Building » Wolverton – St Francis de Sales

Wolverton – St Francis de Sales

Radcliffe Street, Wolverton, Bucks

A small mission church of the 1860s, possibly built to double up as a school, with attractive and somewhat ‘Rogueish’ Gothic detail. It is hidden away in a back alley behind the slightly later presbytery. The site lies at the heart of the early development of the railway town, now designated as a conservation area. The interior contains a remarkable recent scheme of mural decoration.

Wolverton  is  a  railway  town.  The  Stephensons’  London  &  Birmingham  railway opened in 1838, with an engineering works established at Wolverton.  A permanent station was built and Stratford Road laid out in 1840, with Radcliffe Street laid out in 1860. A grid of streets was developed, with plots sold off by the railway company for private development, mainly for terraced housing.

A  mission was established  at  Wolverton in 1864, serving  not  just the expanding railway town, but a sizeable portion of Buckinghamshire north of Aylesbury and parts of Bedfordshire. In due course it became the largest parish in the Diocese (it is now said to be the smallest). A sizeable plot was obtained on the corner of Stratford Road and Radcliffe Street and the present church built at the rear of the plot, giving onto a back alley. The church was opened on Trinity Sunday, 1867. According to Chambers, the original building accounts refer to a school, so the building may have been intended as a dual purpose structure. The cost was £855. The name of the architect is not known. The red brick priest’s house is at the front of the plot, and was built in 1871.

In 1902 a new altar and screen were installed, the gift of the brother of the then resident priest, Fr Garnett.

In 1958 a baptistery (now used as a confessional) and entrance porch were built on the  south  side  of the  church,  and  it  was  presumably  at  this  time  that  the  main entrance on the west front was bricked up.

The church was consecrated by Bishop Grant in 1981.

A large mural scheme at the east end marks the Millennium.

The church is orientated north-south, but this description follows conventional liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar faced east.

This is a small and typical ‘railway mission’ church, built in 1867, of red brick laid in English bond with blue brick and stone detail and a slate roof. Its main elevation faces towards a back alley and has a boldly detailed Early Gothic central entrance (now bricked up) with Gothic stone surround with trefoils in the spandrels and three finials in the stone hood. Above this is four-light west window with a central transom and ‘Rogueish’ tracery details above. Polychromatic effect is given by the red blue brick arch over the window, and blue brick kneelers in the gable and inset crosses on either side of the original entrance. A modern garage building abuts the northern flank elevation, and there are no windows on this side. The south elevation gives onto the presbytery garden; there is a modern (1958) flat roofed porch and slate-roofed polygonal baptistery extension in contrasting brown brick giving off the  church  at  the  west  end,  and  paired  mullion  and  transom  windows  in  the remaining bays. The east elevation (photo top right) faces towards the presbytery and has a ground floor lean-to housing a sacristy, a central chimney breast rising to a stack, flanked by paired Gothic windows, the use of stone and red and blue brick giving a polychromatic effect.

The interior consists of a single space of seven bays under an open timber roof, with a west gallery. Its most remarkable feature is the highly colourful mural scheme at the east end, dating from 2000. This occupies the entire east wall, and an as yet uncompleted scheme depicting the Last Supper extends to the north wall. The elaborate Gothic timber altar and reredos dates from 1902. Figures under canopies on the reredos are Pope St Gregory, St Peter and St Thomas Becket, while those on the altar front (now separated from the reredos to allow for westward celebration) are St Francis de Sales and St Edmund. Above the reredos, the stained glass windows date from 1948 and are in memory of parishioners killed in the Second World War. They depict St George, Christ the King, Our Lady Queen of Peace, St Francis and St Bernard, and were made by Ernest R. Twining of the Bristol firm of Joseph Bell and Son.   At the west end the gallery is supported on timber posts and has a trefoil arcaded front and a projecting canted central bay. The nave seating consists of (probably imported)  oak  benches  with  attractive  panelled  ends.  There is  a small timber pedestal font under the gallery.

Heritage Details

Architect: Not established

Original Date: 1867

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed