Chew Magna - Sacred Heart

High Street, Chew Magna, Bristol BS40

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Catholic worship in the Chew Valley continued through penal times and a chapel was built in 1806. This very modest prefabricated chapel, built in the 1960s, is its spiritual successor. Although without architectural interest, it occupies a sensitive site in the local conservation area

Catholicism was maintained in the Chew Valley during penal times by the Beaumont family of Wells and Ston Easton and the convert James family of East Harptree and Hinton Blewett. The Beaumonts built a detached, albeit low-key chapel at Ston Easton in the mid-eighteenth century. Anne James and her husband John Brookes, an Anglican clergyman who gave up his living in 1801 when he joined his wife’s faith, and gave land at Shortwood House on the edge of Hinton Blewett parish for the building of a priest’s house incorporating an upper chapel (figure 1). Opened in 1806, this was one of the earliest post-Relief Act churches in the future diocese, and was the beginning of the Shortwood mission. Dedicated to St Michael the Archangel, the chapel was low-key in character and with its Gothic upper windows and an originally thatched roof, the house-chapel must have had something of the character of a cottage orné. It remained in use until 1901, even though it was effectively succeeded by a church at East Harptree, also dedicated to St Michael and designed by A. J. C. Scoles, which opened in 1882.

In 1940 the Manor House at Chew Magna, a house of much earlier origin which was largely rebuilt in the nineteenth century, was purchased by the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions, initially as a reception centre for wartime evacuees. The priest from East Harptree was transferred here, with the convent chapel serving as a Mass centre. When this became too crowded, a temporary hall was built in the car park of the present church grounds at the western end of the High Street. The present church was opened by Bishop Rudderham on 26 July 1964; the builders were F. Prattern & Co. of Midsomer Norton.

In 1996 an arrangement was entered into with the Anglican parish at West Harptree whereby the medieval parish church could be used for Catholic Mass. The Scoles church continues in occasional use. At Chew Magna, the Sisters have now left and the convent site has been sold and redeveloped. The Sisters still own the church site, but not the church building. The parish is now united with, and served from, St Pius X, Withywood, Bristol (qv).

The church is a simple prefabricated building with projecting flat-roofed porch, and a shallow-pitched felt-clad roof. Inside it is a single space, with a suspended ceiling and high level windows at the sides. The sacristy lies behind the sanctuary. Furnishings include wooden sanctuary furnishings by a monk from Downside, oak benches from a convent in Henbury, and Stations of the Cross from the convent of Notre Dame de Namur, Parbold, Wigan, given in 2004. 

Diocese: Clifton

Architect: None

Original Date: 1964

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed