Dunchurch Road, Rugby, Warwickshire CV22
A nationally important church with a stunning west steeple – the only part not by a member of the Pugin family. The interior has retained much of its rich c.1900 decoration, especially in the sanctuary where the fine altar and reredos survive.
The first Ancaster limestone church was built by A. W. Pugin in 1845-7 for Capt. J. H. W. Hibbert of Bilton Grange. It was much enlarged to the north by E. W. Pugin in 1864-5 and to the west by Bernard Whelan in 1871-2, all for Capt. Hibbert. The interior was enriched between 1897 and 1908, with much work carried out by Boulton of Cheltenham. The Pugins’ work is early fourteenth century in style but Whelan’s is of the mid-thirteenth century.
The three-bay nave of the 1845-7 church now survives as the south aisle, with a small saddleback west tower. The chancel is now the Hibbert Chapel, containing the family vault. The nave, five-bay north aisle and three-sided chancel with northeast sacristy are of 1864-5, the north porch and three north aisle three-light windows re-used from the 1845-7 church. In 1871-2 the nave was lengthened with a narthex under a west organ loft (but the wooden gallery is of 1866) and the steeple and northwest baptistery were added. A flat-roofed extension was added to E. W. Pugin’s northeast sacristy after World War II. All the roofs are covered with alternating bands of plain and fishscale tiles with terracotta cresting.
The west front is an astonishing sight, with the 212ft Whelan steeple quite dwarfing Pugin’s diminutive saddleback tower to the south. The west doorway is flanked by niche statues of the Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist and the sculpture above is of St Hubert in the forest (Capt. Hibbert’s patron saint), all by Theodore Phyffers. His too are the extraordinary trumpeting angels with metal wings that emerge from Portland stone niches at the base of the spire as it rises from the tower.
The magnificent ironwork of the red west door was originally gilded. Both nave aisles have gabled roofs to allow light to the small cinquefoil nave clerestory windows. The Hibbert chapel roof is at a lower level than the 1845-7 nave but the E. W. Pugin nave roof of 1864-5 carries through to cover the sanctuary, which ends in a three-sided apse. The sacristy has a hipped west roof allowing light to the east window of the north aisle, but its east gable was rebuilt with a chimney when the flat-roofed extension was added to the east. The buttresses just visible on the north nave clerestory were remedial work of 1869, when part of the clerestory here was rebuilt in brick and internal arches added across the north aisle. The disturbance was probably due to this area having been in use as a burial ground from about 1850; the Wilberforce family vault, created outside in about 1860 is now at the east end of the north aisle.
The interior is characterised as ‘humble’ by Pevsner in his 1966 Buildings of England: Warwickshire volume, and if the decorations are thought away, that has some truth. The arcades are low, the clerestory small and the sanctuary has small high level windows. However, the extensive 1897-1908 enrichments are plentiful and colourful, not least the 1904 roof decoration (and there was extensive wall stencilling too). The curiously simplified west pier and smaller arch of the south arcade may be the only survival of the 1845-7 arcade (possibly with the corresponding west pier of the north arcade re-used). The remaining shafted piers are identical to the 1864-5 north arcade and the eastern bays of the south arcade added to the 1845-7 chancel. There is a rib vault under the tower and a ring of eight Mears bells, though these were always chimed with the aid of a carillon instrument.
A. W. Pugin’s chancel arch is off-centre to his nave, supposedly to allow those in the north aisle to see the altar in his sanctuary. It enabled a side altar to be placed at the southeast corner (oak, 1901 by Mayer of Munich). Pugin’s high altar survives, having been moved into the new 1864-5 sanctuary and returned in 1897. The 1904 roof decorations were reproduced in 1947-8 by Messrs Walton and Taylor of Rugby. The Hardman glass is of the same date but there are also windows by Joseph Nuttgens c.1946-8. In the base of the west tower are two small windows of 1997 by Aidan McRea Thomson. The font may with some metalwork including the Paschal candlestick be the only A. W. Pugin fittings to survive. The heraldic tiles in the south aisle are perhaps post-1865. The walls and roofs of the nave and aisles were decorated and stencilled in 1900; only the roof decoration survives.
The chancel has a tall two-light window in each straight bay, but the three sides of the apse only have two small high level lancets to each side. There was a tall delicate iron chancel screen supporting the rood, but this was removed in 1966. A large high altar and reredos must therefore have been envisaged, but it seems that the A. W. Pugin altar was brought here until the present grandiose work was planned to celebrate the Jubilee year, 1897. By Boultons of Cheltenham, to designs by T. R. Donnelly of Coventry, the high altar was first used on 6 September 1898. The roof was stencilled in 1904, when the alabaster facing was introduced with the choir stalls of Austrian Crown wainscot oak. All this work was carried out by Boultons of Cheltenham. However, the painted canvases each with four saints of 1904 and 1908 are by Hardman, painted by J. Alphege Pippet.
There are two large wall brasses, both by Hardman, listing the members of the Hibbert family (1856, in their chapel) and Wilberforce family (c.1878, north nave aisle) buried in their respective vaults. The finer Hibbert brass has many figures, the Wilberforce brass more heraldry.
The oldest glass is by Hardman (in the chancel), and they supplied further windows well into the twentieth century, including a fine window of 1896 in the former baptistery. There are two windows by Mayer and Co of Munich in the south aisle, that of c.1880 signed.
The church is set well back from the road in its large burial ground, behind a low stone wall of 1872 (the iron railings were taken away in World War II) and lychgate. There are many headstones commemorating Rosminian fathers from the College to the east, and a churchyard cross. In the northwest corner of the churchyard is the parish hall, built by Charles Hansom as the boys’ school in 1850-1 and in the opposite corner, a ‘coach house’ (perhaps more likely a bier house) and cottage of similar date. The soaring spire is a major feature of this part of Rugby and approaches from the east.
The church has been listed since 1949, and is today appropriately placed in grade II*. However, the list description is barely adequate by today’s standards.
Charles Hansom’s boys’ school (now parish hall) is listed grade II as an ‘outbuilding at St Marie’s Convent’; the list entry states that it is late nineteenth century rather than 1851, and does not mention its original use or architect. It also mentions an octagonal turret and spire, which are no longer present. The building has been extended at the rear. It may be too altered still to merit listing, although it is undoubtedly of some architectural and historic interest and still has group value.
The carriage house is listed grade II as a ‘late nineteenth century cottage’.
Not mentioned in any of the list entries (all of which would benefit from correction and updating) are the boundary wall, churchyard cross and a few of the older headstones and iron memorial crosses. The relationship with the former college and girls’ school also needs to be reconsidered, although both have been much altered.
Architect: A. W. Pugin; E. W. Pugin; Bernard Whelan
Original Date: 1845
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: II*