Uxbridge Street, Hednesford, Staffordshire WS22
An ambitious and self-confident Gothic design by G. B. Cox, erected between the wars as a replica of the Marian shrine at Lourdes. Next to the church is a Lourdes grotto, formed at about the same time. The building makes a strong contribution to the local streetscape and is of significance as a diocesan pilgrimage centre.
There was a school and Catholic chapel at Hill Top in the 1890s and a resident priest from 1907. On a visit to Lourdes in 1913 the then parish priest the Rev. Patrick Boyle vowed to build a replica of the shrine at Hednesford. This was to be realised by his successor, the Rev. Joseph Healey. Following a fundraising campaign a site was purchased in 1923 and designs prepared by G. B. Cox of Harrison & Cox, Birmingham. Archbishop McIntyre laid the foundation stone for the church on 12 September 1928. The Tablet reported:
‘Mr. George Bernard Cox, F.R.I.B.A., has planned a lofty structure in the French Gothic style, in sympathy with the original Lourdes church but adapted to meet the special forms of concrete construction to be employed. Both the foundations and the superstructure are being built of reinforced concrete faced externally with stone, this being to enable the building to withstand shocks due to mining subsidence. The cost of the church – upwards of £50,000 – is indicative of a fine and dignified piece of architecture’.
The Birmingham Post (quoted in the same article) wrote:
‘The new church will provide seating accommodation for 400 persons, with wide and spacious aisles for processions and similar ceremonial. The complete plans include a vaulted interior, large and lofty nave and aisles, two transepts, four side chapels and Lady Chapel, and Sacred Heart Chapel and an apsidal sanctuary, also large sacristies, baptistery, organ chamber, narthex, and a campanile eighty feet above the roadway in which it is hoped to place a Lourdes clock with a twenty three-bell carillon and chimes. The western facade will be crowned by a more than life-size white marble statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, and the grounds and spaces surrounding the church are to be laid out in wide avenues and terraces for processional purposes’.
Over 1,500 tons of concrete and 150 tons of steel rods were used in the foundations, and a series of crypt was built with adjustable jacks. The church was opened in June 1934. A replica of the Lourdes grotto was built to the northwest and finished in 1935.
The church is in a Gothic style derived from thirteenth century French examples but free in the detailing, and similar to the upper basilica at Lourdes only insofar as both buildings are large, Gothic and white. The building is of concrete construction, with the external walls faced with squared random white granite stone. The roof coverings are of Welsh slate. The plan comprises a tall nave, low flat-roofed aisles with side chapels, the aisles extended westwards to flank an open porch, north and south transepts with a bell tower attached to the east side of the south transept and a chancel with polygonal apse.
The west porch is perhaps derived from the shrine at Lourdes, and has triple pointed arches on stone piers with a Marian inscription above. The porch is flanked by the west ends of the flat-roofed aisles, each with a single lancet window. Behind the porch rises the west gable wall of the nave, which has polygonal corner turrets rising with open tops and copper roofs. Between the turrets is a central recessed triple-moulded pointed arch with jamb shafts. Under the arch is a three-light traceried window with a rose above. Above the arch in the head of the gable is a niche with a figure of Our Lady. The nave is of two wide bays divided by a pilaster strip but with a bold continuous corbel table which continuous around the entire building. In each bay the low aisles have projecting side chapels and the nave clerestory has a pair of cusped lancets. The transepts are each of one wide bay with polygonal turrets at the external corners and triple lancets windows with a rose above in both gable walls. East of the south transept are grouped the sacristies and a bell turret, which has a single pointed window in each face of the bell stage and a pyramidal roof. The chancel has paired lancets set high in the walls and a small rose window in the east end of the apse.
The interior has a patterned stone floor, plain plastered walls and a rib vaulted ceiling throughout, the ribs picked out in Marian blue. The vaults are carried on full-height wall shafts with foliate capitals. Both bays of the nave have low triple arches to the aisles and the arches are continued round the walls of the transepts and the chancel; the chamfered arches oversail the chamfered piers in a curious and uncomfortable detail which looks unfinished. The low aisles also have chamfered arches and two small chapels on each side. The chancel is raised three steps above the nave and transepts with a further three steps to the high altar, and has stained glass in the eastern windows. The fittings include the high altar under a tall Gothic baldacchino on marble shafts and ceramic Stations of the Cross, by Philip Lindsey Clark.
Entry amended 11.12.2020
List descriptions (the church and Lourdes grotto were separately listed in 2016, following Taking Stock)
Roman Catholic parish church, including boundary walls and railings, built in 1928-33, designed by George Bernard Cox of the Birmingham firm of Harrison and Cox, in a French-Gothic Style.
Reasons for designation: The Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, of 1928-34 by G B Cox, including boundary walls and railings, Hednesford is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:* Architectural interest: an ambitious design by a notable ecclesiastical architect that utilises the free French-Gothic style in a bold and eclectic way, that is further enhanced by the elaborately decorated boundary wall railings; * Historic interest: since its construction the site has attracted visitors and from 1966 onwards it has hosted an annual diocesan pilgrimage; * Structural interest: an interesting use of reinforced concrete superstructure, including a concrete platform and jacks within the crypt, to protect the building from potential mining subsidence; * Level of intactness: the internal survival is good, including key fixtures and fittings such as the elaborate baldacchino, high altar, side chapels and Stations of the Cross; * Group value: the church and the boundary walls form a strong and prominent group with the adjacent shrine honouring the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes (listed at Grade II).
History: The current church was preceded by a school and Catholic chapel dedicated to St Joseph and St Philomena at Hill Top, Hednesford, built in the 1890s. The parish was initially served by a visiting priest from Cannock, until after 1907 when a resident priest was installed. In 1913 the then parish priest, Father Patrick Boyle, travelled to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes. Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1878) is first recorded as seeing the visions of the Virgin Mary in a cave at Lourdes in 1858. She later uncovered a spring on the site which was believed to possess healing qualities. The cave began attracting visitors and in the 1880s a basilica was built above it: Lourdes had become an important Catholic Pilgrimage site. Bernadette was beatified in 1925 and canonised in 1933. Following his visit, Father Boyle determined to build a church and a replica of the grotto at Lourdes in Hednesford. His intention was to create a place of pilgrimage for those who could not afford to travel to France, however he died before his vision could be realised. Under his successor, Reverend Joseph Healey, a worldwide fundraising campaign led to the site at Uxbridge Road being purchased in 1923. G B Cox of Harrison & Cox was commissioned to design the building in a French-Gothic style. The cost of the church was upwards of £50,000. A reinforced-concrete superstructure was employed in order that the building could withstand shocks due to mining subsidence. Local newspapers at the time suggested that it was the first ‘earthquake’ proof building in the country. The foundation stone was laid in 1928 and the church was opened in 1934. Within the grounds of the church is a concrete-and-stone replica of the grotto at Lourdes, finished in 1935. The surrounding land was laid out with a series of wide avenues and terraces for processional purposes. The church and the Lourdes Grotto at Hednesford continue to act as a place of annual pilgrimage.
Details: Roman Catholic parish church, including boundary walls and railings, built in 1928-34, designed by George Bernard Cox of the Birmingham firm of Harrison and Cox, in a French-Gothic Style. MATERIALS: reinforced-concrete superstructure faced with white-granite stone, and a pitched Welsh-slate roof. Within the foundations is a concrete raft employing over 1,500 tons of concrete and 150 tons of steel rods, and a series of crypts were built with adjustable jacks. PLAN: a cruciform plan with the sanctuary at the south end and the nave at the north end (for the purposes of this description, the rest of the text will refer to the liturgical directions, with the sanctuary at the east end and the nave to the west). EXTERIOR: the flat-roof single-storey west porch has triple-pointed arches on stone pairs. Above is a Marian inscription and carved Mary Regina symbol. Within is the central main double–leaf carved-timber entrance door. The porch is flanked by single-storey bays with single-lancet windows (the former baptistery to the left and a side porch to the right). Above the projecting porch is the west gable end with a central recessed triple-moulded pointed arch with jamb shafts. Within the arch is a three-light tracery window with a rose window above. Above the arch is a niche containing a statue of Our Lady. The gable end is topped by a stone cross and flanked by a pair of polygonal turrets topped by lancet openings and copper roofs. Each side of the nave is flanked by two projecting flat-roof, single-storey, polygonal aisle chapels with single-lancet windows. Above each chapel is a pair of cusped lancets that form the nave clerestory. The north and south transepts both have single-bay gable ends with a central triple-lancet and a rose window, and are flanked by polygonal turrets. The right and left return of each transept also contains paired lancets. The chancel end has paired lancets and a rose window at the east end. Between the east end and south transept is a bell turret and sacristy range. The bell turret, which does not contain a bell, is topped by a pyramidal roof and louvered openings. The sacristy consists of a single-storey pavilion with entrances on the south and east elevation and two-storey tower behind that contains the former organ gallery on the second floor. The windows in this range are a combination of square-headed mullions and single lancets. INTERIOR: the interior has a geometric-patterned polychromatic stone floor, plain-plastered walls and a rib-vaulted ceiling supported by columns with Corinthian capitals. The vault ribbing and a frieze of religious text that runs around the whole interior is picked out in Marian blue. In the middle of the west end is the timber-and-painted-glass internal entrance porch, a side door to the left and the former baptistery with stained glass to the right. The ceramic Stations of the Cross that line the nave are by Philip Lindsey Clark. The pews are not original. The aisles have four side chapels with stained-glass windows, and are separated from the nave by a low triple-arch arcade supported by chamfered pillars. A set of three stone steps leads up to the chancel. The high altar sits under a painted and gilded Gothic baldacchino on marble shafts. A later altar table at the front of the chancel was added as part of late-C20 reordering and it is flanked by a later timber pulpit and a font that was moved from the baptistery chapel at the west end. The chancel contains four pairs of stained-glass windows (two added in the 1960s and the other two of unknown date), and below the windows is row of blind pointed-arch arcading. There are further marble and timber alters in the side chapels and the Lady Chapel in the south transept. The south-east corner of the church contains the sacristy and vestry with timber panelling and decorative in-built storage and vestment cupboards. A stone spiral staircase leads up to the former organ gallery which has been blocked off from the main church. SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: a low ashlar-stone wall topped by decorative painted iron railings runs parallel to the main road. There are two sets of large entrance gates, decorated with religious symbols, to the east and west end of the church. Two further smaller pedestrian gates are located further to the east, and at the far east end is a vehicular entrance (the gates have been removed).
Books and journals: Scarisbrick, J J (editor), History of the Diocese of Birmingham, 1850-2000, (2008). Other: Concrete Church. Black Country Novelty, The Devon and Exeter Gazette, Tuesday 23 August 1927, p. 4; The Architectural History Practice Ltd: Churches in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham – An Architectural and Historical Review, prepared for English Heritage and the Archdiocese of Birmingham (2015)
Lourdes shrine (excluding duplication in history section)
Shrine honouring Our Lady of Lourdes, inspired by the original grotto at Lourdes, built between 1927-1934.
Reasons for designation: The shrine built in honour of the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes and the flanking pylons, Hednesford are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: an interesting example of an outdoor Lourdes Grotto shrine, unusual in England for its naturalistic representation of a cave formation; it contrasts well with the flanking Art-Deco style stone pylons; * Historic interest: part of a growing international trend in the early and mid-C20 to commemorate the apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes to St Bernadette; since 1966 the Hednesford grotto has been the site of an annual diocesan pilgrimage; * Group value: with the adjacent Church of Our Lady of Lourdes (listed at Grade II).
History: […] The Lourdes Grotto is within the grounds of the Church of Our Lady at Hednesford. It was built to the north of the church and finished by 1934. The grotto stands on an elevated position at the top of the Rosetta Square. In the early-C21 the decorative railings that stood in front of the grotto were removed and new pews were placed in the forecourt. The church and the Lourdes Grotto at Hednesford continue to act a place of annual pilgrimage.
Details: Shrine honouring Our Lady of Lourdes, inspired by the original grotto at Lourdes, built between 1927-1934. MATERIALS: concrete-and-stone grotto on the front of a man-made earthen mound; flanked by stone pylons. PLAN: a raised hollow that faces west onto an enclosed ceremonial square. DESCRIPTION: in front of the church’s west end is a concrete and stone-clad ceremonial grotto with the masonry dressed to replicate natural stone. The grotto consists of a sheltered raised paved platform and in one corner is a niche containing a statue of Our Lady. The altar stone and pulpit are later additions.SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the grotto is flanked on either side by a set of six art deco-style stone pylons with vacant niches.
Websites: Hednesford, The Grotto, Our Lady Of Lourdes c.1955, accessed 10 March 2016 from http://www.francisfrith.com/uk/hednesford/hednesford-the-grotto-our-lady-of-lourdes-c1955_h267007. Other: Roman Catholic Church at Hednesford, The Mercury, Friday July 5 1927, p. 3; The Architectural History Practice Ltd: Churches in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham – An Architectural and Historical Review, prepared for English Heritage and the Archdiocese of Birmingham (2015)
Architect: G. B. Cox
Original Date: 1934
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II