Building » Chester – St Francis

Chester – St Francis

Grosvenor Street, Chester, Cheshire CH4

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 1932-33 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 (all taken from Plumb, p.21):

•     The architect donated the statue of St Francis on the main façade

•     The Calvary and statues of eight Franciscans on the reredos behind the high altar were carved by Sullivan of Chester

Heritage Details

Architect: J. O’Byrne

Original Date: 1875

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: II