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by Peter Howell & Fr Gerard Skinner

In 1856 Cardinal Wiseman (1802-65), Archbishop of Westminster, asked Dr Henry Edward Manning (1808-92), who had been received into the Church in 1851, to found the Order of the Oblates of St Charles in London. The order had been set up by the zealous and reforming sixteenth century Archbishop of Milan, St Charles Borromeo (1538-84) and was formed of a group of diocesan priests who, whilst living in community, were dedicated to serving in parishes. Wiseman gave Manning the unfinished church of St Helen in Moorhouse Road as its base. This church had been begun in 1849, to the design of Thomas Meyer, but money ran out in about 1855, leaving a roofless shell and incomplete tower. Manning had the church completed by Henry Clutton (1819-93), who was the nephew of Manning’s deceased wife, and who himself was received into the Church in 1858. It was opened, with the new dedication to St Mary of the Angels, in 1857.

Nearby this new church lay an area of immense degradation known as ‘The Potteries’. The living conditions there were so bad that the average age of those who died was 11.6 years whereas in London as a whole it was 37 years. In 1849 it was recorded that there were more than 3,000 pigs here when The Metropolitan Commission of Sewers reported that

The majority of the houses are of a most wretched class, many being mere hovels in a ruinous condition, and are generally densely populated. They are filthy in the extreme and contain vast accumulations of garbage and offal . . . On the north, east and west sides this locality is skirted by open ditches of the most foul and pestilential character, filled with the accumulation from the extensive piggeries attached to most of the houses.

Cholera broke out in the area later that year after which the authorities attempted to remove the piggeries. By 1856 the number of piggeries had indeed halved but the number of deaths due to cholera remained constant. Piggeries were a feature of The Potteries until the late 1870s.

Realising that there was a great need for a church and school in or near this notorious slum, two sites were considered by the Oblates, the first up on the hill by St. John’s Church, the other on Pottery Lane – a space described as ‘cabin’d, cribb’d and confin’d’ (London News, 1 June 1895), almost touching a public house across the narrow street and very close to a series of stables. The latter site was chosen as it was felt that the rich could always come down the hill to go to church, but the poor would almost certainly not go up it. The church was to serve the numerous poor Catholics of Notting Dale, most of whom were Irish immigrants and who worked in the potteries or in pig breeding. On a cramped site in Pottery Lane a humble church, in severe 13th-century French Gothic, of stock brick with black brick bands was built in 1859 by Jackson and Shaw to the design of Clutton and opened on 2 February 1860, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It consisted of nave, apsidal chancel, and north aisle.

The priest in charge was Father Henry Augustus Rawes, of Trinity College, Cambridge. He paid for the building of the church, presbytery and school. Born 11 December 1826 at Easington, near Durham, he was educated at Houghton-le-Spring grammar school where his father was sometime headmaster. Rawes’ education continued at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1849 and attained his MA in 1852. He was ordained in the Church of England in 1852, having been appointed to assist in St Botolph’s Aldgate the previous year. Appointments as curate of St Bartholomew’s, Moor Lane (June 1853) and as warden of the House of Charity, Soho (May 1854), followed. In March 1856 he was received into the Church at Edinburgh by Fr Grant, S.J., and he was ordained in November the next year having already been received by Manning into the Oblates of St Charles. Fr Rawes was devoted to the Holy Ghost, and in 1877 founded the Confraternity of the Servants of the Holy Ghost. He was the author of over twenty devotional works as well as a number of hymns. According to Winefride de l’Hôpital, Bentley’s daughter and biographer, ‘Rawes was a mystic, with poetic imagination exalted to things holy and beautiful. From him Bentley derived something of his love of symbolism and a great deal of his spiritual fervour’. Drawing from his prayer life, Rawes was clearly also a zealous and practical father for his new community.

Clutton was assisted in the building of the church by a young man who had entered his office in 1857 as ‘a sort of improver’. This was John Bentley (1839-1902). His first commissions for the church were an alabaster offertory box, a bracket for a statue of St Francis and an oak folding chancel seat. Fr Rawes soon realised that the building was too small for the number of men and women who flocked to the church. According to Fr H.J. Kirk (Reminiscences of an Oblate of St Charles,1905),

Great efforts were necessarily and successfully made to secure an adjoining plot of ground, though even this hardly sufficed for the intended enlargement of the church, and the building of a Presbytery and schools. Nothing less than genius could have succeeded in adapting so irregular a piece of ground to the proposed plans.

In 1861 Bentley continued the aisle round the apse to form a Lady Chapel and added a baptistery at the west end of the aisle, as well as building a presbytery and school. Bentley had just been offered a position in Clutton’s office, but bravely decided to set up in practice on his own.  Meanwhile, on 2 February 1860, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the church was blessed and opened.

Bentley designed the altar of St John the Evangelist in March 1861. He gave the job of painting the panels to the artist Nathaniel Hubert John Westlake (1833-1921), a Catholic convert, whom he had met in the studio of the Belgian sculptor Theodore Phyffers (c.1820-76) in 1859. Westlake was to be closely associated with Bentley, executing both decorative painting and stained glass to his design, until about 1885, when a professional dispute led to a permanent breach. In 1863 Bentley designed a house for Westlake in the neighbourhood, now 235 Lancaster Road: this was his first complete building.

Wiseman was so struck with the altar of St John that he invited Westlake to lunch. When he heard that Bentley was not yet a Catholic, he promised that if he became one he would baptise him (as was the practice for converts at the time). In 1861 Bentley became seriously ill with rheumatic fever. Westlake encouraged him to make a vow to St Thomas of Canterbury promising that he would become a Catholic if he were cured. Bentley did make such a vow but to Our Lady instead and he did recover his good health. Eventually, under the influence of Clutton, Rawes and Westlake, to say nothing of an ‘old Irish labourer’ at Farm Street, Bentley was indeed baptised by Wiseman on 16 April 1862 – the first person to be baptised in his new baptistery at St Francis (though the font was not yet installed). He took Francis as his baptismal name, and henceforth signed himself J.F. Bentley.

In 1863 Bentley designed the sumptuous high altar, for which Westlake again did the paintings. Further works followed: the porch and the arcading of two bays of the chancel were carved in 1864; the ‘arch of the chancel’ was added in 1865; in 1870 a canopied niche was provided for the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary; in 1872 stained glass was installed in the baptistery; in 1872-3 the sanctuary was decorated; and in 1876 brass altar rails, more candlesticks and new heating were provided.

All the while Fr Rawes had more pressing concerns which he wrote in a report to the Diocese in 1869. He worried over

the great poverty of the people, who are often hindered from going to Mass for want of decent clothes; the poor spending their time earning money in the laundries instead of attending to their homes, and consequently neglecting their children; the sin of drunkenness prevailing amongst the women as well as the men.

No wonder Cardinal Manning is recorded as having preached in St Francis on several occasions in order to encourage his hearers to give up alcohol altogether.

Fr Rawes remained at St Francis until 1880, when having been appointed Superior of the Oblates, he moved to St Mary of the Angels. He had been made prefect of studies at St Charles College, the grammar school opened by Cardinal Manning in North Kensington, in 1874 and was granted a Doctorate in Theology by Pope Pius IX in 1875. He died at the Oblates’ house in Brighton, having suffered for some time from dementia, on 24 April 1885, aged 58, and is buried in the spot he had chosen in 1878 in the cemetery of St Mary Magdalen, Mortlake, where he lies close to Bentley, Mrs de l’Hôpital, and Clutton.

In 1882 the church was lengthened westwards. A tribune was constructed over the baptistery, which necessitated the loss of the squints in the Community Room which Rawes considered ‘its great feature’. A new room was added to the Presbytery, which allowed for the accommodation of three priests.

Three priests were more than needed in the parish and, according to a press report of 1895, the clergy actively sought to alleviate the sorrows of the local population:

The ‘dim religious light’ [of the interior of the church as lit by gaslight] had a rather pleasing effect, and seemed to be in harmonious keeping with the surroundings of the place, where the sorrows and sins of poverty are perhaps deeper and darker than in any other part of London. For the neighbourhood is that Avernus [Mouth of Hell] of the West about which so much has been written in the press, or spoken from the pulpit, and for which so little has been done by any of these ameliorating institutions. It is the neighbourhood of which it has been said that it defies all efforts of bishop, priest or levite to deal with, with any hope of salvation or sanitation in a moral, physical or social point of view. It is a disgrace not of Western London only, but a disgrace to the Christianity which is foiled by its wickedness. If the church of St Francis be of gloomy aspect, it certainly throws a gleam – a ray of hope – on the outside moral darkness in the midst of which it is situated. For from this centre Fr Tasker [the then Parish Priest] and the good priests who act with him are doing their best to lessen the evil reputation of the place, trusting that the evidences of their faithfulness and good work will in time be made manifest.

Working alongside the priests as well as undoubtedly hundreds of committed parishioners whose names are now only known to God were the newly founded Little Sisters of the Assumption who set up a convent at 42 St James’s Gardens in 1866, moving to 133 Lancaster Road in 1913. These sisters, whose principal apostolate was nursing the poor in their own homes, were to be a presence in the parish until 1983.

Fr Tasker himself, in an 1897 interview with the Westminster Gazette spoke of ‘drink and the consequences of drink’ as the principal cause of the ‘fearful death-rate’ of the area. The year before Fr Tasker gave this interview the church was cleaned and decorated for the Silver Jubilee of his ordination.

Bentley died on 1 March 1902, the death certificate recording a cerebral thrombosis as the cause. Cardinal Herbert Vaughan, the man who had commissioned Bentley to design a cathedral for Westminster, presided over his funeral. It was held at St Mary’s, Clapham, the Redemptorist church which had been his parish church, and for which he had designed many fittings. Vaughan declared that ‘he believed that there was no priest, whose life was spent in the sanctuary, who served God more faithfully, more completely, or more fully, by the whole policy of his life, than Mr Bentley had done; his one idea being to do everything for the honour and glory of God’.

Bentley’s son, Osmond, continued his father’s work at St Francis completing the baptistry with the intended opus sectile panels in 1907 and three years later adding the grilles to the baptistery in memory of Fr James Baker White. A holy water stoup was put up in the porch in May 1913 for the use of those visiting when the inner door was closed, and a weathercock, made by the renowned ecclesiastical manufacturer Hardman & Co. of Birmingham, was placed on the ‘tower’. In 1921 electric light was installed in church and presbytery and in 1958 a new main door was provided at the north end of the church: the porch door was moved and a window put in its place. For the centenary of the church in 1960, the building was painted and decorated under the supervision of Mr Sparrow, architect. The church was spared any serious damage during the Second World War, merely being hit by an incendiary bomb in the spring of 1941. The bomb came through the roof of the church but lodged in the sanctuary vaulting and burnt itself out there, the only damage being two broken slates.

Between 1982 and 1984, the church, parish centre and presbytery underwent a number of alterations and extensive major repairs at the instigation of Fr Oliver McTernan in consultation with the architects Williams & Winkley. During these years what had been the school was transformed into a parish centre; in the church the brass altar rails that had been installed in 1876 were removed, a wooden forward altar installed, the floor of both the nave and the sanctuary were covered by a blue carpet, various statues, paintings and the frames of the Stations of the Cross were removed, the crown for the figure of the Christ Child in the shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary and numerous other items were sold or discarded, some of which have been returned. The collection of over 200 Bentley drawings were sent to Sotheby’s but they were withdrawn from sale and are now on loan to the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Drawings Collection which is housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 2010 the then Parish Priest, Fr Michael Johnston, commissioned a considerable amount of restoration work in the church, particularly with regards to the stonework, tiling of the sanctuary and floor of the nave of the church.


The Courtyard

Within the COURTYARD, the parish centre (formerly the school) is on the left, the presbytery in front, and the church on the right. In 1861 Bentley designed a ‘devotional cross’ to stand here, but it remained unexecuted. It would have had a quadruple red marble shaft, and a Crucifixion with Saints Mary and John. The bust of St Francis (1982) is by Arthur Fleischmann (1896-1990), who also made the fountain (1986). Towards the back of the courtyard can be found a slate plaque (2018) recording the names of those of the parish who died in the Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June 2017, the Tower being part of the parish of St Francis. Above the courtyard stands a statue of the Mother and Child (2018) by Graham Heeley. This replaced a statue that once stood on the same ledge but was taken down early in the twentieth century, probably due to being damaged by the elements. Heeley’s statue of the Mother and Child, portraying a gentle and compassionate invitation to come close to them, also forms part of the parish’s memorial to those who lost their lives at Grenfell. Of those whose names are recorded on the plaque, thirteen parents were left bereaved by the fire and two mothers died with a child, thus making the statue a particularly poignant memorial.

The Presbytery

The PRESBYTERY is cleverly fitted onto the difficult site, and is a striking example of High Victorian design, in striped brick with stone dressings. The pyramidal turret has a splendid iron finial, based on French examples such as those on the House of Jacques Coeur in Bourges, illustrated in Clutton’s Illustrations of Medieval Architecture in France (1856). The interior has chunky woodwork. On the staircase newel is a brass crucifix designed by J. F. Bentley. The lower part of the SCHOOL (now the parish centre) appears to be original, but the rest must have been rebuilt c.1910, apparently to the design of either H. Francis Tasker and Slater, or Osmond Bentley. The corner turret gives it character. The playground is on the roof, as on the original school.

At some date between 1866 and 1871 a former Methodist chapel in Silchester Road was bought to accommodate another school. In 1894, whilst working on the plans for Westminster Cathedral, Bentley designed ‘new closets’ for it. That school was closed in 1982. In 1914 the infants’ school in Treadgold Street, designed by Osmond Bentley, was opened leaving the girls in Pottery Lane and the boys in Silchester Road. In 1982 all were replaced by the present St Francis of Assisi Primary School on the Treadgold Street site.

The Patron Saint

The choice of dedicating the new church in Pottery Lane to St Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) was firstly due to the inspiration which Fr Rawes drew from the saint, Fr Rawes being a member of the Third Order of St Francis as well as being an Oblate of St Charles. Yet the care this saint extended joyfully to the poor of his day in Assisi in Italy also made him a most apposite patron given the poverty of the Pottery Lane in the mid nineteenth century. Having led a carefree young life St Francis underwent a conversion of life giving away all his property to serve God and the poor as a poor man himself. The integrity of his life and his cheerfulness quickly attracted others to join him and thus the order known as the Franciscans came to be born. St Francis was particularly dedicated to contemplating the life-giving death of Christ. On Saturday 14th September 1224, during a period of extended prayer with his companions at Monte La Verna in Tuscany as he knelt to pray in the first light of dawn an early account of the saint’s life relates that

he began to contemplate the Passion of Christ… and his fervour grew so strong within him that he became wholly transformed into Jesus through love and compassion…. While he was thus inflamed, he saw a seraph with six shining, fiery wings descend from heaven. This seraph drew near to St Francis in swift flight, so that he could see him clearly and recognize that he had the form of a man crucified… After a long period of secret converse, this mysterious vision faded, leaving… in his body a wonderful image and imprint of the Passion of Christ. For in the hands and feet of Saint Francis forthwith began to appear the marks of the nails in the same manner as he had seen them in the body of Jesus crucified.

As well as his great love for the poor St Francis also demonstrated an immense appreciation of the gifts of God in the natural world. After his death and burial in Assisi the town became a major venue for pilgrimages – the saint is greatly loved in Italy to this this day. Some words of St Francis are displayed below the Calvary near the entrance to the church:

Since you speak of peace, all the more so must you have it in your hearts. We have been called to heal the wounded, to unite what has fallen-apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.

The High Altar

THE HIGH ALTAR was constructed in 1863 of inlaid marble, glass mosaic and mastic inlaid in alabaster. The frontal of the altar displays a painting of the dead Christ under the inscription Factus sum sicut homo sine adjutoribus inter mortuos liber sicut vulnerati in sepulchris dormientes – ‘I am become as a man without help, free among the dead. Like the slain sleeping in the sepulchres’. The first part of this inscription comes from Psalm 87:5-6 and was sung as the Eighth Responsory of Tenebrae on Holy Saturday. The significance of this painting comes to life when the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated at this altar. At the consecration of the Mass the Sacred Host, the Risen Christ, would be raised above the image of the dead entombed Christ into the sight of the congregation.

The central ark-shaped tabernacle bears the inscription Agnus Dei – Lamb of God – the brass door has engraving, enamels and jewels surrounding a depiction of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the right of Jesus raised in blessing.  Paintings of Abraham, Melchisedech (entitled Rex Salem - King of Salem – in the painting), Noah and Abel decorate the reredos. These great Old Testament figures were chosen precisely because of their prefiguring the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the Eucharist, all but Noah being referenced in the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I), the words of which would have been said at this altar every day for the first century of this church’s existence.

Directly below the mensa of the High Altar, embedded in the tile pavement, a small brass plaque marks the place where relics (bones in this case) of St Felix (+ circa 303) are interred. The inscription relates that the relics originated from the Roman Catacombs.  St Felix died during the persecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletian and, although little else is known of him, there is evidence that he was venerated as a martyr very soon after his death. The exposition throne above the reredos is supported on what Mrs de l’Hôpital calls the Hound of Heaven, its canopy surmounted by a pelican in its piety. The allusion to the Hound of Heaven refers to a famous poem of that name (published 1893) by Francis Thompson where God is perceived as pursuing the fleeing soul. The pelican in its piety has been used as an image for the Eucharist since the first centuries of Christianity. It was believed that in order to feed its young the pelican, if necessary, would resort to feeding the young with its very own flesh, as Christ truly gives us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. The piscina is by F.A. Walters, 1917.

The artist of the painting on the right, the Nativity between the English Reformation martyrs Saints Thomas More (1478-1535) and John Fisher (1469-1535), is unknown: it dates from 1949. As well as being famous for his life being configured to the Crucified Christ, St Francis is also celebrated for having created the first Nativity scene on Christmas Eve 1223 in Greccio, Tuscany. St Bonaventure (1221 - 1274), a follower and contemporary of St. Francis, wrote an account of the night of the first live nativity scene:

It happened in the third year before his death, that in order to excite the inhabitants of Greccio to commemorate the nativity of the Infant Jesus with great devotion, [St. Francis] determined to keep it with all possible solemnity; and lest he should be accused of lightness or novelty, he asked and obtained the permission of the sovereign Pontiff. Then he prepared a manger, and brought hay, and an ox and an ass to the place appointed.

The brethren were summoned, the people ran together, the forest resounded with their voices, and that venerable night was made glorious by many and brilliant lights and sonorous psalms of praise.

The two martyrs who, in 1935, were the first of the English Reformation to be canonised are certainly the most famous of the hundreds of men and women from all walks of life who gave their lives for their belief in the Catholic Faith. St John Fisher would probably have been canonised even if he had not attained the martyrs’ crown, such was the asceticism, sanctity and learning for which he was famed throughout Europe during his life. He was Bishop of Rochester at the time of his death and never wore the Cardinal’s robes in which he is traditionally depicted because, as Henry VIII was determined that it should be, he was beheaded before any such sign of his eminence was to reach him. In the painting the Saint is seen holding open the Bible displaying the words, ‘What will it profit a man to win the whole world & to lose his own soul.’ (Mark 8:36)

St Thomas More, who lived just two and a half miles away in Chelsea, had risen to be King Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor. He was a lawyer by profession and has thus become the patron saint of lawyers. On 5th November 2000 Pope St John Paul II also declared St Thomas to be patron saint of statesmen and politicians. A highly cultivated and intellectual figure, More was also a most devout man renowned for his integrity. He is shown in this painting wearing the chain of Office of Lord Chancellor and carrying the ceremonial purse in which was kept the Great Seal of England, an implement used to stamp a sign of the King’s authority on documents of state. The purse is decorated with the monogram HR signifying Henricus rex – King Henry. St Thomas More was executed for failing to acknowledge the King as head of the Church in England and his second marriage as being valid. Perhaps his most famous words were among his last: ‘I die the King’s good servant, and God’s first.’

The plaque beneath the triptych may be translated records the fact that the paintings and their marble surround were given ‘In memory of the Keane Family who for over eighty years gave devoted service to this church. R.I.P [Requiescant in pace – May they rest in peace]’

The Pulpit

The PULPIT is decorated with a painting of St Francis preaching to the birds, the town of Assisi and the Portiuncula (the little chapel where the saint founded the order that was to become known as the Franciscans) in the background. St Bonaventure records a story of how St Francis once

came to a spot where a large flock of birds of various kinds had come together. When God’s saint saw them, he quickly ran to the spot and greeted them as if they were endowed with reason….

He went right up to them and solicitously urged them to listen to the word of God, saying,  ‘Oh birds, my brothers and sisters, you have a great obligation to praise your Creator, who clothed you in feathers and gave you wings to fly with, provided you with pure air and cares for you without any worry on your part.’…The birds showed their joy in a remarkable fashion: They began to stretch their necks, extend their wings, open their beaks and gaze at him attentively.

He went through their midst with amazing fervour of spirit, brushing against them with his tunic. Yet none of them moved from the spot until the man of God made the sign of the cross and gave them permission to leave; then they all flew away together. His companions waiting on the road saw all these things. When he returned to them, that pure and simple man began to accuse himself of negligence because he had not preached to the birds before.

The carved polychrome statue of St Francis of Assisi (Belgium 1870) to the left of the sanctuary was acquired in 2017. This image portrays the patron saint of the church with hands raised in prayer.

The Stations of the Cross

THE STATIONS OF THE CROSS were painted on slate by Westlake between 1865 and 1870, the style being described by him as ‘a kind of modification of the German school of the 16th century’. In 1877 Westlake published The Way of the Cross, a devotional manual containing engravings made from the cartoons for the paintings, with prayers by Fr Rawes. In his introduction, Westlake claimed that this was the first series of painted Stations ever made in Britain. Starting from the Shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the left of the church the stations are

1st Station: Jesus is condemned to death.

2nd Station: Jesus accepts the cross.

3rd Station: Jesus falls the first time.

4th Station: Jesus meets His mother.

5th Station: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry His cross.

6th Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

7th Station: Jesus falls the second time.

8th Station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

9th Station: Jesus falls a third time.

10th Station: Jesus is stripped of His clothes.

11th Station: Jesus is crucified.

12th Station: Jesus dies on the cross.

13th Station: The body of Jesus is taken down from the cross.

14th Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb.

Alongside the figures that one would normally associate with the Stations of the Cross, a new figure seems to appear in the final three scenes. In reality the figure is one of the women whom we know from the Gospels accompanied Our Lady and St John at the foot of the Cross but, dressed in a brown habit, black veil and white wimple,  this lady has undoubtedly been given the appearance of the spiritual sister of St Francis, St Clare. St Clare founded an order of poor ladies who lived in the spirit of her friend St Francis, an order known today as the Poor Clares. Unlike the Franciscan friars, the Poor Clares were an enclosed order who live a joyful yet ascetic life of prayer in poverty: they did not wear shoes or eat meat, they slept on the ground and they spent almost the entire day in contemplative silence. St Clare was thought to have been so like St Francis that she was sometimes called ‘another Francis’. This similarity included devotion to the figure of Christ Crucified, hence her being portrayed as attending to Christ on the Cross, as His body is taken down from the Cross and finally being laid in the tomb. Writing to St Agnes of Prague (1211-82) St Clare encouraged her to

Look upon Him who became contemptible for you, and follow Him, making yourself contemptible in the world for him. Your Spouse, though more beautiful than the children of men (Ps 44:3), became, for your salvation, the lowest of men, despised, struck, scourged untold times throughout His whole body, and then died amid the sufferings of the cross. O most noble Queen, gaze upon Him, consider Him, contemplate Him, as you desire to imitate Him.

The crucifix under the organ gallery, has been described as being carved ‘in a bold and masterly manner’ (Building News) and is by Theodore Phyffers (1870), who had helped to carve the stalls in the cathedral at Antwerp and was brought over by Pugin to work on the Palace of Westminster.

Shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary

At the entrance to the LADY CHAPEL is the offertory box of inlaid alabaster installed in 1860. Left of the arch is the statue of Our Lady holding the Child Jesus, carved by Phyffers (1870). Given by Westlake, it was said by him to have been based on the famed statue of Our Lady at Notre Dame in Paris. In the elaborate canopied niche Bentley ‘obtained a very precious and refined effect by the juxtaposition of various coloured marbles and crystals’ (de l’Hôpital). According to Bentley’s drawing, the two angels supporting the canopy are St Gabriel and St Raphael, two of the Archangels. Almost certainly due to cost, Bentley’s full design for this shrine was not executed. While the statue of Our Lady is carved with a crown, a separate crown for the Christ Child was made by Bernhard Witte of Aachen, well known for his work at Buckfast Abbey. There was a second crown, originally used to crown a smaller statue of Our Lady but possibly also for the devotion of the ‘May Queen’ (when a young girl was chosen to lead the procession in honour of Our Lady). This was made in 1919 by Charles Farris. The marble ‘step’ below the statue was added in 1923 (E.H. Major, architect) in no small part thanks to the bequest of a Mrs Dowd.

The Altar of St John the Evangelist

The ALTAR OF ST JOHN THE EVANGELIST was designed in March 1861. It is of alabaster, marble, glass mosaic, and mastic inlay. The paintings are by Westlake (his first work for Bentley). The Building News described them as ‘interesting in a technical view, having been painted in encaustic on slate, the effect being thoroughly ecclesiastical’. Westlake’s designs were exhibited at the Architectural Exhibition in Conduit Street in 1861.

It would be hard to overestimate the importance of St John the Evangelist for Fr Rawes who, in 1872, wrote and published The Beloved Disciple; or St John the Evangelist: a paean of praise and a hymn of loving devotion to the saint. Rawes mused that he never could remember a time when he was not in awe of and inspired by St John, ‘He must have come to me before all my earliest memories,’ he wrote, ‘for he mingles with them all.’ ‘If there be any good in me, it is all owing to this sweet Evangelist.’, concluded Fr Rawes.

The reredos shows St John presenting the Sacred Host to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This image brings to mind the words of Christ on the Cross to Our Lady, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ And to St John, ‘Behold your mother!’ (John 19:26-27) In this painting these words are portrayed by Our Lady gazing upon the Blessed Sacrament held by St John and, looking from a different perspective, by Jesus truly present in the Sacrament ‘looking’ upon his mother, as St John himself does.

On the front of the altar we see on the left St John with his symbol, the eagle, and with a palm, symbolizing victory. The eagle became the symbol of St John as the bird’s qualities of grace, strength and keenness of vision seemed to capture the lofty qualities of St John’s profound writing. Like the symbols of the other three evangelists, the image of the eagle was drawn from the prophet Ezekiel (1:1-21 Cf. Rev 4:6-8) To the right of St John can be  seen an image of Daniel, with lions, looking rather cramped almost as if he was within the lion’s den (Daniel 6:1-16) Daniel is portrayed on this Altar of St John as the Old Testament Book of Daniel is key to comprehending the mysterious imagery that St John employed in the Book of Revelations. Westlake later told Mrs de l’Hôpital: ‘Your father was with Clutton for a long time, and was ingrained with early ideas when first I met him. I, on the contrary, was ‘nuts’ on the Italian quattro centi [sic] as painters – see the first work we did together, St John and Our Lady’s Communion at St Francis’s. Your father put in the diapered background to give it an earlier taste’.

The carving (as, apparently, all the rest) was by Thomas Earp of Lambeth (1828-93), best known for his reproduction of the Eleanor Cross that stands outside Charing Cross Station (1863). The statue of St John was carved by the French sculptor, Jules Blanchard (1832-1916), a member of the Guild of St Luke. Blanchard also carved a statue of St Joseph for the church, but this was removed in the 1980s.

The stained glass windows near St John’s Altar, given by Fr Rawes in memory of his parents, William Thomas and Shirley Sarah Mary Rawes, and designed by Bentley, are of St John and St Mary Magdalene. St John is shown with his symbol, the eagle, at his feet. He is portrayed in another iconic pose – blessing a chalice of wine. This image is drawn from the tradition that St John, while at Ephesus, was given a cup of poisoned wine which he blessed before drinking, the poison departing the cup in the form of a serpent – an image often used to identify the saint.

St Mary Magdalene earned the title ‘Apostle of the Apostles’ due to her key role in St John’s account of the resurrection of Christ where it was she who discovered that the stone that had sealed the tomb had been rolled away ‘early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark’. She ran to tell the apostles Peter and John who ran to the tomb to discover that it was empty. When the disciples had returned home, Mary Magdalene remained by the tomb weeping when, unknown to her, she encountered the Risen Lord whom she thought to be the gardener. After Jesus called her by name, she recognised him and then ‘Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’. (John 20:1-18)

Yet in the mind of the Victorian pastor another vision of St Mary Magdalene was inseparably united to the saint. That vision was of the Mary the sinner referred to in chapter 7 of Luke’s Gospel:

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.

Note the mention of the alabaster jar and, looking at the window, St Mary Magdalene can be seen carrying such a white jar. She also has the long hair with which she was to wipe dry the feet of the Lord: her head is bowed down. At the end of this initial encounter with Jesus she hears these words:

Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’

It is likely that this saint was chosen to place before the men and women of the area the example of a person who was a great sinner yet became a great saint, through the grace of God, by confessing her sins and undertaking a conversion of life. Likewise, of the many holy attributes that Fr Rawes identified in the life of St John, his virginity and persevering chastity are also virtues that the founding priest wished to hold up as an example to his congregation. According to tradition, St Mary Magdalene travelled with the Blessed Virgin Mary and St John to Ephesus together where they lived for the rest of their lives. The memory and invocation of all three are well evoked by this altar and its window.

The Lady Altar – The Chapel of the Seven Dolors of Our Blessed Lady

The LADY ALTAR, of alabaster, also has paintings by Westlake, which show three of the Seven Dolors (Sorrows) of Our Lady, with the remaining four on either side. The first six of these paintings are painted on slate, the sixth is painted on canvas. The Parish Diary records that on Saturday 24 May 1919 whilst confessions were being heard in the church, the sixth painting, having become detached from the wall, ‘fell with a great crash on the Altar breaking the picture into pieces.’ Before this happened the whole set of paintings had been ‘rescued from utter destruction’ by René de l’Hôpital (husband of Winefride) in 1911. Attempted restoration work in 2019 on the Westlake paintings in this chapel revealed that this ‘rescuing’, in fact, consisted of a wholescale sanding down of the damaged original pictures and their repainting in a considerably darker timbre than the lively pigments originally employed by Westlake himself.

The subjects of the seven paintings in this chapel are (from left to right) the Blessed Virgin Mary witnessing

The prophecy of Simeon at the Presentation in the Temple when Simeon declared that a sword would pierce Our Lady’s heart.

The flight of the Holy Family into Egypt.

The loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple.

The meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross.

The Crucifixion.

The taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross.

The burial of Jesus.

The cycle is concluded with a panel depicting Our Lady of Dolors. Fr Rawes was very devoted to Our Lady under the title of our Lady of Sorrows and wrote a set of poems dedicated to reflecting on each of the seven Dolors. These were published in Rawes’ book Sursum or Sparks Flying Upwards (1864). Having experienced throughout Jesus’ life these seven sorrowful times, and certainly many more, the dedication of the Lady Altar brings to mind the living martyrdom that the Blessed Virgin Mary experienced and her immense motherly compassion for her Son, and for those who have recourse to her.

On the canted face of the pillar between the Lady Chapel and the sanctuary is a painting of St Francis of Assisi, his wounded hands raised in prayer, also originally by Westlake.

The front of the Lady Altar has paintings of angels, Our Lady of Sorrows, and four busts of early Christian Virgin Martyrs (St Agnes, St Catherine, St Cecilia and St Agatha). The alabaster piscina dates from 1863.

The Baptistry

The BAPTISTERY dates from 1861. In his History of the Gothic Revival (1872), C.L. Eastlake wrote that it

as the production of a young architect then little known to fame, was much admired. There is a breadth and simplicity about the design which distinguished it from previous work, as well as from much that was executed at that time. In the character of the capitals, the treatment of the font, and other details a tendency to depart from English tradition may be noted, and this is the more remarkable because the architect, like many others, has since retraced his steps and is now emphatically insular in his taste.

One of the earliest descriptions of baptism is vitae spiritualis ianua – the door to the spiritual life – hence the customary positioning of the Baptistry near to the entrance of the church. The Baptistry is stone vaulted, with shafts of red and Irish green marble. It was described by the Building News in 1863 as ‘very effective’ and promising to be ‘one of the most complete little chapels in England’. The baptistery was only completed in 1907-10, by Bentley’s son Osmond, following the woodcut published in Eastlake’s book (also published in the Building News, 22 (1872), p.17) – a woodcut over which his father had taken great pains.

The stone-carving was completed, by Hardman’s, who also made the new grilles. Two opus sectile panels were also executed. The one immediately above the font depicts the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descending upon the waters and, as the Gospels record at the baptism of Jesus, upon the person being baptised. Seven rays of light representing the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit emanate from the dove.

This theme is taken up by the decoration of the oak turret that forms the cover of the font (1865) which was designed and donated by Bentley as a thanksgiving offering for his own baptism in the church three years earlier. It was made in the workshop of the organ builder, T. C. Lewis, a company for whom Bentley designed many organ cases. The cover is decorated around its sides by angels carrying scrolls that name the very same Gifts: (starting from the image of the Paschal Lamb and moving anti-clockwise) Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord.  Below these angels are portrayals of olive branches, crowned fleur de lis and birds nestling in the shelter of trees. On the wall opposite the Holy Spirit opus sectile panel is a second panel, also of opus sectile depicting the Second Coming of Christ. The Lord holds open a book in which is seen inscribed the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet signifying that He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the One to whom all time belongs.

The font itself has a red granite bowl set on green marble columns, with a tiled platform, its base being decorated with the four symbols of the Evangelists.

The baptistery windows, designed by Bentley and made by Lavers, Barraud & Westlake, represent St John the Baptist and St Charles Borromeo (1872). St John, most appropriately presides over the font holding a banner that declares, Ecce Agnus Dei – ’Behold the Lamb of God’. Below him are inscribed his words, Parate viam Domini – ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’ (John 1:23; Isaiah 40:3).

As appropriate as the positioning of St John is over the font it is most fitting that the stained glass window of the saintly Cardinal Archbishop of Milan should be seen above a confessional box – a piece of church furniture that he first introduced. The St Charles is seen dressed in his cardinal’s robes but with the striking addition of a rough rope hanging around his neck looking like the halter a condemned criminal might be forced to carry to his execution. This records the rope that the saint did indeed wear around his neck as he led a procession through the streets of Milan in 1575 begging God that the people should be relieved of the deadly scourge of the plague that was afflicting them, their Archbishop offering God his own life in exchange for that of his people. Below the saint can be seen the word humilitas – humility – a word that the noble Borromeo kept ever in front of him as his motto to remind him of this foundational virtue, thus it became the motto of the Oblates.

Theologically, having a confessional built in such close proximity to the baptismal font is also profoundly significant as it is in the confessional that the grace of Christ first given in baptism can be restored and refreshed in the souls of the Faithful. The confessional in the Baptistry was designed by Bentley and carved by Thomas Earp in 1863. There is also a confessional in the north aisle, carved in 1865 by Arthur Hayball of Sheffield, that Bentley thought much inferior to the work of Earp in the baptistery.

The final distinction that enriches the Baptistry as a whole is not in the chapel itself but rather can clearly be seen through the chapel grilles: Phyffers’ great Crucifix, recalling the blood and water that flowed from the side of Christ when His body was pierced by a lance after His death as being the font of the life-giving Sacraments of the Church.

A tablet on the north wall commemorates the completion of the Baptistry in 1910 in memory of Fr James B. White who had died that year after nearly thirty years in the parish, first as an assistant priest and then as parish priest. In 1882 a tribune was added over the baptistery, reached by a staircase from what had been intended to be the dining room of the presbytery.

The Nave Stained Glass

Although Mrs de l’Hôpital says that the only glass designed by Bentley was the two windows in the baptistery, in fact the windows at the east end of the church depicting two angels were designed in collaboration by him and Westlake, and executed in 1863 by the firm of Lavers and Barraud, which Westlake had joined in 1860 (he became a partner in 1868, and later head of the firm). On the north side, from the east, are St Agnes (designed by Bentley and including a panel depicting her martyrdom), Christ the Good Shepherd (Hardman, 1882) and St John Henry Newman (Benyon, 2020).

Why did Fr Rawes choose St Agnes (c. 291-c.304) to be the subject of a window in such a prominent position? St Agnes was an early Christian virgin and martyr and is, along with the Blessed Virgin Mary, one of the seven women named in the Roman Canon. St Agnes is also a patron saint of young girls and those who aspire to live chastely. Tradition relates that she was a beautiful young girl of noble birth who, having committed her life to Christ alone, refused the advances of a number of suitors of high rank. Slighted, these young men reported Agnes to the authorities for the crime of being a Christian. After enduring various torments Agnes was tried and sentenced to be burnt at the stake. But the flames had no effect on her and so the officer in charge of the proceedings beheaded her by the sword. In the panel at the bottom of the window the flames of the fire can be seen in the background as St Agnes is decapitated.

Nineteenth century England saw two notable literary evocations of St Agnes that Fr Rawes would certainly have been aware of: the 42 stanza poem of John Keats, The Eve of St Agnes, written in 1819, and as a character in Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman’s historical novel of 1854, Fabiola or, the Church of the Catacombs.

In art St Agnes is portrayed with a lamb, as in the window at St Francis, as her name resembles the Latin word, Agnus, meaning lamb. However, her name is Greek meaning “chaste, pure” – hence the lily, an artistic symbol of purity, that is placed to her right. In the second half of the nineteenth century the area of Notting Dale was known not only for its poverty but also for the number of prostitutes who lived in the area. This was not an unfamiliar situation for the founding parish priest as, in the years immediately before his conversion, he had been warden of the House of Charity, Soho. Fr Rawes desired to put before his congregation the heroic witness to purity that was the life and death of St Agnes. She holds a palm in her left hand, an ancient symbol of the victory of martyrdom.

A notable feature of this window, however, seems impossible to fully explain. Unlike the other windows created in the same style as that of St Agnes (the stained glass windows of Sts Augustine, John and Mary Magdalene), the face of St Agnes is clearly painted, almost certainly by Westlake himself.

The Good Shepherd window is surmounted by a panel portraying the end of biblical parable of the Prodigal Son when the penitent son returns to his father’s house. The foot of the window records that it was given in memory of a parish priest ‘from a grateful penitent’, the priest’s name, Fr Edward Lescher, being simply presented by his initials, ‘the Rev. E   L.’ The window is well placed almost above one of the church’s confessionals.

On October 13th 20019 Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-90) became the first English person who was not a martyr to be canonized since the fifteenth century. This new saint also has a profound importance for St Francis Church and Fr Rawes would be delighted that the church contains a window by Caroline Benyon to celebrate St John Henry Newman’s canonization for it was in no small part thanks to Rawes’ reading of Newman’s Certain Difficulties felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching Considered that Rawes made the decision to become a Catholic in 1856. Indeed, at the time that the final plans were being laid for the building of the church in Pottery Lane, Rawes was in correspondence with Dr Newman. The first five parish priests of Notting Hill were among the signatories of a letter of congratulation to Newman on the occasion of his being made a cardinal in 1879, a letter that Newman responded to warmly.

St John Henry Newman is shown seated. At the bottom of the window is a panel depicting Bl Dominic Barberi receiving Newman into the church, an event that happened in front of a hearth where Barberi was staying. Newman’s coat of arms and motto – heart speaks unto heart – has particular resonance in this area where the heart became a symbol of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. The shields of Pope Benedict XVI, who beatified Newman, and of Pope Francis who canonised him are also depicted. Other symbols include the crossed keys of the See of Peter and the heart surmounted by a cross, the emblem of the Passionists, the Order of which Barberi was a member. Behind Newman can be seen an angel which may be read as referencing either the Guardian Angel of Gerontius from Newman’s The Dream of Gerontius or Newman’s own Guardian Angel.

Caroline Benyon wrote, ‘Transmitted light causes ruby or red glass to spread and become dominant in a stained glass window and in the case of the Cardinal’s robes I referred to the well-known portrait by Millais which includes a white under vestment revealed on the lap of the Cardinal and his sleeves. The white or tinted glass will resist the spread of the mixed rubies making his robes richer to complement the early Lavers and Barraud windows [of St Agnes & St Augustine]. The colour of glass in the supporting glazing and borders progresses from blue to mixed golds as the eye rises to the apex of the window to symbolize the end of the journey.’

On the south side is St Augustine of Hippo (designed by Bentley, made by Lavers and Westlake, 1872), St Elizabeth of Hungary (circa 1886, Phillip of Bayswater) and St Francis (1926, Teresa Westlake). The nave windows include some excellent specimens of High Victorian glass, with intense colouring and bold drawing.

As a great preacher, St Augustine’s window is appropriately sited immediately to the right of the pulpit. St Augustine (354-430) is seen with quill in one hand and one of his greatest works, De civitate Dei (The City of God) in the other. The choice of this Father of the Church was surely made by Fr Henry Augustus Rawes as a homage to one of his patron saints.

St Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-31) was a princess who married at the age of fourteen but was widowed only six years later. She is venerated as patroness of the Third Order of St Francis and strove to live according to the example of St Francis himself, founding a hospital and being a daily visitor there. She sold state robes and ornaments from her castle in order to assist the poor. This stained glass window depicts what became known as the miracle of the roses. St Elizabeth had been secretly gathering together meats and bread to take to feed the poor. Some nobles had been accusing her of stealing in order to carry out her charitable work. When Elizabeth’s husband approached her hoping to quell these rumours he asked her to reveal what she was carrying beneath her cloak.  At that moment her cloak fell open and all that could be seen were red and white roses – both of which can be seen in this window. The window was given in memory of Elisabeth Ann Priddy who, the inscription at the bottom of the window informs us, died 6 May 1886, aged 68.  The portrayal of St Elizabeth was surely seen as an encouragement to acts of charity from those who looked upon it and were able to provide for those less well-off than themselves.

The window on the south side representing St Francis was designed by Westlake’s daughter, Teresa. The saint is seen contemplating the Crucified Christ. This was a particular devotion of St Francis who was privileged to have received from the Lord the stigmata, the imprints of the very wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side. Yet the image of St Francis seen here is of the saint praying as a younger man before receiving the stigmata in the last year of his life. The inscription at the bottom of the window reads, ‘In memory of Father John Eskrigge for 40 years Priest of this Parish. Presented by the Congregation 1926.’ Fr Eskrigge had died on 26 February of that year, a memorial fund commenced on 18 July and over £100 collected, easily covering the cost of the window, £84, and therefore hastening its design and creation so that it could be blessed at High Mass on Christmas Day, 1926. The balance of the collection procured new altar linen and ‘a handsome Alms Dish’.

At the west end of the church, above the organ gallery, can be seen Benjamin Finn’s striking window, The People of God, installed in 2008 by Fr Shaun Middleton. Finn wrote of the richly coloured window, ‘The thing that came to mind when I was making the window was the passage somewhere in the scriptures about how Jesus called us his friends. By placing people who are not recognisable as ‘famous’, nor ‘saints’ or characters from some well known story or historical event, but anonymous people who are followers and disciples it seems to state a relationship which is both very much of our time and one which is close. Their proximity to Christ – who is the risen Christ in the window – seems to me to speak of the very real availability (if one can use that word) and proximity of Christ to us all. He is among us. In him we ‘live and move and have our being’.

Painted Decoration

In 1864 Fr Rawes published a book entitled Sursum – or Sparks Flying Upwards. On the title page are inscribed words from St Paul’s Letter to the Colossians: ‘If you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God.’ (3:1) Sursum is a word to be found at the heart of the Mass and is part of the invitation of the priest to the congregation which, in English, is ‘Lift up your hearts’. When Rawes invited Bentley and Westlake to decorate his new church he clearly wanted the first impression of visitors and worshippers to be uplifting and joyful. This could not be achieved immediately but, due to constraints of finance, had to be achieved gradually.

The sanctuary was first painted in 1865, this seems to have been simply to tidy up the appearance of the church, both vaults and ribs painted the same stone colour. But in 1872-3 the starry vaults were painted by Westlake including two angels holding scrolls declaring Ecce panis angelorum – ‘Behold the Bread of Angels’ – three ‘suns’ bearing the divine monogram IHS and two roses also in sunbursts. In 1896 the church was redecorated by John Whitby, to designs by Bentley. The Lady Chapel was redecorated in 1915 by Osmond Bentley. For the panels above the altars the original designs by J. F. Bentley were followed though a different colour scheme employed for the roses and fleur de lis. Further redecorations occurred in 1926 (by G.N. Watts),1948, 1960 (by A.J. Sparrow), 1982 and 2010, the original decorative scheme being increasingly obliterated between 1960 and 1982. Between 2019 and 2020 the original Bentley – Westlake designs above both the sanctuary and in the Lady Chapel were reinstated by Edmund Towers, Paul Marwood and Michael Correa directed by Elsa Guereirro (of International Fine Arts Conservation Service). The architect Anthony Delarue was consulted with regard the colour scheme.

During the 2019 restoration of the painted decoration it was noted that there was a predominance of crowned white roses embedded in the rays of the sun employed in the decoration of the Lady Altar and also present on the sanctuary. Such emblems became the sign of the House of Tudor after the Battle of Mortimer, 2 February 1461, where Edward, Earl of March (later Edward IV) of the House of York triumphed. At dawn on that day, it appeared that three suns rose above the freezing battlefield (the sun refracting through ice crystals in the air). Edward interpreted this experience as a divine augur of good fortune seeing the ‘vision’ as representing the Holy Trinity. To commemorate his victory Edward adapted the image of the sun into badges of his symbol, the white rose. And what do we find at St Francis? Lady Altar panels proudly displaying white roses (also a symbol of the purity of the Blessed Virgin Mary) set in sun rays and crowned; the ceiling above the High Altar carries three ’suns’ and white roses and the church was blessed on February 2. The latter was probably a very happy coincidence of dates – the other details surely arising from Fr Rawes being a Yorkshireman – who built and paid for the church decorated by Bentley – another Yorkshireman!

In subsequent years a stencilling ‘war of the roses’ seems to have ensued with white roses replaced by Lancastrian red ones. As can be seen, the original scheme is now once again honoured.

Furnishings and Fittings

Bentley designed an oak folding chair for the sanctuary (1860-61); an iron offertory stand for the Lady Altar; a processional cross; a music stand; candle-branches and candlesticks (those for the high altar dating from 1864); vestments; a tabernacle veil; red and purple frontals; red, white and purple veils; a processional canopy with applied heraldic ornament in coloured satins on a white ground, with poles (1865); hangings for the reredos; a banner; reliquaries (1863); a press for altar frontals (1864); and more candlesticks. Of these, the processional cross, the canopy poles, and possibly one or two other articles, survive. The finest object designed for the church was a magnificent monstrance in richly jewelled silver gilt (1864), of particular interest as the only Byzantine design made by Bentley before Westminster Cathedral. According to Mrs de l’Hôpital, he ‘lavished infinite pains’ on it. In the same year, Fr Rawes published a book of essays and poems with the title Sursum. The dedication runs: ‘I put this book under the protection of St John the Evangelist … and of my father St Charles Borromeo, and I dedicate it to those members of the congregation of St Francis of Assisi, Notting Hill, who in their love for the Blessed Sacrament have given a monstrance to Our Lord’. The monstrance was shown in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s 1971 exhibition of Victorian church art. It was sold in 1981 and bought by Mrs Hull Grundy who presented it to the City of Birmingham Art Gallery where it is now displayed.

An object not designed by Bentley was the crucifix which used to stand on St John’s Altar. This had stood on the high altar of the chapel of the Tuileries Palace in Paris, from the reign of Louis XVIII until 1871. It was presented to St Francis’s in 1909. It bore the arms of France. Its authenticity was vouched for by the former chaplain at the Palace by a letter dated 22June 1871:

My dear friend, after having carefully examined the cross which you discovered in the still smoking ruins of the regretted Palais des Tuileries, I perfectly recognised the cross which stood on the high altar at the time of Louis XVIII, Charles X, Louis Philippe and during the whole of the reign of Napoleon III. This, my dear friend, is a most precious relic, bearing in itself its own proof – which can be disputed by no one – of its authenticity. I am the more able to certify the origin of this cross, in that on account of my office as chaplain to the Palais Royal I was attached to the imperial family for 16 years. What gives me still greater certitude are the arms of France, which I recognised at the foot of this most sad and precious souvenir in your possession.

The Cross, after negotiations with the French Embassy, is now once again in Paris. The church also possessed a chalice said to have belonged to Cardinal Wolsey.

The Organ

THE ORGAN was built by J. W. Walker (Opus 458) for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and was acquired by St Francis Church in 2017. This seems to be the third instrument to have been built in the church. The date the first organ was built is uncertain and the name of the builder unknown. It was replaced in 1949 with an instrument built by the John Compton Organ Company Ltd. of just two ranks of pipes. The casework of the present instrument was designed by Robert Richardson Banks (1812-72) and Charles Barry Junior (1823-1900), the son of Sir Charles Barry, the chief architect of the Palace of Westminster. The finely carved organ case, described in the catalogue of the Exhibition as being ‘in the Tudor style’, was executed by James Rattee (1820-1855), a noted Cambridge woodcarver and mason who was associated with A. W. Pugin and the Camden Society. The tin front pipes were painted by Thomas Willement (1786-1871), an artist known as ‘the Father of Victorian Stained Glass’.

The instrument was originally built as a one-manual and pedal organ and was shown as such in the drawing in the Great Exhibition Catalogue. In the years following the Exhibition the organ served as a demonstration instrument for the organ builders but, upon being sold in 1858 to James H. Wolff of Bevis Mount, Southampton for £350, it was enlarged by Walker into a two-manual instrument. After being moved from Bevis Mount circa. 1868 the organ served, in turn, three Free Churches in Southampton until finally finding a home in Pottery Lane, being restored and rebuilt here by Griffiths & Company Ltd.



Open Diapason 8

Stop Diapason 8

Dulciana 8

Keraulophon 8

Principal 4

Flute 4

Fifteenth 2

Mixture II


Open Diapason 8

Stop Diapason 8

Principal 4

Fifteenth 2

Trumpet 8



Bourdon 16

Principal Sources

Winefride de l’Hôpital, Westminster Cathedral and its Architect (1919); Survey of London, Vol. 37:  North Kensington (1973); Sarah Thomas, St Francis Pottery Lane (1984). The drawings for the church are at the Royal Institute of British Architects Drawings Collection.


1st Sunday of Advent – 3rd December 2023

1st Sunday of Advent – 3rd December 2023

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33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 19th November 2023

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31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 29th October 2023

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28th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 15th October 2023

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27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 8th October 2023

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St Francis of Assisi – 1st October 2023

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