Malmesbury - St Aldhelm

Cross Hayes, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, SN16

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A simple Gothic design of 1875, with a charming and characterful interior containing some furnishings of note. The church and adjoining presbytery make a positive contribution to the Malmesbury Conservation Area.

The mission owes its origins to Charles Dewell, scion of a prominent Malmesbury family and a Catholic convert. While serving in India with the Wiltshire Regiment he met and invited the Rev. Francis Larive, a French priest of the Missionaries of St Francis de Sales (Fransalians) to come to Malmesbury, conveying a property in Cross Hayes to the diocese to serve as a residence. Three Sisters of St Joseph of Annecy also came to serve the new mission. Fr Larive arrived in 1861 but there were delays with the transfer of the lease of the house, and instead he and the Sisters went to Chippenham, whence they established a mission to Devizes (q.v.). In 1864 Fr Larive moved to Rodbourne House, about six miles from Malmesbury and the home of Sir Richard Hungerford Pollen, whose family were for many years benefactors to the Malmesbury mission. There he said Mass until 1867, when Cross Hayes finally became available, the parlour being furnished for the celebration of Mass. A year later a school opened, amidst intense local opposition. A temporary church was then set up within the stables, serving until the present church was built (opening on 1 July 1875). This was dedicated to St Aldhelm, a seventh-century abbot of Malmesbury. The identity of the architect appears not to be recorded. 

Judging by the early interior view at figure 1, the sanctuary was originally square ended; one source states that the present (canted) sanctuary was added before the First World War. In 1921 a painting of Our Lady of Guadeloupe dating from about 1700 was given to Bishop Burton and presented to the parish. 

 

A small stone-built church built in 1875 in a plain fourteenth-century Gothic style. It is built of uncoursed stone with ashlar dressings and slate roofs. The only publicly visible elevation is that of the west front, towards the street. This has a two-light trefoil-headed window with quatrefoil in the arch, flanked by two plain lancets. To the left of the entrance is a modern wall-mounted low-relief panel of St Aldhelm.

The entrance leads into a small entrance lobby or narthex, with stone-flagged floor. The main interior is tunnel-like, with a character of charming simplicity. It consists of a nave with narrow north aisle, and a chancel arch and canted sanctuary at the east end. The nave arcade and (stone) chancel arch are simply chamfered. A sacristy and confessional give off from a doorway on the south side. The internal walls and ceilings are plastered, painted cream apart from the sanctuary ceiling, which is painted blue. There is no sign of the painted decoration that once existed around the chancel arch (figure 1). At the west end of the nave, over the entrance lobby, is an organ gallery, the gallery front with pierced trefoil heads. The organ obscures the west window from internal view. There are two blocks of plain timber benches on the boarded floor of the nave, with a carpeted central alley.

A rood beam spanning the chancel arch bears a painted inscription O Crux ave spes unica (hail to the Cross, our only hope) and supports polychrome figures. In the sanctuary, a stone and marble Gothic high altar and reredos (of early twentieth-century appearance) survives, with a stone forward altar in front. An octagonal stone font on marble stem is now also placed in the sanctuary.

The church holds a notable collection of stained glass, sculptures and paintings. In the sanctuary on either side of the high altar, windows to Richard Hungerford Pollen (BVM) and Hester Davis (Sacred Heart) are in the manner of Mayer of Munich, c.1925. By the same hand is the window to the Sisters of Annecy at the east end of the north aisle. On either side of the sanctuary are three lights with the House of God flanked by kneeling angels with symbols of the Passion, in the manner of Joseph Nuttgens, c. 1982. Also possibly by Nuttgens is an Immaculate Conception window on the south side of the nave. Three further windows in the nave (Christ at Last Supper, Virgin and Child and St Aldhelm) are reset in clear glass and came from the Pro-Cathedral at Clifton; they may be stylistically attributed to Hardman & Co. Paintings in the north aisle include a framed oil of the Holy Family and a notable large oil of painting of Our Lady of Guadeloupe, c.1700. At the west end of the aisle is a statue of Our Lady of La Salette, brought back from La Salette by Fr Larive in 1866 (figure 2). Other furnishings of note include the painted, framed Stations of the Cross, probably continental, and a cast panel in the narthex donated in gratitude by Italian prisoners of war.  

Diocese: Clifton

Architect: Not established

Original Date: 1875

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not listed