Building » Moorthorpe – St Joseph

Moorthorpe – St Joseph

Barnsley Road, Moorthorpe, South Elmsall, Pontefract, West Yorkshire

A large and impressive design in early Christian basilican style, which is of major townscape importance, especially the bold west front to Barnsley Road. The simplicity of the internal architecture and the lack of any furnishings of note create a somewhat characterless interior and the modern suspended ceiling and infilling detracts from the impact of the west window.

Moorthorpe is a sprawling area of terraced housing between South Kirby and South Elmsall, built up towards the end of the nineteenth century as railways and mines were opened. This site was purchased in 1912 by Fr Charles Leteux and the foundation stone of the first school-cum-chapel blessed by Bishop Cowgill on 23 March 1912. J. H. Eastwood was the architect and it was opened for worship by the end of 1912, when Fr Thomas McNiff was appointed as the first parish priest. It still survives as classrooms with enlarged windows within the primary school to the east of the present church. A cross on the east gable denotes it as the former chapel.

Fr Mcniff built the present church in 1927/8, designed by C. E. Fox, to the front of the site, on a north-south alignment to take full advantage of its corner location. A presbytery was then built to the north of the church. Reordering was undertaken in the later 1960s, when the northwest porch was made into a link to the presbytery, creating toilets and extra storage. The area under the west gallery was glazed to create a social area in about 1975 and a suspended ceiling inserted into the nave, cutting off the semi-circular head of the western Diocletian window. Subsequent repairs to the spalling concrete window frame in 2003 further reduced this window to a glazed rectangle. The clerestorey windows were also renewed and other repairs e.g. to the brick parapets, undertaken at a cost of £100,000.


The church is aligned north-south but liturgical compass points are used throughout. C. E. Fox designed a six-bay Early Christian basilica with an apse and northeast sacristy, externally of red brick and painted concrete ‘stone’ dressings with a slate roof. The internal arcades are hollow, so it is presumably a board-clad steel structure within the brick walls. It is on an impressive scale and the few details (like the external window frames and the arcade columns) are in the simplest Classical style.

The west front is dominated by the huge Diocletian window, now only glazed in the centre, above a tall west doorcase. The iron gable cross is now in the garden below (and the eastern gable cross is also missing). The lower lines of the foundation stone (that include the date) at ground level to the south of the door are suffering from splashback from the asphalt. Each bay of the nave and aisles is lit by large round-headed windows (except in the end bays of the north aisle where there are large roundels); the single-storey eastern hexagonal apse is windowless.

Internally, architectural decoration is confined to the capitals of the five-bay arcades (simple palm leaves with central fleuron and minimal corner volutes) and the deep architrave moulding that runs around the apse. The aisles are divided into bays by plain rectangular responds that support transverse beams across the flat aisle ceiling. The nave was presumably originally open to the shallow pitched roof, but now has a panelled ceiling that cuts off the top of the west window. The original doors to the northwest entrance and northeast sacristy are framed in wood and these, with the northwest staircase to the west gallery, are almost domestic in character.

The west gallery frontal is of brick and was possibly simplified when the area beneath was glazed to form a narthex social area (as there is no parish centre). There is a row of solid piers running north-south mid-way under the gallery and doorcases into the west bay of each aisle. There was an organ on the gallery. The western bay of the south aisle is at a lower level and was probably the original baptistery; it now houses a confessional with 1927 doors.

The east end of the south nave aisle is apsidal and contains furniture from the former chapel-of-ease at Upton, including a piece of stone from St Paul’s church at Philippi. The main apse is lined with painted boards; the altar is of concrete. The only coloured glass is in the roundel at the east end of the north nave aisle, though all the other aisle windows have clear glass in decorative leads probably of 1927. The clerestorey and west windows were plainly glazed in 2003. The pews have been painted with pale graining, but the original dark stain is coming through.

Heritage Details

Architect: C. E. Fox

Original Date: 1927

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed