Alcester - Our Lady and St Joseph

Priory Road, Alcester, Warwickshire B49

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A modest Gothic church of the 1880s by Canon A. J. C. Scoles, built for the Benedictines on land said to have been part of the former grounds of the medieval Benedictine priory. It has lost some of its historic furnishings, but retains glass by Hardman and Wybo of Brussels. The church, attached contemporary presbytery and open setting make a positive contribution to a largely residential part of the Alcester Conservation Area. 

A Benedictine priory was founded about half a mile north of Alcester in 1140. The site was encompassed by the River Arrow to the north and east and by a connecting moat on the south and west, so became known as Our Lady of the Isle. 

The modern Catholic mission at Alcester was established from Coughton (qv). The site for a new church was acquired from Lord Hertford of Ragley Hall in 1887, and according to an 1887 account in The Tablet lay on part of the former grounds of the medieval priory. The church was built for the Rev. J. B. Mackinlay OSB from designs by Canon A. J. C. Scoles; the builder was J. Stanley of Broom. The foundation stone was laid in July 1888 and the church was opened by Bishop Ilsley on 19 March 1889; it seated 180 and cost about £2,000. The building stone was in part brought from the Throckmorton estate at Coughton. A presbytery was built at the same time, linked to the church. A school was built in 1902, which became the parish hall when a new school was built in 1956. The original high altar was by Wall of Cheltenham (who later collaborated with Scoles at St Francis, Handsworth, qv), with a tabernacle door by Hardman & Powell. In 1905 this was augmented by a reredos designed by Hardman & Co., and with carved figures by Roddis and Nourse of Birmingham; it was based on E. W. Pugin’s reredos for Stanbrook Abbey. Both altar and reredos at Alcester were removed in post-Vatican II reordering.  

A modest building with a rectangular aisleless nave, northwest porch and a short sanctuary. Nave and sanctuary are under a continuous pitched roof, with a ridge spirelet at the junction.  The walls are faced with limestone from the Throckmorton estate at Coughton, with dressings of Bath stone.  The roof is covered in red clay tiles.  The west front facing Priory Road has two two-light windows with plate tracery set high in the wall with a niche in the gable containing a statue of St Joseph, over a shelf resting on a colonette with a floriated capital. East of the simple porch the nave walls have four windows, each of two lights with cusped quatrefoil tracery. The sanctuary abuts the presbytery and has a small rose window in the east wall.

The interior has not been inspected, and the following account is based on photographs on the parish website  and other sources. The internal walls are plastered and painted; a previous scheme of polychrome decoration on the walls and ceiling  is no longer in evidence. The nave has a timber west gallery and a canted panelled roof. The pointed stone chancel arch is chamfered and rests on pilaster responds. On the north side of the arch is a stone figure of St Joseph under a canopied niche. There is a corresponding arch in the east wall, framing the rose window. Fittings include stained glass by Hardman and, at the west end, Arthur Wybo of Brussels. The high altar and reredos was removed after the Second Vatican Council, as were the communion rails. Also removed were the rood figures shown over the sacristy door and the figure of the Virgin and Child under a rich Gothic canopy.

Diocese: Birmingham

Architect: A. J. C. Scoles

Original Date: 1889

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not listed