Grosvenor Street, Chester, Cheshire CH4
Andrew Kerr, CC BY-SA 2.0 UK , via Wikimedia Commons
A town church by James O’Byrne, which with the adjoining friary building (also by O’Byrne) is an important element in the Chester Town Centre conservation area. The interior is a striking and in some respects unusual design, retaining some good fittings. O’Byrne is a northern Catholic architect of note and this is a good example of one of his middling-sized church designs.
The Capuchin Franciscans established a mission in Chester in 1858. Mass was first said in the Bishop’s house, later moving to a wooden building on Watergate Street which could accommodate 300. The site of the present church was acquired from the Church Commissioners in 1862 and the foundation stone laid that year. Benjamin Bucknell was appointed architect, but the church building was fraught with setbacks; the first contractor failed, in October 1863 an earthquake damaged the east front resulting in its demolition, and in December that year a hurricane destroyed the almost-complete building. In 1873 a fund was started for a new church to replace a temporary structure erected on the site. Mass was said at the Music Hall and the friars’ private chapel on Cuppin Street during construction. The new church was opened on 29 April 1875, with Cardinal Manning presiding. The friary to the east of the church – also designed by O’Byrne – opened in 1876 and a new school was built to the north in 1882. The church was consecrated in 1900.
In 1932-3 the church was re-floored with oak blocks, the sanctuary redecorated, the heating system replaced and the entrance repaved. Until the post-war years the Franciscans served Catholics in the western part of Chester and surrounding rural areas. Post-Vatican II reordering included the removal of the communion rails and pulpit.
The list description (below) provides a comprehensive summary of the main features and character of the building. The west front faces roughly south, but in the list description liturgical compass points are used. Other points to mention (taken from Plumb, p.21):
Capuchin Franciscan Church of St Francis. 1863-75. By J O’Byrne. Red sandstone with banded grey and purple slate roof. EXTERIOR: expressed externally as a hall church, with narthex porch at west end having gabled front with hip-roofed wings. Paired oak-boarded west doors on wrought-iron hinges in shoulder-arched openings with pointed-arched 5-light leaded window above. A pair of 2-light Geometrical windows in the west gable of the nave flank a statue of St Francis in a canopied niche. The north side of the church is simply expressed with 7 pairs of shoulder-arched 1-light windows; stone crosses on west and east end gables; a small stained glass window in north end of narthex. The south side of the church is similar to the north side, but largely concealed, as is the east end.
INTERIOR: is largely plastered, painted and lined as if stone. West gallery on octagonal pitch-pine posts has organ, north. Wood-block floor. 6 arch-braced trusses on corbels. Arched chancel with smaller arched chapel to each side, continuous with nave. 2 altars to each side of nave. Reredoses behind High Altar and altars of side chapels. Commemorative tables: DEUS MEUS ET OMNIA; of your Charity pray for the repose of the Soul of the VERY REV. FATHER PACIFICUS O.S.F.C. who rebuilt this church in 1875. He died at Bruges Belgium Nov.21 1888 aged 55 years R.I.P. and DEUS MEUS ET OMNIA; Of your Charity pray for the soul of the REV. FATHER VENATIUS O.S.F.C. who laboured for many years in the Mission and commenced this Church in 1863. He died in Gwalior, India, July 4th 1884 Aged 55 years. R.I.P.
(Bartholomew City Guides: Harris B: Chester: Edinburgh: 20).
Listing NGR: SJ4045466001
Architect: J. O’Byrne
Original Date: 1875
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II