History

Our Patron Saint is Boniface of Crediton.

The text in the article below is taken from Catholic Churches of London, written by Denis Evinson. The photos have been put in to by us at St Boniface, and are not part of Mr Evinson’s original article.

History of St Boniface Church in the Tooting community

The ‘unfinished’ St Boniface Church c1907

The ‘unfinished’ St Boniface Church c1907

The Catholics of Tooting were served from Balham in the 1890s, by a priest saying Mass at a house known as ‘Holly Lodge’ on Mitcham Road. About 1899, Fr Rudolf Bullesbach opened a chapel in Hereford Lodge, Mitcham Road. By 1903, when Catholic schools were opened in Undine Street, Catholics in Tooting numbered about 2000. the successor to Fr Bullesbach, Fr George Williams, was responsible for erecting the present church. The foundation stone was laid on 17 November 1906 and the church, still unfinished, was opened for worship on 18 April 1907. Miss Frances Ellis paid for the site and the initial building; Mary Allanson settled the debts on the schools and the presbytery, and paid for the completion and decoration of the church.

The architect, usually known as Benedict Williamson, was born in London in 1868, studied law for a time. then trained in the office of Messrs Newman & Jacques, architects and surveyors of Stratford. His given names were William Edward, but following his reception into the Catholic church at Farm Street in 1896. he was known as Benedict Williamson. For ten years he practised as an architect, working on Farnborough Abbey and St Ignatius Church at Tottenham. Then in 1906 he entered Beda College in Rome where he studied for the priesthood, being ordained in 1909. The Church of St Boniface was Williamson’s last architectural work before he left for Rome.

The High Altar

The High Altar

Williamson initially modelled his design upon the Church of Ss Vincenzo and Anastasio, Tre Fontane. The final church bears little resemblance, however, to its Roman prototype. When opened in 1907, the unfinished church consisted of five bays of nave and aisles with a temporary sanctuary arranged in the nave. The scheme was eventually completed, the last instalment being the west end in 1927, in collaboration with J.H. Beart Foss.

Whatever Williamson had intended to build in 1906 — probably a simple version of his prototype’s nave gable, with a low atrium before it which masked the lean-to aisle roofs — his ideas by 1927 had crystallised into something considerably more complex. In the commentary that accompanies his illustration, Williamson claims that the west front ‘has not been built in any of the recognised styles of architecture; rather is it an endeavour directed towards the production of a new style’.

Fr O’Halloran St Boniface Parish Priest c1927

Fr O’Halloran St Boniface Parish Priest c1927

In this west front, Williamson incorporates a north-west campanile, the belfry stage ornamented with alternating bands of purple brick and Portland stone; and terminated by a copper-covered spire; the rose window of the nave is framed beneath a boldly moulded arch and supported by massive columns; the great central doorway, with its lofty arch supported on engaged columns, is flanked by arcading on either side, with smaller entrances to the aisles. By 1927 Williamson had long been interested in ancient Egyptian architecture, and his preoccupation here with Egyptian capitals together with his over-generous use of Portland stone result in a confection far removed from the restrained Early Christian revival work characteristic of the turn of the century.

The repose of the interior is in pleasing contrast. Above the west narthex and first bay is the gallery, its organ case designed in 1950 by C.S. Kerr Bate. Seven bays of nave and aisles are followed by the apsidal chancel and flanking chapels one bay The High Altar deep. There are round-headed windows to the aisles and clerestory, and circular piers with cushion capitals bearing bold relief symbolism on their faces. The nave is surmounted by a kingpost roof. From the west entrance the overall impression is one of familiar and competent Early Christian revival work.

A major attraction are the aisle walls, panelled to a height of seven feet, and between this and the springing of the lean-to roofs a large continuous iconographical scheme in mosaic of the Stations of the Cross, with stylised figures and generous surrounds in subdued colours, all tastefully designed and executed c. 1930 by L. Oppen-heimer. The original high altar, with gradine and tabernacle, is still in situ and there is a new forward altar and ambo in memory of Canon Thomas Clifton.

View of St Boniface Church from Avarn Road c1907 … and the same view today (2005)

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