Oxford Street, Bilston, West Midlands WV14
A Gothic-style church built in the early years after Catholic Emancipation, with a chancel of 1846 by A.W. Pugin. The church was remodelled by G. B. Cox in the 1920s, adding a degree of architectural modulation to the previously plain Gothic design. The church forms an attractive grouping with the adjacent and stylistically very different school buildings of the 1890s. However, the external appearance of the buildings has been marred by the demolition of the attached presbytery and by the associated application of render.
Bilston was still part of the Wolverhampton mission when it was hit by a cholera epidemic in 1832. The work of three priests in ministering to the victims led to a petition signed by over 300 local people (including non-Catholics) requesting a church and a priest for Bilston. Bishop Walsh issued an appeal for funds in January 1833. A few months later a plot of land in Oxford Street was given by a well-disposed non-Catholic lady, Mrs Price, and the church was begun here in 1833, opening on 11 September 1834. It cost £1,800. Enlargement was soon needed and a chancel, designed by A. W. Pugin, was added in 1846 at the cost of £500. Pugin also designed a rood screen for the church. The east window has been variously attributed to ‘Waites’ (contemporary report in The Tablet) or ‘Thomas Waite’ (Grady’s parish history); it may be the work of William Wailes of Newcastle upon Tyne (although Pugin ceased to use Wailes in 1845 and the window does not feature in S. A. Shepherd’s catalogue of Pugin stained glass).
Soon afterwards, in 1849, the Rev. (St) John Henry Newman was here briefly during a further minor cholera outbreak. It is interesting to speculate whether his experience at Bilston might have served to fuel the ‘rood screen controversy’, then at its height.
In the 1890s the church was redecorated and re-pewed, and the adjoining school buildings enlarged and remodelled, with an attractive Baroque frontage with shaped gables and open bellcote. The postcard view at figure 2 shows the early twentieth century appearance of the buildings, with the presbytery to the left and school building to the right. At that time the church was brick-faced, and the triple lancet windows on the west front were of a simple type.
In 1926, under the Birmingham architect G. B. Cox, the west end was extended and remodelled to provide a porch and space for a baptistery and two confessionals. The nave windows were renewed, the sacristies extended and the church redecorated; by 1929 over £4,000 had been spent.
In 1948 Pugin’s rood screen was taken down and new Stations of the Cross erected.
In 1969 a social centre and new presbytery were built at a cost of £45,000 and the old presbytery, which was attached to the church on the north side, taken down and a car park created. It appears that the exterior of the church was rendered after this, in 1972, making good the scar left by the removal of the presbytery.
Reordering took place in 1967 and again in the early 1980s, in time for the church’s 150th anniversary. For the latter, the architects were Scrivener & Sons of Stoke on Trent; a new Portland stone altar, font and lectern were provided by Shaw of Stafford.
The church consists of an aisleless nave, a much lower sanctuary, sacristies and western narthex. The materials are rendered brickwork with stone and terracotta dressings, and slate roofs. It is built in a simple Early English style with mostly lancet windows; there are six of these on the south side of the nave but only four on the north, due to the fact that the former presbytery used to stand against it. Pugin’s east end has a three-light Decorated window. The west end, reworked by G. B. Cox in the 1920s, is more ornate than the rest of the building.
The interior is plastered and mostly coloured light cream. The nave is covered by a low-pitched ceiling, while the sanctuary roof has six-sided trusses. At the west end is an organ gallery on quatrefoil iron columns. The baptistery at the west end retains its encaustic tile floor, octagonal font and metal gates.
The pews were installed in the 1890s. The pulpit was added in 1927 by the church furnishers Jones and Willis. The three-light east window of 1846 is good work possibly by William Wailes of Newcastle upon Tyne, with a central figure of the Virgin and Child, flanked by Saint Thomas Becket and St Augustine.
Architect: Unknown; A. W. Pugin; G. B. Cox
Original Date: 1834
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed