Building » Plymouth – Holy Cross

Plymouth – Holy Cross

Beaumont Road, Plymouth, Devon

Church built in 1881 out of materials from the former Catholic Church at Teignmouth, dismantled to make way for Brunel’s Great Western Railway. Considerably altered and added to in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and it is likely that all that remains of the 1881 church is the west front of the nave. The interior is not remarkable, but contains some features of interest; the primary importance of the building lies in its historical associations and in its contribution to the local townscape. The church closed in 2008.

Holy Cross was the third Plymouth church to be built after the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy. Although a church for East Plymouth had been planned as early as 1806, other projects took priority, but with the passing of the 1870 Education Act the provision of a school and church on the eastern side of the city became a high priority. In 1871 Bishop Vaughan acquired a property known as Gasking House just north of Sutton Pool, part of which was earmarked for a church, presbytery and school. A builder named Joseph Collins was commissioned to build the school first, to be run by the Notre Dame nuns, and this opened in May 1872. The western half of the site was developed with a convent for the Carmelite nuns from Sclerder Abbey, thus re-establishing a pre-Reformation link, for there was a medieval Carmelite Friary nearby. However, the Carmelites sold the property to the bishop three years later and an orphanage for girls was established, run by the Sisters of Charity (the site has subsequently been redeveloped).  In 1880 a presbytery was built at the southeast corner of the site for the priest serving the orphanage, the builder being James Taylor of Stonehouse.

The church was the last piece of the jigsaw, and was built in most unusual circumstances. The story is told in an inscription on parchment that was placed in a bottle beneath the foundation stone, laid in 1881 (the location of which is now not known):

‘The Church of Our Lady and St Charles Borromeo at Teignmouth having to be taken down for railway improvements, the materials were bought up by the Bishop of Plymouth and brought to Tothill Lane, Plymouth for the building of this church of the Holy Cross. The same foundation stone formerly laid at Teignmouth on 13 July 1854 by the Rev. Charles Lomax, S.J., was blessed and placed here by the Very Reverend Canon Woolett, DD, Vicar-General of Plymouth Diocese…[and others] on April 5, 1881…The contractors for the building were Messrs Hayman of Teignmouth, sons of the late Mr Hayman, who built the original church at Teignmouth’.

According to Cherry/Pevsner, Charles Hansom was the architect of the Teignmouth church, which had been built in 1854.

For twenty-six years from 1885 Fr John Keily (later Bishop of Plymouth) was the resident priest at Holy Cross. In 1889 he built an arch in the liturgical east (geographical south) wall and added a new sanctuary, the floor of which was raised in 1893 to improve accommodation in the extension to the boys’ school running beneath this part of the building. It is stated by Cosgrove (Centenary Souvenir, 1981) that the sanctuary floor loadings did not allow for a stone altar, hence the present timber altar (and hence the fact that the building was never consecrated).

In 1904-5 the school buildings were rebuilt, according to Cosgrove from designs by Canon A. J. C. Scoles of Basingstoke (an architect-priest, and the younger son of the Gothic Revival architect J. J. Scoles). It seems likely that Scoles also designed the south aisle with its Lady altar (1905-6) and north aisle with its baptistery and door into the presbytery (1906-7).  The north aisle was built over ‘made’ ground and was given a lightweight flat roof to reduce loadings on the foundations. The stained glass window of Our Lady of Mount Carmel over the Lady altar in the south aisle was installed in the time of Mgr Barry, parish priest 1911-30.

On January 13 1941 the school suffered bomb damage and an incendiary bomb came through the roof of the church but the subsequent fire was tackled before too much damage was done.

Post-Vatican II alterations carried out by Fr O’Driscoll in the 1970s included the removal of the altar rails and a rood beam and crucifix at the chancel arch, the detachment of the front section of the altar to allow for forward celebration, and the repainting in white of the interior, covering Victorian stencil work. The Sacred Heart chapel at the west end of the north aisle was made into a separate room, serving as a confessional and weekday chapel. In 2008 the church was closed, and the building awaits a new use.


The church is orientated north-south, but this description follows conventional liturgical orientation.

Town centre church consisting of nave, north and south aisles, short square ended chancel with attached presbytery. Uncoarsed Ragstone with ashlar dressings, slate roofs. The gabled west front faces towards and is slightly set back from the street, behind a stone wall with octagonal gatepiers and cast iron gates. A pointed cast iron overthrow bears the name HOLY CROSS.  Central entrance with boarded double doors with elaborate iron hinges within a projecting Gothic porch with naturalistic carved capitals and enriched hoodmould. Above this, a large west window of four lights, with quatrefoil and trefoil curvilinear tracery. To the right of this, and slightly set back, is the west wall of the later south aisle, also gabled, and with a circular window of four quatrefoils and hoodmould. In front of this, a lean-to porch, with slate roof and lancet windows.  The side elevation of this aisle faces towards the school playground and consists of five bays with windows each of three lights, with stepped trefoils and tracery of spherical triangles.  To the left of the main entrance is a further entrance to the ground floor of the adjoining double gabled stone presbytery, which in turn leads into the main body of the church.

Wide interior with a nave and aisles of five arcades supported on octagonal piers, with octagonal capitals and bases. Canted timber roof over the nave, south aisle and chancel, flat compartmented ceiling to the north aisle. Plain chancel arch to narrow, short chancel, raised above the nave level by five steps. Timber organ gallery at the west end of the nave supported on two cast iron columns on octagonal bases, behind these the underside of the gallery enclosed by a timber and glass screen. At the west end of the north and south aisles (on what would have originally been the external walls of the church) two large square stone panels are set into the wall with carved angels bearing monograms M and C (presumably from the Teignmouth church, which had been dedicated to St Mary and Charles Borromeo). The west wall of the baptistery has been built into that on the north side.

Other fittings of note include: the stained glass roundel of the Virgin and Child over the Lady altar in the south aisle. At the west end of the north aisle the baptistery retains its font, a large bowl with inscription supported on stubby columns and an octagonal base, and metal gates. Close to this are two panelled Gothic doors connecting the church to the presbytery. There is a handsome oak altar (not stone on account of perceived problems with floor loadings), and a crucifix hanging from the chancel arch, the latter dating from the 1970s reordering. The nave pews are of pine and not special. There is a series of brass memorial plaques on the south aisle wall. The interior is fully carpeted.

Heritage Details

Architect: (at Teignmouth, Charles Hansom); rebuilt by Messrs Hayman

Original Date: 1881

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed