Tower Hamlets
Year of Building
Date of Consecration
Parish Priest
Rev Francisco-Javier Ruiz-Ortiz
Ecumenical Contact
Parish Priest
Justice & Peace Contact
Parish Priest

Available Facilities

  • Access for Wheelchairs
  • Disabled Access for other mobility
  • Sacramental Preparation
  • Toilet Facilities
  • Signing at Liturgies

Reasons for Designation

The Roman Catholic church of Our Lady and St. Catherine of Siena, Bow, of 1869 by Gilbert Blount, extended in 1882 by Alfred E Purdie, and partially rebuilt c1950 by John E Sterrett is listed Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: an impressive Gothic-Revival church in the Early English style, by the ecclesiastical architect, Gilbert Blount, featuring a fine trademark south wheel window, and demonstrating the innovative use of Glulam for bomb damage repairs;

* Interior: the interior has particularly high quality work at the north end, including a finely carved reredos, a high altar in its original position, and Hardman’s stained glass window;

* Historical interest: association with the Dominican Sisters of Walthamstow, and evidently part of a holistic wider mission to relieve the effects of poverty in the Victorian east-end of London;

* Group value: adjacent to the listed St Marys Church, Bow and Gladstone’s monument;

* Degree of survival: although bomb damaged, the church was skilfully repaired using quality materials and craftsmanship. Reordering has also been modest.


In 1866, the Dominican Sisters of Walthamstow were sent by Archbishop Manning to undertake teaching work in the Bow area. Alfred House in Bow Road became St Catherine’s convent; adjacent to this a chapel was built for their use. The site also had a private and public school, and a large laundry facility. The foundation stone of the church was laid by Manning in 1869 and the building was later opened by him in November 1870. The architect was Gilbert Blount (1816-76), and the builder was a Mr Perry of Stratford. Original plans by Blount indicate that the church incorporated the earlier nuns’ chapel. The organ by Norman, Hill & Beard came from Holloway Prison, Islington.

Blount (1819–1876) began his career as a civil engineer under Isambard Kingdom Brunel, working as superintendent of the Thames Tunnel works. Following a period of employment in the offices of Sydney Smirke, he was appointed as architect to Cardinal Wiseman, Archbishop of Westminster, working almost entirely on ecclesiastical commissions. In 1882, Blount’s pupil and assistant Alfred E Purdie (1843-1920) added a large eastern extension to form a nuns’ choir, now called the Lady Chapel, where unusually the nuns could be partially seen by the congregation. It also seems likely that Purdie created what is now the Sacred Heart chapel at the west side of the sanctuary, which was previously the nuns’ altar, visible from the eastern transept. This chapel is not present on Blount’s original plans and so is likely to be accredited to Purdie. On either side of the altar are shallow niches with hood moulds, possibly former windows blocked by a later sacristy extension. They now hold statues of angels, which presumably date from the post-war restoration.

In 1923, the Dominican sisters departed for Stone (Staffordshire) and the church was transferred to the Diocese of Westminster. Following the departure of the nuns the convent adjoining the church became the presbytery. During the Second World War the nave and the major part of the presbytery were bomb damaged, but services continued in those parts of the church still standing. The nave was rebuilt as a faithful reconstruction of the original, under the supervision of architect JE Sterrett and utilising Kentish ragstone, with dressings of Portland stone. Due to the scarcity of large timbers after the war, the roof beams were made from Glulam (an engineered wood product comprising multiple layers of timber bonded together with structural adhesives), and sit on steel shoes inserted in to the masonry, rather than as previously, on the corbels. Probably at this time, statues were also added to the niches on the south elevation, and the flat roofed extensions added to the east which house a confessional booth and toilets. Internally, the Sacred Heart altar has moved from a former north chapel (which is now a lobby to the sacristy) to the north-east chapel, which formerly contained the nuns’ altar and the entrance to the old sacristy. At some time, the metal altar rails were removed .

A new presbytery with linking corridor was built, c2000, to the north-west of the church.

Parish Profile:


Books and journals
Evinson, D, The Catholic Churches of London, (1998), 223-224
Pevsner, N, Cherry, B, O’Brien, C, The Buildings of England: London 5 East , (2005), 608
Rottmann, A, London Catholic Churches: a historical and artistic record, (1926), 193-194
Eberhard, R, Church Stained Glass Windows, accessed 2015 from
Architectural History Practice; Westminster Taking Stock report; 2012
Blount’s drawings for the church, Victoria & Albert Museum, E.488-E.497-1975
Information from the parish priest