When the great British church architects are spoken of, many familiar names are mentioned; Christopher Wren, Augustus Pugin, George Gilbert Scott, and even straying into the 20th century, Basil Spence. One name is that is more obscure, but still significant in the history of English church design is Nugent Francis Cachemaille-Day. He was a prolific designer and restorer of churches from the 1920’s to the late 1950’s. He worked in a variety of styles, from traditional designs to expressionism to post war. Many of his church designs are listed and still welcoming worshippers today, but the designer behind them is still fairly unknown.
Cachemaille-Day was born in South Woodford, Essex in 1896, and after attending Westminster school, started his architectural career working for Louis des Soissons in Welwyn Garden City. Here he met Herbert Welch and Felix Lander, who he would join for a short lived but prolific partnership with at the start of the 1930’s. The trio designed a range of buildings throughout suburban London and the South East, from houses to shops and hotels to, of course, churches. The partnerships church designs were largely handled by Cachemaille-Day, and after 5 years he left to set up his own practice focusing on ecclesiastical design. Over the next twenty years, Cachemaille-Day would design around 50 new church buildings, as well as restoring many more, especially after the bomb damage of World War II. We will now take a look at some of his most interesting modernist church designs.
Cachemaille-Day had also worked for H.S. Goodhart-Rendel, known for his pared down gothic influenced church designs. Cachemaille-Day took some of this stripped down style and applied contemporary German Expressionist and Scandinavian influences. His fortress-like, purple brick church for St. Saviours, Eltham (1933) was described by Ian Nairn in Nairn's London as “A dark, tense, springy, hulk amongst the semi-detached houses” of the South London suburb.It was commisioned by the Southwark diocese as one of 25 to cater for the growing suburban congregations. Another of his many London suburban churches is St. Paul’s, South Harrow (1938), it's rendered walls, now turned grey, give it the austere air of a much later design from the early 1960’s.
Cachemaille-Day also designed a number of churches for the suburbs of Manchester and Leeds. Two of these are St Michael and All Angels, Northenden (1937) and St Nicholas, Burnage (1932). St Michael is built in red brick on a star shaped plan, formed by two unequal squares. Nikolas Pevsner called it “A sensational church for its country and its day”, as well as “revolutionary”. He also compared St. Nicholas to a “brick super-Odeon”, no doubt due to its monolithic brick structure, rounded at its eastern end. Pevsner again reached for the superlatives, hailing it as “ a milestone in the church architecture in England”. The Church of the Epiphany (1938) in Gipton, Leeds was also built to serve a growing suburb, with Cachemaille-Day’s designs consisting of a series of curves in brick, punctuated by long thin vertical windows.
The post war period brought Cachemaille-Day plenty of restoration work, due to the Luftwaffe rather than the ravages of time. However he did continue to design new churches and advance his style at the same time. In the borough of Hackney, Cachemaille-Day built two new churches; St Michael and All Angels, London Fields (1960) and St. Paul's, West Hackney (also 1960), as well as rebuilding St. Thomas, Clapton Common in the same year. Both new churches replaced ones destroyed in the blitz. St Michael is built in a square shape, with a foyer and hall either side, and a concrete dome forming the roof. The interior features stained glass by Cachemaille-Day and artwork by John Hayward, whose metalwork figure of St Michael also adorns the western entrance wall. St Paul's reflects both the post war style and Cachemaille-Day’s interwar churches in its austere brick design, set around a concrete frame. The interior again features work by John Hayward, this time stained glass , as well as paintings by Christopher Webb. These two churches, as well as others like All Saints, Hanworth (1951), show a progression from his expressionist influenced buildings of the 1930’s towards a more contemporary style that is austere on the exterior but inclusive inside.
Cachemaille-Day’s career began in the aftermath of World War I and ended as the post war white heat of technological revolution was beginning. He designed a wide range of buildings; houses, hotels, schools, apartments; but it is church building where he made his biggest impact. Never a slave to aesthetic doctrine, Cachemaille-Day’s designs changed from job to job and through time. However, the work that calls us to remember him today and no doubt in the future,are his modernist churches; strong, austere, expressionist designs that bought contemporary places of worship to the new suburbs.
This article first appeared in The Modernist magazine #19 FAITH