Building » Port Talbot – St Joseph

Port Talbot – St Joseph

Church Street, Aberavon, Port Talbot, SA12 6LE

An impressive design in the early Christian style, built by the Benedictines to serve a largely Irish congregation. The architect Cyril Bates belonged to a prominent Newport firm which designed many Catholic churches in South Wales. The interior lacks the carved and mosaic enrichment that characterises many interwar churches in this style, but with its round-headed arcades, open truss roof and apsidal sanctuary, is handsome and relatively little-altered. Externally, the campanile is a local landmark within a somewhat blighted setting.

In 1849 Charles Kavanagh OSB (builder of St David’s, Swansea, qv) came to administer to the recently-arrived and destitute Irish Catholic population of Aberavon. Various premises were used for services, including Capel Moriah, a Baptist chapel of 1821 (since demolished) which was leased from 1852 to 1860.

In 1860-62, while Edward Glassbrook OSB was in charge of the mission, a new church/school was erected on the present site. O’Brien states that the architect and builder was John King, a member of the congregation. This was followed in 1870 by a school next to the church.

Philip Kelly OSB was installed as priest in 1905 and during his time a large presbytery was built next to the church (1906, builder John O’Brien), a parish hall (in 1928, builder S. T. Rees & Co., Aberavon, who also built the schools) and finally (in 1930-1) a new church on the site of the old one. The foundation stone for this was laid by Archbishop Mostyn on 11 September 1930, who blessed and dedicated the completed church on 29 October 1931. The church is in the early Christian basilican style, then common throughout England, but less so in Wales (architect Cyril Bates FRIBA, contractors Messrs. Knox & Wells Ltd. of Cardiff). The cost was £12,864.

The church is now served by secular priests rather than Benedictines. Its exterior is largely unaltered, while the main changes to the interior have been the removal of the stone communion rails and nave pulpit, probably at the time of the post-Vatican II reordering undertaken by Canon Edmund Mullins (parish priest 1978-1990).


The list description (below) is extensive, and duplication is unnecessary. The following additional points can be made:

  • The nave space occupies the footprint of the previous church
  • The dressings are of Portland stone
  • The three east windows were dedicated as a First World War memorial
  • The Stations of the Cross were installed in 1951 as a Second World War memorial and were supplied by Burns & Oates
  • Contrary to the statement in the list description, both the northeast and southeast chapels retain their original stone rails
  • The 70ft campanile holds ‘Gabriel’, a 1.5 ton Angelus bell, cast in Dublin by Matthew O’Byrne and blessed by Archbishop Mostyn on 2 September 1931.

List description

Reference Number: 22803
Grade: II  
Date of Designation: 31/01/2000  
Date of Amendment: 31/01/2000  
Name of Property: Church of St Joseph  
Unitary Authority: Neath Port Talbot  
Community: Aberavon  
Town: Port Talbot  
Locality: Aberavon  
Easting: 276215  
Northing: 190004  
Street Side: W  
Location: Fronting the street, which continues as a path to the Aberavon shopping centre. The entrance is to the E and the chancel to the W.  

History: Roman Catholic church of 1930, by F R Bates and Son. Early Christian style with basilican interior. Replacing an earlier church of 1862.  

Exterior: SE tower and campanile, nave, apsidal chancel, N and S aisles and S vestry. Constructed of red brick under slate roofs, with projecting boarded eaves and simple red brick dressings to small round-headed multi-pane windows. The E gable-end facade has a pronounced triangular pediment, with pale stone dressings decorated with modillions and dentils, and surmounted by a cross finial. Central gabled porch of whitened stone. Tapering round columns with cushion capitals support a round arched entrance with panelled soffit. The sides of the porch are open. Plain tympanum over flat-headed doorway containing panelled double doors. The entrance is flanked by single round-headed lights. Above the porch is a large circular window with horizontal and vertical glazing bars. The tower to the L is slightly set back, and has 2 small round-headed windows, one above the other. The upper stage of the tower has pairs of round-headed louvres to each side, all with tile sills. Pronounced Lombard frieze in pale stone supporting a few courses of red brick, above which is a hipped roof with tall finial. To the R of the nave is the lean-to N aisle. Its E end is decorated with a Lombard frieze in red brick, below which is a pair of round-headed lights. The S and N sides have 8 round-headed clerestorey windows above single storey lean-to aisles which continue to the W end of the nave. A flat-roofed bay abuts the S side of the tower, with a single light over a flat-headed panelled door. The S aisle has pairs of round-headed lights, each with a central pier with chamfered angles. Towards the centre of the elevation is a catslide projection, beyond which is a flat-roofed entrance block also containing the vestry. The doorway faces E and is flat-headed with panelled door, R of which is a date stone bearing the name of the architect. The N side has a square headed projection in angle of nave and aisle to the L, then to the R, a pair of round-headed lights, a flat headed porch and then a catslide projection. Further pairs of windows beyond. Projecting from the W gable end is the leaded dome of the apsidal chancel. Beneath the dome are 3 single round-headed lights. Projecting stack to R. The ends of the aisles have smaller leaded domes to apsidal-ended altars, also with single round-headed lights.  

Interior: Basilican interior. Narthex at E end with blind round arches to each side. Three round-headed doorways lead into the nave, with double panelled half-lit doors and overlights with radial glazing. Above is a gallery with 3-panel front supported on 4 moulded corbels. The organ is located on the N side of the gallery. To the L of the narthex front are late C20 double doors leading to a small shop. To the S is a panelled door within a round arch, providing access to the gallery. The nave has 7-bay arcades consisting of tapering round columns with cushion capitals supporting round arches. Clerestorey windows directly above the arches, those to the E end over the gallery, all with deeply splayed sills and pink and yellow stained glass, including IHS and fleur-de-lis motifs. Eight-bay roof to nave; tie-beam trusses supporting semi-circular brace to centre between vertical struts and with further arched braces flanking. The aisles have wood-panelled ceilings and pairs of round-headed lights within large full-height round arches. Each pair of lights share a central pier with chamfered angles, base and capital. Hoppers to bases of windows, pink and yellow stained glass beneath heads. Pairs of round-headed double doors lead out to each side, into the catslide projections, some with blind balustrading to the upper tier. Pews with carved bench ends. Round-headed stoups at intervals around walls. Round moulded chancel arch supported on tall pilasters with short square capitals. Apsidal chancel with cornice continuing from capitals. Stained glass to the 3 lights, of biblical figures, flanked by piscinas. Three-tier stepped altar of dark green and white marble. Table in front of similar marble, faced with 3 panels of dark green marble. These are reached by stone steps. Flanking the chancel are smaller apses containing altars behind plain round arches. To the R is a 3-tier altar to the Sacred Heart, with yellow marble inlay. Piscina in wall to rear. Set in front is a stone altar rail consisting of round-arched balustrading. Offset to the R is an octagonal stone font with incised quatrefoils on a tall stem. No altar rail to L altar. Two doors lead out S into the vestry.  

Reason for designation: Listed as a rare and unaltered example of the Early Christian style in early C20 Welsh architecture.  

Heritage Details

Architect: F. R. Bates & Son

Original Date: 1931

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II