Building » Birmingham (Old Oscott Hill) – Maryvale Institute

Birmingham (Old Oscott Hill) – Maryvale Institute

Maryvale House, Old Oscott Hill, Birmingham B44

Maryvale is very significant in the history of the Catholic Church in England. It was a mission in the seventeenth century and from 1794 to 1834 the Catholic Seminary for the Midland District. After the building of New Oscott, the house was occupied from 1846 to 1848 by John Henry Newman and fellow converts, when it acquired the name of Maryvale. The main chapel has been in continuous use since the 1770s, and was enlarged in the early nineteenth century by Bishop Milner. The Sacred Heart Chapel, dedicated in 1814, was the first public shrine in England with this dedication.

What is now called Maryvale House was formerly Oscott House, or Old Oscott. Andrew Bromwich was born in about 1652 to a Catholic family who lived in a previous house on the site. He trained as a priest at the English College in Lisbon and on his death in 1702 left Oscott House and its estate to support a Catholic priest. An inventory of 1732 shows that the house had a richly furnished chapel. The house was rebuilt in 1753 as a residence for Bishop J. J. Hornyhold, Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District but was never used for this purpose and instead served as a girls’ school as well as a priest’s residence. After the Catholic Relief Act of 1778 a new and larger chapel was built at the rear of the house by Fr Palmer. In 1794 Oscott became a school and seminary, which in 1808 was named St Mary’s College by Bishop John Milner, Vicar Apostolic, who added a sanctuary to the chapel in 1809 and made other additions to the house in 1809 and 1816 (possibly using Joseph Ireland as his architect, as later at Wolverhampton). In 1814 Milner obtained permission from the pope for a public chapel with an image of the Sacred Heart, and he converted a small oratory at Oscott for this purpose, with a stained glass window depicting the Sacred Heart brought back from Rome. This was the first public shrine in England to what Little calls ‘the aesthetically unfortunate devotion to the Sacred Heart’.

Pressure of numbers led to the building of a large new seminary a mile and a half from the Oscott site and in 1838 the institution transferred to the new premises, which was initially known as New Oscott. Old Oscott became a preparatory school for the seminary but in 1846 the building was allocated to Fr John Henry Newman, Fr Frederick William Faber and fellow converts for use as a retreat. It was Newman who renamed the house Maryvale. In 1851 the buildings became an orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy.

With the opening of the new parish church of the Assumption further up the hill in 1957, pressure on the old chapel was relieved and the sisters oversaw a renovation which included a new block floor, new glass in all the windows except those in the sanctuary and new altar rails.  The chapel was reopened in 1958 but the sanctuary was reordered in 1960, the old altar moved into the Sacred Heart chapel and the rails removed.

The orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy closed in 1980. Maryvale is now a specialist Institute providing distance learning in Catholic theology, evangelisation, catechesis, philosophy and ministry.


The main chapel building behind the main house is a simple three storey structure with external walls of red brick and a steeply-pitched hipped roof covered in Welsh slate. The two lower floors where the chapel is located are hidden by other buildings, apart from the north end wall where three small round windows mark the position of the sanctuary. The top floor has rectangular sash windows. The Sacred Heart chapel is on the upper level of a small addition with a lean-to roof on the north side of the main chapel, and again the only external indication of its use is a round window in the north wall.

The interior of the main chapel is a rectangular space with a wooden floor, plain plaster walls with a moulded cornice all round and a flat ceiling with plaster panels and three ceiling roses.  The chapel is bridged towards the west end by a gallery with timber balustrades which is supported by two pairs of Ionic columns. The eastern part of the chapel has three rectangular windows, or former windows, on each side with plaster swags above the frames. The upper part of two windows on the south side open to the Sacred Heart chapel. The eastern bay is the sanctuary, with a panelled dado and pedimented plaster reredos on the east wall (presumably of 1809) framing a rectangular stained glass window of Our Lady and with small square windows on either side with plaster swags above. The original reredos window may have been by Francis Eginton but the present one was installed in the 1930s after the original was damaged. At the head of the east wall are three small round windows. The fittings are modern, apart from the elaborately carved gilded timber altar which is eighteenth century in character and may be the original one.

The gallery across the main chapel leads to the Sacred Heart chapel. This is a small space like an oratory with Gothick decoration in the form of a plaster rib-vaulted ceiling on clustered plaster columns and lit by sash windows in the side walls. In the east end wall is a round window with the stained glass depiction of the Sacred Heart which was apparently brought from Rome by John Milner in 1814.

List description


Roman Catholic theological institute, originally RC bishop’s house. The oldest part of the building is the 1752 house built for the RC Bishop, Thomas Hornyhold; red brick, 3 storeys, symmetrical 3-bays, 2 windows per bay, articulated by plain pilasters, moulded wood eaves cornice, old tile roof, flanking corniced chimney stacks, sash windows with glazing bars and flat stucco arches and key blocks on ground and first floor; open-well stair and 1752 chapel on second floor, now subdivided but with cornice surviving. 1778 [first Catholic Relief Act] brick chapel, externally plain, with round-arched windows, added at right-angles and open through two storeys with Ionic order, murals, only the classical wooden reredos and a now detached late C17 Flemish baroque altar survive from the various reorderings. John Milner added in 1800 the Sanctuary, in 1809 the long 3-storey wing at right-angles to the original house with simple stick baluster and ramped handrail staircase, and in 1816 Milner added tile external colonnade to link both buildings and a 2-storey lecture room, now reduced to a single storey Doric portico. Also in 1816 Milner added on the second floor the Sacred Heart Chapel, a vaulted room with delicate Gothic stucco detailing; tile stained glass, image of the Sacred Heart, is probably by Eginton, the Birmingham stained glass pioneer. Maryvale is very significant in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in England. It was a Roman Catholic Mission in the C17 and from 1794-1834 the Catholic Seminary of the Midlands. From 1846-48 it was the first Catholic congregation following Newman’s conversion.

Source: Mulvey, B. St Mary in the Valley, A History of Maryvale House.

Listing NGR: SP0741594534

Heritage Details

Architect: Not known

Original Date: 1778

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II*