Building » Bristol (Shirehampton) – St Bernard

Bristol (Shirehampton) – St Bernard

Station Road, Shirehampton, Bristol BS11

A flint Gothic church of the early twentieth century, extended (but not completed) in contextual style between the wars. An unsatisfactory narthex addition of 1973 was refurbished, and other alterations carried out, in 2010. The church occupies a corner site and makes a positive contribution to the local street scene.  

The opening of Avonmouth Old Dock in 1887 brought an influx of Irish and other Catholic workers to the Shirehampton area. The site for the present church, intended as a memorial to Bishop Brownlow, was acquired in 1901 from the musical ‘squire’ of Kingsweston House, Philip Napier Miles, and the foundation stone was laid by Bishop Burton on 25 September 1902. This was the present sanctuary, designed in Gothic style by E. Doran Webb of Salisbury and seating 65; it opened the following year. The church was served by Friars Minor from Portishead until growth of the parish between the wars led to the appointment of the first resident priest and acquisition of the neighbouring house to serve as a presbytery.

In the 1920s plans were prepared by Sir Frank Wills for the enlargement of the church, with an eight-bay nave with a gallery in the western bay and a porch, baptistery and confessionals giving off. This was in thirteenth-century Gothic style, and was faced in flint from Salisbury Plain (The Tablet). However, only five bays of the nave were completed, and the west end was roughly made good in red brick, with a timber porch. The extended church was opened by the Vicar General, Mgr Lee, on 28 July 1929. The high altar was consecrated at this time. St Bernard’s primary school opened on the adjoining site in 1935; again Sir Frank Wills was the architect.

In 1973 a lean-to narthex was added at the west end and the interior reordered, with the removal of the original high altar and introduction of a forward altar. The church was dedicated by Bishop Alexander on 24 June 1982. In 2010 the narthex was upgraded, with new confessionals and WCs, along with other works of repair and refurbishment. This work (architects: Wrigley Associates) was funded in part by the sale of the site of St Brendan, Avonmouth. The church is now served from Our Lady of the Rosary, Lawrence Weston (q.v.), originally a daughter church, and the presbytery is let.  


A church in Gothic style, 1902-3 with additions of 1928-9, faced in flint with stone dressings and plain tile roofs. The plan consists of a sanctuary (1902-3), aisleless nave, sacristy and Guild Room (1928-9). A lean-to narthex, now housing WCs, flower room and confessionals, was added in 1973.

E. Doran Webb’s chancel of 1902 is lit by high paired lancets at the sides and a larger two-light east window, with quatrefoil tracery and hoodmould. In the gable, a chequerboard pattern of stone blocks set into the flint. Sir Frank Wills’ additions are in matching style and materials, although the east gable wall of the nave has been faced in pebbledash and the west wall of the uncompleted nave retains its red brick facing, intended as temporary. The flank walls of the nave have thirteenth-century style windows, with paired lancets and plate tracery with quatrefoils. The bay divisions are marked by attached buttresses. Straddling the chancel and the nave are the Guild Room (north) and sacristy (south), single storey with hipped tile roofs set behind crenellated stone parapets, and with short grouped lancet windows. The sanctuary is linked to the adjoining presbytery, an earlier (late nineteenth-century) semi-detached villa. At the west end, the 1973 narthex is of reconstituted stone and red brick, with a tile roof. It incorporates re-used doors, presumably of 1928-9.

The narthex leads into a lobby area, with modern WCs, flower room and confessionals. Glass doors of 2010 lead into the nave, a single aisleless space with a timber hammerbeam roof with pierced trefoils, carried on stone corbels.  A chancel arch separates the nave from the carpeted sanctuary. The chancel has a boarded waggon roof.  The most recent reordering dates from 2010 and has left the long sanctuary looking rather bare. The frontal of the retained 1973 forward altar is carved with the Chi-Rho monogram. Other furnishings are of 2010. The stained glass in the east window dates from c.1903, artist/maker not established. At the west end, a polychrome figure of Christus Resurrexit placed on the west wall dates from 1973 and previously hung from the chancel arch. The nave seating consists of open-backed oak benches with shaped chamfered ends, probably of 1928-9. The hexagonal font at the west end has carved roundels on each face and mosaic inlay in the bowl of c.2010. The coloured Stations of the Cross date from 1956.

Heritage Details

Architect: E. Doran Webb; Sir Frank Wills

Original Date: 1902

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed