Building » Wolverton – St Francis de Sales

Wolverton – St Francis de Sales

Radcliffe Street, Wolverton, Bucks

A small mission church of the 1860s, 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 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 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. The mission priest write to The Tablet (6 July 1867):

‘I am able to announce to your readers the good news of the opening of another Catholic chapel in England, of the establishment of a mission at Wolverton. […] The building, designed by Mr. Gilbert and R. Blount (sic), and intended ultimately as a school, is quite a credit to the architect and our Holy Faith. You may well conceive the delight and comfort of the Catholics of Wolverton, who have now the means of practising their religion without being compelled to resort to the club-room of a public-house, which they have done for two years, and to be annoyed by the stench of stale beer and tobacco, which its late occupants of the Saturday evenings left behind them. This, thank God, we have at length done away with, but it has been at some expense and with a debt now upon us of nearly £300, which is heavy for a new mission’. 

‘Mr Gilbert and R. Blount’ refers presumably to the Catholic architect Gilbert R. Blount. The cost of the church was £855. The red brick priest’s house is at the front of the plot, and was built in 1871.

The intention to turn the building into a school (and presumably build a new and larger church) came to nothing. 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 by Peter Yourell 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 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. The elaborate Gothic timber altar and reredos date 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 & 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. The most remarkable feature of the interior is the mural scheme with trompe l’oeil Gothic decoration and biblical scenes, 2000 by Peter Yourell, with Fr Bernard Barrett advising on the iconography. 

Amended by AHP 25.01.2021

Heritage Details

Architect: G. R. Blount

Original Date: 1867

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed