Henley Road, Ludlow, Shropshire SY8
© Copyright Richard Webb and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.
Photo by Nigel Bishop, parish website
A powerful design of the interwar years by the Italian architect-engineer Giuseppe Rinvolucri, fusing Byzantine and Romanesque stylistic elements while taking advantage of modern construction techniques. The building has a major townscape presence, a spacious vaulted and top-lit interior, and some stained glass of note. The contemporary presbytery is also by Rinvolucri, but is more altered.
During the first decades of the twentieth century Ludlow’s Catholics worshipped in a hall in Julian Road. The foundation stone for St Peter’s was laid in 1935, and the building took just fourteen months to complete. Although generous in its scale and of impressive design, the funds for the building were evidently limited, and the intention to decorate the interior with marble and mosaic was realised only behind the altar. The pews in use today appear to date be original; historic photographs show that over the decades they have been arranged in a number of different ways. The sanctuary was reordered in 1982, with the marble altar brought forward and a new wooden altar installed nearer the crossing. A screen was also built across the nave to create an entrance meeting area. A second re-ordering in 1992 saw the wooden altar replaced with a marble altar and the box-like primary flanking ambos dismantled, and the marble of which they were made re-used in the construction of the extant altar flanking chair and lectern. At this date the wooden crucifix, originally mounted on the wall behind the high altar, was removed and suspended over the new marble altar. In this same scheme the tabernacle was lowered from the position it originally occupied high above the altar. The early 1980s nave screen was short-lived. In 1990 the westernmost part of the nave was hived off for the installation of a small library and a sacristy space to the south and north, respectively, of the west entrance way. The dome, which originally featured a painted dove, representing the Holy Spirit, was re-decorated in 1993 with twelve gold leaf stars on azure background. This work was undertaken by Philip Jackson.
St Peter’s was built to the designs of Giuseppe Rinvolucri, who (in about 1930) moved from his native Piedmont, Italy to North Wales. It is described as ‘unusually ambitious’ by Pevsner and Newman. Several European churches have been cited as potential influences upon Rinvolucri, and Byzantine meets Romanesque in his design for this church – arguably the most striking -influence is S Martin de Fromista in the northern Spanish province of Palencia. St Peter’s is a tall, monumental building, with pinched ‘triplets’ of round-headed windows at high level above expanses of blank wall. The robustness of the building’s appearance is heightened by the fact that it is clad with coursed rubble faced stone from the Oreton Quarry at Farlow, Clee Hill. For its structural integrity the building is reliant on reinforced concrete.
The central porch and oculus of St Peter’s west end are framed by corner ‘towerets’ (as Rinvolucri described them) which lead the eye upwards to the distinctive arcade which runs across the facade and is capped by small domes over the corner turrets. The original intention to mount a huge statue of St Peter on the pedestal atop this facade was presumably dropped on the grounds of cost. The plan takes the form of a short Latin cross. There is a processional nave, with aisles only appearing in the form of short arcades in the chancel. These arcades give access to the flat roofed vestries and meeting room to the east. The transepts and chancel terminate in apses. Each transept has a gallery supported on an arcade of slender reinforced concrete columns (these Rinvolucri claimed were ‘to be seen nowhere else in the country as yet’). The dome over the central crossing draws the eye of those within the building and, externally, is the landmark of the north eastern part of the town. The reinforced concrete dome and roof are covered with felt which was last re-laid in 1992.
The most distinctive fitting is the reinforced concrete spiral staircase which gives external access to the flat roofs of the sacristies and meeting rooms as well as to the walkways leading to the transept galleries. Built at the same time as the robust ‘plain Roman-like’ stone walling behind it, the staircase is arresting in its form, style and materials, quite different from all that is about it, showing the Italian engineer’s flair for progressive design in contemporary materials – best seen at Our Lady Star of the Sea and St Winefride, Amlwych, Anglesey (built 1932-7).
Internal fittings of note include the east window, by Hardman of Birmingham depicting St Peter, St George and Our Lady of Mount Carmel, made in 1906 and relocated from the hall in Julian Road in 1936. The wooden crucifix which hangs above the altar was made by Aloisi Lang of Oberammergau. In the north transept Lady Chapel is a 4.5 metre long tapestry made between 1962 and 1965 by a parishioner. Set in the oculus is a striking representation of Our Lady presenting the Christ Child to the world, by Earley of Dublin, 1963.
Architect: Giuseppe Rinvolucri
Original Date: 1936
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed