Clevedon - The Immaculate Conception

Marine Hill, Clevedon, Somerset BS21

title= title= title=

A large neo-Gothic church built by a group of French Franciscans who founded the mission. It was designed by the architect-priest A.J.C. Scoles, who was responsible for a number of churches in the diocese. Overlooking the cliff above the sea front, it makes a prominent and positive contribution to the local conservation area.

In 1880, a group of French Franciscans sought refuge in England and settled, at the suggestion of the abbess of Taunton and the Bishop of Clifton, at Clevedon. Here they started a mission in 1882. The Royal Hotel was purchased and converted for use as a friary, the first service being held there in February 1883. A church designed by the Rev. (from 1893 Canon) A. J. C Scoles, then in charge of the mission at Bridgwater (qv), was planned for the site in front of the friary, overlooking the sea. The foundation stone was laid on 16 February 1886. The first Mass was said on 2 February 1887 and the church was opened and consecrated on 14 July 1887. The cost of £3,000 was largely borne by lay members of the Franciscan Order in Amiens. In 1902, the friary was taken over by the English province of Franciscans.

In 1907, the rood was lowered by about seven feet and two small west windows were inserted to light the narthex. The following year, a northwest porch was built (demolished 2000). In 1924-5, the former hotel was refurbished and remodelled by the architect John Bevan. At the same time, benches were installed in the church. In 1927, the rood was removed, leaving only the crucifix. In 1929, the font was installed. In 1967, a wooden forward altar was installed and in 1972, the pulpit and two side altars were removed. The high altar was also dismantled at some point after the Second Vatican Council. In 1977-8, a new friary was built to the south side of the church, while the site of the former Royal Hotel to the northeast of the church was redeveloped with housing (now Friary Close). At the same time, the screen between the sanctuary and the community choir was glazed. In 1983-4, the community choir underwent remedial works for damp, and the panelling and stalls were stripped out. In 1987, the narthex was enclosed with glazed screens and doors, and the tabernacle was moved to the south chapel (it was moved back to the sanctuary in 2000). In 2002-3, a parish hall (Greyfriars Hall) was constructed to the north of the church (architect Terence Moody of Banwell). 

The church was built in 1886-7 to a design by Canon A. J. C. Scoles. The style is Early English Gothic, the style generally favoured by Scoles and used by him for other churches in the diocese. The materials are local stone with Bath stone dressings. The roof has been re-tiled with modern pantiles. The plan is longitudinal, comprising a nave under a pitched roof, lean-to aisles, a lower chancel flanked by pitched-roof side chapels, and a flat-roofed community choir to the east. The west elevation is framed by buttresses. Above two lancets to the narthex are two two-light windows with plate tracery with an empty canopied niche (originally holding a statue of the Virgin Mary) between them and a sexfoil window above. The side aisles both have two-light plate tracery west windows and two-light lancets to the sides. The clerestory has single lancets. There is a gable cross on the west gable, and a bellcote to the east nave gable.

The large and bright interior comprises five nave bays under a panelled and painted ceiling. The moulded and pointed arches rest on octagonal stone piers; above are two clerestory lancets per bay. At the west is the organ gallery with a statue of St Francis under a timber canopy. The north chapel, dedicated to St Francis, is at the higher level of the sanctuary. At its entrance is a statue of St Clare under a Gothic stone canopy, while a statue of St Francis is placed on the simple stone reredos of the chapel.

The chancel has a glazed stone screen of two-light windows flanking a three-light window (all with blind plate tracery in their apexes) to the community choir beyond. The central light of the central window contains the tall Gothic canopy of the monstrance throne. Above the screen is a sexfoil rose window. Below the screen are two doors, on either side of a plain stone tabernacle shelf. The chancel ceiling is timber-panelled and the side walls have four clerestory lancets above two arches. The crucifix hanging from the chancel arch was part of the original rood. The forward altar and lectern are of timber. To one side of the sanctuary is the octagonal stone font of 1929, with sides carved in low relief. 

The south chapel (originally dedicated to St Anthony, now the Lady Chapel) is at the floor level of the nave. It has a similar stone altar and reredos to the north chapel. The arches of the reredos are filled with icons painted by parishioner Patrick Tossell. Most of the benches in the church date from 1924, apart from the darker ones in the side aisles which came in 1990 from the closed Franciscan church in Gorton, Manchester.

The aisle windows, the cinquefoils in the side chapels and the sexfoil at the west all have stained glass, although the designers and makers are not known. When it opened the church had stained glass only in the west sexfoil window (depicting the arms of the Franciscan Order); the other windows have been added since, mostly in the interwar period. 

Diocese: Clifton

Architect: Canon A. J. C. Scoles

Original Date: 1887

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not listed