Bristol - Christ the King

Filwood Broadway, Knowle West, Bristol, BS4

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A landmark structure of the 1950s, at the civic heart of this planned interwar estate. Internally, the church is little altered.

The council housing estate of Knowle West was built in the 1930s, with Filwood Broadway its civic heart. Here were built a cinema, municipal swimming pool and library, all now derelict, demolished or run down. Here also, on a prominent corner site, the church of Christ the King was built after the war. Before this, in 1938, a school was built in Hartcliffe Road, the school hall doubling as a Mass centre. Sisters of Charity taught at the school, but have now left their convent on Filwood Broadway.

The church was built in stages from 1952, from designs by Kenneth Nealon & Partner. As completed, it consists of a tall nave with side aisles, western narthex with south tower and projecting north baptistery, and sanctuary with side chapels. It is linked to a contemporary presbytery on the north side. The church is built with a reinforced concrete frame, faced in Portland stone, with copper roofs. Externally, the dominant feature is the west front. The tall, square bell tower is of four stages and is topped by a cage-like belfry with narrow vertical divisions, shallow gabled cap and weathercock. The belfry houses one bell. The large west window of the nave has similar vertical mullion divisions and a canted top; in front is a (later) gabled porch. On the north side, the solid wall part of the baptistery wall has a large attached white fibreglass (?) figure of Christ the King, while its semi-circular end has deep fins or mullions, with tall and narrow window openings between. The aisle and side chapel windows are of four lights, each with canted heads and vertical divisions, while the clerestory windows are flat-headed and of two lights. The canted sanctuary is plainly treated, with three-light windows placed at high level on the angled sides.

The theme of canted arches, converging sides and vertical mullion divisions, which can be read as a modern interpretation of Perpendicular Gothic, continues inside the church. A western narthex has a gallery over, reached by a cantilevered concrete spiral stair with deep curved timber handrail to the south. To the north is the baptistery, described below. The main space of the nave is of three bays (excluding the western gallery bay), with tapering reinforced concrete trusses marking the bays. Augmented trusses with vertical divisions mark the break between the nave and sanctuary and between the aisles and the side chapels. The nave retains its original bronze pendant light fittings and many of the oak pews, the latter now angled inwards for greater communality. Canted-headed openings give off to the aisles and are repeated in the form of blind arcades in the angled sides of the sanctuary apse. Timber boarding in the ceilings, altar canopy and gallery front soften the hard edges and may offer acoustic benefits. So too may the carpets on the floor; the original chequerboard floor pattern shown in figure 2 remains in the aisles. The original grey veined marble altars to the sanctuary and side chapels survive, that in the sanctuary brought forward and adapted to allow for westward celebration. Its place at the east end has been taken by the tabernacle, on a tapering plinth in matching marble. Above this, the crucifix against the reredos appears to be the original one, but the pulpit, choir seating and altar rails have all been removed in post-Vatican II reordering. In the side chapels, the carved wooden figures of Our Lady and St Joseph set in niches over the altars are also likely to be original to the church (that in the Lady Chapel at least is shown in early photographs in the Diocesan Archives). In the aisles, modern glass panels with figurative subjects were made by a parishioner. At the west end, the baptistery retains its original gates, pale coloured mottled glass, sunken starburst floor and built-in font, with elegant stem and circular bowl (figure 4). The timber carving placed on the font cover is by Tom Preator of Taunton, whose work can also be seen at St George, Taunton (information from Fr Derrick). The Stations of the Cross appear to be nineteenth-century in date, their provenance not established. According to Fr Derrick, the pipe organ in the western gallery came from a Methodist church. 

Diocese: Clifton

Architect: Kenneth Nealon & Partner

Original Date: 1953

Conservation Area: No

Modifications: 1958-61

Listed Grade: Not listed