Whetstone Lane, Aldridge, Walsall WS9
A plain, brick church of the early 1960s, built on a traditional longitudinal plan. The prominent campanile forms a local landmark. The interior has some furnishings of note.
The first Mass Centre in the area was established in 1890 at Shelfield in a club room over the Four Crosses Inn, where the first Mass was said on 15 February 1891 by the Rev. James Dey. Shelfield became the centre of Catholic worship, with a priest’s house and school-cum-chapel dedicated to St Peter and St Paul until 1924 when the district was entrusted to the Franciscan Friars Minor (they finally left the parish in June 1980). A church opened at Shelfield on 4 October 1932.
In July 1939 permission was given to open a Mass Centre in the Avion Cinema, Aldridge, where Mass was said from 8 October. In 1941 the friars moved to a large Edwardian house set in four acres of land and the largest ground floor room served as a chapel (Mass also continued at the cinema). In 1949 a new building designed by Lavender, Son & Close of Walsall was opened to serve as a church and hall (it survives as the hall).
In 1952 it became clear that Aldridge was scheduled to receive overspill population and industry and this led to a bigger church being approved in March 1959, with work starting on 12 January 1961 (foundation stone 13 July). Designed by Eric Farmer of Birmingham, it was built by A. J. Downes & Sons of Aldridge. It seated 350 and cost £54,000. The church was blessed on 27 June 1964.
The church is built of buff brick under handmade pantiles, and principally consists of a narthex (with choir gallery over), nave, passage aisles, shallow transepts, sanctuary and a 70ft campanile (with copper capping), the ground floor of which originally served as a baptistery. Hollington stone is used for the dressings, commonwealth hardwoods for the main doors and other woodwork. There is no east window but on one side of the high altar the wall is entirely taken up with a reinforced concrete window frame, the central mullion and transom forming a huge cross. At the west end is a circular window with a six-pointed star.
The interior is spacious and light, thanks largely to tall clerestory windows with distinctive curved elements at their tops and bases. The main ceiling is three-sided with what appear to be reinforced concrete trusses. The aisles are separated from the nave by shallow segmental arches. A broad round arch separates the nave and sanctuary.
The reredos forms a striking feature, consisting of figures of Our Lady surrounded by angels and carved in ‘ciment foundu’ and gilded set against a ground of Westmorland slate; this is the work of R. F. Kings ARBS, a Birmingham artist who also designed the Stations of the Cross, which are incised and finished in white on black slate panels. The organ, by Hill, Norman & Beard (1930), was originally in the Plaza Cinema, Swansea; it was removed in 1962 before that building was demolished and was rebuilt here by George Longstaffe of George Organs Ltd of Dudley. The church was reordered in 1969, when a new limestone high altar and font were installed. At the time of writing, it is intended to create a shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in the former baptistery under the tower. The organ is being overhauled.
Architect: Eric Farmer of Birmingham
Original Date: 1964
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed