Building » Rugby – St Marie

Rugby – St Marie

Dunchurch Road, Rugby, Warwickshire CV22

A nationally important church with a stunning west steeple – the only part not by a member of the Pugin family. The interior has retained much of its rich c.1900 decoration, especially in the sanctuary where the fine altar and reredos survive.

Catholic worship in Rugby in modern times began in a room in Chapel Street with the Rev. John Nickolds in 1843, but was transformed by the patronage of Captain John Hubert Washington-Hibbert. He was the brother-in-law of the Earl of Shrewsbury and wished to provide a proper place of worship for his Catholic wife, only converting himself in 1848. He lived at Bilton Grange (architect A. W. Pugin, 1841-6) but purchased the land in Dunchurch Road in 1843, engaging Pugin to design a church. George Myers began building in November 1845 and the church was opened by Bishop Wareing on 8 September 1847.

The church, in the Gothic style of about 1300, consisted of a nave with saddleback west tower, three-bay north aisle and north porch, chancel with a north Lady Chapel and northeast sacristy. Most of this survives as the south side adjunct to the 1863-4 church. The churchyard cross and lychgate to Dunchurch Road may be Pugin designs, as might be the other buildings around the church, but erected by others.

Capt. Hibbert subsequently became a member of the Institute of Charity (Rosminians), and they arrived in Rugby in about 1850. He bought further land behind the church for a novitiate, St Marie’s College (1850-1, George Myers/Pugin) which became Bishop Walstan’s Boys School and is now part of Rugby School. A boys’ school was built by Charles Hansom in the southwest corner of the churchyard in 1851 (now the parish hall) and a carriage house in the northwest corner (date not established). A convent and girls’ school was built by Hansom in 1853-4 to the north in Oak Street (the boundary between the big churchyard of St Marie’s and Rugby School grounds) and a presbytery linked to the college was built by E. W. Pugin in 1865 (since demolished).In 1863,

Hibbert engaged E. W. Pugin to enlarge his father’s church and this much larger church was opened on 21 June 1864 by Bishop Ullathorne. The 1845 church became the south nave aisle and Hibbert chantry chapel. A west gallery was added in 1866, but in 1869 major remedial works were needed, most evident in the buttressing added to the north nave. Perhaps for this reason Capt. Hibbert (now living in London, having sold Bilton Grange in 1866) engaged Bernard Whelan, ‘architect of the Adelphi, London’, for his final project, the 1871-2 soaring west steeple, narthex and northwest baptistery. Whelan was a pupil of E. W. Pugin and later became a Rosminian priest. Hibbert died in 1875 but had witnessed the opening of tower on 20 August 1872.

From 1897-1908, the church was enriched, especially with new altars and chancel decorations and furnishings. A stone and marble pulpit designed by
F. R. Bates (architect of Newport) and carved by Boulton of Cheltenham replaced the 1864 pulpit in 1932. It was lowered in 1981 and has since been removed. About 1935, the choir and organ loft in the 1845-7 tower was removed. A fire in the Christmas crib in January 1948 damaged the 1845-7 chancel ceiling (of 1904) and glass; the former was reproduced by Messrs Walton and Taylor of Rugby, the glass by Hardman ‘following the same subject matter’. A flat-roofed east extension and boiler house was added to E. W. Pugin’s northeast sacristy at some point after World War II.

In 1966-7, E. W. Pugin’s (or J. H. Powell’s?) iron rood screen was dismantled and a new forward altar set up between the choir stalls, requiring the front row to be removed. An organ had been bought from Ratcliffe College in 1962 to replace the organ from St John’s, Bath purchased in 1896, but in 1985 an iron and wood spiral staircase to the organ loft was built in the 1871-2 baptistery, requiring the removal of the (Pugin?) font to serve as a stoup under the main tower. The baptistery is now used for storage, the font now in the place of the pulpit at the northeast of the nave.

A programme of cleaning and conservation of the east end and altars began in the mid-1980s, some by a parishioner, artist and conservator Lucy Thackray.


The first Ancaster limestone church was built by A. W. Pugin in 1845-7 for Capt. J. H. W. Hibbert of Bilton Grange. It was much enlarged to the north by E. W. Pugin in 1864-5 and to the west by Bernard Whelan in 1871-2, all for Capt. Hibbert. The interior was enriched between 1897 and 1908, with much work carried out by Boulton of Cheltenham. The Pugins’ work is early fourteenth century in style but Whelan’s is of the mid-thirteenth century.

The three-bay nave of the 1845-7 church now survives as the south aisle, with a small saddleback west tower. The chancel is now the Hibbert Chapel, containing the family vault. The nave, five-bay north aisle and three-sided chancel with northeast sacristy are of 1864-5, the north porch and three north aisle three-light windows re-used from the 1845-7 church. In 1871-2 the nave was lengthened with a narthex under a west organ loft (but the wooden gallery is of 1866) and the steeple and northwest baptistery were added. A flat-roofed extension was added to E. W. Pugin’s northeast sacristy after World War II. All the roofs are covered with alternating bands of plain and fishscale tiles with terracotta cresting.

The west front is an astonishing sight, with the 212ft Whelan steeple quite dwarfing Pugin’s diminutive saddleback tower to the south. The west doorway is flanked by niche statues of the Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist and the sculpture above is of St Hubert in the forest (Capt. Hibbert’s patron saint), all by Theodore Phyffers. His too are the extraordinary trumpeting angels with metal wings that emerge from Portland stone niches at the base of the spire as it rises from the tower.

