Frankley Beeches Road, Northfield, Birmingham B31
A stripped Italian Romanesque interwar design by E. Bower Norris, with a strong external design and a carefully detailed interior with flat arcading, and decorative metalwork. The sanctuary has lost its original versions, but has been enlivened by a bold neo-baroque mural depicting the Resurrection.
The Catholic community in the Longridge and Northfield suburbs of Birmingham grew in the early twentieth century, attracted by work at the expanding Austin car works. In 1918 a priest was appointed to serve the Longbridge area, and a house at 26 Steel Road was bought and adapted to serve as a Mass centre. Around the same time, Mass was also said in a wooden hut at the Austin works and in a room at the Black Horse public house. In 1931 a combined school-chapel was built on land acquired in 1930 on Frankley Beeches Road, designed by the Rev. Frederick Askew; this building is still in use by the primary school. A presbytery was built in 1932.
The 1931 school and church proved too small and a new church was planned for the site between the school/church building and the presbytery. Designs were prepared by E. Bower Norris of Sandy & Norris, Stafford, and the foundation stone was laid in 1936. The new church cost £7,500. The Tablet reported in February 1936:
‘The new St. Brigid’s, on the start of which building the Archbishop congratulated Father Patrick Cassidy and his parishioners, will seat a congregation of five hundred persons. The architect, Mr. E. Bower Norris, has designed a church in the early Romanesque style. The plan provides for nave, sanctuary, side chapel, baptistry, large sacristies, confessionals, etc. The narthex will be opened to the main church by a series of arches cut off from the main body by wrought-iron grilles, which will thus allow the narthex to be used for visits, etc., and keep the main body of the church closed if necessary. In the narthex are accommodated the baptistry and the stairs to the choir gallery over. The main clerestory wall of the interior and its lofty windows surmount a row of arches to the aisles, which will be for processional purposes only, and the interior will be covered by an open timber roof highly decorated and in pleasing contrast to the simple plastered walls with their brick mullions. An unusual feature of the interior will be the curved reredos to the altar, which will follow a circular plan of the apse, enclosing a large throne for the Blessed Sacrament. Externally, the church will be faced with honey coloured bricks with dressings in Hollington stone and green slates from Westmorland. Owing to the exigencies of the site, the sanctuary end will face the road, revealing an arcade over the apse. It is proposed to erect at a later date, when funds allow, a campanile at the west end’.
The sanctuary was reordered in stages after the Second Vatican Council; the altar rails, pulpit and original high altar were removed in 1972 when the present stone altar was installed. The crucifix was relocated from the sanctuary to the exterior of the apse at the same time. In 1990 a new parish building was built on the west side of the site, attached to the church.
The church is aligned with the sanctuary to the north facing the road; in this description liturgical compass points will be used. The building is constructed in honey coloured brick laid in either Flemish bond (apse, tower and west end) or stretcher bond (aisles), with Hollington stone dressings and a Westmorland slate roof behind parapets. The style is a stripped version of Italian Romanesque. The plan consists a four-bay aisled nave with west narthex, gallery and east sanctuary under one roof, with a southwest campanile (probably built slightly later than the church). The sanctuary is expressed by projecting brick buttresses and an apse. The west elevation is plain and flat with a square-headed central doorway and a circular window above, with no string courses or other decoration. The square tower has a south doorway with semi-circular brick arch and lancets, an upper stage with twin-arched belfry openings to each face, below a frieze with stone panels and deep eaves to the pyramidal copper roof. The aisles have pairs of narrow slit windows and flat roofs behind plain parapets, the nave has pairs of tall semi-circular arched windows, all with polycarbonate sheet protection. The sanctuary has a plain brick apse with a stone panelled frieze and wooden crucifix below a gabled canopy. On the gable end above is a niche containing a statue of Our Lady.
The lofty interior is typical of churches by this architect, with plain plastered walls above a brick dado and plain semi-circular arched arcades, and an exposed king post roof on stone corbels. The narthex has a flat plastered ceiling and is separated from the nave by an arcade of semi-circular arches on stone piers with cushion capitals, on a brick plinth. Double part-glazed doors lead into the nave, and the arcade is filled with decorative metal grilles, now glazed on the west side. The nave has oak pews and a carpeted floor. The entrance to the sanctuary is a plain plastered arch, flanked by blind arches. The sanctuary was reordered in 1972; the forward altar is a plain stone design on a carpeted platform, with the tabernacle on a columnar plinth in the apse; the wall of the latter is filled with a dramatic neo-baroque mural painting depicting the Resurrection, by Neil Harvey, from 1990-2000. Other fittings include plaster relief Stations of the Cross fitted into arched recesses, signed by B. Creswick, 1922, stained glass in the west rose window of 1926, said to be relocated from the adjoining church hall, and an octagonal marble font with oak cover. The Lady Chapel has a marble tiled floor. The organ of 1950 is on the BIOS Register (http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N07380).
Architect: Sandy & Norris
Original Date: 1936
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed