Coventry - The Precious Blood and All Souls

Kingsland Avenue, Earlsdon, Coventry, CV5

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A large Romanesque Revival church built in 1923-4 as a war memorial and extended in 1938-9 by E. Bower Norris. War damage was sympathetically repaired. Post-war furnishings include an unusual mosaic pulpit and stained glass by Hardman Studios. The church is a powerful design, built in several phases yet retaining architectural coherence, and has historical importance as a war memorial, in effect to two world wars. Perhaps reflecting this, the church has survived post-Vatican II reordering unusually unscathed. 

In 1917 it was decided to build a new church in memory of the fallen soldiers and sailors of the Great War (reflected in the dedication to the Precious Blood and All Souls). The site for the new church was bought after the war, when the area was developed for housing. The foundation stone was laid by Archbishop McIntyre in September 1923. The church was first used at Christmas 1924 and was formally opened by the Bishop of Lancaster on 28 May 1925. The architect was George Cave of Coventry. This Romanesque Revival church was small, consisting roughly of the present nave and a small sanctuary.

In 1938-9 the church was extended with a crossing, bell tower, transepts, an apsidal sanctuary, side chapels and sacristies, all in a spare version of Romanesque. The architect was E. Bower Norris. The Catholic Herald commented on the cathedral-like scale of the extended church.

In 1940, a bomb exploded just outside the east end, severely damaging the sanctuary and the transepts. Between 1952 and 1962 the church was repaired and furnished, by Sandy & Norris & Partners (figure 2). They lined the apse with green Swedish marble, installed a new high altar with canopy, altar rails, pulpit and furnishings to the side chapels. Stained glass windows by John Hardman Studios were also installed, one of which records the wartime bomb damage (figure 3). Following the Second Vatican Council, the high altar was moved forward and the canopy removed. In 1996-7, a narthex in sympathetic style was added by John D. Holmes, providing a parish room and requiring the demolition of the original baptistery.

The church was built in two stages: the west end and most of the nave in 1923-4 by George Cave, the tower, transepts, crossing, apse, side chapels and sacristies in
1938-9 by E. Bower Norris. In 1952-62, the east end was partially rebuilt and repaired after bomb damage (Sandy & Norris & Partners). The small west narthex was probably also added after the war. The attached parish hall at the northwest dates from 1996-7 (John D. Holmes).

The early part of the church is of brown brick (in English bond) with stone dressings. The interwar parts of the church were constructed using a reinforced concrete frame, faced in pink bricks (in English bond) with stone dressings. The later west narthex is of red bricks in stretcher bond. The roofs of the tower and the apse are covered in copper. The plan is cruciform, with numerous flat-roofed ancillary spaces to the east of the transept and the L-shaped parish hall alongside the north aisle, with an apse projecting to the north. The tower is located in the corner of the chancel and the north transept.

The west elevation has chequerwork of brick and stone in the gable, above a stone corbel table. Below are three round-arched windows above a blind arcade. The lean-to narthex below has two windows beside the west door. Attached to the south corner of the west elevation is a small circular turret with a linked arcade in the upper stage. The other elevations are much plainer, although all windows are round-arched and the corbel table is carried on around the building. The northeast tower has three rectangular openings with louvres on each face and five smaller slits under the roof.

The interior is impressive due to the large height and generous space. All spaces have quadripartite groin vaults between unpainted transverse arches. The two-bay nave has the organ gallery at the west, on three open arches. Each bay has two arcade arches on a column and two clerestory windows. The transepts have three stepped lancet windows. The north side of the transepts is aisled, leading to the side chapels. The circular pulpit is attached to the corner pillar between the north transept and the chancel. Of reinforced concrete, it is covered in glass mosaic depicting Christ preaching from the boat on the Sea of Galilee (completed 1962, Sandy & Norris & Partners). Curiously, the northeast tower is not articulated internally; two blind clerestory windows above the pulpit corner are the only hint.

The columns in the chancel are not fluted but gadrooned, denoting the higher status of this space. The post-war altar rails of dark and pale Siena marble span the sanctuary and the side chapels. The side chapels (north: Lady Chapel, south: Sacred Heart) each have a plain stone altar, and a carved and painted reredos with statues and decorative side grilles, by the Welsh sculptor Jonah Jones. (According to the parish priest, the statue of the Virgin Mary comes from the earlier church.) The apse is lined with green Swedish marble. The altar is of polished Portland stone with an emblem of the Pelican in her Piety. At the east is a marble tabernacle stand. The post-war canopy has been removed. The font in front of the sanctuary is circular and of stone with a carving of the dove. The stained glass windows are probably all by Hardman Studios, 1952-71 (some are signed). Due to Lent, all the statues were shrouded at the time of the visit.

Diocese: Birmingham

Architect: George Cave; Ernest Bower Norris

Original Date: 1924

Conservation Area: No

Modifications: 1938-9

Listed Grade: Not listed