Nuneaton - Our Lady of the Angels

Coton Road, Nuneaton, Warwickshire CV11

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A large aisled red brick church on a cruciform plan with a massive west tower, mainly of 1935-6 but with elements of previous structures including (possibly) part of the J. A. Hansom predecessor church of 1838. A broad nave gives the interior an open and spacious character, and the powerful design of the tower is of townscape value.

A mission was established at Nuneaton in 1829, served from Hinckley with Mass celebrated in a hired room. A site of just under two acres was purchased in Coton Road in 1837, at a total cost of £387 and J. A. Hansom engaged to design a church. The first stone was laid by Sir Ambrose and Lady Philipps de Lisle of Grace Dieu Manor in 1838 and blessed by Fr Augustine Proctor OP. It was opened in 1840 and ‘measured just forty-one feet long by twenty-seven and a half feet wide and was very simple apart from the words “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth”, inscribed in gold lettering across an archway into which the altar was recessed(Harris).This structure may still survive within the present brick chancel. An organ was donated by John Hardman.

In 1886, Fr William celebrated his silver jubilee by improving the church and his may be the ornate Gothic high altar reredos and stencilling that can be seen in (undated) diocesan archive photos. However, The Tablet records the ‘reopening of the church’ on 11 December 1881, after a Catholic artist Mr Beane had decorated and painted the altar on which stood statues of the Holy Family and St Francis.

Thomas Ignatius McCarthy, architect of Coalville, added a three-bay unaisled nave and transepts with a southeast presbytery in 1910; the church opened on Easter Tuesday 1911. Another undated archive photo shows the north side completed without the transept. The east corners of this nave can still be seen, in white stone with a pronounced arched corbel table and, in a good light, the original steep gables of the transepts can also be made out. The west gable was topped by a bellcote, though as the bell is dated 1851, it was presumably hung from the west gable of the 1840 church. There was no west window, but a large external arch suggests that it was intended to extend further west in due course. A gabled porch came to be built against the west door. 

In 1935 the church was extended in brick to its present size, from designs by McCarthy Collings and Co. They added another nave bay with a massive central west tower and attached transverse chapels, punched arcades through the nave walls (so losing the lancet triplets of 1911) and raised the nave walls with a clerestory. The transept gables were raised and levelled (retaining the triplets) and the west porch was re-erected. The rebuilt church was opened on 28 June 1936.

 

The church was damaged in World War II and in 1947 Canon Cox began repairs, re-glazing the windows. In 2000, the area under the tower gallery was enclosed to form a narthex and the forward sanctuary created. In 2010, Andrew Hayward of the Brownhill Duvall Partnership of Lichfield redecorated and relit the interior, including new stencilling on the transept roofs and east end and repositioning of the font at the west end of the nave.

The overall external impression is of a red brick church with cast stone and concrete dressings, work of 1935-6 by McCarthy Collings and Co. The same blue engineering brick plinth with a chamfered stone top runs all around the church, so it must have been inserted to the earlier work of the chancel and transepts.

The chancel is of three bays, the side walls divided by the same buttresses as those on the 1935 aisle. However the paired lancet windows are of similar stone to the triplets in the end gable walls of both transepts, so are perhaps of 1910-11, when Thomas Ignatius McCarthy added a stone nave and transepts to J. A. Hansom’s original rectangular 1838 church. The latter may still exist as the chancel, but as all the visible features are later (and the stained glass of the two spherical triangular windows contain 1909 and 1910 dedications to the same man), it was perhaps entirely rebuilt in 1910-11. Its present roofline is certainly a good fit with the surviving east wall of 1911. This confirms the photographic evidence that that church was faced externally with a white limestone; a little of the pronounced stone arched corbel table can still be seen at the east corners of the nave.

The aisled nave has long single lancet to each bay and the clerestory above has small paired lancets to each bay. There are straight breaks in the brickwork to the west of each transept and a change in the brickwork of the transept gables giving a shadowy outline of their 1910-11 steep gables. The west tower is massive, this character emphasised by the solid recessed parapet and colossal long lancet openings to each face, incorporating the bell louvres and windows. To north and south are transverse chapels (apparently forming a small western transept) with shallow roofs and gables over large paired lancets. On the west side is an unsatisfactory buttressed lower panel with a small central roundel and flanking lancets lighting the space beneath the west organ gallery. Against it stands the stone gabled west porch, salvaged from the 1910-11 church. There is a 1935-6 brick south porch too.

The interior is well proportioned and of some scale. All the arches are simply chamfered and the prominent roof timbers rise from timber wall posts off plain stone corbels. The slender chancel trusses gracefully arc to a high collar with tracery spandrels to the ridge. The 1910-11 transept roofs are steeply pitched (disguised externally by the 1935-6 shallow parapet), their common rafters stencilled in 2010. The steeply pitched nave roof could be that of 1910-11 in situ, as the parapet gutter runs on the inside rather than on the top of the wall, and the wall posts are shortened when it runs in front of the tall transept arches. However, the 1910-11 stonework should then be seen outside but the clerestory is all brick. If this is the old roof (as seems most likely) then it has been physically raised when the clerestory was added in 1935-6. The bolted tie-beams are reinforced by arched braces at their base; there are three parallel purlins and a ridge piece. The 1935-6 aisles have flat ceilings (and roofs).

The 2000 narthex doesn’t extend beyond the tower base and there are no windows at the west ends of the aisles, now filled with reconciliation rooms. There is a WC to the south of the west porch and storage to the north side. On the raked gallery over, the organ pipes rise up either side of the console under the west lancet window.

The transept altars retain their early twentieth century Gothic reredoses (Our Lady flanked by kneeling angels on the north, the Sacred Heart to the south) but the stone forward altar and tabernacle shelf are of 2010 (though the sanctuary platform is of c.2000). The spherical triangle windows in the apex of the nave and sanctuary gables are filled with Hardman glass; the nave with an inscription ‘Ora pro Michael Godfery 29 Sep 1910’ the east gable ‘Ora pro Michaele Godfery 1909’. Neither appears to be signed. The three lancet windows of the transepts (death dates of 1934 and 1945) and four undated nave lancets have glass by the same artist, only one of St Joseph in the south nave aisle is signed G. E. Sheedy, 7 Lime Avenue High Wycombe. The style is clearly post World War II so these all presumably belong to Canon Cox’s repairs after 1947. The northeast nave lancet is signed Design Gouchi 1980 Cartoon R. R. Hickling Glass and Paint D. J. Cowan Leading G. Davis with the J. Harding and Co. logo.

The octagonal stone font on red marble columns is Victorian Gothic, the nave benches of 1910-11 but the aisle pews of 1935-6. 

Diocese: Birmingham

Architect: J. A. Hansom; Thomas Ignatius McCarthy; McCarthy & Collings

Original Date: 1838

Conservation Area: No

Modifications: 1910-11; 1935-6

Listed Grade: Not listed