The Refurbishment of St. Mary’s Church in Watford

St Mary’s Church is a beautiful eight hundred year old Anglican church building in Watford, England. The church is built with the characteristic flintstone that you see so often in this region. In early 2015, I spent two weeks in Watford to provide my services in the design of the remodeling of the church hall.

Watford St.Mary's church - exterior
Saint Mary’s church in Watford

Welcome

The church is also very beautiful on the inside, but at the same time a bit impractical and not very flexible in use. For years there have been plans to make the church more open, more accessible, more “welcoming”. At the same time, there were concerns about the effects on the monumental character of the interior. That is why the church board asked me to visualize the proposals. So I installed my laptop at a little office in a corner of the transept.

Interior image of the current situation in St.Mary's church in Watford, with pews and red carpet
Not really flexible…

The renovation of the chancel

The first point of attention was the so-called chancel, the area behind the pulpit. An attractive space with beautiful pews, decorated by wood carvings. However the space is never used. The church board would like to redesign the chancel. But that was something the Church of England’s monuments committee frowned upon.

Photo of the existing situation in the chancel area of St.Mary's church in Watford

Woodcarvings

The images I made were mainly intended to show that the space could be converted while retaining most of the carvings. Furthermore, the pictures showed that the redesign would really result in a more usable space:

Impresion of the chancel area of St.Mary's church in Watford
Preservation of the carvings

Photoshop

The images are a combination of 3d and 2d. All new elements are digitally modeled. But because it is virtually impossible to realistically model woodcarvings and other artwork, a lot of work has gone into photoshopping the photos.

Interieur image St.Mary's church in Watford, showing the alternative with a stone floor, looking towards the chancel
2d and 3d

Carpet, stone or wood?

Of course, this way of working is also very suitable for experimenting with different floor covering materials, which have a major impact on the atmosphere of the room. The existing floor was made of natural stone. For practical reasons, carpet seemed an option. But this has the disadvantage that it only looks good just after completion. A wooden floor is a good alternative, especially for the podium.

Watford St.Mary's church - alternative floor covers
Various options for the floors

The lowering of the reredos

Another subject was the reredos, or the tableau with the crucifixion, at the rear of the church. The plan was initially to lower the artwork a bit to make the stained glass window fully visible.

Interior impression of St.Mary's church in Watford showing the reredos depicting the crucifiction
The reredos

Matthew

However, that turned out to create more problems than it solved, not least because the window behind the reredos turned out to contain no images at all. That is why a simpler set of interventions was devised that would give crucifixion, resurrection and ascension a place at the back of the church: better lighting, a new altar cloth, and an appropriate text from the Gospel of Matthew.

Watford St.Mary's church interior: view from the chancel
View from the chancel

Meeting room

The most important change in the church hall itself was that, just like in the choir, the pews were to be removed. They would be replaced by chairs and a welcome room in which the congregation members can meet before and after the service. An L-shaped piece of furniture was also designed as a reception desk and for the sound and light installation.

Watford St.Mary's church interior: view from west entrance
View from the west entrance towards the chancel

Recycled carvings

Some parts of the pews, with beautiful Victorian carvings, have been reused as wall panels in side naves of the church. There they replaced the heating radiators. Those were quite out of place in the interior and since the entire church has underfloor heating, they were no longer necessary.

Watford St.Mary's church interior: view from north entrance
View from the north entrance

Accessibility

Furthermore, accessibility for the disabled has also been improved by removing thresholds and steps. The side chapels and adjacent offices were made accessible by wheelchair through a ramp to the stage. Finally, at the rear of the church, closed walls were replaced by glass, turning cluttered corners into beautiful spaces. The following animation shows the difference between the old and the new situation:

Watford St.Mary's church interior: view form south east
Before and after

Work

My images proved to be useful in convincing the monument committee and in fundraising. The refurbishment work started at the end of 2017. There was some delay when thirteen unknown graves were discovered under the old stone floor. The refurbishment was completed in March 2019. Partly due to the pandemic, I have not yet had the opportunity to see the result with my own eyes. But a visit is on my wish list; I’d like to add some real photos to this blog post.

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