First three photographs and text by Jacqueline Banerjee, remaining photographs by John Salmon. You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. [Click on all the images to enlarge them.]
Guardian Angels Church, Mile End, London, with a view of its tower.
The Guardian Angels Roman Catholic Church is a Grade II listed building which stands prominently on the Mile End Road, Tower Hamlets, in east London. It was a rebuilding by F. A. Walters (1849-1931) of the original mission chapel here of 1868, which, according to the listing text, was the first house of worship to be built in this area, where it would have served a large Irish community, many of them poor labourers, street-sellers and so on. The foundation stone was laid on 5 October 1901, and the church was opened on 25 March 1903. The builders were James Smith & Sons of Norwood. The west front, and the matching presbytery next to it, are built of "uncompromising red brick with spare dressings of Ancaster stone" (Evinson 232). The listing text also comments on the "copper-sheathed fleche" above the octagonal, crenellated tower, and the pinnacle above it. The style is late Perpendicular Gothic, of the kind revived by George Gilbert Scott.
Left: The main entrance. Right: South elevation from Mile End Park, near the "Green Bridge," with the Guardian Angels Catholic Primary School adjoining it (built by Leonard Stokes, another Catholic architect, 1858-1925).
The front is considerably lightened by the large seven-light traceried window, and decorative work over the main entrance, where perhaps statues were meant to occupy the niches. There is also an "Arts and Crafts-influenced bronze grille" over doorway, "embellished with IHS monogram" (listing text, but not visible here). The west front is linked to the presbytery, which is Tudor in style with mullioned windows, by a stepped feature down the side door. As shown above left, this makes a very pleasing ensemble. From the side, the church is much longer than at first appears.
Inside the church there is a three-bay nave, with a gallery at the west, a Lady Chapel at the north-east, and a narrower two-bay chancel. The most obvious feature is the large central octagonal font, for baptism by total submersion. But the rood above the chancel is also striking, as is the panelled openwork altar, carved by Thomas Earp and Edwin Hobbs Sr., then in partnership. There is also a five-light east window, showing Christ in Majesty with Mary and Joseph either side, and two saints (St. Margaret of Scotland, and St. Clare) in the outer lights, by Nathaniel Westlake. But, placed high above the reredos, and with the crossing in front of it (as shown below), the window is not easy to appreciate from the nave.
This large East End church was financed by Lady Mary Howard, daughter of the Catholic Duke of Norfolk, in memory of her sister St. Margaret — hence no doubt the appearance of Lady Margaret of Scotland in the east window, which was paid for by the Duke of Norfolk himself (Evinson 233). It is not highly decorated but has not been skimped either. With its size, and the refinement of the details (the entrance, the picking out in gold of carved foliage on the reredos, for example), it has an air of quiet distinction both inside and out.
"Basic Biographical Details: Leonard Aloysius Scott Stokes." DSA (Dictionary of Scottish Architects). Web. 26 August 2016.
Eberhard, Robert. "Stained Glass Windows at Guardian Angels (RC)." Stained Glass Windows. Web. 26 August 2016.
Evinson, Denis. Catholic Churches of London. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.
"Guardian Angels Catholic Primary School" (school website).
"The Guardian Angels Roman Catholic Church" (listed building text). Web. 26 August 2016.
White, Jerry. London in the Nineteenth Century: "A Human Awful Wonder of God." London: Cape, 2007 (see pp. 131-39, on the Irish in London).
Created 26 August 2016