Long Bridge Street, Newtown, Sy16 2BJ
An unusual church and presbytery converted in 1947 from a former flannel mill and inn. The project was conceived by the parish priest, Fr Beddoes, who built it at his own expense. Within the church are a number of works of art collected by Fr Beddoes that contribute to the distinctive character and appeal of the building. The church is situated on the banks of the River Severn and makes a prominent and positive contribution to the local conservation area.
During the 1920s and thirties the few Catholics in the Newtown area were allowed to hear Mass in the chapel in the grounds of Newtown Hall, belonging to Major Arbuthnot Briscoe, whose family were local Catholics. This chapel was served by a priest from Welshpool. However, Catholic numbers were beginning to increase due to an influx of Irish soldiers and also Italian prisoners of war, and when the first Newtown parish priest was appointed in the early 1940s, he immediately saw the need to create a new church for the community.
The priest, the Rev. Vaughan Roscoe Minton Beddoes, was a remarkable man. He was the son of a British Army Officer, who studied at Radley and Oxford, before becoming a Catholic convert in 1933 and studying for the priesthood in Rome. After his ordination in 1939, and a brief time as a curate at Saltney, near Chester, he arrived at Newtown, and threw himself and his fortune into the task he had set. After looking around the town for a suitable site, he settled on a cluster of buildings at the end of the Iron Bridge over the River Severn, which consisted of what had been The Bridgend Inn and Sayers Mill, the latter being a disused early-nineteenth century flannel mill. The inn he bought for £330 and the mill, which was seven storeys high, for £300. Three of the seven storeys were removed from the mill and the remaining four were turned into two to provide space for the church and the crypt below. The inn became the presbytery. The reconstruction was carried out by Luke Kendall and the church opened in 1947. Fr Beddoes later described it in a pamphlet he published: ‘As you cross the bridge at the end of Broad Street… you find on your right, prettily but perilously planted on a bank of the infant Severn, a neat range of buildings, forming one of the few elements of architectural interest in the town’. During his time at Newtown he collected a number of works of art, most of which remain in the church. His first acquisition was a near life-size wooden sculpture of an unnamed Pope, which was seated alongside him in the railway carriage on the return journey from his studies in Rome.
While Fr Beddoes’ idea of converting the mill into a church must have seemed odd at the time, it was probably a very practical and economical way of providing suitable accommodation in the immediate post-war period. The lower brick walls of the mill remain, painted white on the outside and lined on the inside to create a cavity. Taller window openings were formed in the south wall and a pitched slate roof was added. The elevation to Long Bridge Street is domestic in character, the only hints that it is the entrance to a church being a small cross on the gable and the introduction of an implied Gothic arch over the doorway. The fourth floor of the former mill with its timber beams remains as the ceiling of the church. The west end is raised up to form a choir and organ loft, beyond which is the sacristy. The sanctuary is simply treated with a raised dais and a crucifix set on a blue backcloth above the tabernacle. The altar of aluminium and Welsh slate was made by Michael Murray and installed after Vatican II. The benches were made by a parishioner, Albert Lavell, from oak that had formed the stalls of a local stables.
Works of art collected by Fr Beddoes that remain in the church include the following:
Architect: Luke Kendall (conversion)
Original Date: 1947
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed