Upper Bolton Brow, Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire
A church of some architectural character and interest, although relatively plain beyond the architectural display of the façade and tower.
The growth of the Calderdale valley mills in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century brought many Irish Catholic immigrants to the area and boosted the development of Sowerby Bridge on the banks of the River Calder one mile east of the historic settlement of Sowerby. In 1896 a mission from Halifax was established at Hebden Bridge (about six miles up the valley) and for a year Mass was said in a rented mission room in Hollins Mill Lane at Sowerby Bridge. This was discontinued in 1897 with the opening of a church at Luddenham Foot, just two miles away. In 1908 Mass was once more said in Sowerby Bridge, first in an old mill in Wharf Street and then in a room within the Victoria Assembly Hall in Bolton Brow.
In 1918 Underbank Hall was acquired for £1,550. This property, set in extensive grounds, became the site of the present Catholic church in Sowerby Bridge. The hall occupied grounds bounded by Upper Bolton Brow and Pye Nest Road. At first Underbank Hall was modified and partly converted to the presbytery and partly demolished, with the stone being used for the building of the first church (opened on 13 October 1920), later the church hall. Sowerby Bridge became a parish in 1921 and the present church, costing about £7,000, opened on 16 October 1934. The architect, Richard Byrom, designed a number of Catholic churches including (according to his son, a partner of Byrom, Clark Roberts), St Ethelbert’s, Bolton, Guardian Angels, Bury, St Bede’s, Bury, St Mary Clayton-le-Moor, Holy Family, Kirkholt, Rochdale and the Catholic church at New Springs, Wigan. The church at Sowerby Bridge may have been his first church design. In 1983-5 the church hall and presbytery were rebuilt and a date stone of 1724 is reset above the entrance to the presbytery.
The church has the altar facing north but in this report all references will be to conventional orientation, i.e. as if the church faced east.
The church is built of local stone under a slate roof and is generously scaled befitting its site. Long nave with large round-arched windows between shallow buttresses and a canted apse with smaller high-level round-arched windows. Engaged northwest tower of stepped profile and with pyramid roof rising just above the apex of the west gable of the nave. The tower has distinctive fenestration with small round-arched windows of diminishing number up the tower, three, two, one and then a two-tier bell stage, the lower with three-light square-headed openings and the upper with low four-light round-arched openings. The round arches are of early Romanesque character with cushion capitals. The west elevation is treated grandly with a giant round arch. Recessed within it is the square-headed entrance with small round-headed windows to either side and a triplet of three large round-headed windows above. In the tympanum, a mosaic incorporating a pelican. Pairs of two-light Romanesque style windows to either side. Foundation and dedication stones on either side. Unsurprisingly the show is reserved for the west front.
The interior is largely unadorned and perhaps a little austere. Plastered walls apart from the emphatic rhythm of the round-arched wall arcade picked out in red brick (perhaps indicative of an intention to add aisles if required). Canted boarded ceiling. Plain round arch to the much lower and smaller sanctuary. West gallery with porches and the former baptistery below. The sanctuary furnishings date from a post-Vatican II reordering. The sanctuary itself is stepped and carpeted. Open-backed pews. Original lantern-type light fittings of faintly Art Deco design. Pictorial stained glass window in the former baptistery and in the main west window; decorative coloured glass patters in other windows. Octagonal stone font with carved circular panels, set on a cylindrical stem. Carved wooded Stations of the Cross set within painted frames.
Architect: Byrom & Noble
Original Date: 1934
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed