Building » Portishead – St Joseph

Portishead – St Joseph

West Hill, Portishead, Bristol, Somerset BS20

A small church built to serve a mission founded by French Franciscans. It was designed by the architect-priest Canon Scoles in his favoured lancet Gothic style. The sanctuary retains most elements of a good 1950s reordering.

The mission was founded by French Franciscans who had settled at Bristol. In July 1883 two houses (Claremont and Belle Vue) on West Hill, Portishead, were acquired.  A temporary chapel was built in one of their gardens. The foundation stone for the present church was laid on 16 November 1886 by the Very Rev. Chrysostom, the Provincial of the Franciscan Friars. It was designed by the architect-priest the Rev. (from 1893 Canon) A. J. C. Scoles, who had also designed the contemporary Franciscan church at Clevedon (qv). The church was opened and dedicated by Bishop Clifford on 19 March 1887. The following year, the friars moved to Clevedon from where they continued to serve the Portishead mission until 1906. In 1907, two friars and a lay brother returned to Portishead. 

In 1887, the church had two sacristies, a ‘room for giving instructions’ and other offices behind the altar but it is not clear if these were inside the church. In a photo of 1912, there are two doors in the east wall leading to external sacristies.

In 1909, a stone font was donated by American friends of Fr Vincent. In 1914, a nearby house called Kenfield was acquired for use as the Friary. During the interwar years, marble altar rails and a second-hand organ from America were installed. In 1953-4, the church was repaired and the sanctuary reordered by the architects Whitmarsh-Everiss & Smithies of Bristol. They also built new external sacristies. 

During the post-Vatican II period, the mensa was removed from the remodelled high altar. In 1975, planning permission was granted for an extension. In 1982, permission was granted for the construction of a new sacristy and a new priest’s house (unexecuted). In 1985, the parish passed again into diocesan care. In c.2006, the present hall was built beside the church with a lobby connecting the two (planning permission 2006). The lobby was built using stone from a demolished side porch on the site. At the same time, the grounds were landscaped, a new car park was laid out and a new west door inserted. About two years ago, the west gallery was moved further east to increase the gallery seating and a new stair was built.


The church faces west. The following description follows conventional liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar was at the east.

The church was built in 1886-7 using random local stone with freestone dressings, under a modern tile roof. On plan it is longitudinal, with aisleless nave and chancel under one roof. The flat-roofed sacristy at the east end dates probably from the 1950s. At the west end, the gable has three stepped lancets above a modern glazed entrance. This elevation has diagonal buttresses at the corners. The side elevations have lancet windows alternating with buttresses. The east elevation has two lancets and a small gabled bellcote.

The five-bay interior has an open scissor-truss roof. A modern staircase leads up to the extended west gallery, which has an open arcaded Gothic front (now boarded from the inside). An octagonal stone font is placed at the west end; this may be the font donated in 1909. The current pews are a relatively recent (post-1912) addition, as are the Stations of the Cross. Moving east, the sanctuary has a central stepped platform with a timber forward altar and the remains of the much-altered high altar, now essentially a reredos. The timber riddel posts and screen (a rather High Anglican feature) and suspended painted altar canopy date from the 1950s reordering. An aumbry and piscina are set into the side walls. The wrought-iron lectern was installed in 1942.

Heritage Details

Architect: Canon A. J. C. Scoles

Original Date: 1887

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed