Talbot Road, Knowle, Bristol BS4
A prominent and well-detailed church built by Pugin & Pugin for the Benedictines in 1909, with high quality furnishings and a high degree of completeness.
In 1908 Bishop Burton invited the Redemptorists to establish a new mission at Knowle, then developing as a southern suburb of Bristol. This was dedicated to the eighteenth-century Redemptorist lay brother Gerard Majella, canonised by Pope Pius X in 1904. A place of worship was set up in a shop in Jubilee Road. However, the Redemptorist congregation soon withdrew and the mission was handed over to the Benedictines of Douai, who at that time also ran the Chipping Sodbury mission (qv). It was they who acquired the present site, and built a church designed by Pugin & Pugin to seat 700 (builders Stephens, Bastow & Co.). Building was rapid; Bishop Burton laid the foundation stone on 20 March 1909 and the church was ceremonially opened by the Bishop, in the presence of the Abbot of Douai, on 11 December in the same year. A tower and presbytery were shown on the architects’ drawings but not built. To start with the priest lived nearby, a situation which continued until the present presbytery was built in the 1950s.
Dom John Benedict Horrigan was the first resident priest, inheriting a large debt which was slow to pay off. Nevertheless, through parish bazaars and other means he gradually succeeded in furnishing the church. By 1912 the glass in the east window, the font, the Stations of the Cross and St Gerard’s shrine had all been donated. The altar in the south (St Benedict and Holy Souls) chapel was commissioned by Mrs Yates Sturges of Chipping Sodbury in memory of her husband Richard in 1924. According to the parish history, it was designed by Frank Moore Jr ARIBA and made by Boulton of Cheltenham; the inlaid panels were made in Florence. Fr Horrigan died in 1922 and in 1925 the high altar was installed in his memory by his successor, the Rev. James Murty. This too was designed by Moore, with the stonework by Martyn & Co. of Cheltenham and mosaic work made in Venice. The Lady altar followed in 1929, built to commemorate the silver jubilee of Fr Murty’s ordination.
The parish was handed over to the diocese by the Benedictines in 1935. A parish hall was built behind the church in 1937 (drawings by Roberts & Willman of Taunton, dated February 1937, are in the Diocesan Archive). In 1951 the Rev. Joseph Sutton became parish priest; he built the presbytery in 1953-4, in the same stone as the church, to a simplified version of Pugin & Pugin’s original design. He also replaced the original iron and timber altar rail with the present stone rails and replaced the stained softwood pulpit with a new one of oak (both in place by 1959). The church was consecrated on 29 April 1959 as part of its golden jubilee celebrations. After the Second Vatican Council a timber forward altar was introduced, replaced in the 1980s by a stone altar and lectern matching the style of the original high altar. In the 1990s the crypt under the sanctuary was renovated and fitted up as a parish room.
The church is a Decorated-cum-Perpendicular Gothic design by Pugin & Pugin, built of rock-faced, coarsed Pennant stone with Bath stone (Monk’s Park) dressings and Westmorland slate roof coverings. Cast iron hoppers bear the date of the building, 1909. The church is conventionally orientated, and on plan consists of an aisled nave with the aisles continuing as side chapels to a short sanctuary. At the west end a canted baptistery projects to the south and a porch to the north. The land slopes steeply from west to east, allowing for the creation of a ‘crypt’ (parish room/store) below the sanctuary. Confessionals and sacristies are attached to the north side.
The gabled west front has two tiers of lancet windows, paired in the middle, with attenuated trefoils in the tracery. Below the paired central window is a canopied niche containing a statue of St Gerard Majella, with skull and crucifix. The entrance porch is to the left (north), with the granite foundation stone set in at low level, while the baptistery is to the right (south). Each projection incorporates carved quatrefoils with Benedictine shields and emblems. The side elevations accommodate the steep drop in the land. Window openings are flat-topped, with Perpendicular tracery; there are triple openings in each aisle and clerestory bay, and in the aisles the bay divisions are marked by stepped buttresses. To the east, the bluff wall of the sanctuary incorporates a door to the crypt at the lower level. Above, the sanctuary and side chapels have circular windows with Geometrical tracery.
From the entrance porch, paired arches with a central column lead into the north aisle (and, on the other side, from the south aisle into the baptistery). In the former are a fine holy water stoup, marble and mosaic in a pink marble Gothic surround, installed after the First World War in memory of the parish dead. Above this is a Della Robbia-style roundel of the Virgin and Child framed by a wreath. In the baptistery, the font remains but the gates have been removed in recent times. Between these, a gallery extends along the west end of the nave, with an enclosed narthex area below. The gallery front is of timber with open geometrical patterning and contains an organ which came from Malvern College, according to the parish centenary history in 1927 but according to the BIOS National Pipe Organ Register made in 1930 by John Nicholson of Worcester. The nave is of six bays (excluding the narthex/gallery bay), with a moulded arcade springing from cylindrical piers. Hoodmoulds are placed over the arcades, and a sill band below the clerestory, the latter broken by timber wallplates which sit on carved stone corbels and rise up to a timber waggon roof with moulded subdivisions. Beyond the tall and wide chancel arch, the sanctuary is similarly roofed.
The church is richly furnished. There are three Gothic altars, all of the 1920s. In the sanctuary, the high altar was installed in 1925 as a memorial to Dom. J. Horrigan. According to the parish centenary history it was designed by Frank Moore ARIBA, with the stonework by Martyn & Co. of Cheltenham and mosaic work made in Venice. In the reredos, mosaic panels depict six angels playing musical instruments, in the style of Fra Angelico. The altar has four pairs of stout octagonal columns with carved capitals and spandrels, the latter incorporating the arms of St Edmund King and Martyr, a representation of the Trinity and the arms of St Edmund’s Abbey at Douai. Above the altar is a tabernacle and monstrance throne, to the left an aumbry, and to the right a carved stone piscina. The earlier (1924) altar in the south (St Benedict and Holy Souls) chapel was also designed by Frank Moore, with stonework by Boulton of Cheltenham. It has fine opus sectile panels made in Florence depicting SS Benedict, Richard, Elizabeth of Hungary, Mary Magdalene, John and Sebastian. The altar in the north (Lady) chapel dates from 1929, and has inset panels in the style of Della Robbia: the Blessed Virgin Mary flanked by representations of the Annunciation and the Nativity. Its designer and maker have not been established. The stone altar rails (late 1950s) to the sanctuary and side chapels remain in situ, with their metal gates, those in the middle incorporating open lozenge panels with the Agnus Dei and Pious Pelican. The stone forward altar and ambo in the sanctuary date from the 1980s, their detailing modelled on that of the high altar. In the nave, the oak pulpit is a late 1950s replacement for the original softwood one, and the open-backed pews with chamfered ends and rolled tops appear to be original or early. The flooring beneath the pews is boarded timber, while the circulation areas are paved in terrazzo. In the aisles, the Stations of the Cross are framed painted panels, in situ by 1912, as was a painting of St Gerard in the north aisle, with Gothic alabaster surround, and the stained glass in the east window, depicting St Benedict and St Gerard adoring the Sacred Heart. A window in the south chapel, to the memory of Richard Yates Sturges (d. 1910), depicts the Day of Judgement, with the donor kneeling, and in the south aisle is a window to Catherine Barry. The identity of the designers/makers of these windows, which are all of good quality, needs to be established.
List description (church listed in 2017, following Taking Stock)
Summary: Roman Catholic parish church. 1908-09. Designed by the architectural practice, Pugin & Pugin in a Gothic-Revival style which is predominantly Perpendicular. The extension to the sacristy and the attached presbytery, added in 1953-4, are not of special interest and are excluded from the listing.
Reasons for Designation: The Roman Catholic Church of St Gerard Majella in Knowle, Bristol, built in 1908-9 and designed by Pugin and Pugin, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: a good and well-executed example of an early C20 Gothic Revival church with good massing and crisp detailing, designed by Pugin and Pugin, a recognised firm of the period; * Internal architectural interest: the internal space is well-handled with a tall nave and arcades and high quality carving and decorative details; * Degree of survival: the church remains almost entirely unaltered since its completion retaining most of its high quality fixtures and fittings and stained glass.
History: In 1908 Bishop Burton invited the Redemptorists to establish a new mission at Knowle, then developing as a southern suburb of Bristol. The mission was dedicated to the C18 Redemptorist lay brother Gerard Majella, canonised by Pope Pius X in 1904, and a place of worship was set up in a shop on Jubilee Road. However, the Redemptorist congregation soon withdrew and the mission was handed over to the Benedictines of Douai. They acquired the present site, and a church designed by the architectural firm Pugin & Pugin (1851-1928), at the time of Cuthbert Welby Pugin and Sebastian Pugin Powell’s partnership, was built by Stephens, Bastow & Co. The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Burton on 20 March 1909 and the church was opened on 11 December by the Bishop, in the presence of the Abbot of Douai. The architectural drawings originally included a tower and a presbytery but these were not built. By 1912, the glass in the east window, the font, the Stations of the Cross and the painting of St Gerard Majella had all been donated. The three Gothic altars were added in the 1920s. The Benedictines handed the church over to the parish in 1935, and in 1937, the parish hall, designed by Roberts & Willman of Taunton, was built to the north. The presbytery, attached to the east end of the church, was built in 1953-4 to a simplified version of Pugin & Pugin’s original design. At this time the original iron and timber altar rails were replaced with stone, and the softwood pulpit replaced with oak. The timber forward altar, introduced following the Second Vatican Council, was replaced in stone in the 1980s, and a matching stone lectern was also installed.
Details: Roman Catholic parish church. 1908-09. Designed by the architectural practice, Pugin & Pugin in a Gothic-Revival style which is predominantly Perpendicular. The extension to the sacristy and the attached presbytery, both added in 1953-4, are not included in the listing. MATERIALS: built of rock-faced, coursed Pennant stone with Bath stone dressings. The roof is covered in Westmorland slate tiles. C21 powder coated extruded aluminium rainwater goods, not of special interest. There are timber floorboards beneath the pews, whilst the circulation space is of terrazzo. PLAN: the building is orientated on its ritual compass points, with the sanctuary at its east end. At the west end is the narthex, flanked by the porch and canted baptistery, with an organ gallery above, and leads into the six-bay nave. The lean-to aisles each have a chapel to their east end, and off the north aisle are two confessionals. The north door gives access to a corridor leading to the sacristy, with a staircase to the crypt below. The land, on which the church is built, slopes steeply from the west to the east allowing for a crypt at the eastern end which extends towards the west, and is visible to the side elevations. EXTERIOR: the gabled west elevation, articulated by four offset buttresses, has a symmetrical arrangement comprising a central, paired lancet window with attenuated trefoils in the tracery. There are lower, lancet windows to either side. Below the central window is a canopied niche containing a stone statue of St Gerard Majella, with skull and crucifix, flanked by single-light windows with cusped heads. The moulded cill band continues to the other elevations. Slightly set-back, but continuing the composition of the west elevation, are the single-storey porch and baptistery. The porch to the left (north), has a gabled west entrance with pointed arch doorway, (there is an additional doorway on its east elevation); the granite foundation stone is set at a low level. The canted baptistery is to the right (south). Both the porch and baptistery incorporate carved, attenuated quatrefoils with Benedictine shields and emblems on their western flanks. The side elevations have tripartite clerestorey and aisle windows; the aisle windows are separated by offset buttresses. The crypt is lit by paired quatrefoils to each bay. The gabled east elevation has a circular window to the sanctuary and another to the set-back south chapel, both with rectilinear tracery at the centre and curvilinear tracery to the margins. Beneath is the entrance door to the crypt with dressed stone surround. The sacristy is to the north-east corner of the church. It has a moulded eaves cornice and the north elevation has three single-light windows lighting the corridor leading from the church to the sacristy, which is lit by a four-light window. Each window is set within a square-headed opening with dressed stone surround. Below the sacristy, on the same level as the crypt, are segmental-headed windows, and a doorway. The south elevation is blind, apart from a segmental headed doorway to the ground floor. The original end wall is denoted by a gable end stack. INTERIOR: the west entrance porch leads into the narthex which has a marble and mosaic holy water stoup set in a pink marble Gothic surround, installed after the First World War. Above, is a Della Robbia-style roundel of the Virgin and Child framed by a wreath. The narthex is separated from the nave by a timber and glazed screen with openwork timber organ gallery above. The C19 organ, built by John Nicholson, was originally installed at Malvern Boys School. To the south side of the narthex is the baptistery, with its octagonal stone font supported on marble columns. Separating both the baptistery and the porch from the aisles is a pair of pointed arches with a central column. The arches between the porch and the north aisle have been infilled. The north and south aisle have lean-to, panelled roofs with stone corbels supporting the braces to the principal rafters. To the walls are fitted the Stations of the Cross, comprising painted panels in carved timber frames. There is a stained glass memorial window to the south aisle. Towards the east end of the north aisle is a painting of St Gerard Majella in an alabaster frame with Gothic detailing. There are two confessionals off the north aisle, each set behind a cambered arched recess with timber and leaded glass panelling. At the east end of the north aisle is the Lady Chapel. The Gothic altar (1929) has Perpendicular carving and the central statue of the Virgin Mary is set beneath a carved canopy with pinnacle, and flanked by Della-Robbia style panels of the Annunciation and the Nativity. The chapel at the east end of the south aisle is to St Benedict and the Holy Souls. The Gothic altar (1924) was designed by Frank Moore Jr, with stonework by Messrs R L Boulton & Sons of Cheltenham. The altar has pairs of Tuscan columns and a Perpendicular reredos with opus sectile panels made in Florence and depicting SS Benedict, Richard, Elizabeth of Hungary, Mary Magdalene, John and Sebastian. Above is the round stained glass window with curvilinear tracery, and to the south a stained glass memorial window (1924) depicting Judgement Day. The nave has a six bay arcade of fluted arches with hoodmoulds, springing from cylindrical piers with moulded bases and capitals. Above are the tripartite clerestorey windows. The panelled wagon roof has arch-braced trusses supported on stone corbels. The sanctuary is similarly roofed. The stone altar rails to the sanctuary and side chapels were installed in the 1950s, along with the oak pulpit in the nave whilst the stone altar and lectern in the sanctuary are 1980s installations. The high altar (1925) is thought to be designed by Frank Moore Jr with the stonework by H H Martyn & Co. of Cheltenham. It comprises four pairs of octagonal columns (there are pairs of pilasters to the rear wall) with foliate carved capitals and spandrels. The spandrels include the coat of arms of King Edmund the Martyr and a representation of the Trinity. Above the altar is a tabernacle, and to either side of the altar is an aumbry and a piscina with Perpendicular-style carving. The mosaic panels to the reredos were made in Venice and depict six angels playing musical instruments. The central three cusped panels of the stained glass east window show St Benedict and St Gerard adoring the Sacred Heart, with surrounding curvilinear tracery. The north door provides access to the corridor leading to the sacristy, which retains its cast iron fireplace and the staircase to the crypt beneath.
Books and journals: Harding, J A, The Diocese of Clifton, 1850-2000, (1999), 74-5; Little, B , Churches in Bristol, (1978), 39
Other: Churches in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Clifton. An Architectural and Historical Review, prepared for the Diocese of Clifton and Historic England by The Architectural History Practice. Jan 2016; Kerby, M, The Parish of St Gerard Majella, Knowle, Bristol, 1909-2009.
Architect: Pugin & Pugin
Original Date: 1909
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II