Building » Pwllheli – St Joseph

Pwllheli – St Joseph

Fford Mela, Pwllheli, LL53 5AP

An economical design by Maurice T. Pritchard, built in 1982 and replacing a church of 1926 on the same site. The building is not of special architectural interest but has some good slate furnishings.

The first post-Reformation Catholic chapel at Pwllheli was established in 1879 by Mrs Anne Richardson, a rented tin tabernacle in the garden of a house in North Street. In 1886-7 Fr Henry Hughes, a Catholic convert originally from Caernarfon sought to establish a monastery of the Third Order of St Dominic (of which he was a member) on the site of the ancient monastery of St Tudwal, on St Tudwal’s Islands off Abersoch; he visited Pwllheli each week to say Mass and preach. He died suddenly in 1887 and the monastery plan was abandoned. In 1893 the priest at Pwllheli moved to Tremadoc, which then became the centre of the mission.

In 1903, following an unsuccessful attempt to establish a mission at Blaenau Ffestiniog, Pere Peter Mérour, a Breton Oblate, moved to Pwllheli. Pere Mérour had been sent to North Wales with another Breton priest, Pere Julian Tanter, under an initiative of Bishop Mostyn of Menevia. Convinced of the benefits of Welsh-speaking priests in the Nonconformist heartlands of North Wales, and aware of the feeling of kinship many Welsh people felt for the Breton people, Bishop Mostyn appealed to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (who had established a house at Holyhead) to recruit Breton priests, then escaping anti-clerical legislation in their home country, to learn the Welsh language and minister in the Diocese of Menevia. A number of such priests served in the diocese, until recalled to France at the outbreak of the First World War.

After the First World War, Pwllheli began to develop as a seaside resort town. The tin chapel remained in use until 1926, when Fr Leopold Cunningham instigated the building of a new church on Churnton Street at South Beach. Two years later a presbytery was built alongside. From 1952 Fr Cunningham also said Mass at Butlin’s Holiday Camp in the town and began to raise funds for a new and larger church. However it was not until 1982 that Canon Patrick Crowley was able to build a new church on the same site, employing Maurice T. Pritchard as architect. Soon after its construction a new parish priest Fr Anthony Jones appointed his friend Bill Page, a graphic designer, and Pritchard to design an altar, lectern, paschal candle stand and crucifix, all in Aberllefeni slate and made by John Williams & Co.


The church is a low, wide design, with a concrete frame and faced externally with buff brick and roughcast render, apart from the porch, which is faced with rubble-coursed granite. The roofs are shallow pitched and felt-covered, the window frames timber. A large cross is mounted on the facade, a smaller one on the ridge. 

Inside, the porch is separated from the main worship space by doors and a glazed screen. There is a rough-dressed granite holy water stoup and a slate plaque marking the building of the church by Canon Patrick Crowley and its consecration by Bishop John Ward in 1982. The interior is architecturally functional in character, the floor with carpet tiles and quarry tiles and the walls plastered and painted. The benches are light oak and the Stations of the Cross are in the form of small, engraved slate tablets. A sliding partition in the north wall provides access to the hall space, which can double up as extra space for worshippers, and a short glazed corridor at the west end connects the church to the presbytery. On the south wall of the nave are mounted slate-effect fibreglass statues of Our Lady and the infant Jesus, and St Joseph with the young Jesus. The baptistery is in the southeast corner; the font is of rough-dressed granite with a slate plinth and a black painted wooden cover, the paschal candle stand is adjacent, its stem engraved ‘haleliwia’. The sanctuary is up one step and is lit by three rectangular windows in the east wall. It has a floor of diamond pattern orange and buff quarry tiles, recently fitted. The slate altar has a hexagonal base engraved with the fish and anchor image and an engraved inscription in Celtic script along the edge of the mensa reading ‘ar gair a whaethpwyd yn ghawd’. The lectern and crucifix are also of slate, the wall-mounted tabernacle and sanctuary lamp silvered.

Heritage Details

Architect: Maurice T. Pritchard

Original Date: 1980

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed