Building » Bridgwater – St Joseph

Bridgwater – St Joseph

King Street, Bridgwater, Somerset, TA6

A small urban church built in his favoured early Gothic style by Canon A. J. C. Scoles, who was appointed mission priest after preparing the designs. In 1981 the building was extended to the west in an unsympathetic manner. The church contains a number of significant furnishings, including a side chapel altar designed by Scoles in memory of his father, the architect J. J. Scoles. The older part of the church and adjoining late Georgian presbytery make a positive contribution to the conservation area. 

The mission in Bridgwater was founded by John Moore Capes, the former Anglican vicar of the town who converted to Catholicism in 1845. A small dual-purpose church-school dedicated to St Joseph of Arimathaea was built in 1845-6 at the corner of what is now Gordon Terrace and St John’s Close. This was served from Cannington. By the late 1870s, this church was too small and the current site was acquired in 1879.

The foundation stone for the present church was laid on 24 October 1881 by Canon Kennard of Cannington. It was opened by Bishop Clifford on 22 June 1882. Fr (later Canon) A. J. C. Scoles, who had designed the building, was appointed mission priest in September 1881. Philip Hewett’s donations enabled the construction of the building. In 1890, a rood screen was installed, followed in 1893 by a stone pulpit. The church was consecrated by Bishop Burton on 14 October 1907. 

In 1979, the Edwardian Co-operative Stores building beside the church was acquired and demolished. In May 1981 work began on extending the church, doubling the length of the nave and providing an attached parish room. (In 1938, Scoles & Raymond had prepared plans for a small west extension, not executed.) At the same time, the sanctuary was reordered; the high altar was removed and a forward altar installed, with associated remodelling of the sanctuary steps. The architect was Terence Moody. This work was completed by Christmas 1981, in time for the church’s centenary in 1982.


The chancel, north chapel and the eastern part of the nave were built in 1881-2 (architect Canon A. J. C. Scoles). The western part of the nave was added in 1981 (architect Terence Moody). The plan is longitudinal with a narrower chancel and a north side chapel. The west extension is imperfectly aligned with the earlier building and is tilted slightly to the northwest. The materials of the original building are red brick laid in Flemish bond with Bath stone dressings. The later extension has a steel-framed roof and concrete block walls faced with harsh red bricks laid in stretcher bond. The pitched roofs have modern concrete tiles. Above the nave’s east gable is a gabled bellcote with mouldings and corner colonnettes. The east elevation has three stepped lancets with hoodmoulds on colonnettes. In front of the east gable of the side chapel is the hipped-roof sacristy, linking church and presbytery. The south side of the chancel has two quatrefoil windows, while the nave has three plate tracery windows of two lancets and a quatrefoil each. The westernmost bay of the original south elevation was rebuilt with one quatrefoil window; this was the location of a side door whose stonework was moved to the current west elevation. The western extension has, like the chancel, a lower roof pitch than the original nave. The south windows are vertical oblongs in a 3-2-2-1 rhythm filled with patterned glass. A reused stone doorway with circular brick window above relieve the blandness of the western addition.

Inside, the western extension has a canted ceiling with the steel collar ties exposed. The north windows are small squares above the roof of the attached parish room. The frontal of the organ gallery was part of the original gallery. A tall stone arch marks the transition to the original church, comprising a four-bay nave with a panelled ceiling and arch-braced trusses. In front of the chancel arch is the polygonal stone pulpit (1893) carved with saints and Gothic ornament. Opposite is the small stone font on a stem of cluster colonnettes and with an elegant timber cover. A delicate wrought iron rood beam with figures (1890) occupies the chancel arch. The sanctuary has two arches on either side, above which are quatrefoil windows under pointed arches. The reredos under the east window takes the form of an arcade on either side of a monstrance throne with a tall Gothic canopy. Carved quatrefoils from the original altar have been incorporated in the frontal below the reredos and in the new forward altar (1981).

The north chapel, dedicated to St Joseph, is separated from the nave by three tall pointed arches on octagonal piers. Set against the north side of the side chapel is a large Calvary, erected in memory of the parish priest, the Rev. Dr George Brown, who died in 1918 during the influenza epidemic. Beside it is a tribune (balcony) which was built for Philip H. Hewett, an elderly and frail friend of Fr Scoles and parish benefactor. (He lived in the presbytery and it enabled him to hear Mass without leaving the house.) The east wall has a small altar with an elaborate carved reredos designed by Canon Scoles in memory of his father, the architect Joseph John Scoles (1798–1863). On either side of the altar are doorways into the confessional and the sacristy. The chancel’s east window (the Virgin Mary flanked by Saints Aloysius and Philip), the nave’s south windows and chapel’s east window all have Victorian stained glass, which are, according to The Buildings of England, probably all by Hardman of Birmingham. 

Heritage Details

Architect: Canon A. J. C. Scoles; Terence Moody

Original Date: 1882

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed