Kidderminster - St Ambrose

Birmingham Road, Kidderminster DY10

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A red-brick church of the 1850s in a Gothic Revival style drawing upon motifs of c.1300. It is architecturally plain, lacking carved stone enrichment, but containing some furnishings of note, particularly the stained glass. The (later) spire is of high townscape value. The adjoining presbytery dates from the 1830s, when the predecessor church was built. 

A mission was founded at Kidderminster in 1831, prior to which the nearest Catholic centre was at Harvington. Mass was first said in a Methodist chapel on Bewdley Road. Then a plain, aisled chapel, seating 300, was opened on 15 November 1834. The congregation was made up chiefly of Irish woolcombers and their families, and the first mission priest was the Rev. Charles James O’Connor, nephew of Daniel O’Connell (campaigner for Catholic emancipation and a contributor to the cost of the 1834 church). A priest’s house, which survives today, was built alongside it.

The present church was built by the Rev. Patrick Ambrose Courtney and designed by the well-known Catholic architect Gilbert R. Blount of Montagu Place, London; the builder was R. Willow of Wolverhampton. The foundation stone was laid on Whit Monday 1856 and the church opened by Bishop Ullathorne on 18 August 1858. It was twice the size of its predecessor, and cost about £2,300. The spire, designed by Joseph Pritchard of Meredith & Pritchard of Kidderminster, was not built until 1901 (the spire and bells were dedicated on 27 November of that year). The church was consecrated on 5 August 1902. In 1925 an oak internal porch incorporating stained glass was dedicated as a memorial to the parish dead of the Great War.

The church underwent a major renovation in the 1990s. The large, well-appointed parish centre was begun in 1999. 

The church is oriented to the south but all directions given here are liturgical. It is built of red brick with Bath stone dressings, and black brick to the arch heads of the windows (some of the eastern parts are rendered and painted white). The roofs are of Welsh slate. The building consists of a nave, two lean-to aisles, a sanctuary flanked by a chapel on either side, sacristies and a southwest tower and spire. The style draws upon motifs from the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. There is a clerestory with pairs of small lights. The steeple, added nearly half a century after the original building, has twinned belfry openings, and angle pinnacles linked to the spire by thin flying buttresses.

The interior is plastered and painted off-white. Nonetheless it is quite dark due to the smallness of the fenestration and the extensive use of stained glass. The nave is of five bays, four of them with pointed arches to the aisles. Unusually for the 1850s, the chamfered arches die into the lozenge-shaped piers without intervening capitals (such a feature is more usually associated with the later Gothic Revival; here perhaps it was a matter of economy). There is an arch to the sanctuary which rises from short wall-shafts on corbels. Over the nave the steeply pointed roof is of scissor-braced construction whereas the chancel roof is arch-braced to a collar (it has brightly coloured decoration in the panels of the ceiling). At the west end of the nave is a choir/organ gallery, enclosed below in c.1925.

Much of the rich carved and painted internal decoration has not survived post-Vatican II reordering and simplification. However, the rood figures still hang from the sanctuary arch and the Victorian reredos survives above the cut-back frontal of the former high altar; it has representations of Christ the Good Shepherd and the Last Supper. According to Brooks/Pevsner, the mosaic panels in the stone pulpit against the sanctuary arch on the north side (formerly located one bay to the west in the nave) date from 1916. Apart from the clerestory, all the windows have stained glass; that in the aisles is varied in style and nearly all of it dates from the 1910s and 1920s, much of it by the Hardman firm. The east window is a monochrome design of 1874, by Camm Bros of Smethwick, depicting saints. The pews shown in early twentieth century photographs appear to survive, as does the nineteenth century octagonal stone font with its painted timber Gothic cover.

Diocese: Birmingham

Architect: Gilbert R. Blount; Meredith & Pritchard

Original Date: 1858

Conservation Area: No

Modifications: 1901 (spire)

Listed Grade: Not listed