Brownhill - St Bernadette

Warren Place, Brownhills, West Midlands WS8

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A red-brick modern single-space church in a large green space that has some architectural presence towards the busy High Street.

From the late 1920s, Brownhills developed as a residential area on the main road to Birmingham serving the local mines and associated industries. On 15 October 1933, Mass was first celebrated in the clubroom of the Warreners Arms and plans made to build a church. Land just off the High Street was donated by Mr Francis George Thorpe of Barbourne Park (on the outskirts of Worcester) and on 30 May 1935, Mgr Canon Cronin laid a foundation stone for a ‘parochial church hall’. It was intended to build a school on the plot, but this came to be built further into the new housing; the presbytery was built in 1964 by J. E. Currall of Sandy and Norris & Partners. In 1975, the building was enlarged to function only as a church and in 2006 a new entrance with WCs and disabled access was built (architectAndrew Capper of Wood Goldstraw and Yorath). 

The church is oriented northeast-southwest, i.e. the altar is at the northeast end. For the purposes of this report, the altar will be assumed to be at the east.

The original dual-function building was a hall, entered from the west, with a short sanctuary that could be entered from the south side sacristy and curtained off from the main space.  The surviving east wall is now rendered, but the brick chimney stack against the north east vestry (also rendered) shows the original red colour of the local brick. The underground boiler house is still in use. There are two thin, square headed windows to the east wall, flanking a raised brick cross; the stone with a St Chad’s Cross in relief is presumably the 1935 foundation stone. The five timber scissor roof trusses are still visible inside the church, the closing trusses at either end with long struts rising from low stone corbels.

The church was widened in about 1975 by inserting steels lengthwise to carry the roof and rebuilding the side walls with tall windows (two north, three south) that interrupt the long roof slopes with their flat roofs. Just two round metal posts stand towards the west end to support these steels. A flat-roofed west porch was also added, which still exists as storage space above the inner entrance. The brick laid in stretcher bond is a rather uniform brown-red colour. The roof is covered with concrete tiles.

In 2006, a large west extension was built by Andrew Capper of Wood Goldstraw and Yorath, architects of Stoke-on-Trent. This has a central social space, with WCs and kitchen to the north. It is built of a brighter red brick with a blue engineering brick soldier course that runs around the large arched west entrance. As the ground falls away to the west, this entrance is now approached up a flight of steps, with ramped access coming round from the north.

The whole interior has white plastered walls and ceiling and is carpeted in blue except for the sanctuary podium (single step) which has a red carpet. However the east wall is ochre coloured and the wall behind the north side chapel of Our Lady is blue. The pointed chancel arch of moulded brick is surrounded by a raised unpainted brick band and the chancel has a six sided panelled wood ceiling. The thin east windows (decorated with coloured acetate sheets) flank a 1937 wood gradine on which stand six Baroque candlesticks. The original south sacristy is now a reconciliation room.

The marble altar was installed in 2013; it came (cut down) from St Peter’s Cobridge (Burslem) and was donated by the husband of the dedicatee Glenys Mary Baird (1942-2013). The 1970s wooden altar it replaced is now the Lady altar. The only coloured glass is the figure of Our Lady over the original west door, now artificially lit as it faces into the roof storage space. The two-colour benches are recent imports. 

Diocese: Birmingham

Architect: Wood Goldstraw and Yorath

Original Date: 1935

Conservation Area: No

Modifications: 1975,2006

Listed Grade: Not listed