Building » Barry – St Helen

Barry – St Helen

Wyndham Street, Barry, CF63 4ET

A plain stone-fronted Gothic church of the early twentieth century, built to cater for the largely Irish Catholic population of Barry Dock. With the contemporary presbytery and a First World War memorial, the church forms part of a prominent group on a raised corner site near the town centre. It has been altered and extended over the years, but retains some furnishings of note, including two good modern stained glass windows.

The modern development of Barry as a dock began in the 1880s, led by the industrialist David Davies of Llandinam. The working town of Barry Dock was developed as a network of streets of terraced housing on either side of Holton Road, the main shopping street. A priest, Fr Hyland, was appointed to the town in 1889, and Mass was said at various locations, including the Cadoxton home of a young Irish doctor, P. J. O’Donnell (who was instrumental in getting the mission established), and the Wenvoe Arms Hotel. The one-acre site of the present church was acquired with the help of the Jenner family of Wenvoe Castle, and a dual purpose school-chapel was opened by Bishop Hedley on 9 May 1892. Built at a cost of £1,700 from designs by Seward & Thomas of Cardiff and Barry Dock (contractors E.R. Evans & Brothers of Holton Road, Barry), the building was described in The Barry Dock News as ‘domestic Gothic, pleasing in appearance both exteriorly and interiorly and altogether useful in design and arrangement’. There was room for 240 pupils, with the classrooms divided by partition screens which could be opened to create a single space for use as a chapel. The altar was placed in a recess in the centre of the largest classroom.

An infants’ school followed in 1898, but it was not until 14 September 1906 that the foundation stone for the present church was laid by Edaliza Sheckell Leonard. The church was opened by Bishop Hedley on 28 April 1907. The Barry Dock News described it as ‘exceedingly chaste and comely in appearance … well and substantially built’ and named the builder as H. S. Rendell of Barry Docks (no architect’s name is given); the cost was £1,150. The church was 92ft in length and 40ft in width, and seated 400. The chief furnishing was a carved oak Gothic high altar by Beylen Brothers of Antwerp, with niches for six statues and a crucifix in a central canopied niche flanked by statues of Our Lady and St John.

A year later, in 1908, the presbytery was built. In 1922 a stone war memorial was erected outside the presbytery on the corner, and a western gallery was added to increase the seating capacity of the church. Shortly afterwards a parish hall was built, and in 1927-8 the presbytery was extended and the church interior remodelled, with new side altars introduced. In 1934-5 a new infants’ school (the present primary school) was built in the presbytery garden.

In the 196os, around the time of the Second Vatican Council, the church was reordered by the Rev (Canon) Laurence Cresci, with the walls and arches of the side chapels removed, so that the sanctuary occupied the full width of the church. The timber high altar was removed and the sanctuary fully refurnished, with a forward stone altar. A new Lady Chapel was added, housing a statue which had been in the church since 1907, and with a medieval altar stone from the ruined medieval church at Highlight incorporated in its altar. The architect for these works has not been established, but stylistically the Lady Chapel looks like the work of the prolific firm of F. R. Bates, Son & Price, who also designed the nearby churches of St Michael and All Angels, Colcot and St Vincent de Paul, Rhoose.

In the 1980s the original school building was demolished and the presbytery refurbished. The church was re-roofed and a new organ installed in 1989.

A major programme of works between 2001 and 2003 saw the replacement of the parish hall with a larger hall, and the internal reordering of the church, with a screen under the gallery and new sanctuary furnishings. After the completion of these works a decision was taken to close the 1960s churches at Colcot and Rhoose, and for St Helen’s to become the centre of a single Barry parish. 2007 saw the centenary of the church, and a new stained glass window by Rachel Phillips was installed at the west end, blessed by Archbishop Peter Smith in 2008.


The main elevation faces roughly south, but this description assumes conventional liturgical orientation, i.e. with the altar to the east.

The church is in a simple lancet Gothic style, with the chief architectural display reserved for the west front. This is faced with neatly-coursed Newbridge stone with Swanage stone dressings (Barry Dock News, 1907). It has a central pointed doorway with drip mould, a staggered group of five lancets above and broad corner piers. The flank walls are faced with yellow brick, with stone dressings to the lancet windows, and the roof is slated. On the liturgical north side, and sitting rather awkwardly with the building, is the rendered and flat-roofed Lady Chapel addition of the 1960s, while on the south side is the large attached parish hall of 2001-3, yellow brick and slate roofs.

The main entrance leads into a narthex under the gallery, formed with a glass screen in circa 2003 and linking through to the parish hall. The interior of the main worship space is a single wide volume, with woodblock floor, plastered and painted walls and a simple open timber roof, also painted. The gallery of 1922 has a frieze of blind trefoils along its timber front.

The sanctuary furnishings are of timber and plain, all dating from circa 2003 apart from a domed brass tabernacle on a wooden plinth in the corner, which may be the original one (although there is another brass tabernacle in the Lady Chapel). As well as the now-lost statues of the high altar and other sanctuary furnishings, the 1907 report of the church opening refers to ‘a beautiful statue of the Immaculate Virgin, designed by Mayer and Co., of Munich, Germany’; this may be the statue now in the Lady Chapel. The font lies near the sanctuary entrance, and is of the tapering form commonly adopted by F. R. Bates, Son & Price; it has an inlaid mosaic of the dove of the Holy Spirit descending. Also typical of these architects is the open metal screen with lozenge divisions in the Lady Chapel. In the nave, the oak pews appear to be the original ones. Around the walls is a fine set of Stations of the Cross, oil painted tableaux of possibly Continental workmanship. There are two noteworthy stained glass windows: a Crucifixion with Our Lady and St John in the three-light window of the sanctuary, by Alexander Beleschenko of Swansea, circa 1980, and a powerful Resurrection in the five-light west window over the gallery by Rachel Phillips, 2008.

Heritage Details

Architect: H. S. Rendell (builder)

Original Date: 1907

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed