Bulkington - Our Lady of the Sacred Heart

Weston Lane, Bulkington, Warwickshire CV12

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A modest 1869 brick church with stone detailing reminiscent of William Burges and with excellent stained glass by W. Gualbert Saunders, architect of the church (who worked with Burges). 

Weston-in-Arden is one of three outer hamlets of the ancient settlement of Bulkington, sited to the northwest. In 1842, the owner of Weston Hall, Richard Brome de Bary was received into the Catholic Church with his family and created a chapel in an upstairs room. It was served by Dominican fathers from Hinckley until 1854, when Fr Peter Sablon OP took up residence at the hall and served Weston and Nuneaton. The mission is considered to have formally started in 1849, the date of the first register and baptism.

In 1869, Richard Lerins de Bary, son of Richard Brome de Bary, commissioned his brother-in-law, the stained glass maker W.Gualbert Saunders, to design a new church, sited just beyond the approach to the hall. Saunders had trained with the architect William Burges and was to make many stained glass windows for him until he retired in 1880. A presbytery was built soon afterwards and the first burials were nearer to this than to the church.

The de Bary family left the hall around 1880 and it became a boys’ and then a girls’ school; later it became a care home and it is now a hotel. The parish was served first by Franciscan fathers from Nuneaton (four miles north) and then from 1888 by Premonstratensian canons from Bedworth (three miles west). In 1891 they built the small dependant chapel at Wolvey, three miles to the east of Bulkington. The presbytery was let from this time until the arrival of the Rev. J. B. Hickson in 1928, appointed by the archbishop. He celebrated the diamond jubilee of the church in 1929 which occasioned a refurbishment of both presbytery and church.

The Rev. Terence Smith (1966-72) brought in changes arising from Vatican II, but the present forward altar was dedicated in 1981. The west porch was built in 1977, re-using the original west door and the following year the three-light window above was re-glazed. The north side grotto was built by the men of the parish in 1990. The parish hall had been built to the north of the church in 1971 and it was refurbished in 1998.  

The church is reverse orientated. For the purposes of this report, the high altar will be presumed to be at the east and the entrance at the west.

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart was built in 1869 of local red brick with limestone dressings and Broseley tile pitched roofs. It has an unaisled rectangular nave with west porch (added in 1977), northeast transverse St Joseph chapel, short chancel at a lower level to the nave and a south sacristy overlapping the nave and chancel. The latter has been extended east and south in recent times; the original was clearly much smaller with a very small square adjunct for the confessional filling the corner between its west wall (with a chimney) and the south wall of the nave. There is a crude modern door in the modern east wall.

The original design is credited to W. Gualbert Saunders, the brother-in-law of the patron Richard Brome de Bary, much better known as a stained glass maker of Covent Garden in London. He trained in the office of the architect William Burges and made many windows for Burges, for instance at Cardiff Castle and St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork. The plate tracery of the east window and the chunky French Romanesque capitals used on the chancel arch, north chapel arcade and altar are clearly based on William Burges’s work, but the detailing of this church is otherwise crude and sometimes inadequate (e.g. the very narrow confessional door). Saunders is only credited with one other church, in Erith (Kent), now demolished. Mr Bromwich of Rugby was the builder.

The 1977 west porch, built of stretcher bond, re-uses the 1869 Caernarvon arch west doorway. Above is the west window of three lancets within a wall arch of three consecutive brick arches.  In the gable over is a small arched opening in brick in which hangs one 18ins diameter bell inscribed ‘1869 J. Warner & Sons London’. The nave is of four bays each with paired lancet windows over a stone string course (three to the south). The north chapel dedicated to St Joseph has a plate tracery window below a wall arch of three consecutive brick arches, with three lancets below an oculus with slight cusping. A change in the brickwork and stone string course suggests that there was an east door to the chapel, perhaps for the Hall family if the St Joseph chapel was intended to be their ‘pew’.

The east window is very like Burges’s work; plate tracery below a wall arch of four consecutive brick arches, four equal lancets under an oculus formed of eight small roundels around a larger central roundel, with two more small roundels in the lower spandrels. The stonework was renewed by Linford Bridgman in 2001 when the glass was also conserved by the York Glaziers Trust. Both this gable and that of the north chapel have large loudspeakers that ‘chime’ the hours.

The 1977 porch shelters a double square-headed glazed wood-framed door in the original brick frame. The nave is ceiled in six cants with a small ridge with the pine boards running longitudinally making the nave resemble an upturned ship. This effect is accentuated by the continuous heavy stone string course below the paired lancet windows, only interrupted by the very narrow south door to the confessional (without a hood mould) and the wider sacristy door with a hood mould.

The pointed stone chancel arch rises from a pair of French Early Gothic capitals with big corner volutes on short columns standing on a very big quadrant corbel. The gargantuan scale of these features is repeated in the two-bay arcade to the north chapel in the same style, again, very like Burges’s work. The chapel has a boarded transverse three-cant roof, the sanctuary ceiling is boarded longitudinally like the nave but as a simple pointed barrel shape. Another narrow door at the west end of the south wall now leads to the sacristy but originally was an external door; the double lancet south east window embrasure is continued to the ground to form a sedile, with a square recess to the east that is not a piscina, is without a door and may be a credence shelf.

The original limestone high altar by Mr Jaquet of London remains against the east wall, with two gradine shelves and a fine crocketed alabaster tabernacle with its original gilded door. Alpha and omega symbols flank a cross within a circle on the solid front, with ball flower decoration to the altar slab. The 1981 forward altar, donated by Mrs Frances Higgins in memory of her husband George, is supported by two columns with capitals like those of the chancel arch; they appear to be old, so perhaps came from an altar in the north chapel. None exists there now.

The glory of the church is the fine east window by Saunders, with excellent drawing and solid colours, as good as any glass being produced in this period. It was commissioned by the Rev. Philip Gurdon, brother of the first priest here, in memory of his wife Mary who died during the building of the church, 30 July 1869, and was the first to be buried in the new churchyard. The window was restored in 2001 as recorded on an adjacent brass blessed by Archbishop Nichols. The nave windows are filled with grisaille glass in two interesting patterns derived from Cistercian Romanesque glass, presumably by Saunders too. The c.1925 glass in the north transept, from Wolvey Chapel c.2006 (now demolished ) and the Madonna and Child in the west window (Hardman 1978) are poor by comparison but decent enough.

The thinner front nave pews also came from Wolvey, but the light grained heavier pews with book boxes came from a convent in Jesmond, as did the statues with their delicate Gothic stands and the catalogue plaster stations. The 1869 octagonal stone font, also by Mr Jaquet, has been ejected from the church; it now holds flowers to the north of the porch and is deteriorating.

Diocese: Birmingham

Architect: W. Gualbert Saunders

Original Date: 1862

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed