Bitterne Road East, Bitterne, Southampton, Hampshire
A distinctive design and one of the more significant churches of the post-war rebuilding of Southampton. The bell tower in particular is a striking local landmark and it is regrettable that the cost of repairs may lead to its demolition. The interior is mix of contemporary and traditional fittings and furnishings.
*Update: Bell tower now demolished*
Mass was held in Bitterne at the Sisters of Charity Immaculate Heart of Mary convent from 1903. The parish was created in 1944 and the former Congregational church school was purchased for use as the church. The foundation of the present purpose-built church was laid on 30 May 1959 and the church was opened on 4 September 1960. The architects were E.M. Galloway & Partners and the builders Jenkins of Southampton. The cost was £49,000. In 1963 the church came third in an RIBA design award for the best building erected in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight over the preceding six years.
The body of the church is built of brick, a tall rectangular box with a shallow pitched roof and low lean-to aisles. The entrance is up steps to a landing, covered by a canopy which links the church to the six-stage openwork campanile in textured concrete. Just two angled slabs of concrete linked by cross beams, an upper platform for access to the two bells and a butterfly roof. On the rear face the ladder access is enclosed in a striking corkscrew protective cage. The entrance front of the church has the centre part recessed and tiled with a decorative lozenge pattern (a motif repeated on the adjoining presbytery) on which is mounted a cross with equal arms. The low aisles have closely set full-height window slots, contrasting with the expanse of brickwork above only punctured by a row of tiny square windows set high up. On the liturgical south side there are full-height mullioned windows at either end.
The interior was described by Pevsner as ‘impressive, straightforward’, an effect that has been eroded by reordering which has turned the worship space through ninety degrees, placing the altar on a long wall and enclosing the aisle behind to form sacristies etc. This has however had the effect of leaving some of the original sanctuary furnishings intact and in situ. The high level exposed brickwork and timber-boarded roof give an oppressive effect. Painted concrete columns to the aisles and painted underside to the aisle roofs do not offer sufficient relief. Ritual west gallery supporting the organ and over an internal porch, the outer entrance of which has glazed doors, in the form of a patée cross, and glazed screen with etched glass. The ritual east wall is filled by an immense mosaic, in poor condition due to damp penetration. Contemporary fittings include the pews and the cluster light fittings (very redolent of the 1960s), together with more traditional marble sanctuary pavement, communion rails and reading desk, and mosaic Stations of the Cross.
Architect: E.M. Galloway & Partners
Original Date: 1960
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed