Kingsfield Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham B14
A distinctive and successful design of 1966-8, built to replace an earlier church adjacent (extant and now in non-worship use). The church has high architectural and artistic significance for the dramatic and well-planned worship space, the architect’s careful detailing, use of good quality finishes, and for the integration of artistic elements into the overall design.
From 1893, Catholics in Kings Heath attended Mass in the private chapel at the home of the Rev. Michael Dolan on Springfield Road. In order to provide more suitable and adequate premises for the growing community, Fr Dolan built an iron mission church on the corner of Westfield Road and Station Road in 1896.
In 1924 the Rev. Francis Dwyer, parish priest since 1916, bought Kingsfield House, with its large garden, for the parish. After the Station Road church was hit by a bomb in the Second World War, the Kingsfield Road site was used to build a combined church and hall, in 1953, with the intention that in due course a permanent church would be built.
The present church was built in 1966-8 to seat 400, and cost £95,000. The job architect was Jack Edmondson, of the Desmond Williams Partnership. The internal plan was in the form of a large segment of a circle, to allow for greater active participation of the laity in worship, as prescribed in the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-5). Artworks and liturgical furnishings were provided by John Poole (sculpture), Hardman Studios (glass) and others. The earlier church became the parish hall in 1973, and is now used by the adjoining Catholic secondary school.
The church was dedicated in May 1993. In 1995 the original Lady Chapel was converted to a Blessed Sacrament chapel, with a screen of etched glass to divide it from the main space.
Summary of Building: A Roman Catholic church built between 1966-68 to the designs of Jack Edmondson of Desmond Williams & Associates and including stained glass by John Hardman Studios and sculpture by John Poole.
Reasons for Designation: The Church of St Dunstan, King’s Heath, Birmingham, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: *Architectural Interest: the building shows considerable finesse in the planning of the religious space and careful consideration of the details to create a design which blends a range of artistic elements and liturgical themes into a balanced and effective design; *Intact state: although some parts have undergone some change – most notably to the presbytery – the overall degree of alteration is slight for the size and complexity of the church and the high level of survival of the original plan and original fittings is noteworthy;*Artistic quality: the quality of individual works of art which are incorporated into the fabric is high, in particular the sculpture by John Poole, the stained glass by Hardman Studios and the etched glass screen by Josephine Majella.
History: The history of the parish dates from the retirement of Father Michael Dolan in 1893. He moved to Springfield Road, King’s Heath, and the private oratory which he set up in his living room soon attracted Roman Catholics from the area who had no local church. In 1896 Father Dolan came out of retirement to be the parish priest for St Dunstan’s and built an ‘iron church’ on the corner of Westfield Road and Station Road. In 1916 he again retired and was replaced as priest by Fr Francis Dwyer, who bought Kingsfield House in 1924, with its large garden and orchards for the use of the parish. This is the now the site of the present church, as well as the accompanying primary and secondary schools. In 1941 a bomb destroyed the church in Station Road and two rooms in Kingsfield Road were joined together to make a temporary church. In 1953 the present church hall in an Italian Renaissance style was opened and services were held there. The intention throughout the post-war period was to build a new church, but the revised forms of service recommended by the Second Vatican Council seem to have prompted the present building and its shape. The architect chosen was Jack Edmondson of Desmond Williams and Associates and he explained the development of the plan in the pamphlet produced for the opening of the church in November 1968 (see SOURCES); ‘With the new liturgical requirements a number of sketch design plans were presented … and out of these varying shapes a preference was shown for the semi-circular. This seemed to offer the best form for a unified congregation and active participation. ‘Of course, the size and position of the site were both gratifying and frustrating at the same time. Frustrating because of the limitations of planning a church to seat 800 and a Presbytery, and also to allow the passage of vehicles from Kingsfield Road to the school grounds. ‘On the other hand the site was in a prominent position close by a busy shopping area and offered an opportunity of erecting the building in the centre of a small vista (Kingsfield Road) viewed from the main Alcester Road.’ Work on the church building started in 1966 and was finished by the end of 1968. The Ove Arup practice was employed as structural engineers and the complexity of the design led to some initial difficulties with the main contractors, Hunt and Pearcy (see SOURCES, Opening Pamphlet, 1968); ‘The restricted site and revolutionary construction produced many problems and the early meetings were prolonged and sometimes stormy.’ The budget for the work was £95,000. The church hall, of 1953, was subsequently converted to form a community centre in 1973. Later alterations and additions included a partial rebuilding of the first floor of the presbytery, to replace the raked walling and provide a conventional pitched roof, both of which had leaked, and the addition of a garage and conference room. Inside the church the original Lady chapel was converted to a chapel for the Blessed Sacrament, with a screen of etched glass to divide it from the principal space. The stepped area of the sanctuary was enlarged and the original altar table was replaced by a smaller one and a fixed reading desk, or ambo, was made to replace the wooden lectern. All this had been done by the time of the dedication in May 1993.
Details: MATERIALS: the lower walling is of brown bricks laid in Flemish bond to the interior and stretcher bond outside. The roof support is of wood with steel trusses and timber purlins and is covered in aluminium sheeting. PLAN: the shape of the building is a large segment of a circle, with the main body formed by two-thirds of a circle and the vestry area formed by a smaller and lower segment attached to the south-west flank. From this a straight, two-storey presbytery wing projects to the west. A porch connects the church with the hall of 1953. The interior of the church has an entrance by a ramp which leads to a processional route or aisle which curves around the outer edge of the curved body of the church. The sanctuary takes the form of a semi-circular dais approached by three steps and set against the west wall. Confessionals are placed to the left of this and the side chapel to the right. There is a balcony with organ curving around the east wall. EXTERIOR: the walling is flush pointed, with mortar of a matching colour to the bricks, but divided horizontally by an emphatic raked joint between every two courses. The building is designed to be viewed initially from the west, along Kingsfield Road. This western front has a tall, slender tower to the centre and this acts as the principal structural support for the roof as well as the chief visual element of the composition. The tower has a central, vertical channel and a cross, in relief, to its top. To the right of this are three vertical strip windows, representative of the Trinity, set in plain walling. To the left is a low porch with double doors. Above this the roof rises by a series of steps to curve around the tower, rather in the fashion of a spiral staircase with glazed risers, with the tower as the central newel. The lower presbytery has an unlit, segmental wall. A porch to its left links it to the presbytery wing which has a jettied first floor to its original, eastern portion. The first floor of this wing, its pantile roof and the portion to the west, including the projecting garage, were all rebuilt or added. To the eastern side a glazed porch connects the church to the community centre and provides an entry to the staircase hall which leads up to the church balcony. INTERIOR: the Flemish bond brick walling has deeply raked joints. The ceiling has timber boarding to the outer body and a semi-circular roof light to the centre. Curved, fixed seating in the body of the church and the balcony is of pine, and radiates from the sanctuary. The seats have hinged kneelers. Panelling to internal doors, the balcony front etc. is chevron-patterned. Above the sanctuary and attached to the walling of the central tower is a large statue of the Risen Christ by John Poole, casting off his winding sheet and pointing to the font with one arm and enfolding the congregation with the other. The Stations of the Cross are represented in stained glass by John Hardman Studios and are of chipped and faceted slab glass set in epoxy resin. The fourteen stations were set into six windows already incorporated into the church and led to there being two panels with three stations each and four with two. Also by Hardman’s are the three lancet windows set in angled reveals which represent the Trinity; blue for the Father; red for the Saviour and yellow for the Holy Spirit. The font, altar and ambo were all carved from Greek Pentalicon marble by Bannocks of Birmingham. The original cover to the font has been replaced. The glass screen to the Sacrament Chapel was etched in 1995 by Josephine Majella with scenes from the life of St Dunstan. The vestry has a series of original cabinets and cupboards fitted to the curved form of the room.
Selected Sources: Father Eugene P O’Sullivan, The Solemn Blessing and Opening of St Dunstan’s, 30 November 1968; Burling, Pat. et al, Saint Dunstan’s Roman Catholic Church, King’s Heath, Birmingham, 2008; Architectural Review, January 1966, p. 76
National Grid Reference: SP0743581642
Architect: Desmond Williams Partnership
Original Date: 1968
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II