Ashley - Our Blessed Lady and St John the Baptist

Church Road, Ashley, Staffordshire TF9

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A delightful and highly individual piece of early nineteenth-century church-building, designed by the Rev. James Egan. It can be seen as a companion piece to his later and even more extraordinary church of Holy Trinity, Newcastle. The lean-to addition on the (liturgical) south side somewhat detracts from the appearance of the church.

Mass centres were established by Jesuits at The Rudge and Gerards Manley from 1760. In 1789 Mass was said at the house of Mr Brown, a farmer at Napely Heath, by the French émigré priest, Abbé Louis Martin de Laistre. In 1791, soon after the passing of the Second Catholic Relief Act, the Rev. Thomas Howel (sic) of Swynnerton registered a house-cum-chapel at Ashley and dedicated it to St John the Baptist. Then in 1795 Abbé de Laistre was able to build a house-cum-chapel in the village.  After his death in 1813 Ashley was served from Swynnerton.

The present church, built on land donated by Rachel Caulkin, was designed by the Rev. James Egan (cf. Holy Trinity, Newcastle, of some ten years later) and was opened on 18 October 1823 with a dedication to St Bridgit (the present dedication was settled on in the 1830s). Fr Egan was to serve as resident parish priest from 1825 to 1829, when he left for Newcastle-under-Lyme.

The lean-to on the (liturgical) south side appears to be a later addition (possibly 1954), and is not particularly sympathetic with the original design.  Other changes have included:

  • 1901: Replacement of the original (1823) stained glass windows with frosted glass
  • 1944: Replastering of the interior following an outbreak of dry rot
  • 1952: Renovation of the Lady Chapel and its rededication to Our Lady of Walsingham. Also about this time new benches were installed, the sanctuary enlarged and the plaster ceiling decorated
  • 1962: Anticipating the changes of the Second Vatican Council, the sanctuary steps and altar rails were removed
  • 1966: The entrance porch on the (liturgical) north side was made into a baptistery and the original castellated porch at the (liturgical) west end rebuilt in a larger, gabled form.
  • c1988: Opening up of the lean-to side addition at the (liturgical) east end to provide more space for the congregation, facing towards the sanctuary. At the same time the presbytery was extended
  • 2006: Extensive English Heritage grant-aided repairs carried out under architects Wood, Goldstraw & Yorath of Hanley, including new windows and stained glass, made by Goode & Davies, which was installed in the high level lights.

Since 2003 the church has been served from Clayton (at the time of writing the presbytery is unoccupied, but it is intended to be let).

The list description (below) describes the building at the time of listing (1985). Since then, the concrete tiles mentioned in the list entry have been replaced with Welsh slates as part of the renovations of 2006. It describes the entrance porch as flat-roofed, whereas it has a pitched roof. 

The writer of the list entry was understandably perplexed by this extraordinary design, referring to ‘Moorish Gothic’ and adding, with considerable understatement, ‘The complex presents a somewhat bizarre impression, reminiscent of North Africa or southern Spain, not common in north-west Staffordshire.’ For Pevsner, however, a southern hemisphere feeling suggested itself; he said this ‘lovable little building [is] so naïve that you would expect it in some dorp in South Africa rather than in Staffordshire.’ How Fr Egan came to alight upon such a design, or indeed that for his much more ambitious Newcastle church, is, to say the least, a puzzle, but the results are remarkable. The horizontal bands on the entrance front can be seen as modest precursors to his treatment of the west front at Newcastle.

As the list description points out, inside the church only the ceiling and western gallery are original. The other furnishings are twentieth or early twenty-first century in date, and not of particular note. 

LIST DESCRIPTION:

List entry Number: 1029839

Grade: II

Date first listed: 14-May-1985

 

SJ 73 NE LOGGERHEADS C.P CHURCH ROAD (north side) Ashley 9/4 Church of Our Lady and St John the Baptist and No.75 (Presbytery)

 

II

 

Roman Catholic church and attached presbytery. 1823 with later additions and alterations. Stuccoed brick with concrete tile roof to church and clay tiles to presbytery. Moorish Gothic style. Aligned north-west to south-east. Church: 3½ bays divided by buttresses with 2 pairs of pointed windows under curved triangular hoods to each bay; plain horizontal and toothed brick bands above and below windows and also to eaves; plain gabled 'south' porch in first bay from 'west', 'Ritual West' front: 3 pairs of pointed windows (as on 'south') underneath castellated parapet with 2 bands of narrow, pointed blank arcading; C20 flat-roofed entrance porch in front and to the 'north' a catslide roof extending full length of church.

 

Interior: the only features of note are the original plastered and painted ceiling and the 'western' gallery; all the other fittings and furnishings are late C20.

 

Presbytery: attached to north-west; 2 storeys, 3 windows to 'south' with central one blind, floor band; entrance to rear.

 

The complex presents a somewhat bizarre impression, reminiscent of North Africa or southern Spain, not common in north-west Staffordshire. B.O.E., p.63.

 

Listing NG

Diocese: Birmingham

Architect: Rev. James Egan

Original Date: 1823

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II