Sefton Avenue, Widnes WA8
A church of engaging character, its striking external form and unified interior lending it a particular quality.
The church was built in 1959 as an offshoot of St Bede’s.
St Pius X is a remarkable building, designed by Felix A. Jones of Jones & Kelly of Dublin. The architects were appointed on the strength of their work of 1957-58 at St Patrick, Newton-le-Willows (qv), which is designed (very differently) in a Romanesque style. The body of the church is built of yellow brick, and is rectangular on plan, with a lower projecting chancel. Yet the design is given distinction by the use of curves: the buttresses that punctuate the walls curve inwards, whilst the pitched roof sweeps down in a gentle curve to the eaves. The side windows form triangles with sides that curve inwards in a continuous radius to join at the top. In contrast, the much larger five-light west window is in the form of a straight-sided triangle and is broken up by heavy reinforced concrete tracery. The doorway below has a flattened concrete pediment, patterned glass leaded lights, and a bright blue mosaic threshold. The oddest feature is the 70 foot (21.5 metre) campanile which is aligned slightly off axis so as to be prominent in views from Birchfield Road. Of impossibly slender proportions, it contains concrete framed belfry slots on all sides.
The interior is more integrated and is indeed very successful. It takes the form of a vaulted undercroft or upturned boat, formed by curved stack-bonded brick arches, unreinforced, that divide the nave into six bays. These spring from the floor, like the side windows, with continuous radii. The arches unify the interior: the sanctuary is defined by a smaller arch of the same form, flanked by arched side chapels. The chancel is shallow and is illuminated by side windows that are hidden from view. In each of the side windows is stained glass with a ruby coloured cross set against a background of fading orange.
The church was built just before Vatican II and the consequent reordering led to the high altar being brought forward and the pulpit being dismantled. The furnishings use a combination of mosaic panels in an art deco spirit, combined with chunky limestone random rubble. Whilst the baptistery is no longer used for baptisms, the original coloured glass and metal screen remains. The pews are of good quality and remain intact throughout.
It is possible that the building was influenced by Bernard Miller’s church of St Christopher, Norris Green in its use of a curved vault, though this church was built almost thirty years earlier. Other possible sources are Scandinavian and German churches of the pre- and post-war period.
Architect: Jones & Kelly
Original Date: 1959
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed