St George the Martyr's Church in Brentwood, Essex is unusual because it is neither traditional church architecture, nor modern. It is Art Deco, and an Art Deco church is something not many towns can lay claim to. It also has some other unusual features.
Where it Came From
John Larkin (1850-1926)1 left a bequest in his will for a new church to be built as a 'chapel of ease' to be part of the parish of the local Church of England church, St Thomas's. He had been a benefactor of Brentwood for many years — reflected in names around Brentwood such as 'Larkin's Playing Fields' where Brentwood Town FC was based from 1957 to 1993.
It was decided to build the church around a mile from the town centre, at the entrance to a new housing estate, conveniently placed at a bend in the main road so it could clearly be seen by residents and passers-by. Other estates were planned for the future in the area, and St Thomas's would not be able to hold enough people. St George's did not have a parish of its own, it was a daughter church to St Thomas's.
Who Built it
Why it was dedicated to St George the Martyr has been lost to the mists of time, but it was designed by a local architect, Laurence King, who later worked on other churches2 and cathedrals, and also designed the Brentwood coat of arms.
Why he designed an Art Deco church for Brentwood is also unknown, but it came as a shock to many people. Not only when it was built, but through its life as new people become aware of it. Its 'mother' church, St Thomas's, is Victorian Gothic, and the next closest church in the area is medieval. However, for a brand new housing estate, a brand new type of architecture was perhaps not so out of place. Lawrence did include some old-style architecture — it has red brick Basilican arches.
Work began on 6 October, 1933, and it was consecrated on 28 April, 1934. The foundation stone is still visible at the east end of the church, just under the stone figure of Jesus. However, it is still not exactly 'finished'. A tower at the west end has still not appeared, neither have two more bays for the nave, as the money ran out. A temporary wall was erected, which is still there today. By the 1980s the 'temporary' wall was wearing out, and the roof was leaking. For the last thirty years the congregation and local people have worked hard to keep the church in a good state of repair, although much needs doing and hope for the tower has long since gone.
A New Parish
In July, 1961, the church finally got a parish in its own right. More housing estates had been built in the area, and finally there were enough people for it to be possible. Within two years the vicar began collecting for a parish hall — previously a mobile concrete hut had been all the facilities available to the area. It took another ten years before the hall finally arrived (by which time a new vicar was in the parish), along with a small car park. A new, free-standing altar was also installed.
What it Looks Like
Some of the more unusual features of the church are on the outside. It has an outdoor pulpit at the east end of the church, facing the main road (St Paul's Cathedral in London also has an outdoor pulpit). The idea of the outdoor pulpit is to bring the world outside into the Christian faith, as much as those indoors are. There's also a stone carving of Jesus on the cross behind the pulpit. Originally floodlit, it became dark due to vandalism and stayed so until recently, when it was floodlit again.