Northgate, Bridgnorth, Shropshire WV16
A mid-nineteenth century school-chapel and house, with a later nineteenth century church addition. Built with the support of the Acton family of Aldenham Park, this stone-built Gothic ensemble makes a positive contribution to the Bridgnorth Conservation Area.
Mass was said in various improvised locations around Bridgnorth from the 1830s; when this was not possible, local Catholics travelled to the nearest Catholic estates, Madeley and Aldenham. However, in 1848 a chapel with school rooms over was created out of rooms at the Cross Keys inn in Bridgnorth High Street, and in 1855 the first resident priest arrived.
It was through the munificence of Sir John Acton, owner of Aldenham Park, that the present school-chapel and presbytery were built; Acton gave the land immediately outside the town’s north gate, together with the building stone and £500 towards the construction costs. The architect was Robert Griffiths of Quatford; the foundation stone was laid on 26 April 1856 and the school-chapel opened by Bishop Brown on 5 October in the same year. The schoolroom had separate entrances for boys and girls and a large moveable wooden screen to provide separation for different uses, including Sunday Mass. The linked range to the south was designed as the schoolmaster’s accommodation but has actually only ever served as a presbytery.
From the outset it was intended that, as and when funds permitted, a church should be constructed on the sloping ground between the hall and Northgate Road. It was not until the mid-1890s that a church was built, from designs by William Lunn of Great Malvern. The church was opened by Bishop Carroll on 24 June 1896. It was 100 ft long by 43 foot wide and 40 feet high, and was built by Charles T. Smith of Broseley. Soft ground conditions meant that the foundations had to be sunk deeper than originally planned and (probably, although lack of funds could have been a factor) put paid to the initial proposal for a longer church and tower. The building stone, given by Lord Acton, was from his quarry at Westwood by Wenlock Edge.
With the growth of the school in the twentieth century, WCs were constructed at the southeast corner of the school hall and beyond these a new standalone cloak room. A two-storey extension to the presbytery was also built. The church was reordered in 1978. The high altar was removed and replaced by a new forward altar and tabernacle shelf of Caen stone. At the same time the polished granite font was moved from its original location at the west end to the sanctuary. Nearby stands the (moveable) wooden lectern which is thought to have been made and installed at the same time as the nave benches, in the 1980s.
The principal street-facing west front of Lund’s church is distinctive with two tall broad windows interrupted by a large porch covering lower parts of lights. Reflecting the form of the stonework of the hall and presbytery, the church was constructed with walling stones and dressed stones of a different colour and surface treatment. The stone was from Lord Acton’s quarry at Westwood by Wenlock Edge. Also given to the church, the Campden Stone used for the dressings was from the quarries of the Earl of Gainsborough. The roof is covered with Westmorland slates. The north and south flanks of the church are arcaded with blind basket arches – each expressed internally and externally with recessed rubblestone infill. Within the church this stone, and the stonework throughout, is exposed. At its east end the form of the gable is enlivened, both externally and internally, by a similar blind arch, this one being pointed. The form of this stonework arch echoes the rhythm of the arch-braced timber roof. The nave is well lit on each side by generous plain glazed windows in every second basket arch. At the west end of the church the lower parts of the tall windows are concealed by a stained pine construction which houses the confessional, the entrance area, a store and a stair. The stair gives access to a gallery.
The sanctuary arrangements date from 1978 and are described above. Apart from the polished granite font the fixtures of historic interest are the crucifix hung above the tabernacle and the crucifix hung beneath the central window in the west gable (these two exchange locations at certain dates in the calendar). No record has been found of the provenance of these two crucifixes or of the Stations of the Cross.
The earlier mid-nineteenth century presbytery and hall appear to be built of the same rubble stone and ashlar dressings as the church. The roofs are covered with tiles, those on the hall roof and most pitches over the house being in alternate five row bands of ‘ordinaries’ and round nosed ‘fish scales’. In plan and with details such as stone mullioned windows, handsome steep pitched, stone coped gables and generous chimney stacks, this mid-nineteenth century grouping has a pleasing Gothic Revival quality, although the interiors are much altered.
Architect: Robert Griffiths; William Lunn
Original Date: 1856
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed