East Street, Chard, Somerset, TA20
A small, late Gothic Revival church and presbytery, built in the interwar years from designs by Sir Frank Wills, a former mayor of Bristol and architect of the Wills tobacco factory in Bristol.
In 1912-13, Mass was said by a priest from Axminster at Furnham House, Chard, the home of Dr and Mrs Murphy. There followed a number of temporary venues, including the town hall during the First World War, when the local congregation was increased by Belgian refugees. In December 1918, Dr Murphy donated a plot in East Street for the erection of a corrugated iron chapel, dedicated to the English Martyrs. (This had been also been used as a temporary chapel at Kingswood and Fishponds, qqv; Harding suggests – p. 80 – that it was not erected here until 1923). In 1919, Furnham House became a convent for French Sisters of Christian Instruction. By 1925, the chapel had become too small and plots were exchanged with the convent.
The foundation stone for the present church was laid by Canon (later Bishop) Lee, administrator of the Pro-Cathedral, on 24 September 1925. The finished church was opened on 22 June 1926. The architect was Sir Frank William Wills, former Lord Mayor of Bristol (1911), who also built the family’s tobacco factory in Bedminster and the Museum & Art Gallery in Bristol. The builder was W. J. Harris of Chard. The cost of the church and presbytery was £4,537. Bishop Rudderham consecrated the church on 29 September 1966, before which the sanctuary was reordered by Peter J. Ware, architect. This included the blocking of the east window, ‘to overcome a distracting glare’. The windows have since been unblocked and the 1960s altar canopy removed. The current parish hall was built in 1993 on the site of the corrugated iron chapel. An internal west porch was recently removed.
The church faces southeast. This description follows conventional liturgical orientation.
The materials are local flintstone with Doulting freestone dressings. The plan is long and narrow, with an unaisled nave and sanctuary under one pitched roof and with a flat-roofed sacristy to the east. The east and west elevations each have three stepped lancets under hoodmoulds. The east door (with decorative ironwork) is flanked by pairs of small lancets, all under one continuous hoodmould. Under the west gable is a canopied niche with a statue of Blessed Richard Whiting, last Abbot of Glastonbury. The south elevation has five pairs of lancet windows with hoodmoulds, alternating with buttresses. A south door to the sacristy has been blocked.
The five-bay interior has scissor trusses supported on corbels. At the west end is an organ gallery. The Portland stone altar and the tabernacle set into a gabled niche date from the 1966 reordering. The east window depicts the Adoration, commemorating the diamond anniversary in 2004 of Canon James O’Brien. The remaining windows have diamond leading. The Stations of the Cross are plaster casts with ogee arches.
Architect: Sir Frank W. Wills
Original Date: 1926
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed