Chapel of the Month – June 2015

Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Carmelite 2Location: Kensington Church Street, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London. Architect: Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, 1954-59 (Grade II Listed)

Simplified soaring lines, late Gothic reticence, soft brown brick and smooth sandstone are the hallmarks of this elegant church – in contrast to its better known, more ebullient neighbour, St Mary Abbots, designed by his grandfather, Sir George Gilbert Scott and located just to the south!

The Carmelite church stands on rising ground,by a prominent westward bend in the street whence its imposing size and skilful massing can be appreciated. It replaced a church destroyed in World War II. The emphasis in the external design is on the vertical, on tall gabled dormers and on slim Gothicising blocks of fenestration, grouped together Tudor-style.

Carmelite 4The bell-cote pinpoints the apex of the east (liturgical west ) end of the roof facing Church Street. It is set over a tall, narrow, simplified Gothic window rimmed with cream stone dressings. The corners of the facade are given emphasis with subtle strips of inset brickwork rising upwards, and tiny windows in the vertiginous aisle roofslopes to either side.

The main features of the interior are the dramatic series of gently pointed transverse arches and the striking reredos. The former are treated as internal buttresses with passage aisles. One looks above the arches, unusually, to find the “clerestory and flat ceiling with timber beams picked out in white on a red background” (list description). Light pours through high above.

Carmelite 6The reredos takes up virtually the whole of its wall in a manner that recalls the late works of G.F. Bodley and others, the images being presented with great clarity in a restrained Gothic manner, yet with obvious allusions to ‘Coronation’ colours. The light fittings, designed in wood with Gothic decoration, add scale and subtle proportioning to this beautifully considered, well wrought interior.

A Catholic convert, Giles Gilbert Scott designed many churches for Anglican and Catholic congregations, in addition to Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral.

This article was kindly written and illustrated by Council member Dr Jennifer Freeman.

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