Burntwood - St Joseph

Cannock Road, Burntwood, West Midlands WS7

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This complex by John D. Holmes is typical of its time and decently constructed of modern materials, re-using the large round stone tracery window and incorporating some furnishings from the predecessor church by G. H. Cox. 

Catholics in Cannock Chase were served by priests visiting estate houses such as Pipe Hall, home to the Heveningham family, until Irish immigrants arrived to work in the new coal mines opened in the mid-nineteenth century. Chasetown grew up around the Marquess of Anglesey’s Hammerwich colliery (opened c.1850) and priests came from Lichfield Holy Cross to say Mass in various locations. By 1870, money was being collected to buy land (ostensibly for ‘gardening’ as the local Methodists were especially anti-Catholic), on a corner plot on the west side of High Street Chasetown and New Road. On 7 October 1871, Patsy Kilgarriff paid £77 3s 6d for the site and G. H. Cox of Birmingham designed a brick church that was also to serve as a school until 1915. The foundation stone was laid on 16 October 1882 and the building opened on 6 May 1883. St Joseph Chasetown was made an independent mission soon afterwards. The Cox church was unaisled, of brick with stone dressings, with a short sanctuary dominated by a big round tracery window and a sacristy to the south. Entry was from the street at the west. A presbytery was built to the east the following year and a clubroom (also used by the school until 1915) to the northwest in the 1890s. In July 1962, new glass depicting the Nativity cycle by P. Feeny of Hardman & Co. was put into the round window and the paired nave lancet windows filled with figures of saints (including, unusually, Henry VIII in the context of St Thomas More) and scenes from the life of St Joseph.

The school moved away from the cramped site and following the closure of the mines, Burntwood became the centre of population. In 1978, after ten years of negotiation, a two-acre site was bought on the Cannock Road (about a mile east of Chasetown) for £10,000. John D. Holmes (architect from Birmingham) designed a church with attached hall and presbytery. On 22 October 2002 Archbishop Vincent Nichols blessed the foundation stone to the side of the main entrance; Fr Stephen Squires was the parish priest. In 2004, the complex was opened and St Joseph’s Chasetown put up for sale; it was eventually demolished in about 2010 and replaced by offices. Some materials and furnishings from the old church were incorporated in the new one. 

This complex sits squarely on its corner site with the altar to geographical west, the church entrance from Cannock Road on the north and the large car park behind to the south. For this report, liturgical orientation will be used, i.e. the altar to the east.

Built in red brick with reconstructed stone dressings, slate roofs and metal windows, the church itself is square, with a protruding sanctuary and smaller glazed gables extending a little to each side. The long ‘nave’ roof actually extends over the entrance which serves both church and the hall to the west. The sacristy, WCs, office and kitchen are in a further extension towards the car park. The original plan reportedly did not allow for a west choir gallery and the insertion of this above the entrance hall with a staircase has led to an awkward roof plan at the west end of the church and the reconciliation room ending up under stairs at the northwest corner. 

The roof is supported on laminated beams rising from the four corners to a central clear glazed pyramid. At mid-height is another laminated ‘ring-beam’ but this has been omitted to the west to allow for the gallery, requiring another laminated beam to rise from the south side of the glazed doors to the entrance hall and an off-centre western ridge. The low brick walls are punctuated to east and west with two-light square windows and interrupted by the north and south glazed gables (a typical John Holmes feature). The 1962 glass by P. Feeny of Hardman & Co., salvaged from the nave of the old church, is hung in front of the five lights of both gable windows. A double fire door is at the northeast corner.

The sanctuary has a carpeted dais up three steps, with the lectern to the south; an octagonal font stands below the sanctuary to the north. These with the altar and central tabernacle support are in white reconstructed stone. The major internal focus is the large 1883 round stone tracery window brought from the old church with its 1962 stained glass, signed ‘Hardman’ at the bottom. Below on a gradine shelf are six brass candlesticks brought from the old church, as were the statues of the saints and the plaster Stations of the Cross. The new pews were made in Liverpool of American oak.

The north-south entrance hall has glazed doors to the church on the east and wooden folding doors to the parallel hall to the west. A glazed gable like those in the church lights the hall, which is otherwise dominated by the truss at the end of the east-west roof. The presbytery is at the southwest corner of the hall.

Diocese: Birmingham

Architect: John D. Holmes

Original Date: 2004

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed