Oldfield Lane, Bath, Somerset, BA2
Image copyright Alex Ramsay
Image copyright Alex Ramsay
A suburban church designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and based on the Early Christian basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. The church is a fine example of the interwar Byzantine style and contains many high-quality furnishings designed by Scott. It was completed in the 1950s to Scott’s design, when the attached presbytery was also built.
The list entry (see below) contains a full account of the history of the church, and repetition is unnecessary. What follows is a brief summary.
Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960) was commissioned to design the church by Dom Anselm Rutherford, OSB, the Prior at St John’s church, Bath. The style and the model of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome, were suggested by Dom Anselm. Scott later described the church as one of his favourite works and ‘this little gem of a church’. The foundation stone was laid by the Bishop of Clifton on 6 October 1927 and the church was opened on 13 July 1929 by the Bishop of Lancaster, Dr Thomas W. Pearson OSB. In 1932, care of the mission was handed over to the Diocese of Clifton as the Benedictines withdrew from Bath. In 1937 the parish was erected. The church was consecrated on 7 October 1954.
In the 1950s, the church was completed by Scott, who added a Lady Chapel and sacristy (1953-54), and inserted an organ gallery (designed 1954, built 1960). The presbytery and the corridor linking it to the church were completed in 1958.
In 1965-66, the church was reordered (architects: Ivor Day & O’Brien). The original high altar was dismantled and replaced by smaller stone altar, and the tabernacle was placed on a shelf in the apse. The tabernacle’s cross was replaced by the pelican in her piety. The temporary pulpit was removed and replaced by a stone lectern. The font was moved from the baptistery in the campanile closer to the sanctuary.
The base of the campanile was completed in 1958 but it was never completed to its full height, due to structural concerns. Scott’s designs for a pulpit and altar rails remained unexecuted and the temporary replacements were removed in the 1960s (pulpit) and the 1980s (rails).
The church and its fittings and furnishings are fully described in the list entry (below). The following additional comments and corrections follow conventional liturgical orientation (the church actually faces southeast and the list description uses the actual, not the liturgical, orientation).
List description (church and presbytery)
Roman Catholic Church and presbytery by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. The church was opened July 1929 and consecrated in 1954 (1,000 years after the birth of the patron saint, Alphege). Presbytery completed 1958. Internal carvings largely by William Drinkwater Gough.
MATERIALS: It is built of Bath stone rubble, taken from the Box quarries, and has pitched roofs of Roman tiles which were imported from Lombardy, Italy. The stone for the pillars was from Leckhampton, near Cheltenham.
PLAN: Severe Early Christian basilican plan with a nave and west gallery, chancel with blind apsidal sanctuary, flanked by Lady Chapel and sacristy, open narthex, and the base of a campanile; the rest of which was not built.
EXTERIOR: The entrance front (north east) has a triple, arched open loggia which is raised by one step. It has sturdy columns with capitals in a Byzantine style, carrying flush arches under a lean-to roof, over plain walling, but with a vertical band set flush at impost level. The recessed centre has three large arched recesses, each with a small arched light with sunken surround and with plain stone sills at seat height. In the gable above is a large oculus with rectangular iron armature. To the left is a large square campanile base with a single, narrow, arched light. The side elevations each have ten slender round-arched lights to the clerestory, and seven oculi to the aisles, all severely plain in detail, with iron armatures and recessed surrounds. There are deep overhanging eaves and verges. To the rear (south west) the otherwise blind apse is articulated by a round-arched arcade of detached columns set under the eaves and was clearly intended to be visible from the railway beyond.
INTERIOR: Severely plain, with unplastered walls to the nave. The six-bay arcades are carried on columns with carved capitals depicting subjects from the life of Our Lady to the right, and of St Alphege to the left; those supporting the choir and organ loft depict persons associated with the design and building of the church, including Scott, himself. The floor is made up of small pieces of linoleum, in the same manner as using marble to create a tessellated floor. The roof consists of king-post trusses with purlins and boarding. To the rear is a deep gallery, which was completed in 1960, and is carried on two columns and responds, with an open, wood balustrade front. The chancel is raised on one plus two steps, and the sanctuary beyond a further three. The baldacchino over the altar is of gilded oak, carved by Stuflesser of Ortisei and decorated by Watts of London. There is a stone tabernacle in the apse. The aisles have simple lean-to roofs, and the south aisle continues through as the Lady Chapel with a prominent carved and gilt figure of Virgin and Child in a vesica piscis behind the altar, which was designed by Scott in 1954, and carved by Hertfordshire-based, Austrian sculptor Theodore Kern. The corresponding position on the north has an enclosed sacristy with a door through to the chancel. The base of the campanile is a plain square room, formerly used as baptistery, with deep arched recesses, and a door to presbytery. The doors throughout are generally of heavy oak in small square panels. The nave has pews and the aisles have chairs. A new lighting system was installed within the church in 1986, but it retains Scott’s original wooden, hanging lamp holders which are in the form of golden ‘sunburst’ disks which are carved with a cross in relief.
The presbytery, to the south east, is linked to the campanile base by a wing that has a tripartite window above a shallow segmental open arch spanning small stream. The presbytery comprises a long range with a short central ‘T’ arm to right, set gable to street. All the windows are steel casements with both horizontal and margin-bars, set to flush plain lintels and sills, and with rounded mullions. The front (south west) gable has a tripartite light at first floor, and French doors below. The long, left return has five tripartite lights; the central one at first floor has a door to a flat balcony roof. To the right, and set back, is a lean-to wing with tripartite light, behind which is a short gabled wing. The link corridor retains a plank and stud door.
HISTORY: The Church of Our Lady and St Alphege was built in Bath in response to an increase in the Catholic population of the city during the 1920s. Bath’s Catholic population was in the care of both the secular and regular clergy during this period. The former served the Church of St Mary in Julian Road to the north of the city; and the Benedictine community at Downside served the Priory Church of St John the Evangelist in the central South Parade. A site in Oldfield Park, alongside the railway, in the south of the city was selected for the new church. The architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott who was working on the nave of the Abbey Church of St Gregory the Great, at Downside Abbey (which was completed in 1925 and is listed at Grade I) was commissioned to design the new church.
Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960) established himself as one of the most accomplished and sophisticated ecclesiastic architects in Britain, designing for both Anglican and Roman Catholic parishes. One of his most famous commissions, Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral (listed at Grade I), was a massive undertaking that was to occupy Scott throughout his life; it was consecrated in 1924, but construction continued throughout Scott’s life and was finally completed in 1980, some twenty years after his death. Scott also designed many secular buildings, including Battersea and Bankside Power Stations in London (the former listed at Grade II*), and the K6 telephone box to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V in 1935. The London-based sculptor, William Drinkwater Gough, was responsible for the stone carving within the church. He collaborated with Scott on several commissions including the Abbey Church in Ampleforth, North Yorkshire (listed at Grade II), the Church of St Bartholomew in Brighton (listed at Grade I), and Liverpool Cathedral.
The Church of Our Lady and St Alphege was Scott’s first essay in the Early Christian style which became fashionable in the early part of the C20 for both Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. Scott’s design was inspired by a recent visit he had made to the continent, and the Roman basilica of Santa Maria (circa 780) in Cosmedin, Rome, in particular. Significantly he was very much involved in all aspects of the design of both the church and the presbytery from 1927 through to the 1950s. In later years Scott described the Church of Our Lady and St Alphege as ‘one of my favourite works….’ and ‘…. this little gem of a church’.
The nave and chancel were completed in two years and the Church of Our Lady and St Alphege was opened in 1929, initially as a chapel of ease; it was not consecrated until 1954. Work on the remainder of the church, including the organ gallery (designed by Scott in 1954 and built in 1960); and the presbytery and its link corridor proceeded throughout the 1950s, all to Scott’s designs and he was heavily involved in this second phase of building. The former parish hall to the north west which was replaced by a new building in 2010 was designed by a local Bristol architect. The church and its attendant presbytery have remained almost entirely unaltered since their completion in November 1960.
SOURCES: Gavin Stamp, The Roman Catholic Parish Churches of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, Ecclesiology Today (2007), vol. 38, pages 63-80 The Church of Our Lady and St Alphege, Oldfield Park, booklet Michael Forsyth, Bath – Pevsner Architectural Guides (2003) http://www.saintalphege.org.uk/14gough.html William Drinkwater Gough: The search for the sculptor. Accessed on 22 June 2010
REASON FOR DESIGNATION: The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady and St Alphege and the attached presbytery are designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
Listing NGR: ST7390163886
Architect: Giles Gilbert Scott
Original Date: 1929
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II*