Building » Penarth – St Joseph

Penarth – St Joseph

Wordsworth Avenue, Penarth, CF64 2SN

A fine early twentieth century Romanesque design by F. A. Walters, forming a good group with his presbytery. The intended west towers were never built, but the design is not significantly diminished by their absence. The interior is little altered and is notable for the quality of its furnishings, particularly the three stone altars and canopy over the high altar.

The village of Penarth expanded rapidly after the opening of Penarth Docks in 1856. The growing Catholic population of the area was served by visiting priests from the Rosminian mission in Cardiff until 1860, when Fr Stephen Bruno IC became Penarth’s first resident priest. In 1863, Fr Fortunatus Signini of St David’s, Cardiff initiated negotiations with the Plymouth Estates for the acquisition of a building plot for a school and church, and Lady Bute made available a site in Maughan Street (later High Street). Here a new school chapel was opened in 1877 by Bishop Hedley OSB, then Auxiliary Bishop of Newport and Menevia. The first resident priest was appointed in 1878, living in Ludlow Street. Between 1901 and 1916, the mission/parish was served by Fr Stephen Rosetti, who initiated the building of the present church in Wordsworth Avenue.

The church was built from designs by the London architect F.A. Walters, who had also designed St Mary of the Angels at Canton (qv). The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Hedley in November 1914, and the uncompleted church was opened by Bishop Keating of Northampton in November 1915. The Tablet reported:

The style of the church (says the Western Mail) is Romanesque of the twelfth century. The walling is of local stone, and the dressings Of Bath stone. The completed plan will include a wide nave and spacious sanctuary, with apsidal chapels, which it is proposed to erect at a later date, together with two western towers. The total length of the completed church will be 117 feet, and the width (not including the transepts) 42 feet, but at present only the nave and aisles are being built. The throne and high altar are the gifts of Mr. T. J. Callaghan, J.P., of Penarth, the tabernacle being of gold, with green marble pillars, obtained from the quarry from which the columns of the Church of St. Sophia, Constantinople, were made. The marble rails were the gift of Mr. T. J. Callaghan. The church, which has seating accommodation for nearly 400 per-sons, cost about £6,000 to build, but to complete the structure another £4,000 will be required. Mr. F. A. Walters, Westminster, is the architect, and Mr. W. T. Morgan, Cardiff, the contractor. The site is the gift of the Marquess of Bute.

In 1917 five windows behind and beside the high altar were presented by Dr William Barry in memory of his brother Redmond Barry, Lord Chancellor of Ireland (d.1913) and his daughter Mary Wilhelmina (d.1910). In 1918 a stone nave pulpit was presented by Cyril Turnbull in memory of his brother Capt. John Oswin Turnbull of the Welsh Regiment, killed in France in September 1916. Also in 1918, statues of St Joseph and St Peter were installed in the chancel and Stations of the Cross erected in the aisles, these furnishings by Wall & Co. of Cheltenham.

The parish history, list entry and Newman state that the church was completed by the late 1920s, possibly 1928; the parish website says 1920. The presbytery was completed by 1926, when Mgr James O’Reilly moved in (parish history). An organ was installed at the west end in 1935. The twin towers planned for the west end of the church were never built.

The church was renovated and reordered about the time of the centenary of the parish in 1979. A new forward altar was introduced, the font and wrought iron gates were removed from the baptistery and a glass screen fitted to create a reconciliation room/confessional (now a piety shop). Moveable furnishings in the sanctuary were made for Pope John Paul II’s visit to Cardiff in 1982.

In 1993 the church and presbytery were listed Grade II. In 1997 the parishes of Penarth and Dinas Powys were ‘clustered’, initially served by two priests resident in Penarth. Since 2002 the two churches have been served by a single priest at Penarth, and have been amalgamated as a single parish since 2008.


The description of the church in the list entry (below) is fairly comprehensive, but further information on the furnishings can be added:

  • The quality of the stone carving in the high altar reredos (Agnus Dei, angels and Evangelists), Lady altar (south chapel) and Sacred Heart altar (north chapel) is exceptionally high, and probably the work of Wall & Co. of Cheltenham. The high altar and coloured marble communion rails with metal gates were given by T. J. Callaghan JP of Penarth Hall.
  • Walters’ canopy over the high altar is elaborately wrought, with fine polychrome stencil decoration on its underside.
  • The statues of St Joseph and St Peter in the chancel, on corbels and under canopies, are of Seaton stone, by Wall & Co. of Cheltenham, 1918.
  • The five windows behind and beside the high altar were presented in 1917 by Dr William Barry in memory of his brother Redmond Barry, Lord Chancellor of Ireland (d.1913, above statues on either side of arch to apse) and his daughter Mary (d.1910, the three windows in the apse); artist/maker not identified.
  • The stone and marble nave pulpit was presented by Cyril Turnbull in memory of his brother Capt. John Oswin Turnbull, 1918.
  • The Stations of the Cross, mosaic panels framed in Seaton stone, are by Wall & Co., of Cheltenham, 1918, with donor names on brass plaques beneath.
  • As well as the marble forward altar of 1979, more recent furnishings include a portable wooden font and presidential chair in the sanctuary, made for Pope John Paul II’s visit to Cardiff in 1982.
  • The confessional in the north transept and the glazed screen enclosing the underside of the west gallery date from the 1980s.

List descriptions


Building Number: 13385
Grade: II  
Date of Designation: 21/01/1993  
Date of Amendment: 21/01/1993  
Name of Property: St Joseph’s Church  
Unitary Authority: Vale of Glamorgan  
Community: Penarth  
Easting: 317990  
Northing: 171789  
Location: Large Italian Romanesque style church oriented E-W on prominent site at junction of Wordsworth Avenue and Coleridge Avenue.  

History: Plans date from 1913, foundation stone laid 1914, nave complete by 1915 but construction interrupted by First World War and church in present form not completed until late 1920’s. Architect F A Walters (1850-1932) of London, a leading architect of Roman Catholic churches at turn of century.  

Exterior: Plan and materials: Basilican plan with aisled nave, N & S transepts, sanctuary at E end with flanking N & S apsidal chapels. At W end bases of planned towers, that to S with S facing porch. To N vestry and corridor connecting church with adjacent presbytery. Walls in grey-brown stone with rendered panels and Bath stone dressings; slate roofs. W front of nave three bays arcading over, steep gable, wheel window, shallow porch with tympanum over doorway, three windows to each side of porch. Outer bays of front are bases of unfinished towers with sloping roofs at differing levels. S return of S tower base has gabled porch, arcading over round-headed doorway; doors with elaborate strap hinges. South nave elevation of five bays each with clerestorey window with arcading over; aisle bays each have circular window. Transept has two blind arcaded bays facing W, and gable elevation of two bays with upper round window and two tall round-arched windows. Two windows to S wall of apsidal chapel. E end has projecting gabled sanctuary at lower level; three bays with arcading over; three round-headed windows, central window placed higher. Sanctuary flanked by apsidal chapels, three bays to apses, windows in outer bays. N elevation follows S but lacks porch in tower base. Vestry (single-storey) in angle between aisle and transept, three-light and two-light shouldered windows to N; vestry and aisle obscured by long corridor connecting church with presbytery; round-arched door and two round-headed windows.  

Interior: Nave of five bays with alternating cylindrical and grouped shafts; interlace capitals. Wooden boarded and panelled roof supported on corbelled wall shafts rising from arcade. Clerestorey windows flanked by blind round-headed panels. Aisles with stations of cross in shallow aedicules; round windows to S aisle, round headed doors to vestry and corridor in N aisle. To W, organ gallery over lobby with broad elliptical arch flanked by round arches. Crossing area W arch with inner order on corbels. L (north) arch has two arches at ground level with round shaft and responds, and single large arch over. Crossing area R (south) arch has two arches at ground level with square pillar and responds and two arches over. Sanctuary chancel arch with engaged shafts, three windows with stained glass, canopied sculptural reredos to original polychrome altar has Agnus Dei flanked by Angels, Evangelists below. To sides of chancel arch statues of St Joseph and St Peter, stained glass windows over at clerestorey level. Modern polychrome marble altar. Pulpit and altar rail in inlaid marble. Other furnishings include wooden throne used by Pope John Paul II on visit to Cardiff in June 1982. Apsidal Lady Chapel to S, polychrome marble altar; sculptured reredos of Madonna and Child flanked by male and female saints. Apsidal chapel to N, polychrome marble altar with sculptured reredos with Christ and male and female saints.  

Reason for designation: Listed as good large-scale example of style by prominent architect. Group value with adjacent presbytery.  


Reference Number: 13386
Grade: II  
Date of Designation: 21/01/1993  
Date of Amendment: 21/01/1993  
Name of Property: St Joseph’s Presbytery  
Unitary Authority: Vale of Glamorgan  
Community: Penarth  
Easting: 317961  
Northing: 171800  
Location: To NW of entrance front of St Joseph’s Church.  

History: Architect F A Walters (1850-1932) of London, a leading architect of Roman Catholic churches at turn of century. Completed c 1926.  

Exterior: Substantial two-storey presbytery. Central block with cross gables to ends. Slate roof, roughcast render, exposed stone quoins, Bath stone dressings and sills. One square chimney to L (another to rear of gable), rectangular chimney at right angles to main ridge (R), further rectangular chimney at right angles to R crosswing ridge. L gable sweeps down over garage (later extension); three round-headed windows on first floor, four on ground floor. Central section has four square-headed windows at eaves (asymmetrically placed). On ground floor shallow round-arched porch with original entrance door (decorative strap hinges and small pane window); one round-headed window to L and two to R. Right gable has three round-headed windows grouped 1 + 2, and on ground floor, projecting single storey porch with hipped roof; round arched entrance with two windows to R; original door. E elevation has four square-headed windows on first floor, and on ground floor, four round-headed windows, plus smaller window to L, and to R, round-headed door to extension, small window to R. W elevation has three square-headed windows on first floor, and three round-headed windows on ground floor; two square-headed windows to garage rear. Rear has cross gables to ends with L (east) gable having single-storey block with hipped roof (small square window); window (R) above extension. Between gables to L, on first floor, two square-headed windows, on ground floor, two round-headed windows; to R, two round-headed windows between floors.  

Reason for designation: Group value with Church.  

Heritage Details

Architect: F. A. Walters

Original Date: 1915

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II