Thornbury - Christ the King

Castle Street, Thornbury, Bristol, BS35

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A modern design of 1962-4, incorporating later slab glass made at Prinknash Abbey. The church has been extended. It was built in the garden of Porch House, an important building of late medieval origin, which serves as the presbytery and parish hall. 

In 1941 Bishop Lee invited the Society of the Divine Saviour (Salvatorians) to take charge of the Berkeley Vale district. Mass was said at the Ship Inn, Oldbury on Severn, and then at the Anglican Church Institute, St Mary’s Street, Thornbury, continuing at the latter until 1951. A house had been acquired in St Mary’s Street in 1942, at the back of which a chapel was built, opened by Bishop Rudderham on 22 May 1951. The house and chapel do not survive.

Parish growth in the 1950s, encouraged by the building of power stations at Berkeley and Oldbury and construction of the Severn Bridge and motorway, necessitated a larger church. Porch House, a property of late medieval origin, and with a large garden, was acquired in 1961 for £5,250. Initially the medieval hall (now the parish hall) was used for Mass. R. E. E. Beswick FRIBA of the Wyvern Design Group (of Swindon, Devizes, Chippenham and Trowbridge), a Catholic convert, was appointed architect for the new church and the foundation stone was laid in 1962. The first phase was completed in 1964, at a cost of about £15,000. A mosaic over the high altar was designed by the architect, in memory of Rosemary Wells (1943-61). The Stations of the Cross were presented by power station workers in 1963, in memory of President John F. Kennedy. In 1966 an organ by J. G. Haskins was installed, brought here from the former convent of the Sisters of Mercy, Dighton Street, Bristol.

As originally built, the church was square on plan, with the altar paced in a shallow sanctuary to the (geographical) south. A temporary west wall was built, allowing for future extension. This came in 1980-1, with the addition of a nave bay and narthex/gallery, built largely with parish labour. The sanctuary was relocated to the east side of the church and enriched with glass made at Prinknash Abbey, donated by parishioners in memory of Salvatorians who had served the parish. The completed extension was consecrated by Bishop Alexander on 25 February 1981. Further alterations to the hall and presbytery followed in 1982, including removal of an inserted floor and restoration of the original medieval volume of the parish hall in Porch House.  

In 2007 Porch House underwent major refurbishment, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. A by-product of this was the preparation of a detailed account and history of the building (web address above). At the same time, a prayer garden was created behind the church, incorporating a labyrinth and a Celtic cross from the cemetery of Christleton Hall, Chester, former seminary of the Salvatorians. Among those commemorated on this is the Rev. Kevin Kenny SDS, the first parish priest at Thornbury. This large parish (covering over 100 square miles) continues to be served by the Salvatorians.

As originally built in 1962-4, the church was square on plan, with an entrance porch on the street elevation and a short sanctuary on axis with this. When extended to the west in 1980-1, the church was re-orientated and the sanctuary is now placed on the east side. The original building has a precast reinforced concrete frame and is faced with brick and artificial stone, with clay pantile roofs. The triangular front to the street has stepped windows glazed in hollow glass bricks. The central mullion and transom form a cross, with carved loincloth and crown (originally gilded) denoting Christ the King. Alongside the entrance on this side, a shallow curved wall was originally to the baptistery. The sanctuary was originally placed on the opposite side to this entrance, in a side-lit projection. An open copper spirelet is placed on the ridge at the centre of the original building. The western addition is more functional in character, of similar but not matching materials, and with a lower ridge and roof of shallower pitch, allowing for high level glazing above the ridge onto the original space.    

The internal walls are faced in brick, with the reinforced concrete frame exposed and rising to an apex at the centre. The ceiling is of red-painted panels. Unusual armour plate glass altar rails mentioned in early accounts of the building do not survive, and the present sanctuary furnishings date from the reordering of c.1981. Of chief interest is the slab glass, made by Brother Gilbert Taylor at Prinknash Abbey (example at figure 2), which consists of four square openings with blue and purple glass incorporating cross motifs, and a star opening above with yellow glass. The former sanctuary is now a Blessed Sacrament Chapel, and retains the wall mosaic of Our Lady and Child designed and made by the architect, with memorial inscription below.  

Diocese: Clifton

Architect: R. E. E. Beswick of Wyvern Design Group

Original Date: 1964

Conservation Area: No

Modifications: 1980-81

Listed Grade: Not listed