Hednesford - Our Lady of Lourdes

Uxbridge Street, Hednesford, Staffordshire WS22

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An ambitious and self-confident Gothic design by G. B. Cox, erected between the wars as a replica of the Marian shrine at Lourdes. Next to the church is a Lourdes grotto, formed at about the same time. The building makes a strong contribution to the local streetscape and is of significance as a diocesan pilgrimage centre.

There was a school and Catholic chapel at Hill Top in the 1890s and a resident priest from 1907. On a visit to Lourdes in 1913 the then parish priest the Rev. Patrick Boyle vowed to build a replica of the shrine at Hednesford. This was to be realised by his successor, the Rev. Joseph Healey. Following a fundraising campaign a site was purchased in 1923 and designs prepared by G. B. Cox of Harrison & Cox, Birmingham. Archbishop McIntyre laid the foundation stone for the church on 12 September 1928. The Tablet reported:

Mr. George Bernard Cox, F.R.I.B.A., has planned a lofty structure in the French Gothic style, in sympathy with the original Lourdes church but adapted to meet the special forms of concrete construction to be employed. Both the foundations and the superstructure are being built of reinforced concrete faced externally with stone, this being to enable the building to withstand shocks due to mining subsidence. The cost of the church - upwards of £50,000 - is indicative of a fine and dignified piece of architecture.

The Birmingham Post (quoted in the same article) wrote:

The new church will provide seating accommodation for 400 persons, with wide and spacious aisles for processions and similar ceremonial. The complete plans include a vaulted interior, large and lofty nave and aisles, two transepts, four side chapels and Lady Chapel, and Sacred Heart Chapel and an apsidal sanctuary, also large sacristies, baptistery, organ chamber, narthex, and a campanile eighty feet above the roadway in which it is hoped to place a Lourdes clock with a twenty three-bell carillon and chimes. The western facade will be crowned by a more than life-size white marble statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, and the grounds and spaces surrounding the church are to be laid out in wide avenues and terraces for processional purposes.

Over 1,500 tons of concrete and 150 tons of steel rods were used in the foundations, and a series of crypt was built with adjustable jacks. The church (figure 1) was opened in June 1934. A replica of the Lourdes grotto (photo middle right) was built to the northwest and finished in 1935.

The church is in a Gothic style derived from thirteenth century French examples but free in the detailing, and similar to the upper basilica at Lourdes only insofar as both buildings are large, Gothic and white. The building is of concrete construction, with the external walls faced with squared random white granite stone. The roof coverings are of Welsh slate. The plan comprises a tall nave, low flat-roofed aisles with side chapels, the aisles extended westwards to flank an open porch, north and south transepts with a bell tower attached to the east side of the south transept and a chancel with polygonal apse.

The west porch is perhaps derived from the shrine at Lourdes, and has triple pointed arches on stone piers with a Marian inscription above. The porch is flanked by the west ends of the flat-roofed aisles, each with a single lancet window. Behind the porch rises the west gable wall of the nave, which has polygonal corner turrets rising with open tops and copper roofs. Between the turrets is a central recessed triple-moulded pointed arch with jamb shafts. Under the arch is a three-light traceried window with a rose above. Above the arch in the head of the gable is a niche with a figure of Our Lady. The nave is of two wide bays divided by a pilaster strip but with a bold continuous corbel table which continuous around the entire building. In each bay the low aisles have projecting side chapels and the nave clerestory has a pair of cusped lancets. The transepts are each of one wide bay with polygonal turrets at the external corners and triple lancets windows with a rose above in both gable walls.  East of the south transept are grouped the sacristies and a bell turret, which has a single pointed window in each face of the bell stage and a pyramidal roof. The chancel has paired lancets set high in the walls and a small rose window in the east end of the apse.

The interior has a patterned stone floor, plain plastered walls and a rib vaulted ceiling throughout, the ribs picked out in Marian blue. The vaults are carried on full-height wall shafts with foliate capitals. Both bays of the nave have low triple arches to the aisles and the arches are continued round the walls of the transepts and the chancel; the chamfered arches oversail the chamfered piers in a curious and uncomfortable detail which looks unfinished. The low aisles also have chamfered arches and two small chapels on each side. The chancel is raised three steps above the nave and transepts with a further three steps to the high altar, and has stained glass in the eastern windows. The fittings include the high altar under a tall Gothic baldacchino on marble shafts and ceramic Stations of the Cross, by Philip Lindsey Clark.

Diocese: Birmingham

Architect: Harrison & Cox

Original Date: 1934

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed