Bristol - Holy Cross

Dean Lane, Bedminster, Bristol, BS3

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A notable interwar design in Byzantine style by John Bevan Jr, completed in a contextual manner in the early 1960s. The priest who built the church accurately described it as ‘a little Westminster Cathedral … dignified but not pretty’. The impressive interior is notable for its baldacchino, brickwork detailing and stained glass.

In medieval times a shrine dedicated to St Katherine of Alexandria stood in Bedminster at the junction of the present Lombard Street and East Street; the remains of this were finally removed in 1887 to make way for the offices of the Imperial Tobacco Company. A short distance away, a house at 11 Redcliffe Parade West was used from 1850 for Catholic worship, and a school established in the conservatory in the garden. In 1854 the mission priest, the Rev. William Vaughan (later Bishop of Plymouth) acquired a site at the junction of Regent Road and East Street, where a modest church and schoolroom were built at a cost of £518 from designs by Charles Hansom (who with his brother Joseph was later to build Vaughan’s cathedral at Plymouth).

These soon became inadequate and in 1870 Bishop Clifford asked Hansom to look for a larger site, closer to the city centre (the buildings were later sold and become part of Bedminster Library; Harding suggests that parts survive within the present building). The newly-laid out Victoria Street was chosen as a suitably prominent and prestigious location, and here Hansom designed a school and church (1872-4). There was no room for a presbytery, and the mission was served by priests from the Pro-Cathedral and the Catholic Reformatory at Arno’s Court until 1885, when a resident priest was appointed, living in a nearby rented house.  

With the higher standards required under the 1902 Education Act, lack of playing space meant that the school had to relocate. A two-acre site on Dean Lane was acquired, next to a Church of England School and a disused coal pit, large enough for a school, church, parish hall and presbytery. A school and presbytery were designed by John Bevan FRIBA of Bristol, the school opening in 1912. Mass was said in the school chapel and at Victoria Street (until sold in 1914; it was later demolished), but post-war building restrictions and lack of funds meant that it was not until 1921 that work started on the present church (also from designs by John Bevan, contractors W. Hendey & Sons of Cotham). The building of the church was inaugurated by Fr (Canon) Davey, an Anglican convert, who described it as ‘a little Westminster Cathedral, choir and sanctuary well raised up, dignified but not pretty, with a wide nave for most worshippers but aisles for a certain number of worshippers, but mostly for processions’ (typescript in Diocesan Archives). It was designed to seat 600. The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Burton on 19 November 1921, and the church opened for worship in the following year, although the main body was not completed until 1926-7. The west front remained incomplete until 1961, when plans were finally put in hand by Ivor Day & O’Brien for the building of the narthex, western organ gallery and baptistery (generally in the spirit of Bevan’s design, but without his intended southwest tower). The church received a new floor and seating at the same time, and the architects also replaced Bevan’s presbytery with a new and larger building, with linked parish hall. 

A large church in free Early Christian/Byzantine style, by John Bevan, 1921-7 with additions by Ivor Day & O’Brien, c.1962. The church is built of a harsh orangey/red (Ruabon?) brick, with granite dressings and tile roofs. On plan it consists of an aisled nave and sanctuary under one roof, with side projections at the east and west ends of the aisles and an apsidal sanctuary. The western bay of the nave, with narthex and side projections (including baptistery), belongs to the later additions.

The west front is by Ivor Day & O’Brien and bears similarities (e.g. in the design of the circular west window) to their earlier church of St Teresa, Filton (qv). In a projecting porch below this, the plain granite entrance has attached columns of pronounced entasis with cushion capitals. The corner bays (to south aisle and baptistery) are double height and gabled at the sides, with round arched window openings surmounted by circular windows (blind on the west front). The west end has stylised square buttresses with pierced square caps. The aisles have lean-to roofs, with lean-to confessionals in one bay on each side. The clerestory bays have alternate lunette and round-arched windows. At the east end of the nave the chapels project at right angles, lit by lunette windows to north and south, with the gable of the south (Lady) chapel raised to accommodate an Angelus bell and statue. The apsidal sanctuary has a half-dome with a lead roof.

The porch and narthex at the west end lead into a wide, tall nave, of four bays, with one more bay for the gallery at the west end. The walls are faced in brick with stylised neo-Byzantine patterning, the rhythmic pattern of the tall, narrow recesses in the spandrels almost jazzy in effect. The nave piers are cruciform, with crude, squared versions of cushion capitals, left plain except for those on either side of the sanctuary arch, which have flat low-relief carving of Byzantine character. The nave and sanctuary have a king-post roof, while the half dome of the apse at the east end is plastered and lit from the top and sides.

The west end of the church contains the choir/organ gallery of c.1962, with stair in the south aisle, all rather crude in design and execution. The organ is by Henry Willis & Son, c1905, and has a fine case with carved black oak and gilded pipework, of unclear provenance (more details are on the National Pipe Organ Register website, http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=D06524). On the pier closest to the northwest baptistery is a stone wall tablet to the memory of Richard Canon Norris (1917-87), carved with his portrait. The baptistery itself is now a children’s corner, and the font (which appears to be of c.1962) relocated to the sanctuary. The baptistery gates have been re-used at the bottom of the stairs to the gallery. In the nave and aisles, the seating consists of open-backed benches of c.1962.

 

Steps and brick cancellae at the entrance to the sanctuary separate this area from the nave, a distinction broken down since Vatican II by a projecting dais with forward altar in front of the cancellae. However, the fine original painted baldacchino remains in the apse, the visual and liturgical focus of the interior. It incorporates the original stone high altar, with the IHS monogram in a circular sunburst at the centre of the antependium, and domed benediction throne, reached by timber stairs behind. At the sides of the sanctuary, iron screens are placed in the arches, separating this area from the shallow transepts.

The north chapel (giving off north transept) is a war memorial chapel, the antependium of the stone altar carved with the names of the parish dead of the First World War. Above this is a fine stained glass window (photo bottom right at the top of the report) depicting the Crucifixion (artist/maker not established). There is other good glass in the south (Lady) chapel, transepts and aisles, all of which would benefit from further study and research. The Lady Chapel also contains a fine polychrome statue of the Virgin and Child, with a panelled timber reredos behind.  

Diocese: Hallam

Architect: John Bevan; Ivor Day & O’Brien

Original Date: 1927

Conservation Area: No

Modifications: 1962

Listed Grade: Not listed