The magnificent ironwork of the red west door was originally gilded. Both nave aisles have gabled roofs to allow light to the small cinquefoil nave clerestory windows. The Hibbert chapel roof is at a lower level than the 1845-7 nave but the E. W. Pugin nave roof of 1864-5 carries through to cover the sanctuary, which ends in a three-sided apse. The sacristy has a hipped west roof allowing light to the east window of the north aisle, but its east gable was rebuilt with a chimney when the flat-roofed extension was added to the east. The buttresses just visible on the north nave clerestory were remedial work of 1869, when part of the clerestory here was rebuilt in brick and internal arches added across the north aisle. The disturbance was probably due to this area having been in use as a burial ground from about 1850; the Wilberforce family vault, created outside in about 1860 is now at the east end of the north aisle.

The interior is characterised as ‘humble’ by Pevsner in his 1966 Buildings of England: Warwickshire volume, and if the decorations are thought away, that has some truth. The arcades are low, the clerestory small and the sanctuary has small high level windows. However, the extensive 1897-1908 enrichments are plentiful and colourful, not least the 1904 roof decoration (and there was extensive wall stencilling too). The curiously simplified west pier and smaller arch of the south arcade may be the only survival of the 1845-7 arcade (possibly with the corresponding west pier of the north arcade re-used). The remaining shafted piers are identical to the 1864-5 north arcade and the eastern bays of the south arcade added to the 1845-7 chancel. There is a rib vault under the tower and a ring of eight Mears bells, though these were always chimed with the aid of a carillon instrument.

A. W. Pugin’s chancel arch is off-centre to his nave, supposedly to allow those in the north aisle to see the altar in his sanctuary. It enabled a side altar to be placed at the southeast corner (oak, 1901 by Mayer of Munich). Pugin’s high altar survives, having been moved into the new 1864-5 sanctuary and returned in 1897. The 1904 roof decorations were reproduced in 1947-8 by Messrs Walton and Taylor of Rugby. The Hardman glass is of the same date but there are also windows by Joseph Nuttgens c.1946-8. In the base of the west tower are two small windows of 1997 by Aidan McRea Thomson. The font may with some metalwork including the Paschal candlestick be the only A. W. Pugin fittings to survive. The heraldic tiles in the south aisle are perhaps post-1865. The walls and roofs of the nave and aisles were decorated and stencilled in 1900; only the roof decoration survives.

The chancel has a tall two-light window in each straight bay, but the three sides of the apse only have two small high level lancets to each side. There was a tall delicate iron chancel screen supporting the rood, but this was removed in 1966. A large high altar and reredos must therefore have been envisaged, but it seems that the A. W. Pugin altar was brought here until the present grandiose work was planned to celebrate the Jubilee year, 1897. By Boultons of Cheltenham, to designs by T. R. Donnelly of Coventry, the high altar was first used on 6 September 1898. The roof was stencilled in 1904, when the alabaster facing was introduced with the choir stalls of Austrian Crown wainscot oak. All this work was carried out by Boultons of Cheltenham. However, the painted canvases each with four saints of 1904 and 1908 are by Hardman, painted by J. Alphege Pippet.

There are two large wall brasses, both by Hardman, listing the members of the Hibbert family (1856, in their chapel) and Wilberforce family (c.1878, north nave aisle) buried in their respective vaults. The finer Hibbert brass has many figures, the Wilberforce brass more heraldry.

The oldest glass is by Hardman (in the chancel), and they supplied further windows well into the twentieth century, including a fine window of 1896 in the former baptistery. There are two windows by Mayer and Co of Munich in the south aisle, that of c.1880 signed.

The church is set well back from the road in its large burial ground, behind a low stone wall of 1872 (the iron railings were taken away in World War II) and lychgate. There are many headstones commemorating Rosminian fathers from the College to the east, and a churchyard cross. In the northwest corner of the churchyard is the parish hall, built by Charles Hansom as the boys’ school in 1850-1 and in the opposite corner, a ‘coach house’ (perhaps more likely a bier house) and cottage of similar date. The soaring spire is a major feature of this part of Rugby and approaches from the east.

The church has been listed since 1949, and is today appropriately placed in grade II*. Charles Hansom’s boys’ school (now parish hall) is listed grade II as an ‘outbuilding at St Marie’s Convent’; the list entry states that it is late nineteenth century rather than 1851, and does not mention its original use or architect. It also mentions an octagonal turret and spire, which are no longer present. The carriage house is listed grade II as a ‘late nineteenth century cottage’. Not mentioned in any of the list entries are the boundary wall, churchyard cross and a few of the older headstones and iron memorial crosses.

List descriptions



1846-7 by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, enlarged 1864-7 by Edward Welby Pugin. Fine west steeple 1872 by B Whelan. Ashlar in Early English and Decorated styles. South aisle with saddle backed west tower, 1846-7. Nave, north aisle, chancel with apse 1864-7. Fine Hibbert brass in south aisle. Baptistery. Hibbert and Wilberforce chantries. Outbuildings at St Marie’s Convent, Roman Catholic Church of St Marie and Outbuilding form a group.

Listing NGR: SP5023674525

Former school, now parish hall (‘Outbuildings’)


Later C19, in Gothic style. Squared rubble, gabled patterned tiled roof with small octagonal turret and spire astride roof ridge. 1 storey, buttresses, stone mullion and transom casement windows with pointed arched lights. Closed porch to south elevation. Outbuildings at St Marie’s Convent, Roman Catholic Church of St Marie and Outbuilding form a group.

Listing NGR: SP5018374563

Coach house (‘Outbuilding’)


Later C19 cottage, now outbuilding in squared rubble with gabled tiled roof. Included for group value. Outbuildings at St Marie’s Convent, Roman Catholic Church of St Marie and Outbuilding form a group.

Listing NGR: SP5017074513

Heritage Details

Architect: A. W. Pugin; E. W. Pugin; Bernard Whelan

Original Date: 1845

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II*