Bracknell - St Joseph

Stanley Walk, Town Centre, Bracknell, Berkshire

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The church is a good example of church-building ideas around 1960 and was influenced by the architect’s visit to Scandinavia in 1956. The plan is conventional in terms of having a nave and aisles but the language is entirely modern and typical of its time. The triangular shape of the core of the building was chosen, the architect explained, ‘To achieve dignity of height, and at the same time to avoid enormous volumes to heat during the winter months’.

The precursor of the present church was a ‘roomy iron church’ erected in 1894 for which the architect is said to have been Canon Scoles. This served local Catholics until the creation of Bracknell New Town. In the summer of 1956 Anthony Sargeant of Clifford Culpin and Partners was asked by Father T. Dwyer to produce designs for a church accommodating 350 people. Some delay ensued as a school project was given priority, and meantime the growth of Bracknell dictated a larger church than originally envisaged. The go-ahead for working drawings was given on 3 June 1959 and the successful tenderer was Boyd & Murley Ltd of Reading. Building work started in early May 1961 and the church was completed for Easter 1962 to accommodate 550 people. It was opened on 1 May 1962 by Archbishop King. The cost, with benching, amounted to £50,000. The old building was demolished in 1968. A parish hall was added in 1970.

In the 1990s plans to regenerate the centre of Bracknell posed a threat to the building but it is understood this has now passed away.

The church makes a bold statement above the entrance to Bracknell’s shopping centre. It has simple lines with the dominant feature being the bold, triangular shape embracing the nave. The aisles are wide and placed under flat roofs. The framework of the building is of reinforced concrete. Other materials used are brown brick at the ends of the building and north side, concrete panels studded with stones on the south aisle, and brown locally-made clay tiles for the roof.

The west end is A-shaped with the lower part open, and the upper filled with triangular-shaped, open concrete blocks. The lower part of the frame is faced with small white vitreous mosaic squares. A grey metal figure of St Joseph (not part of the original design) has been fixed to this area. The side walls have narrow windows reaching almost to full height. There is no window in the east wall. The east end of the chancel has strips of clear glazing to flood it with light.

The seven-bay interior is light, spacious and dominated by the triangular shape of the building. The raked members of the concrete frame are exposed to form an arcade and above the roof is boarded with Columbian pine. Lighting comes mainly from a continuous clerestory immediately above the roofs to the aisles. The floor is of terrazzo: this is elaborated in the chancel with dark lozenge patterns. The east wall is formed of thin strips of Carrara marble, roughly cut to achieve a textured effect. The hall attached on the north side is plain and functional.

Fittings. The font is circular and made of red-brown terrazzo, has a copper cover and is mounted on a frame of steel bars. In the Lady chapel (southwest corner) is a two-light window (1961) with strongly-coloured, boldly-leaded stained glass showing the Holy Family, made by James Powell and Sons to the designs of Pierre Fourmaintraux, signed PF. The high altar is of Portland stone. Behind it is a beaten copper tabernacle on pink marble base.

In the churchyard is a free-standing openwork steel cross, made in London and transported to the site in one piece.

Diocese: Portsmouth

Architect: Anthony Sargeant of Clifford Culpin & Partner

Original Date: 1961

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed