Building » Sherborne – Sacred Heart and St Aldhelm

Sherborne – Sacred Heart and St Aldhelm

Westbury, Sherborne, Dorset

A good late Victorian church, if somewhat stylistically old-fashioned. It presents a fine composition to the street. The interior, though not without interest particularly in the sanctuary, is a little austere.

Prior to the establishment of a Catholic presence in Sherborne, Mass was said at Cliffe House (at the junction of Westbury and Marston Road) by a priest from Marnhull. In 1891 Sisters of The Religious of Christian Instruction arrived from Ghent, acquiring a large property on Westbury with the help of a Catholic doctor, William McEnery. They immediately set about building a church and commissioned architect/priest, A. J. C Scoles (1844-1920) to design it. He was the third son of architect Joseph John Scoles (1798-1863) and brother of Ignatius Cory Scoles (1834-1896), who was also an architect turned priest. A. J. C Scoles designed numerous churches in the south west, generally in a mid-thirteenth century Gothic style. His church at Sherborne was complete in 1894. The Sisters then set up a school, St Antony’s Preparatory School for Girls. This closed in 1993 and the site, adjacent to the church, was converted and developed for housing. A large hall was built on the west end of the church in 1998 and in 2000 the interior of the church was reordered by Timothy MacBean of Sherborne.


The church is a fairly substantial L-plan building with the nave for the laity running approximately west to east and, from the sanctuary, the original nuns’ nave running north. In the angle between the two ranges is a two-storey element housing sacristies, organ gallery, nuns’ gallery and other accommodation. A gabled bellcote rises from the east end of the nave. The sanctuary is lower and has a gabled south chapel. All is constructed in rock-faced sandstone with prominent buttresses. The nave has trios of tall stepped lancets, five to the south and three to the north. The westernmost on each side are shorter and have plain chamfered Gothic-arched doorways below. Attached across the west end, the full width of the nave, is the recently-built hall, effectively appearing as a continuation of the church. It is rendered and utilitarian in character. Painted a pale colour it does not harmonise well with the church. The sanctuary east wall has another stepped triplet of lancets, but here treated more grandly with an outer, shafted, order. Statue in a niche above and two further statues in niches set into the diagonal buttresses. The south side of the sanctuary has two single lancets either side of the gabled chapel which has an encircled cinquefoil window, set high up. The nuns’ nave has three two-light windows with plate tracery to the east and a stepped trio of lancets to the north. A further gabled bay attached to the west of the nuns’ nave has a symmetrical west elevation of three-light windows, with flat tops below and pointed arches above, either side of an intermediate staircase window of two pointed lights. Steep roofs throughout, covered in concrete tiles.

The church is entered by a western narthex within the recently built hall. The nave is light and lofty, with painted plastered walls and a panelled canted ceiling. Two doors at the eastern end on the north side lead into sacristies, with a three-bay arcade above to the organ gallery. The sanctuary arch is broad and high with semi-octagonal responds, moulded capitals and moulded arch. The arch is echoed in the east wall of the sanctuary which has an all-embracing arch, providing a recess for a blind arcade, with trefoil heads and marble shafts and decorative cresting across the sill of the east window. Canopied recess over the original high altar. The north and south sides of the sanctuary have impressive arcades of three stepped arches on quatrefoil piers with stiff-leaf capitals, that to the north is open to the nuns’ nave, whilst that to the south is open only in the centre, into the chapel, the outer bays forming a blind arcade in which smaller lancet windows are set in. The timber boarded roof of sanctuary and chapel are pointed-arched, panelled and dark stained. The roof of the nuns’ nave is panelled as the main nave. Elaborate stone and marble altar in the south chapel. The sanctuary has a tiled pavement and a centrally placed octagonal stone altar by David John, belonging to the 2000 reordering. Octagonal stone font on a marble clustered shaft, now placed at the east end of the nave on the north side. Throughout the church there are statues, on brackets, pedestals, window sills and in niches. Stations of the Cross, large painted panels in integral frames. Plain open-back pews. Stained glass in the sanctuary east and south windows.

Entry amended by AHP 03.09.2023

Heritage Details

Architect: A. J. C. Scoles

Original Date: 1894

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed