Swindon - Holy Rood

Groundwell Road, Swindon, Wiltshire SN1

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A Decorated Gothic design of the early twentieth century by E. Doran Webb, nicely detailed in flint and stone, with a squat tower. In c1970 the nave was demolished and the main body of the church rebuilt on a north-south axis. This later addition is notable above all for an extensive scheme of dalle de verre glass by Dom. Charles Norris. The church contains many furnishings of note, some imported. The Arts and Crafts presbytery and school form part of a large Catholic complex. 

A mission was established at Swindon in 1848, when Mass was said at the Greyhound Inn, Westcott Place, by a priest from Horcutt, near Fairford. A resident priest was appointed in 1857 and a school chapel opened in 1859. This was the time of Swindon’s expansion as a railway town, and the Catholic population was growing rapidly. In 1881 St John’s Free Church was acquired, and opened by Bishop Clifford as a place of Catholic worship in the following year. From 1891 to 1902 the Rev. James Lonergen was in charge of the mission, during which time the parish hall in Lonergen Road was built (his initials JJL and those of the bishop, WRB, are carved over the window). This served as a temporary church while the present church and presbytery were built. The foundation stone for the church was laid by Bishop Burton on 3 May 1904. The Tablet reported:

On Tuesday, the foundation stone of the new Church of the Holy Rood, Swindon, was laid by the Bishop of Clifton. The church, when completed, will consist of a nave, north and south aisles, sanctuary, north and south transepts, with a low central tower at the crossing, sacristy and heating chamber. The building will be in the late decorated style, and will have seating accommodation, without counting the transepts, for 500 people. The principal entrance to the church will be through a doorway at the west end, and there will also be an entrance at the west end of the north aisle. The nave, 21ft. 6ins. in width, is divided from the aisles by arcades of four bays each. At its western end is an organ loft, access to which is afforded by a stone staircase in the western turret. The north and south transepts are to be fitted up as side chapels and the sacristy will be entered from the south transept. The materials of which the church is to be built are local brick, faced with rubble flint, with dressings, of Corsham stone. The church will be heated with hot water and lit with electricity. The cost is £5,000 and a sum of £500 is still required towards completing the edifice. It is hoped that this sum will be raised within six months, so that the church may open clear of debt. On the same day the new Holy Rood Presbytery situated between the schools, hall and new church, was opened by Bishop Burton. The house is a substantial stone structure, erected at a cost of £850. The architect for both buildings is Mr. E. Doran Webb, of Tisbury, and the contractors are Messrs. Bell, of Andover.

In 1922 a convent and junior school opened in Groundwell Road. In the 1950s the church was adorned with marble altar rails and a stone pulpit, the latter coming from the bomb-damaged St David’s Cathedral, Cardiff. The altar shown at figure 3 is not original to the church, but along with that in the Lady Chapel came from St Catherine’s Convent, Clifton (adjoining the pro-Cathedral).

Despite the building of daughter churches in the Swindon suburbs in the 1950s, Holy Rood was too small for the growing congregation; the need for additional seating, and to provide a church which met new liturgical needs, led to a decision in the late 1960s to demolish the nave and build a new church at right angles to the old. The tower of the old church was retained, along with the transepts and sanctuary (the latter now serving as a Blessed Sacrament Chapel), and the architects (Ivor Day & O’Brien of Bristol) prepared designs for a needle spire on the tower (figure 4, not implemented). The new church incorporated Stations and stained glass from the old church as well as an extensive new scheme of dalle de verreglass by Dom. Charles Norris of Buckfast Abbey. 

The first is the remaining part of E. Doran Webb’s church of 1904-5, consisting of short, square tower, north and south transepts and sanctuary flanked by (originally) sacristy and heating chamber. This part of the building in Decorated Gothic style, buttressed at the corners and faced in flint with Corsham stone dressings. The roof coverings are clay plain tile. The windows are of three (sanctuary and transepts) and two lights (sacristy and heating chamber), with Decorated tracery and hoodmoulds with carved label stops. A low pyramidal roof is placed on the tower, largely hidden by a parapet. A polygonal stair turret is at the southeast corner of the tower.

 

Inside, the tower space is flanked by the former sanctuary to the east (now Blessed Sacrament Chapel) and by the Lady Chapel in the south transept. The north transept connects to the entrance narthex of the modern church. This part of the church contains a number of rich furnishings, some imported and some purpose-designed. They include:

 

  • Former high altar, stone with marble column shafts, with richly-carved frontal (Crucifixion flanked by saints, Nativity and Coronation of the Virgin) and Gothic reredos with full-size saints. This came from St Catherine’s Convent, Clifton and may be the work of Boulton of Cheltenham
  • The Lady altar, also stone and marble, richly carved and of the same provenance; the frontal is carved with an Annunciation panel and the reredos has a central figure of the Virgin under a stone canopy flanked by panels (The Entombment and the Incredulity of St Thomas)
  • At the tower crossing arch, at the junction with the modern church, is a richly carved stone and marble pulpit, from St David’s Cathedral, Cardiff.

 

Stained glass includes:

 

  • In the sanctuary, a three-light window of the Crucifixion, 1937, by Hardman (figure 5)
  • In the north transept, over the Lady Altar, three-light window with the Coronation of the Virgin, c. 1928, by Hardman (stylistic attribution)
  • In the south transept, a three-light window with St Joseph carrying the Christ child in the centre, by Hardman (stylistic attribution).

The church of 1969-71 is placed at right angles to the original church, and is therefore orientated north-south; however, in this description conventional liturgical orientation is assumed, that is as if the altar was to the east.

The modern church is broadly rectangular on plan, canted at the corners to form a stretched hexagon. It is clad in random courses of Bath stone (possibly reconstituted), with shallow pitched roofs clad in lead or tern-coated steel. A bluff canted east wall is presented to Groundwell Road, with high level clerestory windows to the splayed side walls of the sanctuary, and tall narrow glazed openings to the ground floor corner bays. A short covered way connects a back entrance with the presbytery, but the main entrance is on York Road, where a low narthex and parish room give off the south transept of the original church. A projecting triple canted canopy marks the entrance, with three doors each under a canted head. Similar doors lead into the main space from the narthex.

Unlike the older portion, where the walls are internally faced with render, the main space of the 1969-71 church is faced in brick, with toothed detailing where diagonals converge. Canted openings give onto the corner bays. The floor is of reconstituted stone or concrete slabs. Natural lighting is provided in part by high-level hexagonal clerestory windows but mainly by the large windows at the east and west ends. The shallow folded ceiling is of Parana pine boards. On the north side is a projecting organ gallery, in much the same position as in the old church, on axis with the original sanctuary. The modern sanctuary is on an open raised stone platform, simply furnished, with a crucifix against the east wall. The octagonal font from the original church is placed in the splayed northeast corner.

The chief glory of the new church is the scheme of coloured abstract dalle de verre glass, by Dom Charles Norris of Buckfast Abbey, c. 1971. This consists of a large eight-light window at the west end, full glazing of the eastern canted corner bays (baptistery, figure 6, and connection to Lady Chapel), and narrower panels in the corner bays at the west end. The nave also incorporates stained glass figures from the old baptistery reset over the organ gallery, by Hardman c. 1930. The organ, by Ainscough of Preston, c.1930, also comes from the old church; it was rebuilt in 1971 by George Osmond of Taunton (www.npor.org.uk). The Stations of the Cross consist of panels set into the nave wall and organ gallery front, also from the old church.  The benches are of oak, c.1971. 

Diocese: Clifton

Architect: E. Doran Webb; Ivor Day & O’Brien

Original Date: 1905

Conservation Area: No

Modifications: 1969-71

Listed Grade: Not listed