Coleshill - Sacred Heart

Coventry Road, Coleshill, Warwickshire B46

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A church of almost cathedral proportions, built at the beginning of the Second World War from designs by G. B. Cox. The neo-Byzantine/ Romanesque building is notable for the quality of its marble fittings, stained glass and other furnishings. It is the centrepiece and culmination of an early twentieth century ‘garden city campus’ for Fr Hudson’s Homes, now somewhat depleted, but nevertheless remaining a dominant feature in this part of the conservation area. 

The mission at Coleshill was established in 1850, served by the Rev. Daniel Haigh OSB, from Erdington Abbey. Mass was said over a stable. After the Rev. Charles Wheatley was appointed as a resident priest a church dedicated to the Sacred Heart and St John the Evangelist and presbytery were built in 1882 by a local contractor named Rowbotham. A Hardman window to Fr Haigh was installed at the east end. The church was enlarged and adapted in 1910 (architects Harrison & Cox of Birmingham). It stood opposite the site of the present church.

In 1884, the St Paul’s Home for Boys was set up at Coleshill, replacing homes for Catholic children established previously at Marston Green. In 1899 The Rev. George Vincent Hudson was appointed to the Coleshill mission, and greatly expanded this as a Catholic children’s home.  Buildings erected for the ‘children’s garden city’ of Father Hudson’s Society include St Edward’s Boys’ Home (1905-6), St Gerard’s Orthopaedic Hospital (1912-13), both by Henry Sandy, and others by Harrison & Cox (1923), the Cottage Homes (1925), St Joan’s Home for Girls (1931), schools and other facilities. 

The present church was begun in 1938 by the Rev. Dr Bernard Griffin, who soon after his appointment as parish priest became Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham (and was later to become Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster). The architect was G. B. Cox of Harrison & Cox and the contractors (to start with) J. & W. Malley. The foundation stone was laid on 3 October 1938 (St Teresa’s day in the old calendar). The onset of war and consequent non-availability of the soldier-architect Cox, coupled with the bankruptcy of the contractors, did not deter Bishop Griffin, who with new contractors (Collins & Godfrey) and despite the exigencies of wartime saw the project through to completion – the church opening on 30 September 1942. The church was designed to seat 600, and the cost was £25,000. Bishop Griffin’s coat of arms is set into the floor of the narthex in mosaic. It was a very large church, built to the memory of Fr Hudson and intended to meet the needs of both the parish and the children’s homes.

In about 1950, under Canon Flint, fine new stained glass was installed in the church, probably from designs by Gilbert E. Sheedy.

The Rev. Andrew Kenny (parish priest 1975-81) liturgically reordered the sanctuary, removing the canopy and curtains over and behind the high altar, bringing forward the high altar, removing the communion rails, rebuilding the sanctuary steps and plastering the main body of the church (the bare brick walls of the interior had originally been intended to receive mosaic, as at Westminster Cathedral). 

In 1987 the old church was demolished. The Hardman window to Fr Haigh was rescued and installed in the sanctuary of the present church. In 1989 the present church became a listed building, and in October 2002 it was consecrated, around which time various repairs and improvements were made. 

The Fr Hudson’s homes and schools were closed in the 1970s and 80s, with the charity broadening its function to becoming a social care agency. In 1995 the Coleshill Conservation Area was extended to include the complex. Former convent buildings to the south of the church were purchased by the parish in 1994, and became the presbytery and parish centre (the old presbytery was sold). In 2000 Fr Marcus Stock (now Bishop of Leeds) was appointed parish priest, and moved the staff of the diocesan Schools Commission into the old central office building to the north of the church. The adjoining block is now a nursery. A development brief has been agreed, and development is in progress further to the north. Recent developments also include 

St Catherine’s bungalows (to the east of the church) and St Joseph’s Home, by Christopher Taylor Design, 2002.

In 2009 a casket containing the relics of St Teresa of Lisieux was brought to the church as part of a nationwide tour, attracting a large number of pilgrims and devotees. 

Broadly, this is a large, noble church in Byzantine-Romanesque style, of sandy coloured brick with concrete dressings and plain tile roofs. On plan it consists of a nave with aisles, western narthex with apsidal ends (former baptistery to north, gallery stair to south), crossing with square bell tower and north and south transepts, sanctuary with flanking sacristies.

The interior is as described in the list entry, but can be amplified as follows:

  • On the floor of the narthex, the coat of arms of Bishop Griffin, in mosaic. To the north of this, the former baptistery (now a piety shop) retains its iron gates and marble floor, but the font has been moved to the west end of the nave, close to the sanctuary;
  • The interior walls, originally left plain to receive mosaics, were plastered in the late 1970s. The blank tympanum over the main entrance to the church was probably also intended to receive mosaics;
  • The ‘series of mosaic panels on the aisle walls’ are the Stations of the Cross, opus sectile for the figures, maker not established;
  • Stained glass includes one window in the south chancel by Hardman, to
    Fr Wheatley, first resident priest (d.1882), brought here from the old church after it was demolished in 1987. The three lancets in the north transept depict the Joyful (left), Sorrowful (centre) and Glorious (right) Mysteries of the Rosary; probably by Gilbert E. Sheedy, c.1950. The ten clerestory windows in the nave depict the Ten Commandments, also c.1950 and probably by Sheedy;
  • The coloured marble high altar has been brought forward, with the former gradine retained and made good as a tabernacle throne, with steps behind also retained. The sanctuary is paved with coloured marble laid in geometrical patterns. There are marble altars in apsidal recesses in the transepts (Lady Chapel to north, St Teresa, originally Sacred Heart, to south);
  • At the west end of the nave are the marble font (moved from the baptistry) and marble pulpit;
  • In the south transept is a beautiful Gothic war memorial,  oak with gilded
    detail, the names of the deceased in illuminated script, Veronica’s veil above; 
  • The church retains its original bronze light fittings and fine carved oak benches.

LIST DESCRIPTION:

Grade: II

Date first listed: 26-Jan-1989

 

COLESHILL COVENTRY ROAD SP2088-2188 (East side) 11/16 Roman Catholic Church of The Sacred Heart and Saint Theresa

 

II

 

Church. 1938-42. By G.B. Cox of Birmingham. Sandy coloured brick with concrete dressings; plain tile roof. Cruciform plan: narthex-flanked by apsidal baptistry and stair wing with confessionals attached to the east of each; 5-bay nave with side aisles, transepts, crossing tower, and square ended chancel. Byzantino-Romanesque details. Central double-leaf west door flanked by Corinthian columns, with semi-circular tympanum. Over the door is the inscription: "SSMO CORDI JESU ET S TERESIAE". To each side is a window of 2 round headed lights with central colonette. Also 2 side doors corresponding to the 2 aisles. Circular window directly above the main door, at gallery level, and a central gable above that. Blind panels with corbel tables alternate with clerestory windows. Square topped crossing tower with round-headed bell chamber lights, 7 to the east and west sides and 5 to the north and south.

 

Interior: nave arcades of round-headed arches springing from foliated imposts, within taller round-headed recesses which also contain the clerestory windows. West gallery with corbel table. Open timber roof over nave with panelled tie beams on moulded corbels carrying king posts and queen struts. Tall round-headed crossing arches. Panelled wooden ceiling over crossing.

 

Fixtures and fittings: on the aisle walls are a series of mosaic panels. Marble altars: chancel and Lady chapel; the former has a mosaic frieze. All the clerestory windows contain good quality stained glass.

 

(Buildings of England: Warwickshire: p236)

 

Listing NGR: SP2016988179

Diocese: Birmingham

Architect: Harrison & Cox

Original Date: 1942

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II