Gravelly Hill - St Mary and St John

Gravelly Hill North, Erdington, Birmingham B23

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A large interwar church with a wide and lofty interior, the striking post-war addition of a tall west bell tower by G. B. Cox forming a landmark on the Birmingham to Lichfield road.

From the mid-nineteenth century the Catholics in this area were served from the church at Erdington, but a separate parish was erected in 1922. A school was opened in 1931 and a large new church seating 400 and presbytery completed in 1937, possibly from designs by Victor S. Peel. The church was consecrated in 1953. A south transept and substantial tower were added in 1961-2, from designs by G. B. Cox of Harrison & Cox.

The church is in a modern Gothic style. It is built of red brick with dressings of Guiting stone and roof coverings of red tiles (originally green interlocking pantiles). The plan comprises a northwest tower, a southwest baptistery and a porch between them, nave and tall aisles under a single roof, a northeast chapel and a square sanctuary with a substantial south transept opening off it. The west front is dominated by the 70ft brick tower with its ribbed exterior rising to an open bell-stage under a pyramidal roof. This is surmounted by a ciment fondu statue of St John, by Raymond Kings (1962). The porch has a wide doorway with a hoodmould flanked by lancet windows. The single-storey flat-roofed baptistery has a single two-light window. The main west front of the church has a slightly projecting centre with a three-light traceried window under the wide shallow-pitched main gable. The north wall has two-light windows to the nave with a pair of such windows in the chapel, the east wall is blind, while the south side of the church abuts the presbytery. Over the south transept door is an artificial stone panel of the Madonna and Child, of North European Renaissance character, also by Raymond Kings and dating from 1962. This was cast from a wood carving designed by G. B. Cox for St Peter’s School, Bromsgrove.

The interior of the nave is broad, with narrow passage aisles, plain plastered walls and a roof of Oregon pine with hammerbeam principals and cusped braces to the principal rafters, with boarding above the collars. The aisles are set behind tall arcades of unmoulded pointed arches on square piers. The west bay is filled by the choir gallery, which was installed in 1962. The second bay from the west has side altars under low arches with four small clerestory windows above. A pointed chancel arch spans the width of the nave. Beyond it is a rectangular sanctuary with an open timber roof like that of the nave, two three-light high windows in the wall on each side and a blind east end with an altar recess. The chancel arch, sanctuary walls and altar recess have painted decoration. Opening off the sanctuary on the south side is a broad transept with a flat boarded ceiling on concrete trusses and with three-light traceried windows in the side walls and three lancets in the south wall with stained glass. The transept is divided from the body of the church by glazed screens. The sanctuary has been reordered and the font moved from the baptistery to the sanctuary. The nave benches appear to be the original ones.

Diocese: Birmingham

Architect: Victor S. Peel (unconfirmed attribution); Harrison & Cox

Original Date: 1937

Conservation Area: No

Modifications: 1961-2

Listed Grade: Not listed