Christ Church, Naples

John Corfield

The highlight of Thomas Smith’s architectural career, as already mentioned, was the acceptance of his design for the new Anglican church at Naples. The English community had long wanted their own place of worship and approached Garibaldi in 1860 for a suitable site which could be purchased. In appreciation of the support given by the English in the liberation of Naples, Garibaldi gave the land needed as ”a national gift”.

”The Illustrated London News” described the proposed ¬∑ church as providing accommodation not only for the residents but also for the many travellers and invalids who flocked to Naples and the sailors frequenting the port.

The church was to seat 600 persons with provision for a school annexe at a later stage. Twelve well-known architectural firms – three Neapolitans and nine English, including Thomas Smith and Son, were invited to submit designs. Three designs were in the Italian, Byzantine and Greek styles while the remaining nine were in the Gothic. It was decided to judge the designs on the grounds of style, beauty within that style, convenience and comfort with practicability. Thomas Smith and Son were placed first for their design in the English Gothic style because it was ”simple, elegant, decidedly English in character ….and capable of any modification.”

There were, however, the inevitable critical comments. These ranged from the difficulties that were sure to rise from the employment of a London based firm of architects to the pronouncement by the elderly Marchesa di Salza who considered it madness to construct an expensive building, which she was sure, would be destroyed by the catholic monks.

According to the ”Hertford Mercury” the church was to be built in the English Gothic style of the Geometric period. The paper described the plan as consisting of a nave with north and south aisles and transepts with a chancel having an hexagonal apse. There was also provision for an organ loft over the vestry and a carriage porch on the western front.

“The Builder” informed its readers the new church was to be built of different coloured tufas from Sorrento with their tints ranging from red through to grey, brown and stone colour which was “a very cheap material and easily worked with the hatchet.” The external dressings were to be of a white stone while a finer grained stone was to be used for the internal dressings and for items, such as capital heads to columns, which needed carving. Both stones were quarried in Malta.

Marble was ruled out because of the cost although Thomas Smith had recommended its use to the committee. The roof was intended to be covered with slate from the Bangor area of North Wales.

Internally, the chancel was to have a groined ceiling and its floor was to be paved with Minton tiles while the nave ceiling was to be ribbed and plastered to receive decorations. The windows were to bE? double glazed because of the heat and those in the chancel to have coloured glass.

It seems that progress on the church was hindered by a number of incidents mostly of a financial nature. The cost of transporting the stone from Malta proved to be higher than expected and bringing all the joinery from England, where it was made because of the inferior quality of local craftmanship, also proved expensive. Also the wages of the workmen turned out to be higher than originally envisaged. A letter in the British Consulate archives provides an interesting comment on the employment of the Maltese stone carvers. Fear was expressed that Maltese Roman Catholic priests would pressurise them into refusing to work on the construction of an Anglican church. Members of the local English community helped by offering their services free and by subcontracting at reduced rates.

Despite the problems Christ Church, Naples, was consecrated by the Bishop of Gibraltar on the 11 March 1865. Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, was amongst the assembled congregation which also included the Prefect of Naples and other dignitaries ·representing the Italian government. It was even rumoured that some Roman Catholic priests were present!

The final cost of the church was roughly ¬£3,000 more than Smith’s original estimate of ¬£4,000. Part of the problem no doubt lay in the provision of a “proper porch” instead of the wooden one envisaged by the Smiths which the committee .thought was “aesthetically offensive”. The church, in the Strada San Pasquale still plays an active part in the life of the English community. .

Thomas Smith’s clerk of works, Pulham was most likely Obadiah, a brother of the terracotta and artificial stone manufacturer James Pulham of Broxbourne. Smith knew James Pulham, employing him on a number of occasions and usit1g his terra-cotta copings on the church at Clophill, Bedfordshire. Obadiah Pulham had also acted as clerk of works on Smith’s church work at Nice, Cannes and Stuttgart in Germany.

This page was added on 14/07/2022.

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