Fishponds, Bristol - St Joseph

Forest Road, Fishponds, Bristol BS16

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A late Gothic Revival design of the 1920s by the local architect Sir Frank Wills. The design is old-fashioned for its date, the tall and striking interior with its hammerbeam roof recalling churches of the 1860s. The high altar and reredos were designed by J. F. Bentley and N. H. J. Westlake, brought here in 1929 from a convent in Taunton.

In 1907 the Redemptorists from Kingswood founded a Mass centre at Fishponds and built a small chapel in the garden of a house in North Devon Road. When they left Bristol in 1911 the Redemptorists gave the diocese money for the purchase of the present site. A corrugated iron chapel which had served in Kingswood (qv) was re-erected in Park Road, Fishponds, as a temporary church. A presbytery was built just before the First World War, but the war delayed the building of a permanent church, the foundation stone for which was laid in 1923. The building was opened by Bishop Burton on 18 March 1925 (the feast of St Joseph). The architect was Sir Frank Wills; the external design is similar to Wills’ former church of St Patrick, Redfield (1922-3) and church at Chard, built immediately afterwards in 1925-6. The internal roof design is however is more similar to that in his nave at Shirehampton (1928-9, qv). £2,300 towards the building costs of St Joseph’s was allocated by the Bishop of Clifton from the sale of Prior Park in Bath. The old iron church was dismantled and given to the new mission at Chard (qv). When the convent of the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Taunton closed in 1929, the high altar and reredos from their chapel was installed at Fishponds. The altar, consecrated in 1872, was designed by J. F. Bentley.

The church is designed in a personal version of the Early English style. It is not orientated and the liturgical east faces north, but all directions in this description are liturgical. The external walls are of squared, rock-faced Pennant stone with Bath stone dressings; the roofs are covered with tiles. The plan comprises a long and wide aisleless nave with a tall pitched roof, north and south porches, north and south transepts and a small apsidal chancel with an ambulatory. The nave west front has a central pointed doorway with jamb-shafts flanked by triple windows. Above the door is a large rose window in plate tracery and in the apex of the gable is a niche with a statue of St Joseph. The nave side walls are of six bays, with small gabled porches in the west bays and two-light windows with plate tracery in the five eastern bays. The transepts have triple lancets in their gable walls. The apsidal chancel is small and oddly detailed, with an ambulatory under a lean-to roof and tall gabled dormers above with triple lancets.

The interior is striking, though old-fashioned for the 1920s. The wide tall nave has an elaborate timber hammerbeam roof, now painted green, resting on carved stone corbels. Across the west wall is a tall timber gallery. The nave windows have clear frosted quarries with coloured borders. There is no crossing as such, and the transepts read as part of the nave. The stone chancel arch is flanked by low arched openings to the ambulatory. Within the sanctuary are paired arched openings on either side and above the heads of the arches stone wall-shafts carry the long principal trusses of the timber roof, which has braced collars with king posts and raking struts. The sanctuary has been reordered and the floor level in the centre raised to carry a forward altar. Behind this is J. F. Bentley’s high altar and reredos, brought here from Taunton in 1929. The frontal has three cusped panels with paintings on the theme of the Annunciation. The mensa and gradine are in green serpentine and Hopton Wood marbles. Above the central tabernacle is an alabaster throne with an elaborate canopy of Caen stone surmounted by a figure of St Michael. On either side of the throne, and forming a reredos, are six panels with paintings by N. H. J. Westlake, representing Our Lady, St Joseph, St John, St Mary Magdalene, St Matthew and St Thomas Aquinas. Other furnishings include what are presumably the original timber benches in the nave, nine lancet windows in the sanctuary with stained glass of 1925, in the style of Hardman, and a small organ in the north transept rescued from the Morley Congregational Church in Fishponds (built in 1889 and demolished in the 1970s).

Diocese: Clifton

Architect: Sir Frank Wills

Original Date: 1925

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed