East Meadway, Kitts Green, Birmingham B33
Image copyright Alex Ramsay
Image copyright Alex Ramsay
A building of major significance in the diocese, and nationally, illustrating one architect’s response, highly individual and creative yet driven by the liturgical programme, to post-Vatican II requirements. Richard Gilbert Scott’s T-plan building is a remarkable design, combining modern construction and forms with high quality fittings and artworks, and is very little altered.
A priest was appointed in 1950 to serve the new housing area of Kitts Green (also known as Tile Cross), but the parish was not canonically erected until 1959. It was formed mainly out of the area of the parish of Stechford. Mass was celebrated in Lea Village Council School until the opening of Catholic primary and secondary schools in 1957, when Mass was said in the secondary school. A presbytery was built at about the same time.
The church was built in 1966-7 from designs by Richard Gilbert Scott of Sir Giles Scott, Son & Farmer. Scott inherited the commission from his uncle Adrian Gilbert Scott, who had died in 1962, and this was the first of his churches built entirely to his own design. It was built to meet the needs of the new liturgy, being T-shaped on plan, with all members of the congregation within fifty feet of the altar. However, the precise direction of liturgy and design at this time was not certain. Scott’s early designs included provision for a double altar, allowing for both eastward and westward celebration of the Mass, but this was rejected by the archdiocese as ‘undignified’. The layout of the sanctuary went through other permutations, chronicled by Proctor, who writes: ‘Like many other architects building churches in the mid-1960s, Scott had to counter the clergy’s uncertainty with coherent ideas of his own’. The T-shaped plan form was influenced no doubt by Gerard Goalen’s Our Lady of Fatima, Harlow. The church opened on 19 October 1967 and was consecrated on 22 May 1979.
The church is well described in the list entry, below, and repetition is unnecessary. The building has been very little altered since it opened in 1967.
Roman Catholic Church. 1966-7 by Richard Gilbert Scott of Giles Scott, Son and Partner. Reinforced concrete frame infilled with Flemish bond brickwork; copper-coated felt roof covering. ‘T’-shaped plan with octagonal baptistry and Lady Chapel in the angles; central entrance porch and vestries to rear. Exterior has low brick walls and exposed concrete beams, oversailed by jagged-edge porch and dominated by soaring, ribbed roof Bell-topped roofs to baptistry and Lady Chapel. Coloured glass in narrow bands and in angles of church, baptistry and Lady Chapel. The external sign, ‘Church of Our Lady Help of Christians’ is shown on Scott’s original plans. Timber double doors, their planking set at complementary angles.
Interior dated 1966 on foundation stone. Forward altar in the crossing under the open roof, whose ribs dominate the high space. The angled frame adds to the soaring quality, with carefully exposed aggregate in panels. The areas between the three main curtains of roofing, and clerestory glazing filled with panels of coloured glass by John Chrestien, a friend of Scott’s who had studied in Paris and lived in India; his glass also fills the baptistry and Lady Chapel, and much of it is symbolic of the Christian victory over the Mohammedan Turks at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 in whose memory Pope Pius V established the Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians. Bench seating and frontals. Marble sanctuary and altar, with timber altar rails, and with marble steps to reading desk and reserved sacrament, behind which is a crucifix (there are further crosses in the stained glass panels to either side). In baptistry is a marble font placed ~ the centre of the octagon, with decorative floor surround; the Lady Chapel has marble altar of similar design to the main altar, marble surround, and marble reredos with image of Our Lady. Gilded mullion screen divides the chapel from the body of the church.
Richard Gilbert Scott joined his father in partnership in 1953. This was his second church, and the first he built entirely to his own designs and to a central plan; he inherited the commission from his uncle, the church architect Adrian Gilbert Scott, who died in 1962. Our Lady Help of Christians demonstrates many of the ideas enshrined in ‘De Sacra Liturgica’ of 1963 and the Roman Catholics pronouncements on forward altars and centralised planning made in September 1964, but it is no mere auditorium for worship; every element is carefully conceived, demonstrating an integration of architecture, engineering and stained glass art. Mr Scott says his aim was to imbue the church with the sense of ‘Gothic’ found in his father’s works, but using a modern idiom. The three-sided plan was rapidly found to be more practical than the early circular plans adopted, for example, at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral and at St Mary, Leyland, Preston, designed in 1960 and 1959 respectively. Our Lady Help of Christians is novel in combining a more rational, ‘T’- shaped plan in a small church with a considerable sense of bravura and celebration. Sources: Original plans held at the RIBA Drawings Collection Information from the architect.
Listing NGR: SP1563786988
Architect: Giles Scott, Son & Farmer
Original Date: 1967
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II