Building » Stoke-on-Trent (Burslem) – St Joseph

Stoke-on-Trent (Burslem) – St Joseph

Hall Street, Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent ST6

An ambitious Italian Romanesque design of the 1920s by J. S. Brocklesby. Much of the interior decoration was carried out by local volunteers under the supervision of Gordon Forsyth, director of the local School of Art. The painting of Christ Pantocrator in the apse is a fine work by Moira Forsyth. The church is an important local landmark in an area of deprivation. 

A mission including Burslem, Smallthorne, and Wolstanton was established from Cobridge in 1895. At first Mass was said at the Hill Top Pottery in Liverpool Road (now Westport Road). In 1896 land was acquired for £1,800 in Hall Street and a two-storey school-cum-church built on it in 1897-8 (the church was on the upper floor). The presbytery followed in 1902-3.

Fundraising for a new church to be built on an adjoining site began in the early 1920s. The foundation stone was laid 17 September 1925 and the church opened on 14 June 1927. It was built from designs by the noted Arts and Crafts architect John Sydney Brocklesby (1879-1955), who also designed the impressive Sacred Heart, Tunstall (qv). Encouraged by the parish priest, the Rev. William Browne, the decoration and stained glass work was, as at Tunstall, carried out by young people of the parish under the guidance of Gordon Forsyth, director of the Burslem School of Art, and following his designs. He established stained glass training in the Wedgwood Institute in Queen Street, and arranged other classes for his pupils; four windows had been completed by May 1927. Forsyth’s daughter Moira (d. 1991) designed and painted the murals in the sanctuary (completed c.1937, restored 1992). After the opening of the church, work on its embellishment continued for some ten years. Apart from work undertaken by local people, the parish priest Fr Browne enriched the building with furnishings acquired abroad, hence the Stations of the Cross from Oberammergau and, no doubt, the della Robbia-influenced panel of the Madonna del Sedia in the Lady Chapel. Consecration took place in June 1937.


The exterior of the church is described fully in the list entry, below, but the interior only briefly.

The main space consists of three bays, each in turn subdivided into three by round sandstone piers with scalloped capitals. Brick pilasters rise between each of the main bays up to a deep coved cornice. However, at the base of this cornice tie beams span the church, creating an interesting two-tier effect. The tie-beams and the flat panels of the ceiling are beautifully decorated to designs by Gordon Forsyth. At the east end of the nave is a broad semi-circular arch to the sanctuary which is covered by a hemispherical ceiling painted by Forsyth’s daughter, Moira, and featuring Christ Pantocrator against a gold background (painted on panels in her London studio, 1935-7). The walls of the sanctuary are lined with coloured marbles. The stained glass, designed by Forsyth, is very fine and makes a major contribution to the quality and character of the church; it depicts saints and biblical scenes. The della Robbia-style panel in the Lady Chapel is likely to be from the workshop of Benedetto Buglioni (1459/60-1521) (information from Dr Jeremy Warren to Carmel Dennison, Jan. 2010).

List description


Roman Catholic Church. 1925-7. By JS Brocklesby. Brick with pantiled roofs. Italianate style, using the decorative properties of brick to enrich the facades, with herringbone, tiled courses etc. High western gable, with square north-west tower and round south-west tower with conical roof over open arcade, nave, two aisles and chancel. North-west tower enriched with arcading, and arcaded lights. Central wide-arched entrance in western gable, triple window over, the whole facade ornamented with blank arcading, tiered in gable itself. Nave divided into 3 bays above aisles by stepped buttresses, each bay containing triple windows with round-arched heads. Flat roof of aisle has scalloped tile forming fretted parapet. INTERIOR decoration was carried out by local young people under the direction of Gordon Forsyth, director of the Burslem School of Art, and includes murals in the apse by his daughter Moira.

(The Buildings of England: Pevsner N: Staffordshire: Harmondsworth; The Victoria History of the Counties of England: Pugh R B: Staffordshire: Oxford: 1963-).

Heritage Details

Architect: J. S. Brocklesby

Original Date: 1927

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II