Eccleshall - Sacred Heart

Stone Road, Eccleshall, Staffordshire ST21

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A plain early twentieth century church of Gothic Arts and Crafts character, designed to serve a religious community as well as the local Catholic population. The church has historical associations with the Fitzherbert family of Swynnerton Hall, who paid for it. The relatively plain interior was adorned in the 1920s with wall paintings by Dom Constantine Bosschaerts (a pioneer of Catholic liturgical reform), but these have been largely removed or obscured. 

The mission to Eccleshall was established by Bishop Ullathorne in 1870, but until 1876 local Catholics continued to attend Mass at Swynnerton. In 1876, two cottages in Stafford Street were purchased and adapted for use as a church, dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul, with a small school, served from Swynnerton. This building is now partly used as a fish and chip shop. As the Catholic community grew, a larger building was needed; Stanley House, a former girls’ school in large grounds on Stone Road, was bought and adapted as a chapel and school in 1883. In 1900 the Rev. William de Boek brought the Picpus Fathers to Eccleshall from Belgium, establishing a noviciate dedicated to the Sacred Heart; Stanley House was renamed the Damien Institute 

In 1904, Basil Fitzherbert of Swynnerton Park paid for a new church (figure 1), built onto the side of Stanley House; the architect has not been identified. According to the Diocesan Directory, the foundation stone was laid on 17 June 1904, although the stone at the east end is inscribed 1903. The church formally opened on 1 May 1905, when Rev. Fr Oswald OSFC preached. The Picpus Fathers served the mission and were resident here until 1911. The parish was subsequently served from Ashley until 1971. Stanley House was occupied by a community of Benedictine Olivetan sisters from 1922 until 1927, known as The Priory of Our Lady of Mount Olivet; the community was established here in about 1922 by Dom Constantine Bosschaerts OSB (1899-1950), a Belgian Olivetan Benedictine who became a friend and associate of Archbishop Angelo Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII). Both men were involved in the establishing of the Vita et Pax Foundation, which embodied ideas of Christian unity, and both shared radical ideas about the renewal of the liturgy. He came to England in 1922 and set up a branch of Vita et Pax in Eccleshall in 1923, going on to establish branches at Rochester and Cockfosters in 1936. During his time at Eccleshall, he decorated the sanctuary with wall paintings. He later gave expression to his liturgical ideas in the reordering of the priory church of Regina Pacis at Schotenhof in Flemish Belgium, where a number of the Olivetan Sisters from Eccleshall resettled. 

From 1970 until 1997, Franciscan Missionaries of St Joseph lived at Stanley House and the parish had resident priests, before reverting to being served from Ashley. Briefly, after 2004, the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross were resident.

The church is aligned with the sanctuary to the west, but in this description liturgical compass points will be used. The building is constructed in red brick laid in Flemish bond, with a chamfered brick plinth; smooth red bricks are used for the road frontage and commons for the rear and sacristy elevations. The roof is laid with artificial slates, with red clay ridge and eaves gutters. The style is a simple Gothic Revival style, with an Arts and Crafts flavour. The plan consists of a three-bay nave and large three-bay apsidal sanctuary, both under one roof.  The sanctuary is expressed by the canted east end and by full-height buttresses and pilasters that brace the chancel arch externally.  The entrance is via a gabled south porch, with plain side doorway. To the east of this is a small lean-to projection for the confessional. On the north side is a small flat-roofed sacristy, an original feature. The west end of the church abuts Stanley House, to which it is connected via internal doors and high level internal windows that served the community. The exterior of the nave is articulated by plain pilaster buttresses and wide tripartite arched windows with stone sills; the windows in the sanctuary have higher sills but are otherwise identical. 

The spacious interior is unusual for the large sanctuary that occupies half the volume; this relates to its original use by the Picpus Fathers, and the space needed for the community, as well as for the parish. The walls are plain plastered, and the floor is laid with parquet, partly under carpet. The roof has slender arch-braced trusses carried on moulded stone corbels, exposed purlins and rafters. At the west end is a high-level pointed panel framing three pointed windows, the lower central lancet flanked by taller lancets, all with leaded glass. Below this is a narrow pointed doorway, now blocked, formerly connecting to Stanley House. The wide pointed sanctuary arch is of moulded brick on stone pilasters, in line with a step up to the sanctuary from the nave. The sanctuary roof timbers retains some painted decoration by Dom Constantine Bosschaerts, dating from the 1920s, but the rich wall paintings seen in historic photographs have been overpainted, and original liturgical fittings, sanctuary rail and dado panelling have been removed. The current fittings include a marble altar with a relief scene of the Last Supper, brought here from Holy Trinity, Eccleshall, a marble tabernacle stand and plain pine nave pews. 

Diocese: Birmingham

Architect: Not established

Original Date: 1904

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed