Building » Bearwood – Our Lady of Good Counsel and St Gregory

Bearwood – Our Lady of Good Counsel and St Gregory

Three Shires Oak Road, Bearwood, Birmingham B67

A well-detailed and little-altered neo-Georgian design of the 1930s (an unusual choice of style for a Catholic church), notable for the quality of its internal oak and marble furnishings. The architect Philip Chatwin (whose practice was mainly Anglican) was the brother of the parish priest.   

Mass was said in Bearwood from 1899 by a priest from the Birmingham Oratory, in a former coach house behind properties fronting Three Shires Oak Road. Bearwood became an independent mission in 1909, and the Galton family gave some land for the building of a church.  However, following a dispute Major Hubert Galton withdrew his support, funding instead the building of the nearby church of St Hubert at Warley (qv).

The present church and presbytery were built from the designs of Philip Chatwin, who was from a notable local firm of (mainly Anglican) church builders, and whose brother, the Rev. Geffrey Chatwin, was the parish priest and rector at Bearwood. The builders were Maddox & Walford of Gravelly Hill.  The foundation stone was laid on 3 May 1933 by Archbishop Thomas Williams, and the church opened in 1934. It seated 350 and cost £8,300 (excluding the marble high altar). An account in the parish file in the Diocesan Archives, probably written by the architect, described the design as ‘an adaptation of the kind of work common in the reign of Queen Anne’, an unusual stylistic choice for a Catholic church. 

A neo-Georgian design of 1933-4 by Philip Chatwin, of red brick laid in Flemish bond, with sparing use of stone dressings on the front elevation, and Roman pantile roofs. The building is in fact of steel-framed construction, the stanchions at the sides encased in brickwork and the construction of the roof concealed internally by fibrous plaster. The windows are metal framed. The church consists of an aisleless nave and sanctuary under one roof, with a double height lean-to southwest entrance wrapping around two sides of a set-back tower, containing a stair to the internal gallery. Beyond this is the side (Lady) chapel (giving off the south side of the nave). A modern (mainly glazed) link towards the east end on the south side connects the church and sacristies to the presbytery. The architectural treatment is mainly reserved for the pedimented entrance front, which has a projecting central bay with shallow projecting brick quoins and a central segmentally pedimented aedicule containing a stone statue of St Gregory the Great. The entrances below are of more 1930s character, with brick on edge surrounds. Above the main entrance is an octagonal mosaic and opus sectile panel bearing the papal arms, with another similar panel, depicting the Virgin and Child, over the south door; both have lost some detail. The tower, less obviously Queen Anne in derivation, is set back somewhat apologetically, and has round arched belfry openings with keystones and a pyramidal tile roof.  It houses a boiler room in its basement. The side elevations are articulated by brick pilasters, mostly overlaid on the south side by the tower and chapel. The north elevation (photo top right) has a shallow projection in the fourth bay (from the west, for an internal shrine); it incorporates the foundation stone at its centre.

The interior consists of a single volume nave and sanctuary, with a narthex/gallery at the west end and a side (Lady) chapel giving off the south side. The nave consists of six bays (including that for the western narthex with gallery over), with the bays marked by plaster Tuscan Doric pilasters, sitting on a high oak dado. The gallery has an oak panelled front, and is carried on oak panelled piers, with glazed screens with wrought iron grilles in between. Above this, a large pipe organ with an oak classical case is placed centrally. In the fourth bay of the nave (north side) is an oak and gilded side altar/shrine to the Sacred Heart, within a richly carved open pedimented surround. Double pilasters mark the entrance to the sanctuary. The original high altar was set in antis within a pilastered recess at the east end. Here there is an elaborate oak baldachino with much gilded detail, on a marble base, and a pilastered oak reredos. Oversailing the whole interior is a shallow segmental fibrous plaster vault (more Regency than Queen Anne in character), with coffering with rosettes over the sanctuary. The square openings to the three-bay Lady Chapel have been glazed. This space also has a segmental vault and oak dado, with oak rather than plaster pilasters around its altar. Apart from the glazing of the openings to the Lady Chapel and the bringing forward of the marble high altar, the church interior has been little altered. The font has been moved from the narthex to the sanctuary (the ghost of its original fixing can still be read on the narthex floor, and there is a window depicting the Baptism of Our Lord over it). This, and all the stained glass (which is confined to the narthex and Lady Chapel) is by Hardman & Co., who had premises nearby at Lightwoods House; it is more recent in date than the church – one window in the chapel is dated 1960. The nave has a woodblock floor and the seating still consists of the original chairs. The original oak pulpit and balustraded communion rails (with metal gates) survive at the entrance to the sanctuary. The sanctuary retains its marble paving and steps, but these have been adapted, and the baldachino too, in a post-Vatican II reordering to allow for the bringing forward of the green and grey-veined marble altar. However, this work has been carried out with sensitivity. 

Heritage Details

Architect: Philip Chatwin

Original Date: 1934

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed