Building » Wetherby – St Joseph

Wetherby – St Joseph

Westgate, Wetherby, West Yorkshire

A fine modern church of 1986, with furnishings designed by the architect Vincente Stienlet and the sculptor Fenwick Lawson. Centralised worship space, the design and furnishing replete with symbolism. The church is grafted onto an earlier church by Edward Simpson (now the parish hall) and is sensitively designed to fit within the centre of the Wetherby Conservation Area.

During the nineteenth century the small number of Catholic families in Wetherby attended the private chapel at nearby Stockeld Park. Peter Middleton had planned to build a chapel in the town but instead concentrated on endowing the church of St Mary Immaculate at Sicklinghall (qv). In 1872 a chapel was opened over the coach house at Pelham House, in Scott Lane, Wetherby. The congregation increased greatly during this period due primarily to Irish immigration, and in 1881 it was decided to build a new church. The land was donated by Mr Joseph Hirst and the foundation stone laid late in 1881. The church was built by Edward Simpson of Bradford at a cost of £1,200 and opened by Bishop Cornthwaite in 1882. The first priest was Fr Ryan, who by 1929 had cleared the church’s debt of £800. The presbytery was purchased in 1939.

In 1972 the mother parish of Sicklinghall was amalgamated with St Joseph’s. In 1984 planning approval was obtained to build a new church on the site between the old church and the presbytery. The south gable of the existing church was underpinned and substantial internal improvements carried out to the presbytery, including underpinning. The new church was designed by architect Vincente Stienlet and was opened and dedicated on 11 October 1986. The building won the Leeds Award for Architecture in 1987.


The exterior of the church is built of a natural buff-coloured sandstone with a Welsh blue slate roof and leadwork. The main elevation on Westgate has a sweeping slate roof which forms an entrance canopy over the front doors which is itself surmounted by a gable, topped with a galvanised steel cross. Within the gable is set a lozenge-shaped window.

The main doors enter into a full-height narthex, with a closed curved concrete staircase giving access to the balcony. Built to the shape of the irregular site, the church interior was conceived by Stienlet to represent an open-plan large tent. It has a brown carpet symbolising the soil and calico painted walls to represent the fabric of the tent structure. Upon entering, the structure is evident, with a central column with a spread of steel branch roof supports suggesting a tree of life. The ‘trunk’ is clad in green and white granite tiles laid in a fan pattern which represents a spring of water rising from the font at the base of the column. The circular font bowl is carved in polished black Burlington slate by Brian Johnson, with the sunken floor of York stone. A diamond-shaped area of glazing is set into the roof above the baptistery. From the baptistery in a line due east lies the sanctuary, a raised semi-circular area to the rear side wall bounded by two brick-edged steps up to the altar. The altar is of Dunhouse stone, the shape of the mensa reflecting the plan of the church, the base of cast concrete. The tabernacle, by the Welsh sculptor Philip Catfield, was originally placed to the right of the altar but has since been relocated to the left. The roof over the sanctuary is broken, Stienlet says, “…as if a tent awning were lifted at the edge to let natural light fall on the Altar and Tabernacle…”. The side light highlights the elmwood crucifix, carved by Fenwick Lawson and placed on a concrete beam. The expressionistic Stations of the Cross are also by Lawson. The Lady Shrine contains a mosaic by Lawson with an alabaster statue of Our Lady.  The elm and ash pews were designed by the architect. The first floor balcony is dominated by the Celebration Window, designed and painted by Gerard Lawson, depicting at its base the Dales landscape, with the River Wharfe and the crossing of roads at Wetherby which combine to form Christ’s name PX. The centre of the window evokes a monstrance combining yellows and clear glass.

Amended by AHP 22.01.2021

Heritage Details

Architect: Vincente Stienlet

Original Date: 1986

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed