Royal Wootton Bassett - Sacred Heart

High Street, Royal Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire SN4

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A thoughtful design of the 1990s, its plan forming a sequence of polygonal spaces, with a strong diagonal axis accentuated by the top lighting. The church lies outside the historic core of the town, but within the conservation area.   

Mass was said at various locations around Wooton Bassett (including the Cross Keys public house) from 1941. A church was built on the present site, formerly part of the Manor Estate, in 1951-2. This was one of a number of similarly small and functional church designs built in and around Swindon in the early 1950s by R. J. Beswick & Son of Swindon, all intended in due course to serve as parish halls once parish expansion and resources allowed for permanent churches. Sacred Heart was served from Holy Rood, Swindon, until Wooton Bassett became an independent parish in 1967. From 1978-89 a convent of Sisters of Mary Repatrice was established in two cottages alongside. 

The present church was built at a contract price of £.5m in 1992-3, from designs by Atkins, Walters & Webster (AWW) of Bristol. Stone Liturgical were the contractors. Building was financed in part by development of the site of the old church with a home for the elderly. The design bears some similarities with John Webster’s church of St Francis of Assisi, Nailsea (qv), notably in the use of continuous strips of glazing to provide top lighting (Webster was working for AWW in 1992-3, but the job architect was Richard Francis RIBA). The first Mass in the new church was celebrated on 5 December 1992, and the building was consecrated by Bishop Alexander on 21 February 1993.  

The church was built in 1992-3. It is a modern design, consisting of a series of polygonal spaces – narthex, main body of church and, within that, the sanctuary. The linked parish hall and presbytery give off on either side. The church is faced in rustic brick laid in stretcher bond over a raised blockwork plinth, with a brick band between each of the blockwork courses. The upper floors of the linked presbytery and parish hall are partly faced in render. The recessed entrance bay is diagonally placed at the corner, and there is a powerful diagonal axis through the building. The slate roof sweeps up from relatively low eaves at this point up to the tower-like sanctuary, over which are placed two raised brick fins framing a metal cross. Steel columns and raking steel joists support a continuous strip of glazing, the central spine and leitmotiv of the building. This diagonally oversails the whole space, from entrance to sanctuary, continuing down as the ‘east window’ of the sanctuary. At the sides, gables over the porch and hall enliven the roof profile.

The recessed entrance bay incorporates two wall tablets, once recording the dedication of the church in 1993, and one a datestone reused from the old church. Doors lead into a carpeted entrance lobby, the octagonal form of which evokes a baptistery, although the octagonal bowl at its centre serves as a holy water stoup rather than a font. Beyond this, the main space has double piers at the cardinal points, of brick with occasional (but regular) blockwork bands. Steel columns carry the central glass strip (the only other glazing being two additional side lights in the sanctuary and shorter lights on each side of the nave). The wall surfaces are rendered, the ceilings plastered and painted. Joinery (doors, window frames, pews, sanctuary seating, panelling around sanctuary) is of bleached oak, plain in character. The only stone items are the forward altar, the ambo and, to one side, the shelf below the recessed tabernacle (the latter with a beaten metal door in the form of a stylised Greek cross). The tall window at the back of the sanctuary incorporates the only coloured glass in the church, a stylised representation of the Sacred Heart in pink, yellow and blue. Stations of the Cross take the form of a ceramic frieze on the rear wall of the nave.

Diocese: Clifton

Architect: Atkins, Walters & Webster

Original Date: 1993

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not listed