Building » Pontefract – St Joseph

Pontefract – St Joseph

Back Street, Pontefract, West Yorkshire

An important and relatively unaltered example of an urban pre- Emancipation public Catholic church. Although there are no original fittings, it retains its early nineteenth century character. The setting has been damaged by the dual carriageway, which cuts the church off from the rest of the conservation area.

Fr Henry Hamerton moved the Jesuit headquarters from York to his home town of Pontefract in 1683 and by 1685 had established the first separate Catholic chapel (with boys’ school) in the West Riding since the Reformation. This was sacked in 1688 riots but the Jesuits subsequently re-established the chapel in a barn at Carleton Green, with the priest living in an adjacent cottage.

At Easter 1799, the priest moved to a house on the present site, known as Crab Hill and Fr Francis Trapp converted its upper rooms to a chapel in about 1806. Further extensions were made in 1833. The Jesuits left in 1891 and the first diocesan parish priest was Fr Martin Bray.

The driving through of Jubilee Way, a dual carriageway, in about 1980 cruelly cut off the Crab Hill site from the historic centre, overexposing the building and making access to the main ground floor north entrance from Back Street tortuous.

At the time of the visit, the interior was being re-decorated and was not accessible. The church is fully described in the list entry. 

List description (church and presbytery)


Roman Catholic church and presbytery. 1806 with C20 alterations. Clad in artificial stone, Welsh and stone slate roofs. First-floor church of six bays above presbytery and former schoolroom, with staircase wing at north-west end and lower 2-storey 3-bay addition to presbytery at east end. Church, south side: six first-floor keyed round-arched windows, and to right on each floor a casement window; ashlar coping, Welsh slate roof; tabled brick stack at right end. North side: ground floor, from left: 16-pane sash window; 6-panel door below fanlight in round-arched artificial stone surround; side-sliding sash window; casement window in square surround; plaque recording historical importance of the church; 4-panel door below
fanlight with intersecting tracery; on first floor, 2 quatrefoils in artificial stone surrounds. At right end, projecting gabled wing, with on each floor a round-arched window, the upper one taller and lighting the staircase; gable cross. In its left return, leaved 4-panel door below fanlight with intersecting tracery. At east end, presbytery has 3 bays of casement windows with wedge lintels voussoired and with fluted keystones: hipped stone slate roof.

Interior: entrance hall in wing contains open-well staircase with wreathed handrail and good cast-iron acanthus balusters, leading up to church and continuing up to west gallery; modillion ceiling cornice and central acanthus ceiling decoration. Entrance to church has leaved doors of 6 reeded panels in fluted architrave with corner paterae and panelled door lining. At west end, gallery has panelled front; C20 infilling below gallery to form confessional; upper west wall has 2 blind round arches in architraves; gallery contains some original pitch-pine seating and has dado; ceiling above gallery is coved. East end of church has segmental-arched sanctuary apse with pilasters with fluted capitals and round-arched panels; in domical ceiling above, a dove in a patera; sanctuary is flanked on left by an image niche and on right by a door matching that at entrance. Ceiling has dentil cornice and 3 decorative features of acanthus leaves in scalloped paterae. Late C19 benches. The church predates the Catholic Emancipation Act by over twenty years, and replaced the mission church of St Michael on Carleton Green founded in 1685 by Father Hammerton, S J, of  Purston.

Listing NGR: SE4522321901

Heritage Details

Architect: Not known

Original Date: 1806

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II*