Retford - St Joseph

Babworth Road, Retford, Nottinghamshire, DN22

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A distinctive modern Romanesque design of the 1950s by E. Bower Norris, incorporating Art Deco elements. The church was reordered in 1968 by Gerard Goalen, when a fine large sculpture by Stephen Sykes was introduced. St Joseph’s is prominently located in the Retford Conservation Area, its campanile serving as a local landmark. With the adjacent cemetery it has high townscape value.

In 1824, an entry in the Catholic Directory records a request from Fr O’Gorman for contributions towards a chapel in Retford. However, Fr O’Gorman left in 1827 and there are no records of significant Catholic activity in the area until 1861, when a Mass centre was established, served from Oldcotes, Worksop and Gainsborough. Attempts to secure funding for a permanent church were however unsuccessful. There was certainly a strong need for a church, with an influx from the mid- nineteenth century of Irish Catholic workers, associated with the development of Chesterfield Canal. However, it was not until 1895, when a piece of land was purchased on Queen Street, that a church could be built. This ‘tin tabernacle’ served the local Catholic community for the next sixty-four years.

In 1922, Major Milner had presented the Burial Board Committee with a piece of land adjoining the present cemetery. Major Milner requested that this be set aside for the burial of Catholics.

Following the Second World War, more Catholics were settling in Retford, and the Rev. Joseph Finneran set about building a permanent church. By 1954, a one-acre site (which formed part of cemetery land) on Babworth Road had been purchased from the corporation of East Retford for £725. Here a church was built to the designs of E. Bower Norris FRIBA of Sandy & Norris, Stafford. The Bishop of Nottingham laid the foundation stone on 17 May 1958 and the church was officially opened by the Bishop on 1 May 1959. It was built to accommodate 300 and cost £20,000. 

The original appearance of the interior of the church is shown at figure 2. Post-Vatican II reordering in 1968 by Gerard Goalen included the adaptation and moving forward of the high altar, removal of the communion rails and the installation of a large Christus Resurrexit on the sanctuary wall. This last was the work of Steven Sykes (1914-99), a sculptor and teacher at the Chelsea School of Art who had worked with Goalen at St Gregory the Great, South Ruislip (1965-7), and whose best-known work is the mosaic in the Gethsemane Chapel at Coventry Cathedral.

The church was consecrated on 24 June 1970. Two years later a new presbytery, parish hall and social centre were built from designs by John Rochford & Partners. 

The church was built to the designs of E. Bower Norris of Stafford in 1958-9 and is typical of the architect’s work, combining simplified Romanesque and Art Deco elements. It is built of straw-coloured brick, above a plinth of dark brick, with artificial stone dressings, the roof covered in clay pantiles, and a striking campanile with a copper roof. The plan comprises nave and sanctuary under one roof, aisles, south Lady Chapel, narthex and west gallery and sacristy to the northeast.

The gabled west front has a full-height semi-circular arched recess containing a tall arched window above the central entrance; the doorway has a square surround. The gable has coped verges topped with a cross finial. The adjoining campanile to the southwest is of four stages, with triple arched openings to the belfry stage, a pyramidal roof and entrance to the south side. The aisles are flat-roofed and lit by triple round-headed windows. To the south side, the Lady Chapel is within a tall gabled projection with triple lights. Ancillary structures are within single-storey flat-roofed projections, including the boiler house with tall brick chimney to the southeast, north end of the narthex and sacristy to the northeast. The sanctuary is side-lit by triple windows in the east bay of the body of the church. The original position of the high altar is expressed externally as a shallow projection set back from the rest of the volume, side-lit by single lancets and with a large inset cross to the east gable.

The main entrance leads into a narthex under a western choir gallery. The walls are plastered and plainly painted and there is a canted and tiled suspended ceiling. The nave is of three bays, with an arcade of tall round arches on plain piers, without capitals or responds. The narrow aisles, intended for circulation, have arched lateral bay divisions and are lit by triple round-arched windows. At the west end, the choir gallery is placed over the narthex behind a large semi-circular arch; it is lit by a tall stained glass west window, and has a plain plastered front. The spacious sanctuary is side-lit by triple narrow windows and has a carpeted floor; it has a forward stone altar and ambo, adapted from the former pulpit. The east wall has a recessed plain arched panel, against which is placed a large Christus Resurrexit metal figure by Steven Sykes, installed as part of the Gerard Goalen reordering of 1968. In front of this is a stone tabernacle stand raised by two steps. To the left of the sanctuary is the Lady Chapel and to the right a door leads to the sacristy. In the nave, the plain octagonal font with hardwood cover is placed centrally at the west end. The timber nave benches appear to be original but the pendant light fittings do not appear in early photographs. The Stations of the Cross are set in high relief along the nave walls. Next to the south entrance is a statue of St Joseph, artist/maker not established.  

Diocese: Hallam

Architect: Sandy & Norris

Original Date: 1959

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not listed