architecture / history

Modernist Matt

13 June 2024

I’ve lived in the Park Hill area of Croydon for a decade now, and have probably walked up and down Park Hill Road several thousand times, but I had never visited the modernist church on the corner of Chichester Road, that is until I popped in for a cuppa and a tour of St Matthew’s interior with the new vicar Ruth Chapman last week (after I expressed an interest in their stained glass on social media).

Regular readers will know that I am a huge fan of Croydon’s modernist architecture. You may not know that I also have a ‘thing’ for stained glass. So cross modernism with stained glass and you’ll hear me waxing lyrical. A chat with modernist architecture author Joshua Abbott back in January when he referenced St Matthew’s reminded me that a visit was well overdue.

Now I’m not a religious person but I love the fact that St Matthew’s is an inclusive church, and thus (in their words) ‘embraces the joys and challenges of being human with all our differences of race, gender, sexuality and social background’. The church celebrates the diversity of the Park Hill community, with many events taking place in their building. Of course the space leads with church services for its Christian parishioners but it also hosts a jam packed timetable with a whole range of groups, from fitness and wellbeing, to singing, dancing and of course a variety of kids activities.

Back to the building itself. The church was built in the late sixties, when the Park Hill area was being regenerated with many modernist family homes, and it officially opened in 1971. What I didn’t realise was that it actually replaced another St Matthew’s church which used to be on George Street (approximately opposite East Croydon Station, I believe, but do correct me if someone remembers it).

The new St Matthew’s was designed by architect David Bush to meet the needs of the growing population of Park Hill, with a view to it having a dual role – a place of worship and a community centre. I think it’s definitely fulfilled its purpose.

As you approach the church itself, the leafy skyline is dominated by a striking aluminium panelled roof and spire*. As you walk up the path you are greeted by a gorgeous concrete debossed sign above the church’s outdoor noticeboard. Upon entering the foyer the building immediately evokes a tranquil feeling, and the flooring is glorious wall-to-wall parquet (the signature floor covering of many sixties Park Hill abodes).

I knew I’d enjoy the vibrant semi-abstract shapes of the stained glass in the main church, but what made it even more lovely was that the Tooting-born glass designer John Hayward incorporated many pieces of the Victorian glass that came from the East Window of the old church on George Street. (If you’d like to know more about the meanings behind the glass designs you can purchase a dedicated guide talking you through the parables the panes represent, from the parish office).

There are other relics of the old church included in the new one – most notably two angels that sit primly, contrasted against the modern brickwork, flanking the entrance to the main church.

On the way out I was treated to two more rather delightful architectural surprises. As I looked up above the door, I saw a frieze of bricks adorned with names. I learned later that these were signed by all the people involved in building the church, everyone from the heating engineers to the Archbishop! I then glanced up further to a window high up over the door – this clear window has very traditional stained glass embedded within. Upon perusing the St Matthew’s guide, this is mediaeval glass salvaged from the old Croydon Parish Church (aka Croydon Minster) after the fire of 1867. This juxtaposition of history and modernity felt fittingly very ‘Croydon’.

St Matthew’s is a charming, peaceful and welcoming space (everything I should imagine people would want from a place of worship or indeed from somewhere to gather together with the community).

Thank you to Ruth for showing me around and to Penny for the cuppa. 

St Matthew’s (or officially ‘The Parish Church of St Matthew’) is located at Chichester Road, Croydon CR0 5NQ. You can find out more about the church on their website, Instagram and X (Twitter).

*Sadly the modernist roof of St Matthew’s is under threat, as it is leaking and in danger of coming loose in bad weather, so the community is currently trying to raise enough funds to replace it. Read more here.

All images by the Croydonist

Posted by Julia

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