This site is dedicated to Sir Walter Tapper, and the fabulous architecture that he left us.


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David Dolan and Leigh O'Brien

Tapper's English Churches

Whether or not they were acquainted, Tapper had earned a reputation as a fine church architect by the time Henn was looking for someone to build his chapel. Tapper was known to be versatile within the vocabulary of neo-gothic design. There is a clean and elegant modern feel to the exteriors of his perpendicular Church of the Ascension at Malvern Link (1903), and the larger but unfinished St Erkenwald’s at Southend-on-Sea (1905-10) which was controversially demolished in the 1990s and is now commemorated by a dedicated website. Another lost Tapper church was the modest St Stephen’s, Grimsby. The Church of the Ascension survives, well loved and used, and exemplifies Tapper’s juxtaposition of an austere nave with a colourful and richly furnished sanctuary, emphasising and glorifying the zone where the sacrament is administered.

For Mirfield in Yorkshire, Tapper designed a big solid, almost Romanesque church which took many years to build and was finished by Michael after his father’s death. Much later (1926-28) he used a similar style for Gorton near Manchester. Two more radical projects were St Oswald’s at Lythe where Tapper removed 18th century alterations to a medieval church, taking the walls down to about a metre from the ground before almost totally rebuilding in 1910; and St Michael’s at Little Coates. St Michael’s was a tiny old church to which Tapper added a vastly bigger structure in 1912, turning the original building into a side chapel.

Two other commissions from the immediate pre-war years can be described as efforts to create traditional village churches in new residential developments. St Mark’s at Whiteley Village (a charitable retirement estate) outside London has remained virtually intact from 1912, but the east window designed by Bewsey was never installed. The much larger, complex and ambitious St Mary’s at Harrogate in Yorkshire was erected on a triangle of low-lying land, and despite recent attempts to treat the damp it has suffered terribly from delamination due to water penetration. Although still in use, St Mary’s was looking almost derelict in 2003, and unless a fortune is spent on conservation very soon it is at risk of crumbling away.

Of Tapper’s English churches, the one that compares most interestingly with Guildford is its exact contemporary: the Church of the Annunciation in Bryanston Street, not far from Marble Arch in London. On a modest sized corner block in a built-up area, this red brick church butts up against its neighbours and fronts directly onto the street with no setback. Although larger and more complex inside, the similarity to Guildford is in its tall proportions, with solid walls below the high-up windows excluding the noise of London’s traffic. At the street corner exterior is a First World War memorial designed by Tapper in a ‘wayside shrine’ style, and installed a few years after the church was completed.

The Church of the Annunciation retains a strong Anglo-catholic flavour: Australian visitors unused to ‘high church’ Anglicanism are mildly shocked to find a framed portrait of the Pope in the vestry. The elaborate interior retains many of the original furnishings but there have been a number of changes and the cost of maintenance is apparently an issue as changing demographics have caused a dwindling congregation. According to a note by Michael in the Tapper papers at RIBA, Walter considered The Annunciation his most important church, and due to its location it was certainly his most famous work.

Sir Walter Tapper ~ Sir Walter J. Tapper ~ Gothic Revivalist Architect ~ St Erkenwald, Southend-on-Sea ~ Church of the Annunciation, Bryanston Street ~ Church of the Ascension, Malvern Link ~ Guildford Grammar School Chapel