St James’s Square, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50
A fine mid-Victorian Gothic Revival cruciform church in an early fourteenth-century style by a major Catholic architect, richly treated both in its architecture and decorative elements, and making a significant contribution to the townscape of the heart of Cheltenham.
Before the establishment of a regular mission in Cheltenham Mass was said by a priest from Gloucester and for a time by a French émigré priest who was teaching French in the town. In 1809 Benedictines came here from Bath and a Classical chapel adjoining the priory and seating 300 was erected in 1810-11 by Fr Birdsall on the spot where the present tower stands. This church was damaged during anti-Catholic riots at the time of the restoration of the hierarchy in 1850.
The present Gothic church was begun in the spring of 1854, thanks largely to the efforts and generosity of the Rev. James Ambrose Cotham OSB, who arrived from Tasmania in 1852. The site was extended at this time by the purchase of an adjoining property (10 St James’s Square), the home of the Tennyson family, where Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote In Memoriam. Designed by Charles Hansom, the church of St Gregory was opened by Bishop Clifford in the presence of Cardinal Wiseman on 26 May 1857. Further building operations involved the building of the south porch in 1859 (paid for by Mr G.F. Copeland who also contributed to the rest of the church), tower and spire in 1859-64, and the linking of the tower and nave in 1876-7 with a baptistery and chapel projecting on either side (these additions all by Hansom). The church was consecrated on 6 November 1877. In 1881 the present presbytery was added, from designs by A. J. C. Scoles. In 1883 St Gregory’s was designated a Benedictine priory, and the church was served by the Benedictines until 1998, when it was passed to the diocese.
The church is orientated north-south; a plan is above. The building is described comprehensively in the list entry (below), and repetition is unnecessary. The seating consist of modern benches, and there is an elaborate forward altar in the carpeted sanctuary. In addition to its architectural qualities, the church is notable for its fine furnishings, by Boulton of Cheltenham, Farmer of London, Hardman & Co. and others. It may be added that it has a total length of 134ft: across the transepts it is 65ft: the nave is 70ft high and the tower and spire are 202ft high.
Roman Catholic Church. 1854-7, tower and south porch of 1859 with west end completed 1875 and consecrated 1876; c1970s extension to presbytery. Architect, Charles Hansom; builder, Mr Acock of Cheltenham with completion of the church and much of the carving by Boulton of Cheltenham and reredos by Farmer of London; stained glass by Hardman. For the Benedictine Order. Stone with ashlar and Aberdeen granite dressings and plain tile roof.
STYLE: Middle Pointed
PLAN: the church is not orientated normally but has its chancel to the south end, the description refers to liturgical points; cruciform plan with 5-bay aisled nave with clerestory and west chapels with 3-stage west tower with octagonal spire; transept with south-east (Lady) chapel and north-east sacristy, 2-bay chancel.
EXTERIOR: Chamfered plinth throughout. All windows have Decorated-type tracery to heads. Tower: angle buttresses, gabled, surmounted by pinnacles with finials to corners of enriched parapet which has canopied niche to centre of each face with figures of saints (George, Ambrose, Gregory and Augustine). Stair turret to north east. Entrance in west end, 2 plank doors in Caernarvon-arched surround and with banded column between surmounted by figure of St Gregory the Great, with carved panels to tympanum showing St Gregory’s visit to Britain and St Augustine preaching to Ethelbert, King of Kent. 3 orders of arches on columns with foliate capitals, decorated ogee hoodmould. Moulded first-stage band and 4-light west window; clock over (to west and south sides); 2-light belfry windows with column between and single order of arches. Spire has 2 tiers of lucarnes. Gabled south porch to 2nd bay has double pointed doors within arch on column cluster responds with cusped cinquefoil head with foliate decorations and hoodmould with headstops; Christ enthroned above; copings and cross to apex. To west of porch a gabled chapel with buttresses, 3-light window with 4-centred arch and with 2 lancet windows with tracery to head to west side, all with hoodmoulds and face stops. Aisle (south): first bay has three 2-light windows; otherwise three 2-light windows. North aisle has similar fenestration. Clerestories have stepped and cusped 3-light windows in chamfered surrounds. Tall, gabled transepts have 4-light pointed windows with hoodmould and facestops to south on angel corbels. Lady Chapel has two 2-light windows with continuous hoodmould and face stops; 3-light window to east end with ogeed hood rising to statue of Blessed Virgin Mary. Chancel has 5-light east window with hoodmould and face stops, small window to apex. Bellcote over chancel arch.
INTERIOR: aisles have double-chamfered, pointed arcade on column clusters; similar arches to west end of nave on angel corbels; continuous hoodmould. Similar, taller double-chamfered arches to crossing and chancel, all with hoodmoulds and on column cluster responds. South-west chapel has octagonal font on short columns and with quatrefoils to faces; ornate ironwork balustrade. West screen with 3 arches on column clusters with foliate capitals, 4 figures of saints on column corbels at level of balustrade which has blind tracery. Pulpit (by Boulton) has scene of Christ preaching on the Mount, also St Gregory and St Benedict. Reredos has canopied niches with figures of the Evangelists with SS Gregory and Benedict. 14 Stations of the Cross (by Boulton). Cornices enriched by carved paterae. Ceilings to chapels and sanctuary have painted panels. Nave has arched-braced roof the principals springing from circular shafts with moulded caps and bases. Complete set of Hardman windows.
The west tower with spire provides a prominent local landmark. An important townscape feature. Adjoins The Old Priory, No.70 Clarence Street (qv).
(Sampson A and Blake S: A Cheltenham Companion: Cheltenham: 1993-: 113-114; Blake S: Cheltenham’s Churches and Chapels AD 773-1883: Cheltenham: 1979-: 32-33; Close J, Clarke A and Clarke R: St Gregory the Great Cheltenham: 1977-; Sladen T: Notes: 1995-; Howell P and Sutton I: Faber Guide to Victorian Churches: London: 1989-: 25).
Listing NGR: SO9457222540
Presbytery (10 St James’s Square)
House, now priory. c1830-34 with later additions and alterations. Ashlar over brick (stuccoed at right) with concealed roof, end stucco stacks with cornices and iron balconies.
EXTERIOR: 3 storeys and basement, 3 first-floor windows, with blind entrance bay set back to right and further single-storey range at right. Ashlar detailing includes end Doric pilasters to main range, surmounted by crowning entablature. Ground-floor string course, first- and second-floor bands; tooled architraves to first-floor windows. 6/6 sashes, in plain reveals and with sills. Basement has 6/6 sashes. Entrance at right has flight of 4 roll-edged steps to part-glazed double doors with overlight set behind 2 Doric columns with entablature which are surmounted by overhang. Right range has central multi-pane fixed light with tooled architrave, cornice on consoles, between 2 round-arched fixed lights, low parapet and copings. Otherwise right return has 6/6 and 3/6 sashes.
INTERIOR: not inspected.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: individual balconies to ground and second floors have lozenge pattern with cast lead tassels, the design derived from L N Cottingham, plate 16. First floor has Carron Company double-heart-and-anthemion motif to continuous balcony.
HISTORICAL NOTE: Tennyson lived here. (Chatwin A: Cheltenham’s Ornamental Ironwork: Cheltenham: 1975-1984: 35).
Listing NGR: SO9456022524
The Old Priory (former presbytery)
Former presbytery with attached walls, piers and gate. Dated 1881. Probably by Boultons of Cheltenham. Coursed, squared limestone rubble over brick with dressed quoins and concealed roof, iron gate. Gothic Revival style.
EXTERIOR: 2 storeys, 2 first-floor windows. Quoins to angles; central off-set buttress with niche at first floor and statue of St Gregory. Moulded first-floor band. Windows, alike: 2-cusped lights with mullions and transoms, those to ground floor have quatrefoil in head and inscribed ‘Jesus’ and ‘Maria’, with hoodmoulds. Those to first floor have date in roundel to heads and voussoirs over. Entrance range set back to right with plank door, forms link building to St Gregory’s Church.
INTERIOR: not inspected.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: coursed limestone wall abuts at left and is approx 2m high with double-chamfered coping, return along front facade is approx 1m high with chamfered coping, extending for approx 10m to piers, square on plan with trefoiled heads and gate with panelled lower stage surmounted by spearhead bars.
HISTORICAL NOTE: built as the presbytery to RC Church of St Gregory. The church was designed by C Hanson (1854-7) and completed by Boultons of Cheltenham with Mr Acock of Cheltenham, builder. Abuts Church of St Gregory, St James’s Square (qv).
Listing NGR: SO9458922561
Boundary wall to church and presbytery
Boundary wall, extending from The Old Priory, 70 Clarence Street (qv) to No.10 St James’s Square (qv), gate piers and gates. c1854-7. Architect, probably Charles Hansom. Wall and piers of dressed stone over brick with iron gates. Low wall with chamfered capping (approx 1m high altogether), with flush piers at regular intervals. Gate piers to North are heavy with cross capping; very ornamental gates with gilt flowers and other enrichments separated from piers by iron panels and pierced hinge posts. Gate piers to west have surmounting lamp holders. Ornate wrought- and iron gates with ‘PAX’ in central panel of each one. Abuts Piers and Gate to The Old Priory, No.70 Clarence Street (qv).
Listing NGR: SO9456622582
Architect: Charles Hansom
Original Date: 1857
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II*