The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Grade II* listing for Quinlan Terry’s Brentwood Cathedral

Image: Historic England

Brentwood Cathedral, designed in 1989-90 by Quinlan Terry Architects, has just been Grade II* listed on the advice of C20 Society and Historic England.

Commissioned by the Diocese of Brentwood, it substantially enlarged an earlier parish church of 1861 (built in the gothic style) and was opened in May ’91 by Cardinal Basil Hume. The Society considers the building to be an unprecedented example of a new build cathedral in an historic architectural style.

While many other postwar Roman Catholic cathedrals were products of their era stylistically – the bare brick and steel of Middlesbrough and brutalist concrete of Clifton in Bristol being notable examples – Brentwood took its cues from the late Baroque 17th century Wren churches. A Portland stone construction with an open auditorium set to Liturgical Reform Movement (LRM) ideals, it also links effectively to its gothic neighbour through the use of ragstone and Welsh slate roof tiles.
Apart from Lutyens abandoned 1920’s proposals for Liverpool Roman Catholic Cathedral and Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral in London, Brentwood is the only cathedral in the country designed in the classical style.

Image: Historic England

The building is also the first by Quinlan Terry Architects to have been recognised with listing. An architect who was very much at the zeitgeist of the late 20th century classical revival and post-modernist movements, many of his developments, such as Richmond Riverside, are carefully considered contextual designs, which proved extremely popular with the general public – though were somewhat more divisive among the architectural press of the time.

Brentwood Cathedral ranks as one of Terry’s finest buildings, the financial resources of the client allowing for the highest quality materials to be used, a factor which creates an enormously successful result and ultimately fulfils the Church’s requirement to build for longevity and to serve future generations. Largely unaltered, the cathedral retains the original fittings designed by Terry in his vision for a total ensemble piece, and externally continues to provide an unexpected and dramatic addition to the local streetscape.

Historic England