Building » Lichfield – Holy Cross

Lichfield – Holy Cross

St John Street, Lichfield, Staffordshire WS14 9DX

Built in 1803 by the Rev. Dr John Kirk (1760-1851), a leading figure in the development of Catholicism in Lichfield. Originally a simple brick box with contemporary adjoining presbytery, the church was remodelled and extended by Joseph Potter (architect of Oscott College) with a well detailed transitional Norman-Gothic stone facade in 1834, increasing the contrast between the church and the late Georgian town house from which it emerges. The interior was extensively reordered in 2003, when a narthex was added to the rear. The most significant elements are the west front, chancel arch, and attached presbytery. The church is a notable landmark on a main approach to the city.

Catholics in the Lichfield area were served by a farmhouse chapel at Pipe Hall Burntwood until 1800, when it was sold by Thomas Weld. He gave money to buy a house on the corner of Boar Street and Breadmarket Street, Lichfield, occupied by Paulton’s bakery. Above this a chapel and priest’s accommodation were provided, using vestments and fittings from the Pipe Hall chapel. The Rev. John Kirk arrived on 9 October 1801 (having been at Pipe Hall), immediately found the chapel ‘too hot’ and by 1802 had bought a plot of land on Upper St John Street (now the A51 south entry to the city) for a new chapel.  He built a town house, the left hand side of which formed the church, entered by the front door of the house. Dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, this was opened on 11 November 1803.

The growing congregation was enhanced by passengers from the coach service up the A5 to the northwest and Ireland. In 1833, Kirk asked his friend the local architect Joseph Potter to separate the church roof from the house, add a proper entrance and enlarge the sanctuary. As Potter was then in his late seventies, these additions were probably designed by his son Joseph junior. The church was re-opened and re-dedicated to the Holy Cross on 23 September 1834, with a new (ritual) west front of Norman/Early English transitional style, of Tixall stone. The greater height of the new west bay suggests that it was intended to raise the nave roof in due course, but the awkward junction remains. Given that they are also of Tixall stone, the three paired north nave lancets may too be an improvement by Potter. The west gallery was inserted in 1843 along with the fine Bevington organ (still in use) for £160. The following year a school room was built somewhere on the site, probably under the present community room at the east.

Fr Kirk died on 20 December 1851 aged 91, having been priest in Lichfield for fifty years and at his request was buried by the high altar (his niece had been buried under the sanctuary in 1838). In 1895, a small north chapel/school room was added to the sanctuary and in 1899 a large transverse school room built behind the high altar and connected to the church with a large arch. The same year saw a transfer of land to allow the local authority to widen St John Street. The church gained a strip of land to the south which was to become the site of the parish hall in 1953.

Early twentieth century internal changes (including the present pews) culminated in the erection of the Memorial Altar in 1922 to commemorate Fr Kirk and Fr McCathen, who had died in 1921. The wooden reredos was removed in about 1960 and the arch to the schoolroom panelled and curtained. Early twentieth century wooden Stations of the Cross carved by Bridgman’s were controversially exchanged (and later destroyed as ‘worm ridden’) with the present plaster Stations from the chapel of Our Lady of Victories at Whittington Barracks; they have been repainted by Terence Smith.

The erection of St Peter and St Paul, Dimbles Lane (qv) to the north of the city in 1966-7 put a financial strain on the parish; the debt took until the late 1980s to repay. The primary school had moved to a new site in 1961 and by 1986 the adjacent presbytery had become unoccupied, though the 1948 parish hall was extended in 1989. In 2002 Mgr Sharkey commissioned Daniel Hurd (Daniel Hurd Associates) ‘to revitalise the grade II church and associated buildings to mark the 200th anniversary of the church… it was essential to create a light and warm environment to dispel the cold and dull Victorian past’. The presbytery was thoroughly overhauled and extended to the south for a new kitchen and reception room. Larger flat openings were made to the sides of the sanctuary to better integrate the north chapel and to allow a new confessional and enlarged sacristy on the south. A new single story brick narthex replaced various outbuildings towards the rear car park, with WCs and kitchen on the south. Flat access was created to the church (on the south side of the sanctuary), presbytery and to the community room created out of the 1899 school room. The sanctuary was refurbished, retaining the lower stone half of the Memorial Altar as a reredos and tabernacle and adding a new square altar; the church was re-decorated and given new lighting. The work cost over £500,000. The church was reopened and blessed by Archbishop Vincent Nichols on 21 November 2003.

List description (church and presbytery)


Catholic church and presbytery. 1802-3, the church enlarged and refronted 1834, transept 1892. For Dr Kirk. Front by Joseph Potter (probably Jnr) of Lichfield. Brick with ashlar dressings and front; tile and slate roofs. 4-bay church has transept to left and presbytery to right. Norman/Early English transitional style. Plain plinth, sill course and cornice; coped gables. Front has square angle turret to left with nook shafts, string course, and top cornice and pyramidal roof; offset clasping buttress to right. Round-headed entrance of 2 orders with shafts and scallop capitals, zig-zag and roll mouldings, plank door with enriched strap hinges. Window of 3 pointed lights with shafts, enriched archivolts and continuous hood mould; trefoil above and gable cross. Left return has 3 windows of 2 single-chamfered lights. Transept has coped gable with cross; 2 windows to front have 4-light casements with 2 transoms. Presbytery of 2 storeys; 2-window range. Painted brick and hipped slate roof. Ground floor has 2 round-headed recesses with entrance to left in plain doorcase with cornice and overlight to 4-flush-panel door, large window with 12-pane sash to right. 1st floor has windows with sills, and stuccoed brick flat arches over 12-pane sashes. Right return has small attached outhouses and projecting 1st floor conservatory with horizontally sliding sash to front; ground floor window has 3-light transomed casement. Rear windows part obscured by later transept; 1899 school attached to rear of church.

INTERIOR: panelled cambered ceiling; round sanctuary arch with nook shafts and zig-zag moulding, flanking round-headed niches; west gallery over porch. Altar has detached shafts of coloured marble, low reredos with gabled tabernacle. The church was built by Rev. Dr John Kirk, 1760-1851, who was influential in the development of the C19 Catholic church.

(Victoria History of the County of Stafford: Greenslade M W: Lichfield: Oxford: 1990-: P.155-6; Rowlands M B: Those Who Have Gone Before Us: Birmingham: 1989-: P.37).

Listing NGR: SK1193408798

Heritage Details

Architect: Joseph Potter (1834); Daniel Hurd (2003)

Original Date: 1803

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II