with the traditional centres of public ceremonial -
churches, palaces and town halls - but with the factory often seen as a new temple of the human spirit. A
dismissive attitude towards the past remained for a long time in the background of modern architectural
theory and after the war architects and planners sometimes found it difficult to conceal their disappointment
that the German bombers had not done their work more thoroughly.
Much of the pre-war ideology now seem as remote and curious as the Gothic Revival seemed to Kenneth
Clark in l928. The architectural radicalism of today, looking to sociology rather than the natural sciences,
regards the inherited environment as something to be handled with care. Sanity is seen to be largely
dependent on the retention of the familiar; and to destroy the well-known streets and landmarks is to disrupt
the complex network of relationships which make an established way of life. In this context the notion of
‘ritual’ has acquired ii new significance as an expression of meaning and human order - architecture is
perhaps not so much an ‘extension of human biology’ (Neutra's phrase) as an extension of ritual.
During the inter-war period the prevailing Christian theology was mystical and pietistic and church
architects were apt to think of their buildings primarily as places for solitary encounters with the mysterium
tremendum. The main interest was not the accommodation of church ceremonial - seen as a set of hallowed
clerical routines – but the creation of ‘atmosphere’. Liturgy, however, is a word which refers to activities
having a social rather than a private significance. The implications of the liturgical movement began to be
studied by architects such as Rudolf Schwarz during the 1920s, and after the war the communal nature of
the liturgy became the basic assumption of most German church building.
With a few outstanding exceptions, church architecture in Britain was unaffected by theological development
until the work of continental architects began to be published here in the late 1950s. At that time Coventry
Cathedral was still the dominant architectural influence & the central problem of modern church-building
was apt to be seen as a matter of ‘style’ - of finding suitable new clothes for the unchanging ceremonies of the
Signs of a new direction first came from the Anglicans. Peter Hammond's ‘Liturgy and Architecture’,
published in l960 provided a well-written account of the theological background to Continental churchbuilding,
together with a damaging review of the post-war achievements of the Establishment. In the same
year Robert Maguire and Keith Murray completed the church of St. Paul, Bow Common, often described us
the first really modern church in England.
For some years Bow Common was the only church which could hope to find a place in anthologies of new
British architecture. It was radical building, both in its rejection of stylistic mannerisms and in its serious
understanding of liturgy as a source of Christian meaning.’
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16 ‘The main volume of the church is a plain brick cube surrounded by a low ‘folded slab’ roof over the rear
parts of the congregational area. The sealing is arranged on three sides of the sanctuary, and the central space
is brightly lit from a high lantern. To complement the strong light in the sanctuary, there is a ring of soft
light from the low level windows above the walls surrounding the congregation.
Within the social and theoretical framework of church-building during the last decade the main features of
this arrangement have a certain logical inevitability and Bow Common was a decisive influence on the
development of church architecture during the 1960s.’
1990: Philip Gibbons:
18 ‘"A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country and in his own house."
St Paul's is a building that falls into the category of late prophet. At the time of its completion in 1960, Peter
Hammond wrote of it, “A church of outstanding promise, which may well prove to be something of a
landmark in the recreation of a living tradition of church architecture in this country." The following years
have not seen the full potential of St Paul's realised and the failure lies in the lack of relationship between
building and changing circumstance. Local East End families moved out as a massive wave of immigrants
took their place. The parish population decreased and the expected urban renewal became inner city poverty
and conflict. St Paul's seemed destined for gentle obscurity. But if the role of a prophet includes an ability to
raise questions about old ideas and challenge the status quo, then Bow Common has a voice that still deserves
to be heard!
In the '50s and '60s, the liturgical movement gave an impetus to modern church architecture which involved
“rethinking" church space to express a developed theological understanding of the structures of worship.
Bow Common realised this through an exacting simplicity of design and an understanding of human scale.
Descriptions of the actual design and construction of the church may be found in several books and articles.’
18 ‘Recently St Paul's was given grade 2* listing as a place of more than special interest. The Church Times
pointed out, “It was the first church building designed by Maguire and Murray and established their
reputation as major ecclesiastical architects. “ The vicar, the Revd Gresham Kirkby, showed great
determination and had clear ideas of what he wanted. English Heritage was to describe it as “an important
post-war church development of austere design in a tough neighbourhood. “
Many of the concerns that engaged architect and parish have now become part of the brief for contemporary
church building. The theology of the liturgy determines the foci not only in terms of altar, but also ambo,
president's seat and baptistery. Adaptability rather than fixity is a key concept. In this Bow Common shows
us the result of a partnership between a priest who saw the liturgy developing and designers who were able
to carry out and understand the vision of the parish.
Because the parish of St. Paul decreased in numbers the building ceased to be much noticed, yet it is my
contention that as it comes up to celebrating the 30th anniversary of its dedication it could have a revitalised
function as a place of pilgrimage for all who are interested in church building and worship. “Christians do
not succumb to the grace of faith first and then sort out what their options for worship might be. Augustine
worshipped with the faithful for many years before he succumbed to the grace of faith. As he himself tells us,
the sound of the Christians singing and the thunder of their amens rolling through the basilicas in which
they worshipped moved him further toward faith than did his own sharp edged arguments against the
We may also recall the envoys of the Rus, who in their search for true religion participated in the liturgy at
Justinian’s church of Hagia Sophia and were converted through this worship describing it as “Heaven on
Earth". St. Paul’s may yet prove to be such a meeting place. Oases are invaluable in the economy of the
desert. In the shifting sands of London, with the moving landmarks of culture and morality a Christian
community at worship, in a building constructed for its use is a powerful symbol. It may offer hope for the
faithful, encouragement for the pilgrim and a welcome to those who, like Augustine and so many after him,
come in search of truth.’
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1993: Robert Maguire: A Tribute to the Vicar of St. Paul’s
18 ‘ No assessment of St Paul's would be complete without mention of Fr. Gresham Kirkby, Vicar of St Paul’s
with St Luke's from the early 1950s, it was he who led a committed, indigenous East End congregation in
liturgical reform of the kind we all now take for granted. Using the freedom granted by a condemned
Victorian parish hall - no Diocesan Advisory Committees, no Faculties (though he would surely say "if
they'd said I had to ask permission, I would have ignored it,“- he and his people arranged and re-arranged
the furniture until they had the relationships right.
I still find it incredible that Gresham Kirkby was prepared to fight for a revolutionary design by an unknown
architect, getting it past a diocesan establishment which included - on the DAC - such gothicist and classicist
stalwarts as W H Godfrey and A E Richardson. The same courage, born out of profound personal piety has
carried him through the subsequent, often sad, history of his parish in which he saw demographic planners
carry off his beloved East Enders to New Towns, demolish their "slum" houses, and replace them with a
heterogeneous and largely unchurched community in multi-storey flats.
During this time he commissioned an equally revolutionary and contentious primary school (Lady Plowden
eventually declared it the only school to fulfil the recommendations of the Plowden Report and Sir Roger
Waters, then Chief Architect Planner of the GUI, said “I am amazed that such a thing can also be
architecture, but it is!") and has demonstrated how one of the toughest Educational Priority Areas in London
can share territory with the Kingdom of God.
He retires this coming year. His story is one to encourage, though perhaps not to comfort, every clergyman
about to succumb to faint heart in the face of uncomprehending authority.’
1997: RIBA exhibition Heinz Gallery, Kenneth Powell:
21 ‘This is the Gate of Heaven" reads the inscription above the entrance to St Paul's, Bow Common, in the
East End of London. It is a gate, unfortunately, through which all too few of the inhabitants of the
surrounding blocks of council flats have passed since the church was opened in l960 as a replacement for a
Victorian church destroyed by German “bombs. The product of post-war optimism, St Paul’s now faces a
struggle to survive. It is a prime example of that threatened species, the modem church.
The old St Paul’s - stone-built Victorian Gothic with a spire - fitted the popular image of a church. The new
St Paul’s (designed by Robert Maguire and Keith Murray) is externally austere, even fortress-like, with no
obvious traditional symbolism. You need to go inside to understand why it is rated as one of the best postwar
buildings in Britain. The interior, unchanged in nearly 40 years, is simple and majestic, with the
sanctuary at the centre. Instead of Victorian clutter, there are just the bare essentials of worship - altar, font
and benches beautifully made.
Father Duncan Ross, who came to the parish three years ago, loves the building, but is acutely aware of its
failings. After a long period of decline, congregations are growing, but it doesn’t help that the underfloor
heating failed some years ago. A battery of oil heaters makes little impact on the winter chill.
St Paul's was listed II* (starred - and therefore “outstanding") in 1988. It is one of only eight listed ‘postwar
churches in England, but another 53 have been recommended to the Department of National Heritage
for listing by English Heritage.
Elain Harwood of EH, the inspector in charge of post-war listing, believes that it is important for the best
work of the Fifties and Sixties to be protected. “These churches are vulnerable because of falling congregations
and the fact that they’re not appreciated" she says. “Most people don’t regard them as part of the heritage -
we need to reassess them, before it’s too late.” Harwood concedes that some modern churches were not built
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1998: Allan Doig:
23 ‘The building which is the locus classicus of centralised church planning in England must be St Paul‘s.
Bow Common. Designed by Robert Maguire and Keith Murray, its foundation stone was laid in December
1958 and it was consecrated in the spring of 1960. Peter Hammond analysed it succinctly in his book
‘Liturgy and Architecture’, immediately prior to its consecration, as follows:
‘The plan of the church is extremely simple: a rectangle almost as broad as it is long. The altar, with its
ciborium, is placed beneath a large glazed lantern which provides the main source of illumination. The
sanctuary is further defined by special paving, as is the processional way which surrounds the central space
on all sides beyond the colonnade. The congregation will enter the church through the octagonal porch in the
north-west corner, passing through the baptistery. There is also a processional west door. Behind the high
altar, on the main axis of the church, there is a small chapel for the reserved sacrament. There is a Lady
Chapel opening off the processional way to the north of the sanctuary and the organ is on the west wall.
There will be no fixed seating in the church and the position of the pulpit is to he decided in the light of
experience. This is a church of far greater importance than its unpretentious character might suggest. It is a
true domus ecclesiae, planned from the altar outwards. It may well prove to be something of a landmark in
the recreation of a living tradition of church architecture in this country.’
The church lived up to this prophecy, and in recognition of this was listed Grade II*, and in 1990 it became
the first post-war building to he offered a repair grant by English Heritage.’
In 2002, Maguire made this comment:
26 ‘Since we live in a time of accelerating change, one of the problems we have is that the last fifty years has
seen more change in the design and layout of parish churches than is at first apparent to the eye. This is
because although the vast majority of them look modern - in the sense of some variation of Modern Movement
style (or aberration of it) - the spatial concepts involved have shifted according to changing ideas about the
nature of worship, of the nature of the Church as a body, of its relationship with the unchurched world
outside, and also according to the differing degrees of understanding of those matters by their architects, and
lastly (and sadly) of the differing degrees of understanding of what the Modern Movement in architecture -
the milieu in which they thought they were working - was about.
St Paul, Bow Common was my first church and indeed my first building, on which I collaborated with Keith
Murray, who then became my partner. It was designed in 1956, took a little time to be accepted by various
authorities, and was finished and consecrated in 1960. That puts it at the beginning of the major changes.
But it really is necessary to put St Paul‘s into the context of the changing scene both before and after,
otherwise I will only be perpetuating certain historical myths. So first let me provide a very rapid and
probably rather oversimplified skip through the chronology, with some typical examples.
Then second - again, all too hasty - let us consider what we were about when we designed St Paul's. I will
just add that of course my ideas too have changed since then - it was more than half my lifetime ago - but
some things have remained constant.’
He also made this comment about context in 1995:
19 ‘You may be wondering why the churches (which I have built) are so different from each other, or why
there is not a more even developmental path running through them. The answer to that is partly that the
congregations who were the clients were really very different; the East Enders at Bow Common were very
different from the urbanized country-people at Crewe; there were of course different budgets, the places were
very varied in character, and, most important of all, there were nuances of churchmanship even though all
these early churches were Anglican.’
All © DUNCAN ROSS 2015
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1 1956 Edward D Mills: The Modern Church (book) Architectural Press London
2 1958 Peter Hammond: A Liturgical Brief Architectural Review, London
3 1960 Peter Hammond: Liturgy and Architecture (book) Barrie & Rockliffe, London
4 1962 Ed: Peter Hammond: Towards a Church Architecture (book) Architectural Press,
5 1960 Rayner Banham: A Modern Church on Liturgical Principles Architectural Review
… London December 1960
6 1962 Maguire and Murray: An Anglican Church in Stepney Churchbuilding
7 1962 Rayner Banham: Guide to Modern Architecture (book) Architectural Press, London
8 1963 Gilbert Cope: Trends in Modern European Church Architecture Studia Liturgica,
…. Rotterdam December 1963 Volume II, Number 4
9 1964 Ian Nairn: Modern Buildings in London (book) London Transport
10 1964 G.E. Kidder-Smith : The New Churches of Europe Architectural Press, London
11 1964 Maguire & Murray: Modern Churches of the World (book) Dutton Vista, London
12 1965 Nicholas Taylor: St. Paul’s, Bow Common, A Realistic Church for our Time
Vol 8 No 1 ‘East London Papers’ : New Architecture IV
13 1966 Ian Nairn: Nairn’s London (book) Penguin Books: Harmondsworth
14 1969 Michael Webb: Architecture in Britain Today (book) Country Life, London
15 1970 Nigel Melhuish: Church building in the ‘sixties Architects’ Journal, London
… 8 July 1965
16 1973 Nigel Melhuish: Church Building in Britain The Architect, London January 1973
17 1990 Keith Murray: Introduction to Lutyens’ Mosaic Churchbuilding,
… London, Spring 1990
18 1990: Colin Coward: Forward to the Fifties: Churchbuilding,
……..Robert Philip Gibbons: St. Paul’s, Bow Common, A voice in the wilderness:
……. A Tribute to the Vicar of St. Paul’s: Robert Maguire London, Winter 1990
19 1995 Robert Maguire: Annual Lecture, Continuity and Modernity in the Holy Place.
Architectural History: Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians
20 1995 Donald Williamson: MA Thesis The religious and architectural significance of
…. All Saints Church, Crewe, Cheshire
21 1997 RIBA Exhibition ‘The 20th Century Church’: notes
22 1997 Edwin Heathcote & Iona Spens: Church Builders Academy Editions, Chichester
23 1998 Alan Doig: Theology Reflects on the Arts Epworth Review, Volume 25, No.1
.. January 1998
24 1998 Elain Harwood: Liturgy and Architecture The Twentieth Society, London
25 1999 Tanya Harrod: The Crafts in Britain in the 20th Century Yale University Press
26 2002 Robert Maguire: Ecclesiology Today Journal of the Ecclesiological Society
.. January 2002
27 2009 Robert Maguire: Private correspondence with Duncan Ross (unpublished)
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28 2010 Robert Maguire: Reflection on the 50th Anniversary (unpublished)
29 2012 Gerald Adler: Robert Maguire & Keith Murray Twentieth Century Architects
C20 Society, RIBA, English Heritage
30 2013 Robert McGuire: St Paul's as resurrection Communication with Duncan Ross
31 2012 Andamento: Journal of the British Association for Modern Mosaic (BAMM) Vol. 6
Angels of the Heavenly Host: Article by Charles Lutyens
32 1905 T. Francis Bumpus: London Churches Ancient and Modern Pub. T. Werner Laurie,
………………………………………………………………Clifford’s Inn, London
33 1967 Gordon Barnes: Stepney Churches, An Historical Account The Faith Press
35 2009 Kenneth Leech: Father Gresham Kirkby 1916-2006 Anglo-Catholic History Society
All © DUNCAN ROSS 2015
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This detailed and authoritative guide is the painstaking, dedicated work of Father Duncan Ross, Vicar of St Paul's, Bow Common from 1995 - 2013.
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