Building » Weymouth – St Joseph

Weymouth – St Joseph

Stavordale Road, Weymouth, Dorset

An idiosyncratic and attractive church design of the interwar years by George Drysdale, a pupil and partner of Leonard Stokes. The church and presbytery were built together, and both are clad in painted brick and roofed in Cornish slate. The tall western bellcote and white painted brickwork give something of the flavour of a Spanish mission church. Otherwise the church has a more basilican character, but with some attractive and quirky Arts and Crafts touches. Despite the regrettable replacement of the church and presbytery windows in uPVC, this is an original design with lots of good detail, which makes a positive contribution to the local scene.    

A mission was established in Weymouth in 1820, when a French émigré priest, Abbé Simon, had rooms at 63 St Mary Street. There was a small congregation whose numbers were swelled by soldiers from the barracks and by Catholic visitors to this spa town, made fashionable by George III.

In 1829, year of Catholic Emancipation, Peter Augustine Baines was appointed Vicar Apostolic to the Western District. Baines had spent most of the 1820s in Rome, and was a great advocate of Romanita and opponent of the Anglicising tendencies of the incipient Gothic Revival. At Weymouth, Dr Peter Hartley was by then in charge of the mission, and was looking for ‘a decent public chapel’ rather than ‘a private room in an inferior situation’. In 1830 he told Baines of his plans for a chapel centrally located in Thomas Street, but this did not prove possible. Instead, in the following year Baines and Dr Hartley found a large site on the turnpike road out of Weymouth to Dorchester.  The classical St Augustine’s church was completed in 1834 (its present grand frontage dates from 1900).

In August 1923 Fr Jules Ketele arrived at St Augustine’s. Ordained in 1902 in his native Belgium, he was one of a large number of priests and religious who left France and Belgium in the early years of the twentieth century in the wake of anticlerical legislation. He came to Plymouth diocese in 1903 and stayed at Bridport for twenty years. Soon after his arrival at Weymouth he set about building a new, more central church in the town. In 1925 he established a Building Fund Committee, funds were raised, and in January 1932 a site was secured. Plans were drawn up by George Drysdale of Russell Square,London WC1 and on 12 April 1933 a contract was let for the sum of £8,489 to a Mr Lacy of Hounslow. The foundation stone was laid on 3 May 1933 (the Feast of St Joseph), and despite protests and a petition from the residents of Stavordale Road, construction of the new church proceeded quickly. The completed St Joseph’s was opened by the Rt Rev. J.P. Barrett, Bishop of Plymouth on 21 April 1934. The Southern Times (21 April 1934) included a copy of Drysdale’s presentation drawing and a description of the building:

‘The new church is built of brick, washed a pinkish cream, and roofed with grey green Cornish slates. The chief features of the exterior design are a lofty bell turret over the west, really the north, gable and a wide spreading copper covered oak hood over the entrance doors. The architectural style of the church might be said to be a free rendering of the Renaissance. In the interior the open timber roof is light grey in colour and the walls cream-coloured plaster, the seating, doors &c being a slightly darker grey. These colour values are heightened by the introduction of small quantities of blue, orange, red and gold. The lighting is by means of clerestorey windows high up above wide arches dividing nave from aisles.  The sanctuary is vaulted, separated from the nave by an arch from the crown of which hangs a circular painted and decorated rood’.

Speaking after the opening of the church the now Canon Ketele gave thanks to a generous donor, who wished to remain anonymous (and who had also presented the Stations of the Cross), as well as the many parishioners who had made smaller contributions. A  presbytery attached to the liturgical east end of the church was part of Drysdale’s design, and after the opening of the church Canon Ketele left the presbytery at Dorchester Road and moved here.

In 1937 a marble high altar was installed (replacing a temporary wooden one), erected in memory of Dr Alfredo Marras, and given by his widow. In 1949 Canon Ketele undertook the building of a Lourdes grotto in the small garden on the north side of the church, as a thanks offering for the church having been spared damage in the wartime bombing of the Dorset coast. In 1951 the parish hall was built at a cost of about £3,800, from designs by the Deputy Borough Architect (Dorset Daily Echo, 7 October 1951). It is built of concrete blocks and brick, with a Cornish slate roof to match those of the church and presbytery.

St Joseph’s is one of only two remaining Catholic churches in Weymouth (the other being St Augustine’s), now united as the single parish of Our Lady Star of the Sea.


The church is orientated southwest-northeast, but this description follows conventional liturgical orientation.

Church and presbytery, 1933-4 by George Drysdale. In a free Renaissance style, with early Christian, Art Nouveau and Spanish mission elements. Painted brick laid in Flemish bond, grey-green Cornish slates to roofs, with some slate hanging to the chancel and west end of aisle walls. PLAN: The church consists of a nave with narthex and baptistery (now repository) under a western choir/organ gallery, narrow circulation aisles and sanctuary. There is a small Lady altar in an apsidal recess at the eastern end of the north aisle and a short corridor leading to a side entrance at the eastern end of the south aisle. The sanctuary arch is flanked by minor altars to the Sacred Heart andSt Joseph. Linked sacristies and presbytery to the east.

The main feature of the exterior is the west front, prominent in many views despite more recent development around the church. A series of flights of plum-coloured brick steps (adapted on one side to create a wheelchair ramp) lead to the main entrance, which has fine black doors with diagonal boarding and mouldings forming a diamond pattern. Above this, leaded fanlight with coloured glass with inset purple and green squares, of Art Nouveau character. The entrance is flanked by deep piers, cement rendered in imitation of stone, and over these projects an oak entrance canopy with heavy consoles and CATHOLIC CHURCH in nice lettering. Over the canopy, and within the recessed central bay, a copper ogee roof sweeps up to a circular window (with replacement uPVC frame) set in an octagonal surround and with carved stone symbols of the Evangelists arranged around this in cruciform pattern. The carvings are in a vigorous modern style, clearly by the same hand as very similar carvings of the same subjects at Drysdale’s Our Lady and St Hubert, Oldbury, West Midlands, also 1934 [These are probably by the noted interwar Birmingham sculptor William James Bloye, who studied briefly under Eric Gill and was Head of Modelling at the Birmingham School of Art from 1919-1956. He would have known Drysdale through the latter’s appointment as Head of the Birmingham School of Architecture in 1924].  Above this, a large IHS monogram and a slightly narrower belfry stage, with carved stone consoles and at the centre a blue and white glazed ceramic Virgin and Child in the style of della Robbia. Beneath this a string course with ceramic fleur de lys, a recurring motif (possibly associated with the anonymous donor, perhaps Lord Ilchester)? The belfry stage is topped by an open pediment housing a single bell and surmounted by a cross. Carved stone or cast concrete blocks on either side of the belfry opening incorporate sacred monograms.

On either side of the main entrance, paired window opening (frames renewed in uPVC) with central mullion and bolection moulded surround of shelly limestone. A brick band with Vitruvian scroll (a running wave motif of Greek origin but here lending a nautical and even Art Deco character) runs the full width of the tower at door head height, returning to the sides. Swept hip and eaves to the nave roof at the west end, hip with tile hung gablet to north aisle, hip to south.

The external walls of the aisles are of plain brickwork, with no window openings. At the east end of the north aisle is a side entrance porch with a raised, hipped roof. Above the aisle, six pairs of round-arched clerestorey windows (frames renewed in uPVC) in cast concrete surrounds. The chancel is under the same continuous ridge but is narrower, the upper part of its recessed flank walls slate hung. Here the windows are more elaborate than those of the nave, with a curved segmental top and tracery lights of Art Nouveau character.  Hipped east end to chancel roof.

The presbytery is attached to the east end of the church. Like the church, it is built of painted brickwork and has a Cornish slate roof. Free domestic style design, with prominent north roof slope, ridge stack and dormers. All of the windows have been renewed in uPVC.

The main entrance leads into a small lobby, from which the original doors have been removed, but over which the original fanlight survives, similar in character to that over the main entrance doors but without the small inset squares. This small lobby leads in turn into a narthex, with no features of special interest. On the right hand side of this (accessible from the nave) is the baptistery (now repository), containing no features of interest apart from the metal gates incorporating a monogram of Christ and the lettering JOHN. The nave is a broad and high space, with an open barn-style timber roof of Early Christian character. Below this, the walls are mainly plastered, except for a low brick ‘plinth’, generally of two courses of plum-coloured brick, running around the perimeter. The unusual nave arcade design consists of a low round-headed arch in the westernmost bay after the gallery, then two broad unmoulded pointed arches occupying most of the length of the nave, and then a further two lower round-headed arches at the sanctuary end, with two blocked paired openings above. Between these on the south side is a low-relief roundel carving of the Virgin and Child, of Italian Renaissance character. At the centre of the nave on each side is a rectangular (on plan) plum-coloured brick pier with a Hornton stone capital, from which spring the two broad arches.  The capitals are incised with sacred monograms, fleurs de lys, KYRIE ELEISON and STELLA MARIS (south side) and STELLA MATUTIN (north side). Above this, the clerestorey windows above are conventionally spaced, not seeking to compete with the dissonance below. The narrow circulation aisles are windowless and have steeply raking roofs with exposed rafters (photo middle right). Round-headed transverse arches give off the three piers, surmounted by crosses. An organ/choir gallery occupies the full width of the western bay of the nave. A round arched opening on the north side (corresponding with that to the former baptistery on the south side) leads to a timber stair giving access to the gallery. Here there is a large organ with an oak case of plain classical design and separate console.  There is a timber cornice and panelled front to the gallery over the central doors from the narthex. Above the gallery the west wall is articulated by three arches, the central one greater and incorporating the central circular window. At the east end of the nave, the large round-headed chancel arch is framed by a flat open pediment and Mannerist panels incorporating varying planes and mouldings. The hanging rood described in the contemporary press report is no longer present, although the hooks from which it hung are still in place.  The chancel has a barrel vaulted ceiling and slightly curved east wall. On either side of the altar, framed openings give access to the back of the gradine and to the sacristies and presbytery. The paired clerestorey windows of the sanctuary are set within the curvature of the barrel vault. On each side these are continued downwards within a sinuously-curved heart-shaped bay containing a shallow recess and pedestal, presumably for a statue.  Below this are two shallow-round arched recesses, those to the east containing cupboard recesses for holy oils and the reserved sacrament, each with a bolection-moulded stone surround.

The nave has a parquet wooden floor, the sanctuary steps (one in front of the chancel arch – the communion rails now removed – and three more up to the sanctuary itself) are of brick, and beyond this are two marble steps up to the altar. Otherwise the sanctuary is carpeted. The 1937 altar is of white marble with a rectangular panel of veined yellow marble; it has been detached from its gradine and moved forward to allow for westward celebration. There are also plain timber altars on either side of the chancel arch and in the Lady Chapel. The nave seating consists of simple pine benches, numbered on the ends and presumably original. The ambo is modern. The plain octagonal stone font is now located at the west end of the nave, to the south of the central alley. There is no stained glass, apart from a dalle de verre crucifixion panel at the east end, donated by the Catholic Women’s League in 1981. The Stations of the Cross are framed rectangular plaster panels, blue and white in the style of della Robbia, and were part of the contribution of the anonymous benefactor.

List description (church and presbytery)


Roman Catholic Church and attached presbytery. Built in 1933-4 and designed by George Drysdale in a Romanesque style. MATERIALS: Brick with dressings of cast concrete and some limestone. The roofs are clad in Cornish slate. The Fenestration has all been replaced in uPVC. PLAN: A linear plan comprising a nave with narthex, baptistery and narrow circulation aisles, and a chancel. The linked sacristy is to south east, and the attached presbytery is on the south side. EXTERIOR: The liturgical west front (north east) has an entrance of paired timber doors beneath a canopy supported on heavy consoles. To either side of the doorway is a two-light window with a string course of Vitruvian scrollwork. The canopy has an ogee copper roof that sweeps up to a circular window set in an octagonal surround with carved stone symbols of the Evangelists arranged around this in a cruciform pattern. Above is a large IHS monogram in relief. The belfry stage is slightly narrower with carved stone consoles and at the centre a blue and white glazed ceramic of the Virgin and Child and is topped by an open pediment housing a single bell and surmounted by a cross. To either side of the bell housing are carved stone or cast concrete blocks which are carved with sacred monograms. The side elevations are of plain, painted brickwork, with six two-light round-headed lancets in the clerestorey. At the east end of the south aisle is a side entrance porch with a hipped roof. The chancel is under the continuous roof but is narrower on its south side. The north and south elevations of the chancel each have a window with Y-tracery set high in the wall. The attached presbytery is built in matching painted brickwork with a Cornish slate roof, in a Free Domestic Revival style with a hipped roof and tall stacks. All the windows have been renewed with late-C20 uPVC frames. Although it forms part of Drysdale’s design, it is unremarkable for a building of this date and is of lesser interest. INTERIOR: A small lobby leads into a narthex with an organ/choir gallery above. Above the gallery, the west wall is articulated by three round-headed arches. The nave is a broad high space with an exposed queen strut roof with additional angled struts. The arcade comprises two broad, pointed arches which are flanked by lower, rounded-headed arches, and are carried on rectangular piers. The central piers are of exposed brick with a stone capital. The narrow circulation aisles are windowless and have steeply raking roofs with exposed rafters. At the east end of the nave, the chancel arch is framed by an open-bed pediment moulding and further moulded panels to the sides. The chancel roof is barrel-vaulted and a curved east wall. Framed openings on either side of the altar provide access to the back of the gradine (a raised step or ledge behind the altar), and to the sacristy and presbytery. There are further decorative mouldings to the side walls of the chancel; framing statue niches and the recesses for the sacrament. The furnishings include an altar of white marble with an inset panel of veined yellow marble dating from 1937, though it has been detached from its gradine and moved forward; an octagonal stone font; an organ of classical design; simple pine pews; and parquet flooring. SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: In the small side garden on the east side of the church is the Lourdes grotto; a war memorial built of rubble stone and surmounted by a statue of the Virgin Mary. HISTORY:St Joseph’s was designed by the architect George Drysdale (1881-1949) who set up in partnership with Leonard Stokes in 1919. After Stokes’ death in 1925 the practice continued as Stokes and Drysdale until 1947.St Joseph’s Church is one of two Catholic churches inWeymouth . A presbytery was built at the liturgical east end of the church, and a parish hall was added beyond the presbytery (south) in 1951. The church has changed little since its construction except for the addition of a marble altar in 1937 which replaced a temporary wooden one, and the erection of aLourdes grotto in the garden in 1949 as a thanks offering for the church having been spared from damage during the Second World War.

SOURCES: A. Derrick, RC Church of St Joseph, Weymouth, Dorset (2008), unpub.

REASON FOR DESIGNATION: The Roman Catholic Church of St Joseph is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * A good example of an inter-war church embodying the late flowering of Arts and Crafts principles combined with Romanesque style * An accomplished and distinctive design executed using good quality materials and demonstrating a high standard of craftsmanship * The retention of original fittings which are generally executed in good-quality materials.

Heritage Details

Architect: George Drysdale

Original Date: 1934

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II