Building » Birmingham (Harborne) – St Mary

Birmingham (Harborne) – St Mary

Vivian Road, Harborne, Birmingham B17

A church building of two contrasting halves, separated by a hundred years: a compact, Gothic Revival building of 1877 by Dunn & Hansom, and a bold open-plan church added in 1977. The former is a good example of a late nineteenth century urban church, and still provides an attractive focus to the street scene. However, it has been diminished internally by the 1977 remodelling. The 1977 building is spacious and light, but has little heritage significance. 

The parish originated with a Passionist Community that came to Harborne in 1870. A Mr Morris bought and then gave them a disused Methodist church on the High Street (formerly called Heath Street), which formally opened for Mass on 26 June 1870. A classroom was built to the rear of the church in 1871. The building soon proved too small for the community and a larger site was sought for a church and monastery. In 1873, Harborne Lodge and five acres of grounds were acquired in Vivian Road, again partly funded by Mr Morris. Mass was initially said in a conservatory at the side of the house. The church on High Street was adapted as a school, until a new school could be built at Harborne Lodge in 1876.

A new church building was begun in 1876, alongside Harborne Lodge, designed by the notable Newcastle Catholic firm 0f Dunn & Hansom, and was formally opened on 6 February 1877 by Bishop Ullathorne. The religious community at Harborne comprised several priests, brothers and students, the latter transferred to St Mary’s Retreat from Dublin in 1884. A new school was built in 1895 on the site now occupied by the parish centre, and in 1911 a new building for the Retreat was built, between the church and the rear of the original Lodge.

The church was reordered in 1970. In 1973 care of the parish was entrusted to the Augustinians, who still manage it. In 1977-8, a new church was built adjoining the south side of the 1877 church, designed by Brian A. Rush & Associates. The contractors were W. T. Pickering. In 1990, a new parish centre was built on the north side of the 1877 church.


In this description the 1877 church will be described first, followed by the 1977-8 addition. The 1877 church is aligned with the former sanctuary to the southeast; in this description conventional liturgical compass points will be used, so that this will be referred to as the ease.

The Dunn & Hansom church is faced in red brick laid in English bond, with sandstone plinth and dressings, and a Welsh slate roof with coped verges. The interior has been reordered, but the historic plan is still legible; this consists of a four-bay nave and narthex under one roof, a slender octagonal tower to the southwest corner, and a gabled sacristy on the south side of the former sanctuary and south chapel. The style is Decorated Gothic. The west entrance (no longer in use) is to the centre of the gabled west front facing the road, with double doors in a deeply recessed pointed arch, flanked by small lancet windows. The five-light west window above has Decorated tracery; this and all other windows have terracotta hoodmoulds. The octagonal southwest bell tower has an arcaded upper stage, a short stone spire and stepped string courses following staircase lancets. The aisleless north elevation has three four-light Decorated windows. The east window consists of five stepped trefoil-headed lancets, with terracotta hoodmoulds; the east gable end is partly obscured by the 1911 monastic block which abuts it to the east. The former south aisle of the church is obscured by the 1978 church which abuts it, although the gabled brick sacristy is visible from the burial ground.

The 1978 church is roughly square in plan, with the present sanctuary in the southeast corner, expressed externally by an apsidal tower. The building is faced in red brick laid in Flemish bond, with flat or gently sloping roofs covered in mineral felt. The building is low in height compared with the 1877 church. The entrance faces west to the road, with glazed doors and screen within a deeply recessed outer porch, below a cast concrete flat canopy. The latter has raised lettering over the entrance proclaiming IN ALL THINGS LOVE. Along the south and west elevations are full-height metal-framed angular projecting windows filled with yellow glass, with lead cappings. The east elevation is blind.

Internally, the 1978 church narthex connects to the narthex of the 1877 building. The nave and south aisle of the latter now acts as a side aisle to the 1978 church, where the original south wall and aisle was removed in 1978 to connect the two volumes. The four-bay former nave arcade was retained, with cylindrical piers and pointed arches, but the roof over the former aisle was glazed in 1978. The former nave roof is concealed above a suspended ceiling, but the ribbed vaulted roof to the former sanctuary is exposed. Other features retained in the 1877 church include the brick north wall with banded terracotta decoration above a tongue and groove dado and roll-moulded string courses, all painted. Stained glass includes the east window of 1898, and the east window in the Lady Chapel, 1917, given by Mr Jewsbury. The latter chapel has a ribbed timber waggon roof, and an arcade to the north wall with marble column. The floor in the 1877 church is modern but the pine pews are late nineteenth century, now facing south towards the 1978 sanctuary.

The 1978 church has plain plastered walls, carpeted concrete floor, and exposed roof soffit with timber beams. The sanctuary has a tiled and carpeted corner platform with cast concrete liturgical fittings. Seating is hardwood pews. The modern Stations of the Cross, statue of the Risen Christ and a ceramic Madonna and Child are by Carmel Cauchi; late nineteenth century stations in relief carved wood are also retained within the 1877 church building. The church contains two war memorials – a copper plaque to the 1914-18 war, and an oak memorial to the 1939-45 war. A 1979 carved timber statue of St Augustine stands on a wall plinth in the 1978 narthex.

Heritage Details

Architect: Dunn & Hansom; additions by Brian A. Rush Associates

Original Date: 1877

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed