St Francis Church Welwyn Garden City

In The beginning

By Susan Hall

St Francis Church, Welwyn Garden City, 1929
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies, pamphlet files
Floor plan
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (pamphlet file)
Plan of different alters
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (pamphlet files)
Plan of side view
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (pamphlet files)
Plan of the main alter
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (pamphlet files)
Plan of South Chapel
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (pamphlet files)
Children's Church
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (pamphlet files)
Foundation stone laying procession at St Francis Church, Welwyn Garden City. The church was consecrated in May 1935
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Bishop Furze laying the foundation stone St Francis church, Welwyn Garden City. c1934
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
St Francis Church, Welwyn Garden City, Post marked 1937
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Interior of St Francis Church, Welwyn Garden City
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
St Francis Church, Welwyn Garden City
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
St Farncis Church, Welwyn Garden City 1976
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
St Francis of Assis lecturn bible, taken 2015
Susan J Hall
St Francis of Assis lecturn bible taken 2015
Susan J Hall
One of the clasps on the St Francis of Assis bible, taken 2015
Susan Hall
Onr of the top clasps on the St Fancis of Assis lecturn bible, taken 2015
Susan J Hall
The other top clasp on the lecturn bible of St Francis of Assisi church, taken 2015
Susan J Hall
Top inscription inside the front cover of the St Francis of Assis Lecturn Bible, taken 2015
Susan J Hall
Lower inscription on the inside cover of the St Francis of Assis lecturn bible, taken 2015
Susan J Hall
St Francis of Assisi church taken from Park Way, Welwyn Garden City, 2015
Susan J Hall
St Francis of Assis church taken from Church Road, Welwyn Garden City, 2015
Susan J Hall
Porch of St Francis of Assisi church, Welwyn Garden City, 2015
Susan J Hall
Carving over the porch of St Francis, taken 2015
Susan J Hall

This year is the 80th anniversay of the building of the permenant church of St Francis of Assisi. Hopefully this will give you some insight into the building of the church.

The following article appeared in the Welwyn Times on 24 January 1929, page 5

Building at St Francis’ Church

“A worthy witness”

Work is expected to commence this year on the building of the Church of St Francis. The church has been designed by Messrs de Soissons and A W Kenyon FFRIBA and a drawing of the north elevation is produced herewith.

The proposed church is described in some notes by the Rev. W E Hardcastle, the priest-in-charge.

The plan of the permanent Church has been naturally a subject of most serious thought for the last six years. The final scheme is the result of many consultations, and the enthusiastic approval which it has received on the two occasions when it has been submitted to the congregation augurs well for its general acceptance and support.

There are various guiding principles to keep in mind. First, then, the building must be of great dignity and of perfect proportions to be a worthy witness to God in the city. It must be in a style suitable to its surroundings, and harmonise with the general architectural scheme of the town. Its internal arrangements must also be perfectly adapted for worship and must embody all lessons learnt from the past, and not perpetuate inconvenienced from an aggerated idea of loyalty to tradition. It must also be designed with due consideration for economy.

The actual site of the plot is from Guessens Road to Parkway, there being a fine road sweep up to the great west door in front of the main entrance to St Francis Hall.

From what has been said above all will expect to hear that it is to be a brick building and the style selected is that of the period of Wren brickwork of the late 17th century. The actual material is to be a beautiful sand faced “old English” red brick which is made at Basingstoke. The roof will be of tiles. The total length of the building is to be 180 feet and the breadth 58 feet, with a square tower at the north-west corner capable of carrying bells, and containing a baptistry at its base. The main entrance is in the centre of the west wall, and there are to be additional doors at the north-east corner and at the centre of the south wall, this latter being used as the main entrance to the first section of the church. The height is approximately the same as the theatre and it is satisfactory to know that owing to its exreme simplicity the style is the most economical that could have been adopted.

On the strip of land betweeen the north wall and Church Road there is to be a lawn with a double row of trees indented in the centre for the lay-out of a bird sanctuary and pool.

A Magnificent Vista

On entering the main west door one passes under a gallery large enough to contain a choir and orchestra, with room for an organ to be built against the west wall, this plan having received the approval of one of the best organ builders in the country as being ideal. Straight ahead lies the great nave to the chancel, the height being 30 feet to a flat painted wood ceiling which should be perfect for acustics. There are no side aisles strictly speaking, so that the alter is clearly visible from every seat, but there is a processional way on each side separated from the nave by slight square pillars joined at the top by round arches. Each of these processional ways leads up to a chapel giving a magnificent vista, in each case closed by the chapel alter.

Each of these chapels, one on either side of the chacel, is slightly shorter than the chancel itself, giving a very pleasing external architectural feature at the east end. The outside wall of each chapel is also slightly outside the general line of the body of the Church, making another architectural feature.

The chancel rises by three steps from the nave, and has returned stalls for the clergy and a few stalls for the servers. There is a rise of one step into the sanctuary to carry the kneeling benches. Within the sanctuary, on pavements are standard lights and sedilia, and on a rise of three steps will stand the alter with fittings to which we are all accustomed. The east wall has no window, and provides a magnificent space for future adornment with frescoes or mosaics.

Children’s church

The north chapel is on the ground level and is termed the “Children’s Church.” It is lofty and being seperated from the chancel by a dwaf open screen would on occasion be available for use when the service was at the high alter. All who are familiar with recent movement to bring children to realise their rightful position in the Church will know of the efforts being made to provide “children’s corners” in churches often ill-adapted for the purpose, and will appreciate our decision to includethis vital feature in the design. Our hope is that all the fittings for this chapel will be provided by the children themselves.

The south chapel is also on the ground level and is seperated from the chancel by a dwarf screen and so can be used when service is at the high alter and will provide a means for administering to the aged and infirm without their having to go up steps to the alter. It would normally be used for daily services. This chapel will be ceiled to carry a small hidden choir for soft unobtrusive music, such as “Angus Dei.” This is accessible from the vestry by a small staircase.

The main entrance to the vestries will be at the top of the south processional way, and there will also be a short way through the south chapel to the chancel. The vestries will extend along Parkway, and will consist of a general vestry large enough to be used for small meetings, and at its southern end there will be two small vestries, one for the priest and one for the churchwardens. There will be a door from the priest’s vestry into the parsonage.

The garden of the parsonage extends westwards from the back of the house and there is room at the end of it for a vergers cottage, which could join up to the south-east wing of St Farancis Hall.”

The article mentions “a square tower at the north-west corner capable of carrying bells”, as we well know, bells are not allowed in Welwyn Garden city, the reason was quoted as “not to ring bells at such times as to cause a nuisance to or to interfere with the comfort or amenities of the residents.”

There is an article on this site called “No church bells in Welwyn Garden City” However, a comment received says “There is a church bell at St Francis which is ringable and is used prior to the main morning service”.

In 1929 the building of St Francis church began, and in 1935 the church was consecrated.

There is an article in the Welwyn Times dated 23 May 1935, page 2, “The Bishop at St Francis ‘church ” With all the ritual of one of the most colourful and impresive ceremonies in the Anglican Church, the Bishop of St Albans concecrated the first section of the new Church of St Francis. Although admission to the service was limited to ticket holders, the building was packed when the service began with three mighty knocks on the outer door by the Bishop’s Crozier. The door was opened and the keys delivered to the Bishop as he entered, followed by a procession. This was lead by the verger and churchwardens followed by the crucifer and taperers, the thurifer and boat boy, the vicar (The Rev. W.E. Hardcastle) the Rural Dean and the Archdeacon of St Albans. Then came the apparitor followed by the Registrar and Chancellor of the Diocese in wigs and robes and finally the Bishop, attended by his Chaplains.

The order of service which was remarkably impressive, proceeded, with the Bishop moving to the various parts of the church, the font, the chancel and the lectern with a prayer at each station in turn. Finally the alters were censed, first those in the two chapels and last the high alter, and these, which had until now been bare, were vested with alter clothes and ornaments.

The climax of the ceremony was reached with the Bishop seating himself at a table in the chancel and ordering the sentence of consecration to be read by the Chancellor. This completed, the Bishop signed the document and handed it to the Registrar for preservation in the muniments of the diosese.

The formal consecrartion was then pronounced by the Bishop and after the congregation had sung “Now thank we all our God” he gave his address.

He spoke powerfully and with evident feeling of the “dignified and worthy place of worship” which he had just concecrated.”

A special service was held on the Saturday evening for those who were unable to attend the concecration and the new church was packed. Sunday’s services were also very well attended and there were 125 communicants in the morning.

£2,500 of the cost came from the diocesan fund for the building of new churches and this was made up by all sorts of people, many of whom had never seen the Garden City and never would.

The church was presented with a special lectern bible in 1935, inscribed in gold lettering with “The Church of St Francis of Assisi, Welwyn Garden City, In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” within the front cover.

Mr Louis de Soissons sent the following notes about the church and its design

“The Church of St Francis of Assisi, one portion only has at present been built, is planned as a complete unit consisting of Church, Vestry, Vicarage and Church Hall. When completed the Church will be about 170 feet long and will contain a nave with 10 bays, chancel, two chapels, porch and tower with a Baptistry on the north side. On the west side the church will be linked with the existing Church Hall by a group of buildings consisting of additional rooms and cloakrooms forming a complete unit for all social work connected with the church. On the south side of the church beyond the daily chapel and leading from the vestry will be the vicarage.

The portion which has now been completed consists of the chancel, two chapels, the nave containing four bays, the north porch and the vestry. The west end of the church is temporary. Over the daily chapel on the south side there will eventually be a gallery for a hidden choir. The choir and organ will be placed at the west end over the narthex (gateway).

The church is built of red facing bricks on the outside, grey facings in the nave and the chancel is at present distempered white.

The floor is of wood blocks and the ceiling is of oak and teak with tracery of painted wood superimposed. The heating is by pipeless syste, through which hot air rises from a furnace in the basement, comes through a grating in the floor, circulates through the building and is then drawn down again through the outside ring of the grating.

The finish to the present church and the scheme of decoration have hardly yet been started, with the exception of the ceiling. The brickwork, which is now distempered white, is to be panelled and the columns of the nave will be covered in oak. There are to be screens between the childrens’ chapel and chancel and between the lady chapel and chancel. there will also be three return stalls on each side of the chancel and a rood screen in oak and iron. Behind the alter in place of the present temporary hanging will be a fine piece of coloured stuff rising the full height of the chancel.

The present lighting is temporary. Eventually it will be by a trough running between the columns, which will throw light by indirect reflection on to the congregation in order to avoid glare.”

The discription of the church is vast and the darwings of the plans show a very elaberate church.

The more recent photos show St Francis of Assisi Church as it is now, as you can see there is no tower.

The last marriage to take place at the Old St Francis, before the new one was concecrated was between a Miriam Gladys Folds, aged 30 and William Scott, aged 25 a metal sheet worker. Their wedding was reoported on in the Welwyn Times on 2 May 1935.

“The wedding was celebrated at St Francis Church last Saturday of Miriam Gladys Folds, daughter of Mrs and the late Mr F Folds, of 62 Lanefield Walk and Mr William Scott, son of Mr and Mrs R Scott, of North Shields, Northumberland.

The bride, who had been a well-known and popular member of the staff of Shredded Wheat for nine years, wore white satin and a crinoline hat, and her four bridesmaids who were her sisters Adeline, Ena and Joan, and Miss Mary Moore, had floral pink satin silk crepe dresses with crinoline hats.

The bride was given away by her brother, Mr W Folds, and Mr W Perry was the best man. A reception was held at the Guides Hut”.

The first wedding to take place after the concecration was between Alan Alfred Carter and Christine Randall, Alan was a commercial Artist aged 26, Christine was aged 35. There was no write up in the local paper.

Reported on 30 May 1935 on page 5 was the report of the first function of the new St Francis Hall, a sale to raise funds for the building work yet to be carried out. The sum raised was £40, there being a large donation of £25.

In the evening a well attended dance was held.

In March 1940, during the Second World War, a new pulpit was erected and dedicated by the Dean of St Albans, the Very Rev. C C Thicknesse.

The pulpit was donated by Mrs Lilian Brown and designed by Louis de Soissons, OBE, the builder was a Mr F Palmer and the craftsmen Mr G W Holton and Mrs J Kirby.

“The pulpit is a fine piece of work and a credit to its designer and to the craftsmen who have skilfully produced it”. says the Welwyn Times on 21 March 1940 page 4

Happy 80th Anniversary, St Francis of Assisi Church.

This page was added on 11/06/2015.

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  • Hi I think that it is my grandad, Will Smith in the front of the procession. He was the verger. I have a few pictures of him outside the church I believe.

    By Heather Saxby (09/01/2023)
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