Building » Wakefield – English Martyrs

Wakefield – English Martyrs

Dewsbury Road, Wakefield, West Yorkshire

A neat solution that makes the most of an awkward site to create two large spaces for worship and social use in one building. The style, materials and construction are typical for their date, but the original concept has been altered by the 2000 reordering.

This western suburb of Wakefield began to be laid out in the 1920s and in 1932, a Catholic chapel-school was built, probably by C. E. Fox, with a priest coming from St Austin’s. Five bay unaisled nave, with a northwest porch, small chancel and northeast transverse sacristy. That red brick, slate-roofed building is now solely used as the primary school hall and is still readily recognised downhill (north) of the 1957 church. The chancel is now a chair store and a small office reception block has been added to the nave/hall, facing the 1957 church at the same level as its basement parish centre. The octagonal stone font and marble mensa from that church are now in the front garden of the presbytery, with a time capsule beneath laid by Bishop Konstant in July 1999.

Although the 1957 church is not appreciably larger, it is built higher up the hill with the northern two-thirds over a parish centre at basement level. It was designed by Jack Langtry-Langton, who did much work on Catholic owned buildings in the area. The contractor was Walter West & Sons of Dewsbury and it was designed to seat 250. Soon afterwards the presbytery was built further up the hill, apparently adapted from an original design for two semi-detached houses.

A major reordering was undertaken by Fr Tom Kenny in 2000, inspired by a church he saw in Salzburg. The altar is now on the south wall of the nave (geographic west) with the seating fanned out into the former north aisle. To facilitate sight lines, the cladding was removed from the north arcade. The original chancel arch has been filled with an iron screen with engraved glass and the former southeast sacristy converted for toilets. A reconciliation and resource room has been built in the northwest corner and the former northeast Blessed Sacrament Chapel is now the sacristy.


The church is oriented on a south-north axis to suit the terrain, but liturgical compass points are used throughout this report. The 1932 church is correctly oriented.

Built of mottled red brick with cast stone surrounds to metal windows and wooden doors, English Martyrs combines church and parish centre in one rectangular building, the latter providing a flat floor for the former on this steeply sloping site. The asymmetrically pitched felt roof has its apex aligned to the principal access from the Dewsbury Road, disconcertingly to one side of the solid wood west doors. The single-storey western narthex is angled to cover about two thirds of the west facade, with a deep retaining wall to the north including a staircase down to the lower (basement) northwest entrance to the parish centre. Above is a large raised cast stone cross that decorates the larger blank northern section of the west wall. The three-light west window of the church fills the smaller southern half of the gable apex, filling the gap between the flat roof of the narthex and the sloping eaves.

The west door rises above a flight of steps and is flanked by small square windows, three each side, below which are stone plaques. That to the south is the foundation stone laid by Bishop Heenan on 20 July 1956, that to the north is blank but was perhaps intended to commemorate the formal opening of the church (possibly at Easter 1957). The four bay north nave aisle is lit by a horizontal line of windows below the eaves, three per bay. The south side has much larger three-light windows almost to floor level; there is a large single storey southeast sacristy and boiler house. There are no east windows, perhaps because the wall overlooks the playground.

The narthex contains the original font to the left and a bookcase to the right, before entering the church through glazed doors surrounded with dark red tiles on the nave side. Originally the pews faced east, but since 2000, a small lobby has been created in front of the west door by the erection of a pale brick wall. Behind it is the sanctuary, the wooden altar standing in front of a tall curving plastered brick screen, with two tall, thin ‘windows’ either side of a central crucifix. These are faced with coloured plastic that borrows light form the south nave windows behind, creating the effect of stained glass. To facilitate the sight lines of the south-facing chairs, the angled cladding of the steel posts of the four-bay north arcade was removed and block ‘capitals’ added beneath what are now triangular arches. The original four-cant shape can be seen on the responds and it survives intact on the chancel arch and the arch to the northeast chapel (now infilled around a double-glazed door to the sacristy). The painted steel trusses and purlins of the six-bay roof are visible throughout.

The chancel arch is now filled with a black-painted iron screen with a large central engraved glass panel flanked by an arched entry each side into the new Blessed Sacrament Chapel. The original tall wooden panelled reredos and altar survives; the brick east wall has raised courses. The south door to the original sacristy has been blocked, but the nave door gives access to the toilets beyond. In the northwest corner is a three-sided white painted wall around the resources and reconciliation room installed in 2000. Its glazed panelled door was made from the Japanese oak of the original benches, replaced by chairs in 2000. The church now seats around 200.

Heritage Details

Architect: Langtry-Langton & Partners

Original Date: 1956

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed