Avon Dassett - St Joseph

Avon Dassett Road, Avon Dassett, Warwickshire CV33

title= title= title= title=

A stone-built Gothic Revival church of 1855, built at the expense of a local benefactor, and notable for the quality and completeness of its fitting out, including a complete set of stained glass windows by the Hardman firm. With the attached contemporary presbytery, the church makes a strong contribution to the local conservation area.

In the late 1840s Joseph Knight, who had established a successful horticultural business in Chelsea and married well, moved to Avon Dassett with his niece, Helen, and her husband, Thomas Perry (who was also Knight’s business partner). This was after the death of Knight’s wife Mary in 1845. Knight was a Catholic and, according to Kelly, Mass was said in the new house, Bitham House, from 1852.

Contemporary and later accounts state that the present church was built at the expense of Joseph Knight, and this would appear to be confirmed by a recorded inscription in the glass of the east window. Scarisbrick (ed.) presumes that it was built by the Worralls of Bitham Hall, and while they may have been donors (Kelly refers to the munificence of ‘another convert gentleman residing in the district’), there seems little doubt that Knight (along with members of the Perry family) was the principal benefactor. The church was consecrated and opened by Bishop Ullathorne on 3 and 4 July 1855, and Knight died sixteen days after the consecration, aged 77.

An attached presbytery was built at the same time. The church was described at the time of its opening as ‘a well-designed structure, uniting solidity with picturesqueness. It is in the style of the 11th (sic) century, and does credit to its architect Mr Myers of London’. A confusion has arisen that this refers to George Myers, who was Pugin’s favourite builder (but not an architect). It actually refers to Thomas Meyer of London (a signed watercolour of the church by him hangs in the presbytery). Meyer is a relatively little-known figure; his other principal Roman Catholic commission was for the church of St Mary of the Angels, Bayswater (1852-7).

The original plans also included a school and later a small convent and orphanage, run by the Sisters of Charity of St Paul from 1876 to 1910.

The photograph at figure 1 shows the appearance of the sanctuary before post-Vatican II reordering, with the wooden communion rails and before the introduction of a forward altar and extended dais. It also shows the crucifix now hanging from the chancel arch against the south chancel arch respond. According to the Diocesan Directory for 1912, this is a signed work by the Tyrolean woodcarver Franz-Xaver Pendl (1817-96) and dates from 1859; it is said to be his only work in this country.

In 1971 a new church was built at Kineton, and since then Avon Dassett has ceased to be an independent parish.

The church is described in some detail in the list entry (below), and repetition is unnecessary. However, there are some errors and omissions which should be mentioned.

The list entry repeats the attribution to George Myers, Pugin’s builder, but notes that this had been questioned by Pevsner. The attribution can in fact be firmly discounted.

The entry also repeats Pevsner’s attribution of the stained glass to Hardman, but gives no details of the glass, which is one of the chief features of the interior. Unaccountably, the brass plates originally placed below each of the windows have been removed, but details of all the windows are held in the Hardman archive. Twelve windows by John Hardman were installed at the time of the opening in 1855:

  • The triple lancets over the high altar (Christ in Majesty flanked by Our Lady and St Joseph, with kneeling figures of Mary and Joseph Knight, figure 2)
  • Triple lancets at the west end (Crucifixion flanked by Our Lady and St John the Evangelist, with kneeling figures of St Thomas of Canterbury and St Anne, to Thomas and Anne Perry, d.1838)
  • Two lancets on the north side of the sanctuary (St Peter and St Paul, set up by Ellen France)
  • Two lancets over the Lady Chapel altar (the Annunciation and the Assumption etc., set up by Thomas and Helen Perry)
  • A single light on the south wall of the Lady Chapel (St Stephen, set up by Stephen Perry)
  • A single window in the nave near the pulpit (St Charles Borromeo, set up by Major Charles Stapleton).

There is one slightly later window by John Hardman:

  • Nave south side (by the font): St Joseph, set up by Thomas and Helen Perry in memory of Joseph Knight, 1856.

The remaining four windows in the nave are later, and also by the Hardman firm (John Hardman himself died in 1867). They comprise two from 1874 and two from 1877; one is to Ellen France (who had given two windows in the chancel) and the other three are to members of the Perry family. 

Other features of the interior not mentioned or incorrectly described in the list entry:

  • The tabernacle on the high altar is a fine piece of chased and enamelled metalwork; along with the six candlesticks and a brass crucifix they were made by Hardman & Co., possibly to designs by A. W. Pugin (Murray);
  • The large Crucifix hanging from the chancel arch is said to be by Franz-Xaver Pendl, 1859. It was originally placed against the south respond of the chancel arch (see figure 1);
  • The wooden communion rails have been removed from the sanctuary, but survive in the Lady Chapel and enclosing the font at the west end;
  • The font appears to be stone (not plaster as stated in the list description), with an oak cover. Nearby are an aumbry and a stone holy water stoup; 
  • In the south transept there was originally an open choir gallery over the sacristy. This has been blocked and the stair to it removed, but the painted gallery front remains, built into the wall;
  • Sturdy pews, with solid backs and pointed chamfered ends, probably original;
  • High-relief coloured Stations of the Cross, possibly Belgian, and probably late nineteenth century.

LIST DESCRIPTION:

GV II

 

Roman Catholic church and attached presbytery. 1854. By Myers. Coursed squared ironstone. Concrete tile roofs; tower and presbytery have slate roofs; coped gable parapets with kneelers and decorated crosses. Nave, chancel, south chapel and north-west porch tower. Gothic Revival style. Chamfered lancets throughout. 1 bay chancel, 4-bay nave. Chancel has diagonal buttresses with 2 offsets. East window of 3 stepped lancets. North window of paired lancets. Small polygonal projection in north west angle. Nave has buttresses with 2 offsets. 3 windows to north and south sides. West front has splayed plinth. South diagonal buttress. Window of 3 stepped lancets with continuous hood mould. Splayed sill course. West door in tower has deep splayed arch and simple hood mould. Double-leaf door. Tower of 2 stages. Splayed plinth and angle buttresses with 2 offsets. Lancet with hood mould above door. North side has lancet. Square projection in north-east angle. Deep splay to second stage. West front has 2 lancets with clock above and between. Other sides have single lancet. Moulded cornice, taken up as arch above clock. Steep bell-cast pyramidal roof with lead flashing and decorated iron cross. South-east chapel has east window of paired lancets. Single south lancet.

 

Interior: arches of 2 chamfered orders without imposts throughout. Chancel has arch to chapel. Segmental-pointed arch and stairway to pulpit. Scissor-braced roof. Nave has scissor-braced roof with wall posts and corbels. Chapel of 2 bays with arch between. Coupled rafter roofs, running east-west in sanctuary, but north-south in outer bay. Piscina with trefoiled lancet and moulded bowl. Fittings: finely carved and moulded Early English style reredos and altar, with 2 reliefs and stiff-leaf capitals; altar has 4 shafts. Pulpit in north-east corner of nave, entered from chancel, is of stone: 3 sides of octagon, each panelled with quatrefoil with subsidiary cusps. Font of moulded plaster has compound shaft and moulded frieze. Stained glass: complete set of windows, attributed to Hardman (Pevsner).

 

The presbytery is attached on the south side. T-plan, with cross wing on right. 2 storeys; 2-window range. Lean-to porch in angle has chamfered cambered arched doorway and plank door with decorative iron hinges. Wing has paired lancets on ground floor. Paired shouldered arched lights with cambered relieving arch on first floor. Blind trefoil in gable. Main range has large external stack with 4 offsets and large, deep blind arch; 2 chamfered squared shafts with moulded cornices, Lancet to left on first floor. Right return side has lateral stack; shaft rebuilt in brick, 2-storey, 2-window lean-to wing. To rear: wing has 2-light windows. Lean-to range flush with front.

 

The founder was Joseph Knight. Myers was A.W.N. Pugin's builder. Pevsner questions whether he was the architect.

 

(Buildings of England: Warwickshire, p.80; Kelly's Directory of Warwickshire, 1892, p.26).

 

Listing NGR: SP4102149962

Diocese: Birmingham

Architect: Thomas Meyer

Original Date: 1855

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II