Southampton - St Joseph

Bugle Street, Southampton, Hampshire

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Located in the heart of the old town, St Joseph’s is important as the first and mother Catholic Church of Southampton. 

The first Post-Reformation Roman Catholic church in the city, St Joseph’s owes its existence to the presence of refugees from the French Revolution of 1789. There was a secret chapel at 13 St Michael’s Square and in 1792 a chapel was opened in a room at 67 High Street. Various other locations were used over the subsequent decades until the first St Joseph’s church was built, on the site of the present sanctuary, in 1830. This was within the garden of the present presbytery which had been bought in 1828. By the early 1840s this was too small, Southampton was growing in mercantile importance, the Ordnance Survey moved there from London in 1842 (attracting many Irishmen) and the number of Catholics in the city was growing, multiplying tenfold between 1830 and 1850. Southampton was one of the most important parishes in the south of England and many anticipated that when the diocese of Southwark was divided in 1882 the new See would be in Southampton.

Father Joseph Sidden arrived in 1842 and turned to A.W.N. Pugin, then at the height of his career, to design a new church. The first stone was laid in March 1843 but Pugin’s plans were overambitious and J.G. Poole (local architect and sometime Borough Surveyor) was called in to complete the church to a more modest design. The modified church was opened in 1845.

In 1888 Leonard Stokes was engaged by Canon Scannell (who had worked with Stokes at Maidenhead) to reconstruct the church. Stokes’ work appears to have been significant. The liturgical south wall was reconstructed and the liturgical north wall refenestrated with seven rather than six windows. The arches between nave and sanctuary were raised to their present form. The nave roof was either renewed or altered and the sanctuary was raised and refenestrated. In 1911 the original Pugin High Altar was moved to the Sacred Heart Chapel but was adapted and re-used as the main freestanding altar in 1971. A restoration was undertaken in 1981 by Norman Woodford of Gutteridge Woodford Chambers architects.

The church consists of a seven-bay nave plus a lower porch bay and a three-bay aisled sanctuary. Yellow brick with stone dressings and concrete tiled roofs. Fourteenth century Decorated style, consistently with two-light windows apart from the five-light liturgical east window , all with varied and complex tracery. The sanctuary has paired clerestory windows set within square headed openings. All windows appear to date from 1888. Colonnettes at the corners of the nave and a frieze below the stone gutter with carved heads and fleurons. The liturgical west end appears incomplete with the walls slate-hung until circa 1970 when the main wall was rebuilt in a hard and unattractive brick, with a cross in raised brick in the centre. Full-size statue of St Joseph over the entrance, a memorial to Canon Connolly, 1962.

The entrance opens into a narthex with gallery and organ chamber above, the latter with a tall pointed arch without imposts to the nave. Gallery front with panels of four pierced quatrefoils. Impressive hybrid hammer beam roof with intermediate collars. Arched braces both laterally and longitudinally, castellated hammerbeams and collars and plain upright posts filling some of the openings. It is not clear whether the roof dates entirely from Stokes’ alterations in 1888 or whether Stokes altered the existing roof. Tripartite arrangement of pointed arches to the liturgical east end of the nave consisting of the main arch into the sanctuary plus slightly lower arches into the sanctuary aisles. The main arches here are blind, with Gothic tracery within the tympana and separate open arches below. Semi-circular responds to the centre arch and semi-octagonal responds to the side arches. The current appearance of these arches is entirely of Stokes’ remodelling. Before this the arches were plainer and lower with the pointed side arches having straight sides and being considerably lower than the pointed central arch. All three arches were greatly raised in height. The sanctuary has hall three-bay arcades with alternately round and octagonal piers with moulded capitals and double-chamfered arches. Richly carved high altar and reredos in red veined marble with saints set within a trefoil-arched colonnade. Domed canopy over the tabernacle. Stone nave altar, the original Pugin-designed altar, with deeply carved front with sunk quatrefoils. Open pine nave pews. Good stained glass, especially the main sanctuary window of Christ stilling the storm. Aisle windows with figures of saints. The unusual silver ship containing the sanctuary lamp was given by Goanese seamen.

Diocese: Portsmouth

Architect: A.W.N. Pugin, J.G. Poole and Leonard Stokes

Original Date: 1843

Conservation Area: Yes

Modifications: 1845, 1888

Listed Grade: Grade II