Building » Cardiff (Canton) – St Mary of the Angels

Cardiff (Canton) – St Mary of the Angels

King’s Road, Canton, CF11 9BX

A stately Romanesque church of the early twentieth century, designed by F.A. Walters for the Benedictines. The building makes a powerful contribution to the local townscape and has a good and relatively unaltered interior with many furnishings of high quality.

Until 1868 the area west of the Taff was served by the Rosminians at St David’s. In that year a plot of land was acquired in Wyndham Crescent, and a church-school opened in 1869. In 1881 the Rosminians (who had acquired the current site in King’s Road) handed over care of the Canton/Grangetown/Ely district to Bishop Hedley, and Canton and Grangetown were separated. In 1897 the Canton mission was entrusted to the Ampleforth Benedictines, who built a corrugated iron church on the corner of King’s Road and Talbot Street in 1901. In 1906 no. 67 Talbot Street becoming a clergy house.

In January 1907 Bishop Hedley laid the foundation stone for the present church, built in Romanesque style from designs by F.A. Walters of London. The builder was W. T. Morgan of Cardiff. The mission priest at this time was Canon Alphege Duggan OSB. The first building phase encompassed the sanctuary, nave, north aisle, baptistery and lower stage of the tower. Work proceeded rapidly; on 30 October in the same year Bishop Hedley consecrated the high altar, and on 3 November the church was opened. The high altar and communion rails were given by members of the Cravos family.

The Tablet account of the opening offered the following description of the church:

‘The church stands at the corner of King’s Road and Talbot Street, and occupies a commanding position. It is designed in the Romanesque style, and the plan comprises a nave 40 feet wide, with spacious aisles and large chancel together with two side-chapels, tower and baptistery, Owing, however, to lack of sufficient funds, the south aisle and the upper part of the tower are not for the present being proceeded with. The total internal length of the church is 106 feet, and the width, including aisles, 78 feet, while the internal height is 46 feet. The completed church will accommodate about 85o persons, and in the portion at present built seating accommodation for 60o is provided. Internally the nave is divided into four large arched bays with massive stone piers supporting the main walls. These larger bays are each subdivided by smaller columns supporting two lesser arches, above which are three round arched windows enclosed by the larger arches. Wall-shafts forming part of the main piers rise from floor to roof supporting the massive arched ribs of the barrel-vaulted ceilings. Owing to the comparative shortness of the site a gallery has been constructed at the west end, supported by stone columns and arches and reached by a stone staircase, to provide a portion of the accommodation for the congregation, the organ being eventually provided for in a chamber over a portion of the future south aisle near the chancel. The east wall is divided into three arched recesses, the centre and larger of which is filled by the high altar with its lofty and handsome reredos, chiefly of marble and alabaster, the gift of generous benefactors, of which a slight description may be of interest. The altar itself is supported by three groups of columns, each having a large column of alabaster in the centre with smaller ones of green Irish marble around. The whole of the internal roofs and woodwork is of unvarnished pitch pine, but the doors are all of oak. Externally the church is built of local stone in random courses with Bath stone dressings’.

Work on the second phase started in 1914, with the construction of the south aisle, confessionals and sacristies. The Sacred Heart altar and stained glass windows in the north aisle were also donated at this time. The choir stalls and screens were added in 1915-16, St Anne’s altar in 1919 and the organ (by Blackett & Howden of Newcastle) installed in the choir loft in 1920. The tower was completed in 1937. An inscription in the church records that it was built in memory of Charles Lawrence Wyndham Williams RN, killed in action in April 1916.

In January 1941 the sacristies and the roof of St Anne’s chapel were destroyed in an air raid. The damage was put right in 1951-2, when (according to the parish website) the roof of the south aisle was raised to enable the installation of six new windows, and the interior was redecorated, with the high altar reredos and statues picked out in colour. The church was formally reopened on 26 October 1952 and on 12 June 1953 consecrated by the Archbishop of Cardiff. It may also have been about this time that the present large presbytery was built on Talbot Street.

In 1974 the church was reordered by the architect George Pace. The Blessed Sacrament was moved from the high altar to St Ann’s chapel, where a crucifix designed by Pace was added (parish website). The font was removed from the baptistery and a Lourdes grotto was created in its place. New pendant lights were fitted (removed in 1996) and the church redecorated.

The church was listed in 1975. In 1991 it passed from the care of the Ampleforth Benedictines to the Archdiocese of Cardiff. A further reordering took place in 2000, when the Blessed Sacrament was returned to the sanctuary and the altar rails were reconfigured to form an enclosure around the high altar.


The architecture of the building is described fully in the list entry (below), but the furnishings, which are of high quality and in several cases designed by F. A. Walters, are not described in any detail. Chief amongst these are:

  • The marble and alabaster high altar and reredos, designed by Walters and given by members of the Cravos family (inscription in marble pedimented plaque over piscina to right of altar). At the centre of the tall reredos is the brass tabernacle, monstrance throne (now housing a cross), Agnus Dei, and figure of Christ blessing. At the sides are scenes of the Annunciation and Visitation with angels above. Flanking the reredos are further saints on corbels under canopies. The maker of the altar (and the side altars) has not been established, but may be Wall of Cheltenham, who worked with Walters around this time at St Joseph, Penarth (qv).
  • The original marble altar rails, also given by members of the Cravos family, have been relocated to enclose the area immediately in front of the high altar, an unusual arrangement.
  • The forward altar and ambo date from 2000, their materials and design harmonising with the character of the interior.
  • Oak screens and choir seating on either side of the sanctuary date from 1915-16.
  • There is no structural division between the nave and the sanctuary, but a large painted crucifix hangs over the sanctuary entrance.
  • In the pier to the left of the sanctuary entrance, a foundation stone with fine Latin inscription.
  • Carved stone altars to the Sacred Heart chapel (north, 1914) and St Anne’s Chapel (south, 1919). The Sacred Heart chapel is enclosed by an Early Christian-style screen, while St Anne’s chapel is entered through an arched screen of more Romanesque character. There is no sign of the crucifix in St Anne’s chapel said (on the parish website) to have been designed by George Pace.
  • In the aisles, a good set of painted Stations of the Cross in stone frames, artist and date not established.
  • Oak doors to the confessionals in the south aisle, with long wrought iron hinges.
  • The octagonal stone and marble font now lies in a central position at the west end of the nave (the baptistery now has a Lourdes grotto).
  • At the west end of the south aisle, a marble wall tablet to Canon Alphege Duggan OSB, builder of the church.
  • At the west end of the north aisle, a pieta in memory of a member of the Hodges family (brass plate)
  • In the former baptistery at the foot of the tower, a stone wall plaque to C.L.W. Williams RN (d.1916), in whose memory the tower was built.
  • The pipes of the Blackett & Howden organ of 1920 in the gallery flank the west window; the instrument was restored in 2007 by Nicholson of Worcester.
  • Below the gallery at the west end (now enclosed to form a draught lobby or narthex) are statues of St Benedict and St Joseph.
  • Against one of the piers on the north side of the nave, a modern memorial to Welsh martyrs.
  • Nearly all of the windows have good early twentieth century stained glass, their dates and makers not recorded; they merit further study.

List description

Reference Number: 13746
Grade: II
Date of Designation: 19/05/1975
Date of Amendment: 24/05/2002
Name of Property: Church of St Mary of the Angels R.C.
Unitary Authority: Cardiff
Community: Riverside
Town: Cardiff
Locality: Canton
Easting: 317030
Northing: 176685
Street Side: E
Location: A prominent building in the centre of the Community about 400m north-east of Canton Cross.  

History: Foundation stone laid January 1907, church completed by November 1907; designed by F A Walters, the architect of Buckfast Abbey. Tower built 1916.  

Exterior: The church is built of roughly dressed Pennant sandstone of different rectangular or square size and laid in parallel courses; sharply cut Bath stone ashlar dressings. Nave, side aisles, chapel of the Sacred Heart at east end of north aisle and Chapel of St. Anne at east end of south aisle, north-west tower. Late C12 French style. The west entrance front has a tall gabled centre bay rising to the apex of the nave; tall round-headed arch rising almost to full height of bay with round-headed Romanesque doorway with three orders and paired doors recessed within it on the ground floor and with tall round-headed windows above; corbel table and arcading between the entrance arch and the windows. To either side is a narrower bay with parapet; rounded-headed openings, single and paired with arcading at the top level. Gabled priests’ doorway in two storey wing to right. The side walls of the nave have triple clerestorey lights in large semi-circular arches with strip pilasters between, corbel table, steeply pitched roof. The north aisle has single light windows with strip pilasters between and paired stone bands. The south aisle is hidden, as is the east gable wall. Tall north-west tower which was part of the original design but built later. Four stages with projecting stair turret on the west wall. The ground stage has a small apse with three slit windows to Kings Road and two single light windows to Talbot Road. Clasping corner buttresses with a central srip buttress, both to full height, bands between stages at cill levels. The first stage has paired round headed lights, the second stage has two tall strip lights and the belfry has paired louvred openings, castellated parapet.  

Interior: Nave of three and a half bays with a further east bay as the sanctuary and a further west half-bay as a triple arched narthex with organ gallery over. Each bay of nave arcade with paired round-headed arches, central column with waterleaf capital and with three round-headed clerestorey windows within semi-circular arch above the arcade. The east Sanctuary wall has a round-headed tripartite reredos of marble with three round-headed windows in the wall above. Boarded tunnel-vault roof. Each bay of north aisle with single round-headed window, timber lean-to roof. The south aisle is blind with a range of confessionals.  

Reason for designation: Included as a very good Roman Catholic church designed by a notable Edwardian architect in the field.  

Heritage Details

Architect: F. A. Walters

Original Date: 1907

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II