Portsmouth - St Joseph

Tangier Road, Copnor Bridge, Portsmouth, Hampshire

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Church built by Father (later Canon) Alexander Joseph Cory Scoles (1844-1920) and his partner, Geoffrey Raymond (1881-1972). Scoles was one of two architect-priest sons of J. J. Scoles, eminent Gothic Revival architect and receiver of a number of important Catholic commissions, particularly for the Jesuits. Before coming to Portsmouth diocese, Canon Scoles was in the diocese of Clifton, where he designed and built churches at Bridgwater, Trowbridge and Yeovil as well as the Carmelite church and Priory at Wincanton. After falling out with the Bishop of Clifton, Scoles moved to Portsmouth diocese. St Joseph’s is his second Portsmouth church (after St Swithun in 1901) and was built shortly after he had added the narthex, porch and turrets at the west end of the Cathedral. His best work is Holy Ghost, Basingstoke (from 1902).

St Joseph’s is an ambitious design in Scoles’s favoured late-thirteenth century style, built in one phase, with an impressive west front and spacious interior. Although altered, the furnishings of the sanctuary remain impressive, as do those of the adjoining chapels.

A site of a quarter of an acre was acquired in Copnor by March 1908, at a cost of £400, and a large presbytery sufficient for three priests built. The first Mass was celebrated in September 1908 in the then new presbytery, and this was followed by Mass in the completed Lady Chapel on Christmas Day 1908. The foundation stone of the church was laid on 19 November 1913, and the completed building opened on 23 August 1914. The architect was the Very Rev Canon A. J. C. Scoles, a priest of the diocese, with Geoffrey Raymond (his partner from 1903). The builder was Domenico Marchetti, a parishioner, who built extensively in the diocese but who unfortunately was knocked down and killed as he left the church in May 1918.

The sanctuary of the church was reordered by Thomas Makins FRIBA in 1974, and the new altar consecrated by Bishop Worlock on 17 December of that year.

The church is in late thirteenth century Gothic style and consists of nave, north and south aisles (with polygonal baptistry projecting at the west end of the north aisle), short sanctuary with flat east wall and flanking chapels. There is no east window, for the presbytery lies attached to the east.

The church is built of red brick laid in English bond, with stone dressings to the windows, doors and parapets, and a Roman tile roof (a material much favoured by Scoles). The showpiece west front is framed by stepped buttresses rising to polygonal corner turrets and a high stepped parapet with a long blind arcade which has at its centre a figure in an aedicule (St Joseph cradling the Christ child). There is a central doorway with a carved stone tympanum depicting St Joseph the Carpenter. Above this is a row of five tall trefoil headed lancet windows with hood moulds with a circular cusped window above. The west walls of the aisles are set back from the line of the main west front, and have diagonal buttresses, tall two-light windows and circular cusped openings in the gables.

The side elevations are more plainly treated. There is an entrance at the west end of the south aisle, otherwise paired lancet windows with trefoil heads and plate tracery with circular cusped openings in the arch. The bay divisions are marked by stepped buttresses. The cinquefoil cusped circular lights of the nave clerestory are hidden by the steep aisle roofs.

The interior is tall and spacious, with rendered white painted walls and a five bay nave arcade with polygonal stone pillars and moulded capitals, bases and arcades. Canted, compartmented roofs to nave and aisles. The former baptistry gives off the north aisle; the font has now been moved to the east end of this aisle, and a statue of the Sacred Heart placed in the baptistry. There is a gallery/narthex at the west end of the nave.

The chancel is short (two bays) and is dominated by a high altar ensemble against the east wall, with painted and carved figures set within an architectural framework of indeterminate built of an indeterminate granolithic composite, possibly patented by Marchetti. The paintings are of high quality and their provenance and authorship need to be established (possibly by N. H .J. Westlake, who did work for Scoles at the Cathedral and at Basingstoke). The altar appears to be the original one, adapted and moved forward, presumably in the reordering of 1974. There is a fine Gothic stone altar and reredos in the Lady Chapel to the south, incorporating polychrome figures with unusual iconography (including the marriage of Joseph and Mary), possibly Continental.

The presbytery lies to the east of the church and is built of similar materials. Three storeys asymmetrical composition, with gabled parapets and a statue in a niche (St Joseph?) in the gable. According to the parish priest, the original entrance was up a flight of steps to the first floor window in the slightly recessed bay to the left of the gabled bays. Chamfered stone lintels; modern aluminium windows.

Diocese: Portsmouth

Architect: A.J.C. Scoles

Original Date: 1908

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed