Lichfield - Holy Cross

St John Street, Lichfield, Staffordshire WS14 9DX

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Built in 1803 by the Rev. Dr John Kirk (1760-1851), a leading figure in the development of Roman Catholicism in Lichfield. Originally a simple brick box with contemporary adjoining presbytery, the church was remodelled and extended by Joseph Potter (architect of Oscott College) with a well detailed transitional Norman-Gothic stone facade in 1834, increasing the contrast between the church and the late Georgian town house from which it emerges. The interior was extensively reordered in 2003, when a narthex was added to the rear. The most significant elements are the west front, chancel arch, and attached presbytery. The church is a notable landmark on a main approach to the city.

Catholics in the Lichfield area were served by a farmhouse chapel at Pipe Hall Burntwood until 1800, when it was sold by Thomas Weld. He gave money to buy a house on the corner of Boar Street and Breadmarket Street, Lichfield, occupied by Paulton’s bakery. Above this a chapel and priest’s accommodation were provided, using vestments and fittings from the Pipe Hall chapel. The Rev. John Kirk arrived on 9 October 1801 (having been at Pipe Hall), immediately found the chapel ‘too hot’ and by 1802 had bought a plot of land on Upper St John Street (now the A51 south entry to the city) for a new chapel.  He built a town house, the left hand side of which formed the church, entered by the front door of the house. Dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, this was opened on 11 November 1803.

The growing congregation was enhanced by passengers from the coach service up the A5 to the northwest and Ireland. In 1833, Kirk asked his friend the local architect Joseph Potter to separate the church roof from the house, add a proper entrance and enlarge the sanctuary. As Potter was then in his late seventies, these additions were probably designed by his son Joseph junior. The church was re-opened and re-dedicated to the Holy Cross on 23 September 1834, with a new (ritual) west front of Norman/Early English transitional style, of Tixall stone. The greater height of the new west bay suggests that it was intended to raise the nave roof in due course, but the awkward junction remains. Given that they are also of Tixall stone, the three paired north nave lancets may too be an improvement by Potter. The west gallery was inserted in 1843 along with the fine Bevington organ (still in use) for £160. The following year a school room was built somewhere on the site, probably under the present community room at the east.

Fr Kirk died on 20 December 1851 aged 91, having been priest in Lichfield for fifty years and at his request was buried by the high altar (his niece had been buried under the sanctuary in 1838). In 1895, a small north chapel/school room was added to the sanctuary and in 1899 a large transverse school room built behind the high altar and connected to the church with a large arch. The same year saw a transfer of land to allow the local authority to widen St John Street. The church gained a strip of land to the south which was to become the site of the parish hall in 1953.  

Early twentieth century internal changes (including the present pews) culminated
in the erection of the Memorial Altar in 1922 to commemorate Fr Kirk and
Fr McCathen, who had died in 1921 (figure 1). The wooden reredos was removed in about 1960 and the arch to the schoolroom panelled and curtained. Early twentieth century wooden Stations of the Cross carved by Bridgman’s were controversially exchanged (and later destroyed as ‘worm ridden’) with the present plaster Stations from the chapel of Our Lady of Victories at Whittington Barracks; they have been repainted by Terence Smith.

The erection of St Peter and St Paul, Dimbles Lane (qv) to the north of the city in 1966-7 put a financial strain on the parish; the debt took until the late 1980s to repay. The primary school had moved to a new site in 1961 and by 1986 the adjacent presbytery had become unoccupied, though the 1948 parish hall was extended in 1989. In 2002 Mgr Sharkey commissioned Daniel Hurd (Daniel Hurd Associates) ‘to revitalise the grade II church and associated buildings to mark the 200th anniversary of the church... it was essential to create a light and warm environment to dispel the cold and dull Victorian past’. The presbytery was thoroughly overhauled and extended to the south for a new kitchen and reception room. Larger flat openings were made to the sides of the sanctuary to better integrate the north chapel and to allow a new confessional and enlarged sacristy on the south. A new single story brick narthex replaced various outbuildings towards the rear car park, with WCs and kitchen on the south. Flat access was created to the church (on the south side of the sanctuary), presbytery and to the community room created out of the 1899 school room.  The sanctuary was refurbished, retaining the lower stone half of the Memorial Altar as a reredos and tabernacle and adding a new square altar; the church was re-decorated and given new lighting. The work cost over £500,000. The church was reopened and blessed by Archbishop Vincent Nichols on 21 November 2003.

The 1994 list description offers a good summary. The following is an updated version:

The church is set squarely on its corner site, so that the entrance actually faces geographical northeast, with the altar therefore at the southwest. For this description, it will be presumed that the altar is at liturgical east and the entrance at the west.

Catholic church and presbytery, 1802-3, enlarged and remodelled in 1834 by Joseph Potter (probably Jnr) of Lichfield. The north transept dates from 1895, the rear narthex and north addition to presbytery (and internal changes) from 2003, by Daniel Hurd. Brick with ashlar dressings and Tixall stone front; tile and slate roofs. The four-bay church has a transept to the north and presbytery to the south. The west front is in Norman/Early English transitional style, with a plain plinth, sill course and cornice, coped gables. A square angle turret on the northwest corner has nook shafts, string course, and a top cornice and pyramidal roof; offset clasping buttress to the right. The neo-Norman entrance is of two orders with shafts and scallop capitals,
zig-zag and roll mouldings, plank door with enriched strap hinges. Above this, lancet windows of three pointed lights with shafts, enriched archivolts and continuous hood mould; trefoil above and gable cross. The north return has three windows of two single-chamfered lights. The transept has a coped gable with cross; two windows to its front have four-light casements with two transoms.

The presbytery is of two storeys and two bays. It is of rendered brick and has a hipped slate roof. On the ground floor are two round-headed recesses with the entrance to the left in a plain doorcase with cornice and overlight to a four-flush-panel door and a large window with twelve-pane sash to the right. The first floor has windows with sills, and stuccoed brick flat arches over twelve-pane sashes. The south return has a single storey red brick and slate extension and a ground floor window with a 12-pane sash window. The rear windows are partly obscured by the later transept. The 1899 former school is attached transversely to the rear of the church. The 2003 narthex has a glazed entry under a pitched gable, with a facilities block to the left connecting to the south transept.

Inside, the church has a panelled cambered ceiling and a Neo-Norman sanctuary arch with nook shafts and zig-zag moulding, flanking round-headed niches. At the west end, the 1843 west gallery with Bevington organ over the porch. Square openings of 2003 give off the north and south sides of the sanctuary. A Low stone reredos (the lower half of a Memorial Altar of 1922) has detached shafts of coloured marble and mosaic panels with a gabled tabernacle. The plaster Stations of the Cross are from chapel of Our Lady of Victories at Whittington Barracks. 

Diocese: Birmingham

Architect: Joseph Potter (1834); Daniel Hurd (2003)

Original Date: 1803

Conservation Area: No

Modifications: 1834; 2003

Listed Grade: Grade II