Ashtead and Vauxhall - St Vincent de Paul

Francis Street, off Nechells Parkway, Birmingham B7

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A strong design from the time of the Second Vatican Council, with good furnishings by Hardman Studios. Had the intended campanile been built, the church would have formed more of a landmark from Nechells Parkway. 

In 1883 the Rev. Mgr J. O’Hanlon, who had charge of the mission of St Joseph, Nechells (qv), opened a new mission in Great Brook Street. A school was built there in 1884, its hall serving as a chapel for Sunday Mass. In 1931 a new school was built in Vauxhall Grove, where again the hall doubled up as a chapel. That building was damaged by enemy action in April 1941. Initial designs for the present church were prepared by Louis Hayes of S. N. Cooke & Partners in 1964. This was at the time of the Second Vatican Council, and correspondence between Archbishop Dwyer’s office and the architect displays the concern of the Archbishop (who was in Rome attending the Council) that the design should respond to emerging liturgical needs, as well as be economical. The presbytery was built first, and was completed in 1965. Construction of the church started in 1967 and the completed building was opened by Archbishop Dwyer on the Feast of St Vincent de Paul, 29 July 1968. The original design allowed for a campanile, to be built as a third phase. This was encouraged by the council’s planning officer, who wanted a traditional design, but was regarded by the Archbishop as ‘an expensive way of spending money’; it was not built. The church was designed to seat 500 people, with space for about thirty more in a separate day chapel. Most of the new furnishings were provided by John Hardman Studios.

A modern church of steel frame construction, faced externally with golden brown and silver-grey bricks laid in stretcher bond, with ring beams cast in concrete, faced with precast concrete panels. The building is roughly square on plan, with projections for a narthex at the entrance and for the altar at the opposite end, and with an octagonal baptistery adjoining the entrance. The baptistery is built from precast concrete panels with exposed aggregate. The main entrance is on the central axis, and placed over it is a large mosaic panel depicting scenes from the life of St Vincent, by Hardman Studios (photo bottom left). At the opposing end, attached to the gable wall facing Nechells Parkway, is a large iron cross.

The spacious narthex is separated from the main spaces by glazed screens, allowing views through to the nave, sanctuary and baptistery. The main worship area is a single square space, combining nave and sanctuary. To the left of the sanctuary is a meeting room, originally designed as a day chapel, also separated from the church by a glazed screen. The sacristies are placed at the ‘west’ end of the church, within which area a small weekday chapel has been formed. This area is linked to the presbytery. The main space has plastered walls apart from the main structural verticals, where the brick cladding is left exposed. The floors are carpeted (originally asbestos vinyl tiles in the nave, blue quarry tiles in narthex and side chapel, ceramic mosaic in the sanctuary). The sanctuary floor, and the blue glass sunken mosaic floor of the baptistery (which remains visible) were made by the Anglo-Italian Marble Co. Ltd. The acoustic ceiling of the main space is covered (or was originally covered) with asbestolux sheets, while the ceilings in the side chapel (now meeting room) and baptistery have white faced insulation boards and tiles.

The altar (which has been replaced) was placed so as to allow for both eastward and westward celebration of the Mass. The tabernacle was and is placed against the ‘east’ wall, and over this hangs a gold-sprayed glass fibre statue of the Triumphant Risen Christ, by Hardman Studios.  The original communion rails around the sanctuary have been removed, but the arrangement of seating around three sides of the sanctuary remains (although the number of pews has been reduced as Mass attendance has fallen).  The windows in the church and baptistery are abstract coloured glass designs in antique and hand-made glass, by Hardman Studios. The baptistery retains at its centre an octagonal Cornish granite font of plain design (photo bottom right). Other furnishings of note include a statue of St Vincent, designed by G. B. Cox and brought here from St Chad’s Cathedral (Scarisbrick) and two fine paintings by Neil Harvey depicting scenes from the life of St Vincent, dating from the 1990s (see also his work at Our Lady and St Brigid, Northfield, Birmingham, qv). 

Diocese: Birmingham

Architect: Louis Hayes of S. N. Cooke & Partners

Original Date: 1968

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed