Westbury-on-Trym - Sacred Heart

Grange Court Road, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol, BS9

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A simple modern Romanesque design, built on the eve of the outbreak of World War II, which has been internally reordered on a number of occasions. The building is of local architectural and historical interest.

In 1832 sisters of the Visitation, an enclosed order at Shepton Mallet, purchased the mansion of Westmead in Westbury. An L-shaped classical chapel (one wing for the nuns and one for the laity) was opened by Bishop Baines in December 1835. The chapel was used for public worship, and became a chapel-of-ease to the Pro-Cathedral. Further convent buildings were built between 1859 and 1862 and in 1868 a school was opened. In 1896 the Visitation nuns moved away and the Sisters of Mercy took over the convent and school, which became St Ursula’s. The school buildings were mostly rebuilt shortly after the war; the Sisters of Mercy left in 1989 and the school continues today at St Ursula’s Academy.

By the 1930s the convent chapel had become too small for use as a public Mass centre, and a plot of orchard land fronting onto Grange Court Road was given by the convent to the diocese, on which to build a separate church and presbytery. The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Lee on 18 March 1939 and the completed building, capable of seating just under 250, was blessed by the bishop on 13 September 1939, just after the outbreak of the Second World War. The architects were Roberts & Willman of Taunton (information from Andrew Foyle). According to the parish history, the church was built with a concrete roof (concealed by tiles), to withstand incendiary bombs. The builders were Stansell & Co., Taunton and the cost was £10,000.

The church was consecrated on 20 June 1950. In 1958 Fr Charles Norris of Buckfast Abbey (liturgical expert and renowned as a maker of dalle de verre glass) was invited to redesign the sanctuary; a richly painted canopy was installed over a forward altar (quite advanced for its time), and against the east wall curtains were hung which could be changed according to the liturgical season. At the same time an extension was built at the front of the presbytery and other improvements made. 

In 1962 a large parish hall (Newman Hall) was built behind the church, from designs by Gerard O’Brien of Ivor Day & O’Brien, who was a parishioner. According to Harding, this contains or contained a series of murals depicting characters from Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, by the local artist Frank Shipsides. At about the same time the church was reordered; the high altar was removed, and a forward altar introduced. The tabernacle was relocated to a newly-created Blessed Sacrament Chapel in the former Lady Chapel. 

Alterations were carried out to Newman Hall in 1983 by Holford Associates and two years later the same architects were retained to carry out a further reordering of the church (figure 2). The baptistery was decommissioned and the space converted to use as a plant room for a new hot air heating system.  The font and baptistry window were moved to an apsidal recess to the left of the sanctuary. In the sanctuary, the tabernacle was returned to a central position, approached from steps behind a screen wall with ramped sides. A Portland stone altar and ambo replaced their timber predecessors.  The nave seating was reconfigured to confer a more intimate and communal character.

In 2007 new stained glass windows designed and made by Geoffrey Robinson were dedicated. In 2013 a fourth reordering of the sanctuary involved the removed of Fr Norris’s canopy, a new altar and tabernacle setting and general redecoration. The pews have been returned to a more conventional layout.  

The church is a plain modern Romanesque design of 1939. It has a reinforced concrete frame and (according to the parish history) concrete roof structure, but is externally faced in pale brown brick laid in Flemish bond, with pantile roof coverings. Cast iron rainwater hoppers bear the date 1939. The windows have been replaced in uPVC. On plan the church consists of a western narthex with south and west entrances and former baptistery (now plant room), an aisleless nave, short transepts and canted sanctuary flanked by a short baptistery recess (north) and Lady Chapel (south).  The west front has a round arched entrance with a statue of the Sacred Heart placed in the tympanum over the doors. The entrance and the windows above are set within a super-arch. This is flanked on either side by smaller ground floor windows to the porch area and former baptistery. A disfiguring outlet grille for the hot air heating system is placed below the former baptistery window. At the sides, taller arched windows light the nave, the bays marked by simple attached buttresses. Tall paired arched windows light the transepts while shorter high level openings light the sanctuary.

Multi-panelled oak entrance doors to west and north lead into the narthex, a flat-ceilinged vestibule with organ gallery over. Stone stoups with brick surrounds flank the entrances to the church (three pairs of solid panelled doors which were in the process of being partially glazed at the time of the visit). In the nave, canted reinforced concrete arches mark the bay divisions, with plastered and painted finishes between. An organ gallery at the west end has a plain front. Beyond the transepts at the east end, the chancel arch is square with chamfered corners, and the sanctuary walls appear to taper. The nave floor is of woodblock, the sanctuary carpeted.  The nave seating consist of simple oak benches. The (early twentieth century?) organ in the west gallery is imported, its provenance not established; it is by the firm of J. G. Haskins, Bristol, and has a handsome case with decorative carving.

The sanctuary furnishings largely date from 2013, with an attractive moulded and partially gilded surround for the tabernacle and a plain forward altar. The altar in the Lady Chapel appears to be early or original to the church, with carved and shaped reredos panel and statue. The relocated font also appears to be the original one, octagonal and tapering towards the bottom; behind it, a stained glass window of the Baptism of Our Lord (to John Ronald Rigden Trist, d. 1952) is reset from the original baptistery. Other stained glass includes a Crucifixion in the circular window at the centre of the sanctuary apse, flanked by depictions of the Sacred Heart and St Thomas. These latter and three windows in the Lady Chapel (Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity) were given in 1946 by Mr and Mrs Frank Reynolds and family. More recently (2007), modern depictions of St Wulstan and St Cecilia by Geoffrey Robinson have been installed in the north transept. 

Diocese: Clifton

Architect: Roberts & Willman

Original Date: 1939

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed