Building » Poole – St Mary

Poole – St Mary

Wimborne Road, Poole, Dorset

A 1970s church of polygonal design, the interior an impressive volume. 

During penal times the only priests in east Dorset were those sheltered at Stapehill and Lulworth. As so often along the south coast it was the arrival of French émigré priests fleeing the French Revolution that benefited the revival of Catholicism at this period. Abbé Pierre Lanquetint started a Mission in Poole in the early nineteenth century. His successor, Abbé Jean Coupé bought a piece of land and built a house and chapel. In 1837 land was bought at West Quay and two years later the church of Our Lady and St Philomena was opened. By the 1960s, despite the subdivision of Poole parish, the mother church was too small to serve the Catholic population of the town. This, combined with the poor condition of Our Lady and St Philomena’s church and the growing industrialisation of the area around West Quay, prompted the acquisition of a new site north of the town centre, off Wimborne Road, close to the junction with Fernside Road. Work began on the new church, dedicated to St Mary, in August 1971, together with a parish hall and presbytery, and the new church was opened on 25 February 1973. The architects were Max G. Cross (who had independently designed Christ the King, Bournemouth in 1965-6) and S. A. Kellaway, of 18 Holdenhurst Road,Bournemouth.


St Mary’s church has the altar facing approximately due north but for the purposes of this description all compass points will be taken on the basis of a conventional east-facing altar. The church is essentially hexagonal in plan but with the two halves of the hexagon interrupted by two further, shorter, sides, for the altar and the entrance opposite (making an irregular octagon). The external walls are a mix of a russet/brown facing brick and vertical textured concrete to define elements on four sides. On the east and west sides there are lower buildings attached and the concrete wall rises from the eaves, with a mono-pitched roof sloping back to the main roof, i.e. wedge shapes, the sides of which are completely glazed. The ‘wedge’ over the altar is much higher than that over the entrance. To north and south similar features are introduced, arranged in a tripartite composition with the shallow outer bays providing additional side lighting and the centre bays for shrines to be placed within the church. Once more the sides of the ‘wedges’ are fully glazed, but here the faces too have a window in the form of a tapering cross and, below that on the north side are three small circular windows. In the intermediate brick-clad areas of wall there are almost full-height windows, arranged mostly in groups of three and four, set within reconstituted stone surrounds with shallow triangular heads. Sacristies and offices occupy single-storey structures grouped around the east end, whilst at the west end there is a chapel and narthex, the latter providing access to both the church and the hall. The main roof is clad in copper felt and has concealed gutters behind a prominent boxed eaves. Apart from the church and close to the entrance stand an open steel bell tower housing a single bell.

The interior is an impressive volume, open to the apex of the roof, with the main structural members exposed and painted white. The upper parts of the intermediate segments have bold triangular coffered panels, whilst the lower parts are lined with timber boarding. The sanctuary is set in one of the shorter additional sides of the hexagon, giving a conventional orientation. The walls are lined with buff facing bricks. The sanctuary is ‘enclosed’ by a plain stepped and canted wall, from which a crucifix (brought from the old church) rises into the ‘wedge’ dormer, bathed in light. The wall conceals the entrances to the sacristies. The sanctuary furnishings are modest and minimal apart from the altar, made up of a black slate rectangular plinth, with Calacata marble top and an angled ‘skirt’. The ambo has an open metal frame in which are hung white marble panels. The entrance, on the opposite side to the sanctuary, has a lobby area beneath a west gallery accessed by an open spiral staircase. The flooring leading from the entrance to the altar is treated in different colour tiles to create the effect of a ladder. The open-backed benches are arranged in four banks, two conventionally facing the altar and two at a radiating angle. Glazed screens separate the Blessed Sacrament Chapel (the stand for the tabernacle is built into the window), the library and the ‘crying room’. There is a small amount of coloured glass and several artefacts brought from the old church.

Heritage Details

Architect: Cross & Kellaway

Original Date: 1973

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed