Building » Southampton – St Boniface

Southampton – St Boniface

Shirley Road, Shirley, Southampton, Hampshire

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One of several churches in the diocese by the Preston-based architect, Wilfrid Clarence Mangan. Mangan was an enthusiast for round-arched, predominantly Byzantine, styles, which were highly popular for Catholic churches between the wars. Extravagant brick detailing is often a feature of these churches. St Boniface is a work of considerable originality in its detailing and its Byzantine style is most attractive and unexpected in a 1920s suburban high street.

The Catholic mission at Shirley was founded in 1902 with Mass said first in a cottage and soon after in a tin church. The plot of land for the present church was purchased in 1919 for £1,200 and the present church was opened on 26 October 1927. The architect was Wilfred Mangan of Preston and the builder, Jenkins of Southampton. Drawings in possession of the parish are dated 23 February 1925 and signed by Mangan. The church was sensitively reordered by R. Sawyer of Winchester in 1967-9.


The Buildings of England Hampshire volume says of the church ‘Expensive neo-Byzantine with heavily-laden brick exterior’. Nave with prominently projecting transverse gabled bays, three to each side, the gables encrusted with ridge tiles and pantiles, a most unusual feature. Similar paired bays form transepts. Octagonal lantern over the crossing with a circular window to each face and a hipped roof of two pitches. Polygonal sanctuary. The liturgical west front is a tour de force in miniature. Slender tower to one side, turning into an octagon and topped with a roof similar to that of the crossing. Apsidal projections on either side. The centre part of the front is treated with a pair of modest towers with pyramid roofs either side of a central gable. Below this a round-arched recess forming a kind of open porch with a three-bay arcade across the lower level on which stands a more than life size stone statue of St Boniface by David John, a replacement of 1954 after the original oak statue disintegrated. Lunette window set within the arch. In the re-entrant angle to either side a quadrant porch with paired doors under a round arch, the tympanum filled with decorative brickwork. Decorative brick and tile work is the leitmotif of Mangan’s exterior. The bricks used are sand faced multi-coloured bricks from Daneshill, Basingstoke.

The interior is a little claustrophobic, with transverse tunnel vaults interrupted by canted beamed ceilings. The tunnel vaults are pierced by tall arches relating to the transverse projections. Plain paired round arches to the intermediate bays. Passage aisles with a sequence of round arches. Only the crossing, beneath the octagon, opens up with paired arches into the transepts, beneath a single blind super arch. The two bays of the transepts are groin vaulted. Round arches into the sanctuary, the crossing arch wider and taller than the inner arch opening into the polygonal end. Elaborate cornicing with details picked out with gilding.

The original furnishings survive throughout. Extravagant use of coloured marble in the sanctuary, as at Mangan’s church in Newbury. The high altar has been moved forward (by Messrs. Vokes & Beck, masons of Winchester) but the round-arched reredos remains behind with a stepped arrangement of arches and the tabernacle set in front of a baldacchino over a crucifix. Communion rails of steel and brass set between square black marble piers. Steel and brass also the ambo and reading desk. Side chapels with marble altars, reredos with saints in niches. Cylindrical marble font. The marble and mosaic work was executed by Marchetti Ltd of Portsmouth. Good joinery, pews, gallery with screen below and doors throughout with brass furniture. Apart from the oak block floor and the Austrian oak entrance doors the joinery is executed in British Columbian pine. An organ was installed in the early 1930s and was enlarged and moved to its present position on the gallery in 1975.

Entry amended by AHP 03.09.2023

List description (the church, boundary wall and railings were listed in January 2021)


Summary: Roman Catholic church, opened in 1927, designed by WC Mangan, including boundary wall and railings.

Reasons for Designation: The Roman Catholic Church of St Boniface, including the boundary wall with railings, Southampton, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest: * it is an exuberant and well-detailed composition, with a variety of forms providing interest to the elevations and particularly to the principal front where the elegant bell tower is a prominent feature; * the contrasting bricks and tiles have been used to very good effect, creating a variety of decorative motifs, warm colour palette and rich textures; * it retains many of its original internal fixtures, including good-quality joinery and elaborate marble work.

Historic interest: * it is a good example of the work of Wilfred Mangan, a notable early-C20 church architect who was responsible for several designs for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth.

History: The Catholic mission in the former village of Shirley, Southampton was founded in 1902 with Mass said first in a cottage and soon after in a tin church on Foundry Lane. A plot of land on Shirley Road was purchased for the parish in 1919 and the architect WC Mangan was brought in to design a new church in 1925. The builder was Jenkins and Sons of Southampton. Some of the joinery was undertaken by Robert Thompson, also known as the Mouseman of Yorkshire, and his signature carved mouse motif can still be found on the interior of one of the side-doors within the west-end porch. The church opened on 26 October 1927. In addition a detached presbytery, also designed by Mangan, was built in the south-east corner of the plot and a parish church hall was built to the north-east.

Soon after the church was completed, the location of the confessional, originally within the narthex either side of the west door, was deemed unsuitable; it was converted into cupboards and the confessional between the south aisle and the vestry; later an additional confessional was built in a bay off the north aisle. In 1969 the sanctuary was re-ordered in accordance with the liturgical requirements arising out of the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, with the high altar being brought forward. The work was overseen by R Sawyer of Winchester and undertaken by the Winchester firm of masons Vokes and Becke. In late 2019 the church was subject to an act of vandalism, including extensive damage to the reredos, which is currently (2020) undergoing repair.

Wilfred Clarence Mangan (1884-1968) was born and based in Preston, he also had an office in Southampton Street, London. He was in partnership with his brother James Henry Mangan from around 1920 until 1926. Wilfred was amongst the most prolific inter-war and post-war Roman-Catholic church architects in the country. His other works include the Church of English Martyrs Tilehurst, Reading (1915-1926, Grade II), the Chapel of St Margaret, Canning Town, London (1929-1930, Grade II) and the Church of Our Lady of Willesden, Brent, London (1930, Grade II).


Roman Catholic church, opened in 1927, designed by WC Mangan, including boundary wall and railings.

MATERIALS: the church is constructed of sand-faced multi-coloured bricks from Daneshill, Basingstoke, laid to Flemish bond, with brick and clay-tile detailing; areas of the brickwork have been replaced. The windows have leaded glazing. The roofs are covered in pantiles.

PLAN: the church is orientated on the cardinal points, north-east (sanctuary) to south-west (nave). The south-west end is flanked by apsidal projections, one of which incorporate the bell tower. Behind, the nave is flanked by three projecting side-chapel bays. The transepts are made up of paired projecting bays and over the crossing is an octagonal lantern. There is a vestry attached to the south-east. The polygonal sanctuary is at the north-east end. The rest of description of the building is made using the liturgical points.

EXTERIOR: the church is built in a neo-Byzantine style. The west porch has a large central recessed arch. It includes a three-bay arcade with stone pillars topped by decorative capitals which support arches with tile voussoirs. Above this is a life-size stone sculpture of St Boniface, a replacement of 1954 after the original oak statue disintegrated. Beyond the arcade is a double-leaf entrance door and above is a large semi-circular window within a brick and carved-stone arch. Either side of the porch are brick pilasters with recessed windows and topped pyramidal roofs; the porch is topped by a pediment with a tympanum filled with decorative brickwork and corbelling. Either side of the pilasters are curved side entrances with double-doors topped by arches within which are cruciform motifs. The west front is flanked by apsidal projections, one of which includes the bell tower. The square base of the tower includes a blind niche, with windows above; at the top it becomes an octagonal shape with oblong tile-grate openings, and it has a two-tiered roof with metal cross finial. Along the side elevation, the gable ends to the projecting bays and transepts have pantile coping and round-headed windows, as well as tile bands. There are stepped corbels to the bay returns and along the side elevations of the nave. Between the side bays are the lean-to nave aisles, with small round-headed windows. The octagonal lantern above the crossing is lit by oculi; it is topped by a two-tiered roof, similar to the bell tower, and a metal cross finial. The polygonal east end has two small round-arched windows and the roof is topped by a further metal cross finial. Attached to the south side of the east end is a brick ventilation shaft and at the base is a set of steps and door leading to the basement boiler room. Attached to the south side of the church is the flat-roof vestry with two external entrances and several round-headed windows.

INTERIOR: beyond the west porch is the narthex which is entered through the main doors and a set of modern internal glass doors. Either side are the side entrance, one of which includes a small mouse carving on the inner face, a signature of the joiner Robert Thompson. The narthex has a tiled floor, includes cupboards, a small shop within the former baptistery and the stairway that leads up the bell tower and the raked gallery. Below the gallery is a timber and glass screen with doors which lead into the nave. The nave’s ceiling has barrel vaults which are interrupted by canted beams. The vaults are punctuated by tall arches that align with the side chapels either side of the nave, and lower arches provide access to the aisles. The crossing sits beneath the octagonal lantern; pairs of arches within larger blind arches provide access to the north and south transepts. The capitals of the pillars that surround the crossing and the cornicing to the rest of the church have decorative details picked out with gilding. The sanctuary is decorated by marble with mosaic detailing executed by Marchetti Ltd of Portsmouth. The communion rail, consisting of black-marble posts linked by steel and brass railings, is in front of a set of steps which lead up to the high altar (moved forward in 1969), supported by a pair of quatrefoil legs. Behind is the round-arched reredos with a stepped arrangement of arches and the tabernacle set in front of a baldacchino over a crucifix. Either side of the altar is a steel and brass ambo, and reading desk. Flanking the sanctuary are side chapels with altars, reredos and decorative floors. Within the south transept is the cylindrical marble and timber font (moved from the former baptistery in the narthex at an unknown date). Against one wall is a stained glass window within a timber light box which is believed to have come from the former tin church on Foundry Lane; it was installed in the current church to mark the centenary of the founding of the Roman Catholic parish. The church windows have simple stained glass designs, and the church retains much original joinery including pews, gallery rails with screen below, and doors with brass furniture. The main floor of the church is oak block, while the entrance doors are Austrian oak; the rest of the joinery is executed in British-Columbian pine. An organ was installed in the early 1930s, and was enlarged and moved to its present position on the gallery in 1975. Beyond the south transept are the vestry which retains further original joinery with brass furniture and inbuilt cupboards.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: on the north side of the church forecourt is a tiered brick wall with decorative brick-work and tile detailing; originally there was a symmetrical brick wall on the south side which has since been removed. Attached to the surviving wall is a set of metal railings decorated with small cruciform motifs and interrupted by brick piers.

The rear (east) section of the brick boundary wall is not included in the listing.*

* Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the rear (east) section of the brick boundary wall is not of special architectural or historic interest; however, any works which have the potential to affect the character of the listed building as a building of special architectural or historic interest may still require LBC and this is a matter for the LPA to determine.


Books and journals: Pevsner, Nikolaus, O’Brien, Charles, Bailey, Bruce, Lloyd, David W, The Buildings of England: Hampshire (South), (2018)

Other: Architectural History Practice, Taking Stock report for the Roman Catholic Chuch of St Boniface, Diocese of Portsmouth, 2007; Guly, Maureen. St Boniface’s Church, Shirley: Parish Memoirs. Ringwood: Diocese of Portsmouth, 1990

Heritage Details

Architect: W. C. Mangan

Original Date: 1927

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II