Ffynnongroew Road, Rhyl, LL18 1LE
A multi-purpose parish centre of the mid-1970s, incorporating some furnishings from John Hungerford Pollen’s fine predecessor church built by the Jesuits in the 1860s. The architects Weightman & Bullen led the way in bringing modern Catholic church architecture to North Wales, and this is a striking example of ‘long life, loose fit, low energy’ design (as defined in 1972 by the Welsh architect Alex Gordon). The original presbytery of 1865 survives on Wellington Road.
The mission of Our Lady of the Assumption at Rhyl was founded from the Jesuit College of St Beuno at Tremeirchion in 1851. The first Mass was celebrated in a public house owned by Mr Deardon, who was a Catholic, and for some while the congregation consisted of the landlord, his wife and the families of three Irishmen working on the railway. When the Town Hall was built in 1853 the Assembly Room was rented by the Catholic community for use as both a chapel and school. A year later land was acquired and a chapel built to accommodate 150 people. This was expanded in 1859 by the addition of a sacristy and small apse.
By 1862 the town was expanding at a rapid rate and the Catholic community had outgrown the chapel. At this time the mission priest was Fr John Wynne SJ, a member of the Voelas family of Pentrefoelas, whose father agreed to provide the funds for a new church. This was designed by John Hungerford Pollen, who was a member of the circle around Cardinal Newman, for whom he had built the Catholic University Church in Dublin. Work started on 1 January 1863, and the church was completed by the end of that year, the church being opened by Bishop Brown of Menevia on 10 December; the former chapel then became the school. A presbytery was built alongside the church in 1865.
The new church was in the Romanesque style with an apsidal sanctuary and entered through a richly carved porch decorated with a scene of the Assumption of Our Lady supported by angels, and flanked by statues of St Kentigern and St Ignatius. Above the porch was a rose window. Statues of Welsh saints were contained in niches on the outside of the east end. The craftsmen engaged on the church were said to have included the O’Shea Brothers, famous for their work at the Oxford Museum. The interior had notable painted decoration, furnishings and statuary.
In the first half of the twentieth century Rhyl’s Catholic population continued to grow, especially during World War II, when many families were evacuated from the large industrial cities. The school was no longer large enough and was replaced in 1951, the old chapel which it had occupied becoming the parish hall. Pollen’s church had also become too small to contain the visitors who flocked to Rhyl in the summer months. In the early 1970s problems of subsidence, combined with the desire for a more flexible building, led to its replacement. Weightman & Bullen were appointed to build a new church centre that could expand or contract to suit the fluctuating number of worshippers and the need for social facilities. This was opened on 21 December 1975 and cost £127,000. The central part of the high altar was transferred to the new church and other blocks of marble were used in the ambo, baptismal font and Easter candle base. The stained glass from the rose window, which was designed by Pollen and made by James Powell and Sons, is preserved in the Ely Cathedral Stained Glass Museum. The bell was gifted to the church at Gellilydan in Blaenau Ffestiniog.
The building was designed as a multi-purpose parochial centre and consists of a group of four modular units each covered by a pyramidal top-lit roof. The largest of these spaces is the church, which is square on plan and seats 200 people; but by means of moveable sound-proof walls, it is possible to open up the three other modules, which wrap around the church, so as to create larger spaces. This can involve extending the church into the social zone to cater for large funerals or Mass on Holy Days, or alternatively combining the smaller spaces for social events or conferences.
The external walls are faced in light brown brick with recessed joints. There are few windows, but light is admitted through horizontal strips of glazing at eaves level and from the lantern at the apex of each of the pyramids. The roofs are clad in Welsh slate. Fascias are of timber and the rainwater goods are painted aluminium.
The interior of the church is changeable due to the different configurations that can be achieved by moving the panels, but the sanctuary is static, being set in one of the corners of the square with the seating wrapping around it on three sides. The pews are from La Sainte Union College at Southampton and were installed later. Placed centrally on the dais is the fragment of Pollen’s impressive marble altar. Behind the sanctuary is a Chapel of Rest and a small sacristy. The original Stations of the Cross are depicted in stained glass within the clerestory windows. One other item designed by Pollen survives and is used on special occasions. This is a baptismal shell, which was taken by Fr Wynne to the Holy Land, where it was blessed beside the Red Sea and in Jerusalem.
Architect: Weightman & Bullen
Original Date: 1975
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed