Romsey - St Joseph

Abbey House Drive, Romsey, Hampshire

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This, the sisters’ chapel of La Sagesse Convent, is at the heart of a large complex of Catholic buildings. It is a very distinctive and attractive building which is a well-crafted amalgam of Romanesque, Byzantine, Arts & Crafts and touches of vernacular revival.

This is an early work by Wilfrid C. Mangan of Preston who worked extensively in Portsmouth diocese. He much favoured round-arched architecture and went on to use it at St Saviour, Totland Bay (1923), the English Martyrs, Reading (1926), and St Joseph, Newbury (1926-8).

The history of St Joseph’s parish is intimately connected with that of La Sagesse Convent, Abbey House, founded by French sisters in 1891 as an orphanage and school. The church is the sisters’ chapel. The first Mass to be said in Romsey in modern times was on 27 June 1891 in what later became the senior staff room at the convent. The first chapel was built in 1892 and stood on the site of the sanctuary of the present chapel. The latter was rebuilt in 1913, and was dedicated to Our Lady of Reparation until 1927 when the dedication was changed to St Joseph. The east end was reordered in 1969 when the altar was brought forward and raised. The building was reroofed in 2001.

The church is oriented north so directions given here are liturgical.

The church is a two-cell, aisleless structure in a round-arched style freely combining elements of Romanesque, Byzantine, Arts & Crafts and vernacular architecture. There is a small north transept. It is built of red brick under a large, sweeping clay-tiled roof. The lowness of the walls emphasises the scale of the roof. The nave has four bays. On the entrance side the three western bays have pairs of round-arched windows with tiles laid edge-on as voussoirs. The fourth bay is occupied by a prominent porch with a doorway of four brick orders in the arch surrounded by long, edge-on voussoirs. The roof overhangs the front of the porch and has barge-boards bearing the words ‘AD JESUM PER MARIAM’, the motto of St Louis Marie de Montfort (whose statue stands in the courtyard front of Abbey House and the chapel). The nave has two triangular louvred opening near its ridge. The chancel has a hipped roof, a lunette window under a triangular gable to light the east end, and an eastern door giving access to the sacristy.

The interior character is dominated by the tall roof, of hammerbeam construction (now reinforced by iron-tie-rods) with a collar and, above this, scissor bracing. The walls are plastered and whitened above a red-brick dado. There is a west gallery for the organ fronted by a low balustrade with diagonal bracing in the panels.

The round-arched motif is continued from outside in the chancel arch, flanking arches and the arch to the north transept. The chancel arch is broad and has three-quarter round responds with decorated cushion capitals. The arch embellished with a trail of foliage: the north transept arch is similarly treated. The sanctuary is raised by three steps, two of which were inserted in 1969, and is embraced on three sides by the sacristy and two other rooms.

The stone high altar is set on a series of short, black marble shafts. That in the north transept is made of wood. The benches are moveable and have openwork ends. The reredos is tripartite with the divisions mirroring the lunette window above. The clear and light green window glass is frosted and has pretty chevron borders.

Diocese: Portsmouth

Architect: W.C. Mangan

Original Date: 1913

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed