Building » Rugby (Hillmorton) – English Martyrs

Rugby (Hillmorton) – English Martyrs

High Street, Hillmorton, Rugby, Warwickshire CV21

The central core of a concrete framed cruciform church built in 1965-6 and altered to its present form in 1978-9. Sadly, the striking original glass by Jonah Jones in the gables has been replaced by plain glazing.

From the early 1800s, the Catholics of Hillmorton travelled for Mass or invited priests (after 1845 often Rosminians from St Marie, Rugby) to celebrate in hired rooms. In 1953, Hillmorton House, the home of a local Catholic, was purchased as an interim presbytery and the future site of a church, first by the Rosminians, then by the diocese. Four ground floor rooms were converted into a chapel seating about 130 people and in 1955, the first parish priest was appointed. In 1960 a small primary school was built and in the following year, drawings for a new church were prepared by E. Bower Norris of Sandy & Norris, Stafford.

In 1962, the local authority published plans for the expansion of Rugby, and Hillmorton was designated to receive a large housing estate. It was anticipated that the existing 1000 or so Catholics would greatly increase in number, so a larger church was needed but it would need to be built in stages as the housing expanded. A two-stage building programme was approved by Archbishop Dwyer in September 1964 and the foundations were dug immediately after Easter 1965. The contract for the concrete frame and roof of the first stage work was carried out by Messrs Holst and Co. and the subsequent building work by Hicks & Johnson Ltd of Rugby.

This first stage of English Martyrs was opened by Archbishop Dwyer in January 1966 (Hillmorton House was demolished). It consisted of the central square of a cruciform church, with a north arm incorporating enough seating for 268, an entry and a temporary north sacristy ‘where the Lady Chapel was to be’. Fr Leonard J0ppe (1967-87) reorientated the church as it is now c.1978-9, removing the centrally-placed altar and placing it in a shallow sanctuary he added to the east side. The north arm was separated with a brick wall to make a hall to which were added kitchens and WCs; a flat-roofed sacristy and narthex was added to the south as the main church entrance. In the 1990s, the brickwork of the west wall with its superimposed crosses was created.

In 2011-12, the original dalle de verre glass by Jonah Jones was removed and replaced with tinted sheets of glass.


English Martyrs was designed in 1964 as a cruciform church by E. Bower Norris of Sandy and Norris, Stafford. It was designed to serve the expanding Rugby suburb of Hillmorton and so for this and for financial reasons, it was to be built in two stages. It was to have a central altar under a ‘tent’ roof forming the centrepiece of a cruciform church with tapering arms. In the event, only the first stage was completed, comprising the central square and the north arm. Fr Jappe created the longitudinal focus around 1978-9, when a shallow canted sanctuary was added to the east side.

The concrete frame is clad and infilled by red brick walls of varying shades and the concrete roof has a copper sheet covering (originally copper clad felt) with a central short grp spirelet terminating in a cross. The west wall includes the three crosses of the Crucifixion in pale brick. The four gables of the central roof are glazed, divided into five by thick uprights. Originally these sections were filled with slabs of dalle de verre coloured glass by Jonah Jones, fragments of which remain under a tree outside the church. His abstract design represented the souls of the English Martyrs and the colours to each side varied to take account of the different light. Some glass fell out in April 2010 and all the panels were replaced by open tinted glazing in 2011. The fragments suggest that the cement matrix was crumbling away from the glass slabs. It is said to have been Jones’ largest work (he is better known as a sculptor).

The original north arm shows what the four arms were to be like; flat-roofed with an exposed concrete frame and three large metal-framed windows. As this is the side to the main approach from High Street, it has a door below the west window that was the original main entrance. What looks like the original main entrance gave access to the sacristy in the lower north extension and would have given access also to a Lady Chapel. Now, it gives access to the hall created out of the north arm c.1978-9. A further flat-roofed north/northeast extension of that date provides the WCs and kitchen. Since the late 1970s, the church has been entered from the south, through a flat-roofed timber rendered block that provides a narthex with WC and sacristy.

The church interior is essentially a cube with a windowless 1978-9 sanctuary off the east side but the space dominated by the large plain glazed gables. Ascending across each corner are panels concealing lighting and loudspeakers. The walls are plastered except for the bare brick wall behind the altar. The ‘tented’ ceiling is painted blue and from the centre hangs a large original cartwheel light fitting; its central winch mechanism used to be partly concealed by a metal Maltese cross.

There are some ceramic artworks by the art master of Bishop Walstan’s School, Vic Luton, either side of the sanctuary and some 1968 stained glass by Donald Brooke has been transferred from the closed church of St Philip, Ilmington. The 1917 William Hill chamber organ was restored by Norman Beard in 2002.

Heritage Details

Architect: Sandy & Norris

Original Date: 1966

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed