Hagley Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham B16
Image copyright Alex Ramsay
Image copyright Alex Ramsay
Image copyright Alex Ramsay
A Roman basilican design of the first decade of the twentieth century, built as a memorial to Cardinal (St) John Henry Newman, who lived here for nearly forty years. The interior is richly fitted out in marble and mosaic, with imported items as well as purpose-designed furnishings by J. H. Pollen, Dunstan Powell, Nathaniel Westlake and others. It contains elements from the previous church, and with Oratory House and Henry Clutton’s school hall forms part of an important historic group on one of the principal approaches to the city centre.
John Henry Newman and the Oratory Fathers moved to Hagley Road in 1850, where a house was built in the style of a Renaissance palazzo from designs by the Irish architect-engineer Terence Flanagan, a cousin of the Rev. John Flanagan, who was a priest of the Oratory. Behind this was built in 1853 the first church, also designed by Flanagan. Some accounts (e.g. Little) state that Eugène Viollet le Duc was responsible for the ambitious Lombard Romanesque design originally proposed, but this stems from a misreading of the signature on the drawings, by the Parisian architect Joseph-Louis Duc (1802-79). Flanagan’s design was more modest, a simple, barn-like structure, ‘its roof transferred from an abandoned factory’ (Little, 141). To this was added an aisle in 1858-61, from designs by John Hungerford Pollen, who later added an apse and two transepts, apparently in Norman style. Part of this church survives as the former St Philip’s Chapel (now the shrine to St John Henry Newman).
Henry Clutton designed the Italian Romanesque school hall facing onto Hagley Road and (behind it) a cloister in 1872-3. The school was originally an elementary school for boys and girls, which opened in 1856. This later became a private school for boys, before decamping to Reading in 1922, whereupon St Philip’s Grammar School took over the building. Expanded with new buildings in the 1950s and sixties, this later became a sixth form college before closing in 1995.
The Oratory House contains Newman’s rooms and library, preserved as they were at the time of his death in 1890. After Newman’s death it was decided to erect a new church to his memory, an appropriately Roman basilican design by E. Doran Webb. The foundation stone was laid on 25 March 1903 and opened (minus its apsidal sanctuary) on 9 October 1906. The sanctuary apse was added (the gift of Charles Shaw, a notable benefactor) and the main phase of construction completed for the solemn opening on 8 December 1909. The church was consecrated on 23 June 1920. The main later addition was the shrine of St Philip Neri, added at the northeast corner in 1927, from designs by G. B. Cox. Fittings and enrichments have been added over time, briefly described below.
On 19 September 2010, John Henry Newman was beatified here by Pope Benedict XVI. The Pope also unveiled a plaque at the entrance from Hagley Road, commemorating Newman’s residence here from 1852-1890.
The church, priests’ house and school are fully described in the list entry, below (expanded and the church upgraded in 2016, following Taking Stock).
A Roman Catholic, Oratory church, designed by E Doran Webb and built between 1903-1909, incorporating earlier work by John Hungerford Pollen of 1858, Henry Clutton of 1872-3, and an addition by G B Cox in 1927, together with the accompanying presbytery building, designed by Terence Flanagan in 1851 and the former Oratory School buildings designed by Henry Clutton in 1861-2 and 1872-3.
Reasons for designation: The Church of the Immaculate Conception (Birmingham Oratory), The Oratory Priests’ House and The Oratory School Buildings are listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * Architectural quality and fittings: the group of three, inter-related Oratory buildings – church, school and priests’ house – have considerable design quality and form a unified whole; the design and craftsmanship of the fittings of the church are of very high quality; * Survival of the original plan: the church, priests’ house and school are all very largely as they were originally completed and although the function of the school buildings has changed, its appearance is little altered; * Interrelated grouping: the three parts of the group show the religious mission of the Congregation of the Oratory as interpreted by John Newman with a central church, its attendant priesthood and school.
History: The congregation of the Oratory was founded in Rome in around 1552 by Philip Neri. His system of devotion was dependant on private and public prayer and contemplation, mixed with practical acts of charity. He attracted a group of disciples and their meetings, which included music and sermons, were moved to an ‘oratory’ or place of prayer. His group continued to grow and was granted the Church of S Maria in Valicella, which it rebuilt as the ‘Chiesa Nuova’, in which St Philip Neri is buried. The order spread widely in the C17 and C18, but contracted following the French Revolution and during the Italian Risorgimento. It was revived, especially in England, by John Newman, who had been an Anglican clergyman, but converted to Catholicism in 1845 and was then ordained priest in Rome in 1847. He founded the first Oratorian congregation in Birmingham in 1848, followed the following year by a second house in London. The first Birmingham community was based at Maryvale and then moved to a former gin distillery in Digbeth, where the community worked with the poor. Pope Pius IX had charged Newman with converting the educated classes, as well as the poor, and for this reason he moved the community to Edgbaston in 1852. The present House was built in that year, together with a temporary church. In 1859 he founded the Oratory School, a boarding school which was intended to be run on different lines to the Benedictine abbey schools which had previously dominated Catholic education in England. The school hall, which fronts Hagley Road, was designed by Henry Clutton in 1861-2 with a cloister range behind of 1872-3. All three buildings exist on the same site and physically overlap. Newman continued to live in the Oratory House as one of the community, even after his appointment as Cardinal in 1879, up until his death in 1890. In September 2010 Newman was beatified. The church that John Newman had built in 1853 was designed by Terence Flanagan, who had also built the Oratory Priests’ House. Despite ambitious designs by Louis Joseph Duc, also of 1853, and H R Yeoville Thomason, of 1860 (both in a Lombard Romanesque style), the initial construction was architecturally modest, and the roof timbers were salvaged from an abandoned factory. To this John Hungerford Pollen added an aisle with a round-arched arcade and an apse and transepts in 1858, but the essential form of the Flanagan church survived until after Newman’s death. In the following years it was decided to build a new church as a fitting tribute to the Cardinal and his work. The foundation stone of the new church, designed by E Doran Webb, was laid in 1903 and it was officially opened six years later. At its southern (ritual west) end it incorporates cloister bays of the former Oratory School, designed by Henry Clutton, of 1872-3, as well as the chapel of St Philip Neri (now dedicated to Cardinal Newman) designed by Pollen and built in 1858. The Shrine of St Philip Neri was designed by G B Cox and added to the north-west corner of the church (ritual north-east) in 1927. Following the removal of the Oratory School to a site in Berkshire the school at Edgbaston was renamed St Philip’s Grammar School. This has closed on the present site and the C19 buildings are now used as parish rooms. Cardinal John Newman was beatified in September 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Birmingham.
Details: ORATORY CHURCH A Roman Catholic, Oratory church, designed by E Doran Webb from 1903-1909 and incorporating earlier work by John Hungerford Pollen of 1858, Henry Clutton of 1872-3, and an addition by G B Cox in 1927. MATERIALS: the building is of limestone ashlar with a lead roof and internally clad with a rich variety of marble veneers, inlays and mosaic work. The Tunnel vault over the nave is of chestnut which was painted in 1959. PLAN: the building is oriented north-south, with the northern end representing the ritual eastern end. Ritual compass directions are used throughout this description. The basilican plan has a nave flanked by aisles. At either side of the nave alternating bays contain either a side chapel or a confessional, placed against the outer walls of the side aisles. The sanctuary has an apsidal end and there are transepts to each side whose outer walls are flush with those of the nave aisles. Above the crossing is a dome, and clerestory lighting is by large lights which pierce the sides of the tunnel vault. Further side chapels are placed at either side of the sanctuary. The organ gallery and loft are positioned in the south transept, above the altar of the Sacred Heart. The earlier St Philip’s Chapel (now dedicated to the Blessed John Newman) is attached to the south side of the south transept. The gallery at the western end of the nave is placed over bays of the earlier school cloister. The Oratory House lies to the south and is connected to the church through the Sacristy. EXTERIOR: the west end of the church is fronted by the cloister garth of the former Oratory School. The façade is of three bays, divided by Composite pilasters with paired pilasters to the corners. At ground floor level it has three openings which front bays of the cloister. The central, taller, opening has a moulded, lugged surround above which is a pulvinated frieze and a broken, segmental pediment with figures of angels at either side, carved in relief and supporting an escutcheon with a coat of arms and a cardinal’s hat. At either side are portals with Gibbs surrounds and prominent triple keystones set against pulvinated friezes. At gallery level is a single, central light with segmental top, flanked by corbel brackets. The top of the wall has an entablature with pulvinated frieze and a triangular pediment. The north flank of the nave has seven bays. The division of the bays is unmarked at ground-floor level, but buttresses with concave tops appear between the clerestory bays. At the top of the aisle walls is a balustrade with vase-shaped balusters and square piers. A similar balustrade is placed above the clerestory, along the skyline, and encircles the building above a full entablature with pulvinated frieze. The narrow nave windows which light the alternate bays housing confessionals have moulded surrounds and the larger clerestory windows have pilasters at either side and pedimental tops. The transept at left is blank, save for a niche with an arched head containing a statue of Philip Neri. The left corner has an octagonal staircase turret with a pepper-pot top. In the re-entrant angle between the eastern flank of the north transept and the chancel is the later Shrine of St Philip. This has walls clad with faience tiles, channelled rustication, canted corners and a stone surround to the half-glazed double doors at the centre of its north front. There is a dentilled cornice to the top of the wall. Above this is the drum of the dome, with pilasters placed between the segment-headed windows. Above the entablature the ribbed copper dome has a cross finial. The chancel has a single window to the upper wall at left, but is otherwise blind, with square buttresses rising for the full height of the wall and continuing the cornice. The south flank is largely masked by the Oratory House building, the Sacristy and Pollen’s Chapel of St Philip (now the Blessed John Newman), which are all characterised by red brick walling. The chapel has an apsidal end with three arched windows and above this the library has sash windows, all with stone surrounds. The eastern end of the south transept has an octagonal staircase turret, similar to that seen on the north side. In the re-entrant angle with the chancel is the lower Chapel of St Charles, which has three windows to its south flank. Above it both the transept and chancel have windows with moulded, pedimental surrounds. The dome has four windows to its drum with moulded surrounds and floating pediments. Each window is flanked by three pairs of engaged Tuscan columns. There are four piers with arched niches, which were intended to be filled with carvings of the Evangelists, but this work was not carried out and the attached blocks project from the walls. Above the entablature is a parapet with balustrade panels and the ribbed dome, with its copper sheathing, rises above that to the stone lantern, which has arched lights and small, engaged columns. The domed top culminates in a ball and gilded cross. INTERIOR: the nave has mosaic flooring laid in overlapping fan-shaped patterns. The aisle arcades have monolithic, unfluted columns of Breccia marble with bases of green Swedish marble and Composite capitals. These support a full entablature with plain frieze, from which springs the painted timber barrel vault. The walls of the sanctuary are covered with panels of red African onyx with borders of yellow Siena marble. The altar stands forward from the rear wall on a stepped platform. It was designed by Dunstan Powell in 1899 for the old church. The tabernacle is circular with a domed roof which has enamel inlay. The frontal is of green Connemara marble with lapis lazuli plaques around the edges. Above the altar is a suspended baldacchino of gilded and painted wood. The ceiling of the apse has mosaic decoration representing the Coronation of the Virgin flanked by St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist. Fixed to the side walls are choir stalls of Italian walnut, with tall backs, divided by panelled Corinthian pilasters and with a frieze of swags and ribbons to the top. The pendentives at the crossing, below the dome, have mosaics representing the Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. Later decoration around the drum represents the Evangelists and major saints. The choir gallery is supported by a double colonnade supporting round arches. The grille to the front of the gallery is elaborately carved and gilded, as is the organ case above, both designed by Ernesto Sensi. At ground level, the altar of the Sacred Heart lies behind the double colonnade and was designed by John Pollen for the earlier church on this site. Against the northern wall of the north transept is Our Lady’s altar. The altar and altar rails were brought from the Church of S Andrea della Valle in Rome in 1911. The altar is flanked by columns of Siberian onyx, originally intended for Westminster Cathedral, which now support gilded statues of kneeling angels. The Shrine of St Philip Neri leads off from the east side of the transept. Its richly decorated interior has walls veneered in Siena marble and monolithic columns of red Languedoc marble to the corners. The Cosmatesque floor has a variety of inlayed patterns. The marble altar contains a wax effigy of the saint and the altar piece (after Guido Reni) has an elaborate gilded frame. To the south wall is a reliquary chest with relics and souvenirs of the saint given to Newman in Rome in 1846-7. The series of side chapels off the nave all take the form of an apsidal niche with mosaic semi-dome and are richly decorated with panels of different marble veneers. Fixed altars have mosaic or marble fronts or, in the case of the chapel of St Athanasius, a glass panel revealing the decorated coffin of St Valentine. Confessionals are set in alternate bays which each have a stone screen, formed of a round arched central portal, flanked by two flat-headed entrances. Above this is a central stone sculpture niche, with carved consoles to its sides, flanked by a wrought metal screen. The wooden confessionals are set behind the stone screens, at the back of each side bay. The baptistery is set in the western-most side bay of the north aisle. It was designed by Dunstan Powell and opened in 1912. It has a decorated metal barrier and richly-moulded plaster walls with swags and putti in high relief above ebony panelling. The bowl is of alabaster and the bronze cover (Hardman), which swings to one side, has a figure of St John the Baptist as finial. The earlier side chapel, approached from the south transept and designed by JH Pollen in 1858, has an altarpiece of Chellaston alabaster designed by Giles Gilbert Scott in 1880.
ORATORY PRIESTS’ HOUSE A presbytery for Fathers of the Oratory, designed by Terence Flanagan in 1851 in an Italian Renaissance style. MATERIALS & PLAN: the house is of red brick laid in Flemish bond, with ashlar dressings and a hipped, slate roof. It has three floors and a T-shaped arrangement of corridors on each floor, off which are individual rooms. EXTERIOR: the southern front, facing Hagley Road, has five bays, symmetrically disposed. There are stone quoins at the corners and stone string courses between the floors, that between the ground and first floors having Vitruvian scroll ornament. A sill band also runs across the façade at first floor level. There are sash windows of twelve panes at ground and first floor levels, and six panes to the attic. Window surrounds are aedicular with lugs and panelled cornice heads at ground floor level. The central doorway has a similarly-moulded surround, above which is a square panel with a broken, segmental pediment, flanked by scrolls. The first floor windows are plainer with brackets below their sills, save for the central opening, which has a lugged surround with panelled cornice, as before, and scrolls to its side. The central, second-floor window has a lugged and shouldered surround. To the top of the wall is a dentilled cornice and the ridge carries four chimneys to full height. The east front has two bays at left which continue the pattern of the street front. Recessed at right is a lower, two-storey range of four bays which have plainer window surrounds and a string course between the floors. At right again and projecting are five bays to the original height and pattern. The north front has two widely-spaced bays at left, of the established pattern, with a C20 addition at ground floor level housing the kitchen. To right of this is a projecting single bay with Venetian window to the ground floor and at right again is the curved wall which marks the apsidal end of the chapel of St Philip Neri at ground floor level (now dedicated to the Blessed John Newman), added to the earlier church by Pollen in 1858. This has three arched lights at lower level, above which is the library of the Oratory House, with two blind windows with rectangular heads. Above the parapet and recessed is the curved timber and glass lantern which lights the library. Chimneys across the building are to their original height and take the form of two square stacks joined by an arch. INTERIOR: the entrance lobby is flanked by parlours with cornices. A central corridor runs north-south on all floors and a stone staircase with rectangular well is placed at the southern end. This has two metal balusters per tread and a mahogany handrail. The recreation room has an ante-room, divided from the main room by an arch, cornicing and a black marble fire surround. The dining room has wooden panelling, divided by pilasters with applied paterae and plaster anthemia to the top. There is an arched stove recess in the centre of the northern wall and a revolving cupboard by which food could be served to the fathers. In the north-east corner is a pulpit with panelled sides, tester and steps. At first floor level is a Chapter room with fitted platform, benches, cupboards and desk. Individual rooms at first floor level have an outer baize door, to denote private study, as well as an inner door. The study of Blessed John Newman is preserved as it was at his death, with bookcases, an altar and suspended baldacchino. The House library is at second floor level and has fitted bookcases to the walls and a cast iron gallery approached by a spiral staircase. Its deeply coved ceiling rises to the central timber and glass lantern.
ORATORY SCHOOL A range of former school buildings, now part of the Oratory complex. The School Hall range facing the street was designed by Henry Clutton in 1861-2 and the cloister range, to the north, was designed in 1872-3. MATERIALS & PLAN: red brick walling laid in English bond, with ashlar dressings and a slate roof. The building has two storeys and is arranged around a rectangular cloister at the southern (ritual western) end of the Oratory church. EXTERIOR: the southern front faces Hagley Road and abuts the earlier Oratory Priests’ House to its right, which is slightly set back. The street frontage has blind brick walling at ground floor left, with a deep, flush stone band at the level of the springing of the round-arched portal at far right. This has a wrought-iron screen with a central gate and repoussé panels and leads through to the cloister behind this range. At first floor level are six windows with arched heads and pilasters at either side, supported by brackets. Flush stone bands run below the sills and at the level of the springing of the arches. The spandrel between the two central windows carries a circular, metal clock face. To the top of the wall is a cornice with brackets and above is a blocking course, sheathed with lead. The short east flank is blind and abuts the Oratory Priests’ House. The west flank has two bays with first floor windows as before and two arched ground floor lights with prominent keystones. Projecting at left of this is a similar, single bay which appears to be part of an incomplete extension. A C20 extension in plum brick extends to the north of this. The cloisters have brick vaults with stone dressings to the passage beneath the roadside range and to the northern side which abuts the ritual west front of the church. The east and west sides have beamed ceilings and the south side has deep stone brackets extending from square piers to support a first floor corridor. The east and west ranges and the northern range at either side of the church façade, which runs in front of part of the cloister, have short columns on high, tapered bases with Italian Romanesque capitals. First floor windows above the east and west cloister are arched lights or square-headed lancets. INTERIOR: the ground floor former gymnasium (now the parish room) has transverse iron H-beams, from which hooks are suspended for gym equipment. A central row of iron columns supports the ceiling. A dog-leg staircase with stone treads leads to the generous first floor landing. The former school room has encased, transverse beams to the ceiling and arched sash windows to the north, south and west sides with a raised platform at the east end. The first floor Chapel has a canted north (ritual east) end, circular windows to the sides and a rectangular skylight.
Pursuant to s1 (5) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the angled lift extension to the west of the School buildings and the triangular, single-storey kitchen block to the north of the Oratory Priests’ House are not of special architectural or historic interest.
Chavasse, Paul , The Birmingham Oratory Church, A History and Guide: Foster, A, Pevsner Architectural Guides: Birmingham, (2016), 217-220: Little, B, Catholic Churches since 1623, (1966), 159-160: Scarisbrick, JJ, History of the Diocese of Birmingham 1850-2000, (2008), 78.
Architect: E. Doran Webb
Original Date: 1909
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II*