St Bernard’s Road, Olton, West Midlands B92
A stately and well-detailed interwar essay in Early Gothic by G. B. Cox, echoing in some respects his earlier church at Acocks Green. The interior spaces are impressive, and retain many early features of note. The original roof was destroyed by a fire in 1970, but was carefully and accurately restored. Adjoining the church is the diocesan seminary, built for Bishop Ullathorne in 1873 from designs by Dunn & Hansom, and now housing a religious community.
In 1871 Bishop Ullathorne, concerned that Oscott College was not being run as a seminary strictly on the model prescribed by the Council of Trent (that is, educating clerical and lay students separately) acquired a 42-acre site at Olton with a view to opening a diocesan seminary, dedicated to St Bernard. Ullathorne chose as architect Edward Joseph Hansom, then newly entered into partnership with Archibald Dunn of Newcastle. It opened in 1873. The first rector was the Rev. Edward Ilsley, who succeeded Ullathorne as Bishop of Birmingham in 1888, and quickly decided to close the seminary. The secular seminarians moved back to Oscott, which ceased to be a lay school in 1889. The Olton buildings were acquired by Capuchin Friars of the English Province, and dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. A public chapel was formed in a wide corridor, the ‘cloister’ wing, and in 1890 the cemetery was consecrated.
The present church was designed by G. B. Cox of Birmingham. The foundation stone was blessed by Archbishop McIntyre on 21 April 1926 and the church was opened by Archbishop Williams on 12 November 1929.
In 1930 a pulpit was erected in the church, given by the parishioners in memory of Fr John Mary, founder here of the Pious Union of the Holy Ghost. Stations were also installed (reframed in 1971). In 1932 an organ was installed in the loft over the sacristy (it was later moved to the west gallery, and then back again to its original position in 1966). In 1939 the Lady altar was installed, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of the Friars. In 1944 the sanctuary communion rails were erected, and work started on the Sacred Heart altar.
In 1955 the corridor wing was enlarged to form a parish hall.
In 1970 the church was damaged, and the timber nave roof destroyed by fire. It was restored and reopened within fifteen months, with a full-width addition at the west end.
The Capuchins left in 1981, and since then the parish has been served by priests of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Betharram, an institute of consecrated life established in 1832.
The church was consecrated on 4 October 1990.
A large Early French and Early English Gothic design of 1926-9 by G. B. Cox, red brick with stone dressings and Westmorland slate roofs. The plan is similar to that for Cox’s earlier church at Acocks Green (qv), which was described by the architect as ‘a new departure from the traditional nave-and-aisles type of church plan’, designed with a view to giving every member of the congregation a clear view of the high altar and pulpit. As at Acocks Green, the bays of the nave alternately project, providing external rhythm and modelling, and internal recesses for shrines and side altars. On plan the church consists of a wide aisleless nave with two projecting bays on either side, a long sanctuary with side chapel giving off to the south, and a northern Lady Chapel. Sacristies and a tall campanile are attached to the southern side chapel. At this point the building connects to a corridor (adapted and extended in the 1950s to form a parish hall) which leads to Dunn & Hansom’s former seminary buildings to the south.
At the west end of the church is a low narthex, added in 1970-1, also in red brick. Above this, a five-light west window with cusped tracery and a stone frieze below bearing carved shields with the coats of arms of the Franciscan order etc. Stone banding at the springing of the window arch and in the gable give a horizontal emphasis. The corners are angled (echoed also in the modern narthex addition below), and the theme of blocky angularity continues in the projecting bays at the sides. Towards the east end of the nave and in the long sanctuary and side chapels, the bays are marked by attached brick buttresses with stone gabled caps. The low Lady Chapel continues the theme in a miniature form. The south wall of the sanctuary is also the ‘east wall’ of the side chapel, for the community, and is therefore more richly treated with a two light central window, and single light windows on either side with buttresses. In the gable, a statue of the Virgin and Child in a canopied niche. In contrast, the east end is plainly treated, the brickwork relieved only by a high level circular window in the canted bay. The chapel built for the Friars returns to the south, with paired lancet windows (triple in the south end gable). Alongside this is a blocked opening, indicating an intended second storey for the link to the 1873 building, and alongside this is the campanile, octagonal and in two stages. The upper (belfry) stage is more enriched, and is surmounted by a copper pyramidal cap.
Inside, the nave is one wide space, designed to maximise visibility of the high altar and pulpit. At the west end is a gallery, its front carved with shields bearing representations of the Passion. Side chapels and shrines are placed within tall arches in alternating bays at the sides, and the window bays in between have similar blind arches encompassing the lancet windows. The walls are plain plastered, the architectural dressings white stone and the waggon vault Oregon pine. Pilasters mark the bay divisions, continued upwards by transverse timber arches, but interrupted at the springing by carved wooden angels bearing shields. These and the nave roof were entirely renewed after the fire in 1970. The north (Lady) chapel gives off at the eastern end of the nave, through low paired openings with columns and stiff-leaf capitals. On the opposite side is a door to the sacristy and above this an open organ gallery. A wide Gothic chancel arch leads to a timber groin vaulted ‘crossing’, off which the large chapel designed for the Friars leads to the south. This chapel also has open bays at the upper level, intended to connect with the friary. Back in the main space, beyond the chancel is the short sanctuary, housing the high altar, with a more elaborate timber vault and a circular window with a cusped quatrefoil.
Furnishings of note include:
List descriptions (the church and friary were listed in 2016, following Taking Stock)
A Roman Catholic church, built 1926-9, designed by George Bernard Cox of Harrison and Cox, Birmingham, in a combination of Early-French and Early-English Gothic styles, built for the Order of Capuchin Friars of the Franciscan Monastery of the Immaculate Conception; part of the original timber nave roof was destroyed by a fire in 1970.
Reasons for designation: The Church of the Holy Ghost and Mary Immaculate is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: a good example of a mid-C20 church, that demonstrates the effective employment of a variety of Early-Gothic styles by an important regional architect, George Bernard Cox; * Internal decoration: a strong internal design with numerous references to the original Franciscan order who founded the church including mosaic motifs and intricately carved timber decoration; * Group value: it forms an important group with Olton Friary, an attached late-C19 former seminary training college (listed at Grade II).
History: The Church of Holy Ghost and Mary Immaculate was built between 1926-29 for the Order of Capuchin Friars of the Franciscan Monastery of the Immaculate Conception. The site at Olton was originally acquired by Bishop William Bernard Ullathorne in 1871. A seminary was designed by Edward Joseph Hansom and it opened in 1873. In 1888 Ullathorne was succeeded by Bishop Edward Ilsley. In 1889 it was deemed too small to meet the requirements of the seminary college and Ilsley decided to move the school back to St Mary’s College in Oscott. The Olton site was acquired by the Capuchin Friars of the English province, with the former seminary school becoming the Franciscan Monastery of the Immaculate Conception. A temporary public chapel was formed in the attached enclosed walkway, the only completed side of a proposed quadrangle, and in 1890 a cemetery was consecrated in the land to the south. George Bernard Cox of Harrison and Cox, Birmingham was enlisted to design a new church attached to the west of the friary. The church’s foundation stone was blessed by Archbishop McIntyre on 21 April 1926. It was opened by Archbishop Williams on 12 November 1929. In 1930 a pulpit, donated by parishioners in memory of Father John Mary, was added. An organ was installed in the loft in 1932 (it was moved to west gallery and in 1966 reinstalled in its original position). The Lady Chapel altar was installed in 1939. In 1944, sanctuary communion rails were erected and works commenced on the Sacred Heart altar. In 1970 a fire destroyed part of the nave roof. It was restored and reopened in 1971. In 1981 the Capuchin Friars left and the church was taken over by the Society of the Sacred Heart of Betharram. In the late-C20 the church was reordered and a new altar placed in the middle of the chancel. The nave pews date from 1970-1 and replaced those of 1932 which were destroyed in the fire. The church was consecrated on 4 October 1990.
Details: A Roman Catholic church, built 1926-9, designed by George Bernard Cox of Harrison and Cox, Birmingham, in a combination of Early-French and Early-English Gothic styles, built for the Order of Capuchin Friars of the Franciscan Monastery of the Immaculate Conception; part of the original timber nave roof was destroyed by a fire in 1970. MATERIALS: Flemish-bond red brick walls with ashlar-stone dressings and Westmorland slate roofs. PLAN: the church has a cruciform plan, with an aisle-less nave to the south-west, Lady Chapel to the north-west, chancel to the north-east, and a side chapel and campanile to the south-east (for the purposes of this description, the rest of the text will refer to the liturgical directions with the chancel at the east end and the nave to the west). The church is attached to the former seminary school to the east (subject to a separate assessment). EXTERIOR: at the west end is a stone frieze with a row of carved shields with coats of arms of the Franciscan order and a five-light west window with cusped tracery detail. Under the window is a red-brick narthex added in 1970-1, which is of lesser interest. The corner of the church and the narthex are chamfered. On the north side of the nave are alternating projecting full-height bays with chamfered corners. The south side is similar; however, it also includes alternating projecting half-height bays. The nave bays are marked by brick buttresses with stone gabled caps. The nave is lit by tracery-headed lancets. At the east end of the north elevation is a small Lady Chapel with lancet windows, an apse with incised cruciform detailing at one gable end and a separate flat-roof entrance porch under a traceried Reuleaux window at the other. At the east end is the chancel. The north elevation has a central two-light window with quatrefoil, flanked by single-light windows. Above is a canopied statue niche containing the Virgin and Child (the face of Jesus has recently been re-cut following weather damage). The east-end polygonal apse is decorated by a central recessed brick arch incorporating a rosary window. To the south of the chancel is the side chapel with four lancet windows and a stone drip course incorporating grotesques. Also to the south is the vestry range with a variety of lancets, mullion windows and pointed-arch openings, including a blocked opening on the first-floor above the covered-walkway link that was originally intended to provide access to the friary. This range also includes the campanile which is topped by a brick-and-ashlar stone bell tower with double and single-lancet openings and a pyramidal roof. The rainwater good are cast-iron and include hoppers decorated with embossed ‘F’s. INTERIOR: the 1970s narthex houses the vestibule and an enclosed timber staircase leading to the nave gallery. The west gallery is decorated with carvings, including shields bearing interpretations of the Passion on the fascia. The aisle-less nave is flanked by alternating bays containing side chapels with shrines and altars, and pair of confessionals. The church has a stone floor with green-marble detailing and plain-plaster wall. The pointed barrel-vaulted Oregon-pine roof has timber transverse arches supported by pilasters topped by carved wooden angles bearing shields. The Lady Chapel is housed in the north transept, separated from the nave by an arcade with polished stone columns and leaf capitals. The chapel contains a polychrome marble altar and altar rail, and a set of stained glass donated by and dedicated to the family of G B Cox. Adjacent to the chapel is the 1930s nave pulpit. The pointed-chancel arch and polychrome-marble communion rail divides the chancel from the nave. The chancel has a groin-vaulted ceiling and marble floor with mosaic decoration depicting motifs relating to the Franciscan order. Beyond is another stone arch framing the apse which houses the high altar, stone piscina and a more elaborate timber-vaulted roof. To the south is a side chapel designed for the friars that contains good quality oak furnishings, a parquet floor and a figure of Our Lady in a carved timber aedicule. Above is a first-floor organ gallery with an open arcade with timber balconies that overlooks the side chapel. Opposite the Lady Chapel is the double-leaf timber door that leads through to the vestry (which contains an inbuilt full-height safe). A further set of double doors leads through to the interior of the campanile and a stair with a carved timber banister with newel posts topped by animal sculptures that leads up to the organ gallery. Sets of ladders lead to the upper stages and the bell turret.
Books and journals: Scarisbrick, J J (editor), History of the Diocese of Birmingham, 1850-2000, (2008), 150. Other: The Architectural History Practice Ltd: Churches in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham – An Architectural and Historical Review, prepared for English Heritage and the Archdiocese of Birmingham (2015)
Former diocesan theological training college, built in 1873, founded by Bishop Ullathorne, designed by Edward Joseph Hansom (1842-1900) of Dunn and Hansom. In 1889 the seminary was closed and taken over by the Capuchin Friars. Since 1981 the site has been occupied by the Society of the Sacred Heart of Betharram.
Reasons for designation: The late-C19 former diocesan seminary school, known as Olton Friary, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: it possess a strong Gothic design both internally and externally, and was designed by Edward Joseph Hansom, of Dunn and Hansom, an accomplished architect and firm who were responsible for many notable ecclesiastical buildings; * Historic interest: it was founded by Bishop Bernard Ullathorne, the first Roman Catholic Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Birmingham on the C19 re-establishment of the Catholic hierarchy, an association reflected in the building’s decoration; * Level of intactness: the internal arrangement of the building, in particular the former principal seminary rooms, has undergone relatively few alterations and the original plan of the college is still legible;* Group value: it forms a strong group with the attached Church of the Holy Ghost and Mary Immaculate (listed at Grade II).
History: William Bernard Ullathorne (1806-1889) became the first Bishop of Birmingham in 1850 following the reintroduction of the English Catholic Church hierarchy. He held the strong belief that seminary schools should cater exclusively for church students and found the existing diocese seminary St Mary’s College in Oscott on the outskirts of Birmingham unsatisfactory due to the integrated education of lay students. In 1871 he acquired a forty-acre site in the area of Olton, to the south of Birmingham. He enlisted the architect Edward Joseph Hansom (1842-1900), of Dunn and Hansom, to design the school. Hansom’s original design was for a large central clock tower flanked by two L-shaped wings. Due to concerns over costs Ullathorne approved the building of only the left wing. The foundation stone was laid in 1872 and the college opened in 1873. It was dedicated to Ullathorne’s patron saint, St Bernard, and Reverend Edward Isely (1838-1926) was chosen to run the school. In 1888, Ullathorne was replaced as Bishop of Birmingham by Ilsley and the following year he passed away. In 1889 it was deemed that St Bernard’s did not have sufficient capacity to meet the growing requirements of the seminary college. Ilsely decided to move the school back to St Mary’s College at Oscott, which ceased its tuition of lay pupils. The Olton site was acquired by the Capuchin Friars of the English province, with the former seminary school becoming the Franciscan Monastery of the Immaculate Conception. A temporary public chapel was formed in the attached enclosed walkway, the only completed side of a proposed cloistral range, and in 1890 a cemetery was consecrated in the land to the south. Between 1926-9 a new church, designed by George Bernard Cox of Harrison and Cox, Birmingham was built to the west of the friary, and linked by the covered walkway. In 1981 the Capuchin Friars left the site and the church and former seminary were taken over by the Society of the Sacred Heart of Betharram. The seminary building became accommodation for the incumbent and retired priests; the former first-floor chapel became a library and the former rectory below became a chapel. The overall plan of the building has been largely unaltered; the most notable exception is the ground-floor kitchen and service range in the north wing. The attached western linking range was expanded in the late-C20 to provide a community hall and day school.
Details: Former Birmingham Diocesan theological college, built in 1873, founded by Bishop Ullathorne, designed by Edward Joseph Hansom (1842-1900) of Dunn and Hansom. In 1889 the seminary was closed and taken over by the Capuchin Friars. Since 1981 the site has been occupied by the Society of the Sacred Heart of Betharram. PLAN: an L-shaped building, consisting of a north and east wing; attached to west is a former enclosed walkway that links the former seminary to the attached church. MATERIALS: Flemish-bond red brick with blue-brick and ashlar-stone detailing, all under a slate roof with decorative brick chimney stacks. EXTERIOR: a two-storey building with an attic storey. There is stone ashlar detailing around the windows, and stone drip moulds, bands of blue brick and a brick stepped dentil course running around the whole building. The south (garden) elevation of the east wing has seven bays. At the west end is a projecting gable-end bay (containing the former chapel and refectory). The gable incorporates a two-storey box-bay window with five-light window within a recessed pointed arch on the ground floor, topped by a stone drip mould with a carved ecclesiastical shield. On the first floor is an ashlar mullioned window with quatrefoil decoration and topped by a balustrade. Above the box bay is a pair of louvered openings and foliate-carved roundel. To the right of this bay is a stair turret with tracery windows and conical roof. The rest of the wing beyond is five bays divided by stepped buttresses. Each bay includes a ground floor two–light pointed-arched opening containing two sashes, a square-headed two-light first-floor window and a pointed dormer with barge-board decoration at attic level. The east elevation is relatively plain, with a column of central windows and a side entrance. The keyed bricks in this elevation are evidence of the proposed central tower and second wing design that was to extend towards the east. The north elevation is of five bays and mirrors the garden elevation, with the exception of the ground-floor which has two-light trefoil-headed windows. The mansard roof over this wing has a central and gable-end stack. At the apex of the north and west wing is a corner entrance; a pointed-arch door with stone hoodmould supported by corbels decorated with ‘WBU’, the founder’s initials. The north wing has seven bays on the east elevation. The first five are separated by brick buttresses; each consists of a ground-floor single-light, trefoil-headed diamond-pane window, a single-light four-pane first-floor sash and a small dormer window at attic level. The pitched roof over these bays includes three large brick ridge stacks with decorative hexagonal pots. The sixth bay projects forward of the elevation and contains the service staircase, lit by single-light windows. The seventh bay consists of square-headed openings. On the west elevation there have been two single-storey C20 extensions on the ground floor. The first-floor windows are paired sashes and above are brick dormers in the attic. The brick work on north end bay of this elevation shows evidence of the intended cloistral range. The only side of the proposed cloister to be built was the flat-roof, single-storey southern walkway. The original south elevation faces onto the garden, with a central entrance flanked by squared-head windows with stone mullions. The north elevation that faces into the car park is the result of the C20 widening of this space. INTERIOR: the main stairwell is located at the apex of the south and east wing; it is a dog-leg staircase with carved balusters and reeded square-newel posts with moulded detailing. The ground-floor corridors are interrupted by pointed arches with varying degrees of moulded detailing and the tile floor has a geometric pattern. The east wing has the former seminary common rooms, most of which contain a pointed-arch stone fireplace with foliate carvings in the spandrels, as well as carved-wooden ceiling beams. Adjacent to the main stairs on this level is the former refectory (now a day chapel) with decorative-timber ceiling beams on moulded stone corbels, wooden shutters, timber wainscoting, and an alcove at the south end. The north wing contains the original kitchen and service room; these rooms have undergone the greatest level of alteration, including the rebuilding of part of original kitchen fireplace. One of the rooms has also been altered with the creation of a new reception entrance on the west side, facing towards the adjacent car park. Also located within this wing is an open-well service staircase with chamfered-detailing. The former seminary chapel (now a library) is on the first floor above the former refectory and adjacent to the main stairs. The door to this room has an elaborately carved entablature. Within is a coved-coffered ceiling with chamfer details, other moulded timber decoration, an alcove with decorative pilasters at the south end and later book shelves around the walls. The rest of the first and second floors contain two levels of bedrooms. Some of the first-floor rooms in the north wing have been combined to form a modern dining room and kitchen. The second-floor rooms are within the building’s attic level and are heated by large exposed cast-iron pipes. Many of the original timber panel doors survive on all floors. There are also several surviving fireplaces; others have been blocked. The interior of the corridor that links the friary to the adjacent Church of the Sacred Heart and Mary Immaculate has been heavily altered in the late-C20 when it was extended to the north and is not of special interest*.
* Pursuant to s.1(5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the interior of the hall corridor that links the church to Olton Friary is not of special architectural or historic interest.
Books and journals: McInnally, Mary, Edward Ilsley: Archbishop of Birmingham, (2002); Scarisbrick, J J (editor), History of the Diocese of Birmingham, 1850-2000, (2008), 21, 150. Other: The Architectural History Practice Ltd: Churches in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham – An Architectural and Historical Review, prepared for English Heritage and the Archdiocese of Birmingham (2015)
Architect: G. B. Cox
Original Date: 1929
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II