Moor Street, Birmingham B4
A former Unitarian chapel of 1802, in Catholic use since 1862, unsympathetically remodelled in the 1970s and again refitted in 2012-13. This inner city church is in active daily use, and is the church of the city’s Polish community. The building replaced a predecessor chapel of 1725, and lies close to the site of the first post-Reformation Catholic church in Birmingham.
The church of St Michael lies close to Masshouse Lane, named after the church built by the Franciscans in 1687. This was the first post-Reformation Catholic church in Birmingham, and was destroyed by a mob in 1688. The present church was built in 1802 as a Unitarian chapel, a replacement for an eighteenth century building where the natural philosopher Dr Joseph Priestley had preached in the 1780s, which was also destroyed during riots, in 1791 (commemorated in a plaque on the building).
The 1802 chapel was acquired for Catholic use in 1862. According to Kelly, ‘by a clever architectural manipulation some old vestries adjoining the church were converted into a chancel connected with the rest of the building by a Byzantine arch. These and other alterations were carried out by the architect, Mr Bates’. It is not clear who Mr Bates was, or what he did. Early twentieth century photographs show a galleried interior, with only a shallow recess for a chancel arch, and much painted decoration.
In 1949 the Rev. Franciszek Kacki, of the Canons Regular of the Lateran, became the first parish priest of a Polish Catholic Mission established at St Michael’s. He was here for more than thirty years and the Polish province of the Canons Regular still looks after the parish. In 1964 the construction of the inner ring road necessitated the demolition of the old parish club building, and plans were prepared by Sandy & Norris to build a new church in frankly modern style alongside the 1802 building, with the latter retained (along with its galleries) as a new parish hall (plans from 1966 and 1967 in the Diocesan Archives). This might have been a kinder solution than the scheme finally realised, more modest in ambition yet more destructive in historic buildings terms, carried out in 1976 by the successor practice of Horsley, Currall & Associates. It was decided that the weekday needs of city centre shoppers and office workers and the Sunday needs of the Polish community could be met by the existing building, but the remodelling involved the infilling of the triple arcades on the main frontage, removal of the galleries, rebuilding of the roof and the replacement of the windows. The external render was replaced with roughcast. A new, deeper gallery was built at the back of the church, its underside enclosed to provide additional facilities and a new triple arched entrance porch added at the side of the building. At the sanctuary end, the arched recess of 1862 was filled in. According to the architect’s account, ‘the object in carrying out this work was to obtain as far as possible the character, elegance and simplicity of the original interior remodelled to meet current liturgical needs, and to create an intimate, light and colourful atmosphere as a refuge from the noise and bustle of the city centre’ (Catholic Building Review, 1978). The contractors were Messrs Maddocks & Walford of Birmingham.
Since 2004 there has been a further large influx of Polish people to the city, and there are now three priests at St Michael’s, serving nearly 2000 attending Sunday Masses. The church was refurbished and reordered in 2012-13, and Archbishop Longley consecrated a new altar and blessed the lectern, font and tabernacle, all limestone of Polish workmanship, on 27 April 2013 (figure 3). A large mural of the Last Supper around the tabernacle in the reformed arched sanctuary recess has been painted by a parishioner, Bartlomiej Roczniak, who has also provided a painting of Pope St John Paul II. The architect for the refurbishment was Daniel Hurd.
The list entry (below) is brief, and has been amended to take account of the 1976 alterations. It provides an adequate account of the exterior. The interior is now entirely late twentieth/early twenty-first century in character, with a gallery at one end and new stone sanctuary furnishings on a curved stone dais which repeats the form of the reinstated sanctuary arch. The windows have been filled with light coloured glass of semi-abstract pattern incorporating some sacred motifs. The most striking feature of the interior is Roczniak’s Last Supper mural.
Circa 1800 originally a dissenting chapel. Classical gable end to south-east. Stucco now with roughcast. Three bays. The central one having coupled Ionic pilasters and a moulded pediment above entablature. Entrance porch of 2 round headed arches. Round headed windows to sides. North-east side and interior have been altered and modernised.
Listing NGR: SP0738286910
Architect: Not known
Original Date: 1802
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II