Bow Common Church is UK’s best modern church

St.Paul’s Church in Bow Common was awarded the title of best modern church in the UK at a ceremony held in Lambeth Palace last week.

The church, designed by Robert Maguire and Keith Murray in 1960, topped a shortlist of 200 places of worship, nominated by members of the public, parishes and architects.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, congratulated the winner of the Diamond Jubilee Architecture Prize from the National Churches Trust.

Former Vicar Duncan Ross, who retired last month after 18 years of service, accepted the award on behalf of the East End church community.

The vicar joked that clergy members from the older and more renowned churches in the area teased St.Paul’s, saying “We’re Bow Posh, you’re Bow Common.”

He said: “What you find within is so much more than what is promised from the outside. The most common response on first encountering the interior is one word: ‘Wow’.”

St Paul's Church. Pic: National Churches Trust

St Paul’s Church. Pic: National Churches Trust

Even if the church is situated in a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood, Ross said that all of St.Paul’s neighbours feel comfortable with the church because “life can be celebrated in the building.”

He added: “The East End is full of life. People on the edges [of society] are fully engaged.”

For the Archbishop of Canterbury, St Paul’s represents an “inspiring message given to the people coming in”, which is delivered through the “attention to the combination of theology and architecture”.

The NCT held the competition to mark its 60th anniversary, a legacy that has provided over 12,000 grants and loans worth £85 million to help fund the repair and modernisation of Christian places of worship.

Jonathan Glancey, writer and architecture critic, was among the judges, who were drawn from the representatives of the event organisers: the NCT, the Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association and the 20th Century Society, an organisation for the conservation of modern buildings.

The competition was open to church buildings from any Christian denomination in the UK that opened for worship after January 1, 1953.

SS Mary and Joseph RC Church, in Poplar, another place of worship in Tower Hamlets, were joint 10th in the competition. NCT Chairman, Luke March, described the building as “beautifully composed and detailed” and “very, very muscular in brick”.

All Saints Church, Spring Park in Croydon, which made the penultimate shortlist of 24, did not find a place in the final rankings.


Visit a gallery of the final shortlist of 24 churches.

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