Parish History: An Overview

Catholic worship revived in the Bletchley area from 1901, with Mass said in a private house in Fenny Stratford and then in the Mission Hall on Bletchley Road. Numbers grew with the arrival of Belgian refugees in the First World War, and a property at 44 Church Street, Fenny Stratford was acquired and used as a church for the next 35 years, served from Wolverton, Woburn Sands and by the Sacred Heart Fathers. By 1947 there were 370 parishioners, and a pressing need for a larger, purpose-built church. The church of St Thomas Aquinas was built in 1956 from designs by J. S. Comper. The contractors were Webster and Cannon of Aylesbury, and the final cost was just over £13,000. The foundation stone was laid on 26 June 1955 and the church opened on 14 June 1956. As built, the church seated 208.

The church was paid for by 1960, and in that year a presbytery was built, to all appearances from Comper’s designs.

Like many of Comper’s churches, St Thomas Aquinas’ was designed to allow for further (westward in this case) extension, doubling its present size, but this never happened. A parish hall has more recently been built at the west end.

The church is in a simplified modern Gothic style, of wire-cut Fletton brick with concrete or reconstituted stone dressings and a plain tile roof. It consists of a short nave of three bays (half the originally intended length) with a canted apsidal sanctuary flanked by a sacristy to the north and a Lady Chapel to the south. The windows of the nave and east end of the Lady Chapel consist of triple lancets under a flat lintel with a hoodmould, with four-light windows in the south wall of the Lady Chapel and adjoining lean-to bay, and paired lancets with Y-tracery in the canted side of the apse. The slightly later presbytery lies to the east, with a low flat-roofed link to the sacristy. At the west end, the end wall is entirely plain, having been conceived of as temporary, and against this is a single storey modern parish hall, of complementary design and materials.

Inside, the truncated design results in a broad and short nave. The internal wall surfaces are of white painted brick. The roof of the nave is carried on large unmoulded transverse brick arches, externally buttressed, this being found to be less costly than the reinforced concrete arches originally intended. Between these bays is a rafter and purlin roof. Simple unmoulded arched openings give onto the apse and Lady Chapel, with a lower doorway to the left of the chancel arch leading to the sacristy. The apse has a collar rafter roof with soulaces, and there is a doorway giving off to the sacristy on its north side, with a large three-light window over, supplementing those in the canted sides of the apse.

The tester over the site of the former high altar is probably a Comper design. The other wooden sanctuary furnishings are modern. There is an attractive small pipe organ by the entrance to the Lady Chapel, made by August Spath.

In 1960 land was acquired for a further church in expanding West Bletchley, and the foundation stone for All Saints was laid on 10 May 1964. Served from St Thomas Aquinas, the church opened in 1965. All Saints was built to seat 300 and cost £31,400. The contractors were Jesse Mead Ltd of Chesham. The church was built with a temporary ‘east’ wall (the church is in fact orientated north-south), to allow for later enlargement, but this never took place.

In 2007 an extension was built off the north aisle, housing new facilities. The church continues to be served from St Thomas Aquinas.

The church is orientated north-south, but this description follows conventional liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar faced east.

Even without its intended enlargement, All Saints is a substantial building, larger than St Thomas Aquinas, from which it has always been served. Designed by J.S. Comper in a loosely Classical Basilican style, it consists of a narthex, continuous nave/sanctuary, side aisles, polygonal baptistery projecting from the north aisle and flat-roofed sacristy at the east end of the north aisle. There is a more recent (2007) flat-roofed addition giving off the north aisle, housing meeting rooms, a kitchen and WCs, and filling the gap between the sacristy and the baptistery.

The building is faced in grey-brown brick, with concrete or reconstituted stone dressings and a ‘brownstone’ pantiled roof. The west front (photo top left) displays that mixture of Classical and Gothic elements that characterises Comper’s work, with three round arched openings to a porch in antis separated by full-height stepped buttresses. There are three round-arched windows over the entrance (lighting the gallery), square corner piers and a pedimented gable. At the sides, swept parapets mark the recessed ends of the aisles, each with a round arched window. The side elevations are fairly plain, with round arched clerestory and aisle windows to each of the six bays, and pilaster strips marking the bay divisions. The polygonal baptistery projects on the north side, and a later addition has been built alongside this to the east. The east elevation (photo top right) is plainly treated, with a high-level triple window in the centre.

The recessed porch area has iron entrance gates designed by the architect and a patterned brick floor finish similar to that in Comper’s church at Bedford. The interior has white painted brickwork with slightly pointed concrete trusses marking the bay divisions. Between these is a timber rafter and purlin roof. The wall surfaces are plainly treated, with the entablature of the nave arcade carried on quadripartite chamfered reconstituted stone piers of more Gothic than Classical character. There are flat (fibreboard?) panels to the ceilings of the aisles. The western gallery is carried on octagonal piers and is approached via a stair in the north aisle. There is a large round arched opening off this aisle to the former baptistery, which now contains a shrine to Our Lady (the original font has been moved to the east end of the south aisle).

The most notable fitting in the church is also the newest, and is a fine carved, painted and gilded square panel reredos depicting the Crucifixion with Our Lady and St John, in the distinctive Primitive Italian-influenced style of Stephen Foster, whose work can also be seen elsewhere in the Diocese at Princes Risborough and the Cathedral (q.v.). Above this hangs an original tester, with the Dove of the Holy Spirit in a sunburst on the soffit, designed by Comper. A piscina is set into the east wall on the south side of the sanctuary, and there are metal railings enclosing the eastern bay. Otherwise the sanctuary furnishings are more recent, and include a modern timber altar, its front carved with Eucharistic symbols. The chandeliers and benches are original, designed by Comper. In the gallery is a small modern pipe organ by August Spath, replacing an original electronic organ.