Horse Shoes Lane, Sheldon, Birmingham B26
A notable reinforced concrete design by Richard Gilbert Scott, built to a fan-shaped plan to serve the needs of the post-Vatican II liturgy. Like Scott’s earlier church at Kitts Green, it has a fine scheme of coloured glass by John Chrestien.
The parish was erected in 1936, with a hall and social centre opening in 1928 and a school in 1953. The presbytery was built in 1962. The present church, designed to seat 500, was built in 1969 from designs by Richard Gilbert Scott of Sir Giles Scott, Son & Partner. Unlike his earlier church at Kitts Green (qv), which was T-shaped on plan, the church of St Thomas More is fan-shaped. However, both were designed on the principle that the whole congregation should have a clear view of the sanctuary, including from the baptistery and Lady Chapel. The requirements of the local planning authority meant that care had to be taken to minimise the height of the building where it adjoined neighbouring properties. As at Kitts Green, stained glass was supplied from designs by John Chrestien. The foundation stone was laid on 9 July 1969 by the Right Revd A. J. Emery, Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham and the completed church was blessed and opened on 4 February 1970. It was consecrated on 22 June 1978.
In 2012 the church was listed grade II and is (as at 2014) the newest listed church in the diocese.
The building is described, and the reasons for listing set out, in the list entry (below). This describes the building and its significance fully, and repetition is unnecessary. The statue of St Thomas More outside the Lady Chapel mentioned in the list entry was not seen at the time of the visit; there is however here a statue of St Joseph outside the chapel, with a stamp ‘entirely hand carved’ – probably supplied, along with the other statues, by one of the major ecclesiastical furnishers.
Summary of Building: Roman Catholic Church of 1968-9 by Richard Gilbert Scott (born 1923) of Giles Scott, Son & Partner, with stained glass windows by John Chrestien.
Reasons for Designation: The Roman Catholic Church of St Thomas More, Sheldon, Birmingham is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons: *Architectural interest: it is a good example of a modern Roman Catholic church by Richard Gilbert Scott, of the nationally important architectural dynasty, displaying innovative and high quality design and architectural detailing; *Interior: it has an interesting plan and its fixtures, fittings and embellishments are of good quality both in terms of their design and materials, with the impressive stained; *Degree of survival: the building, including its internal fixtures, fittings and embellishments, has survived remarkably intact; *Historic interest: it is a good example of a post-war Roman Catholic church situated in an area which historically had a relatively large community of Irish immigrants, which grew in the 1950s and 60s, and where design and plan form express the liturgical developments in the Roman Catholic Church that took place after the Second Vatican Council held in 1962-5; *Group value: it forms part of an interesting group of post-war Roman Catholic churches in this area of Birmingham, including for example that at Tile Cross (listed at Grade II) by the same architect, which contribute to the understanding of the religious and social history of the area.
History: The Roman Catholic Church of St Thomas More was built in 1968-9. The foundation stone, inside the church, was laid on 9 July 1969 by the Right Reverend A J Emery, Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham. Bryan Little (Birmingham Buildings-The Architectural Story of a Midland City, 1971) claims the church was designed by Robert Brandt. Richard Gilbert Scott (born 1923), who joined his father’s practice in 1953, has confirmed (2012) that he designed the church and that he inherited the commission from his uncle Adrian Gilbert Scott, who died in 1962. Robert Brandt took over as manager of Richard Gilbert Scott’s drawing office and the manager of the practice of Richard’s father, was Frederick G Thomas. The stained glass windows are by the painter John Chrestien, a friend of Richard Gilbert Scott, who had studied in Paris and lived in India. Richard Gilbert Scott was educated at Harrow, Charterhouse School, Bartlett School of Architecture London University, and Regent Street Polytechnic School of Architecture. Two of Richard Gilbert Scott’s churches are listed at Grade II: St Mark’s Church, Biggin Hill, of 1957-9 and the Roman Catholic Church of our Lady Help of Christians, Tile Cross, Birmingham of 1966-7 (also with windows by John Chrestien). The architectural drawings for The Church of St Thomas More are held by the RIBA/V&A (who hold the archive of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, Son and Partner).
MATERIALS: a reinforced concrete frame with stained glass to the auditorium, and red brick chapel, sacristy, confessionals and baptistery to the side and rear. PLAN: a hexagonal plan with a raised sanctuary flanked by a projecting sacristy, baptistery, and Lady’s chapel, and surrounded by a fan-shaped auditorium. EXTERIOR: the exterior is characterised by the thick concrete frame to the auditorium, which forms buttresses to the corners, and encloses two chunky water spouts to the front. The buttresses meet at the higher, rear, end of a shallow stepped concrete roof, where they rise into a tall concrete steeple. The walls consist of full-height abstract stained glass set between vertical concrete fins. To the front, concrete steps lead to a large projecting entrance set in a concrete box frame with original lettering reading ‘Church of St Thomas More’. The entrance is covered by a freestanding canopy: a thick and heavy concrete chamfered slab, resting on two centrally positioned rectangular shaped concrete piers. To the side and rear of the church the lower red brick confessionals, baptistery sacristy and chapel project outwards, with the baptistery marked by a tall semi-circular inner wall which encloses the font inside. INTERIOR: the interior is dominated by the fan-shaped, stepped roof and the abstract coloured glass panels to the walls by John Chrestien, in vibrant blue, turquoise and orange. His coloured glass panels at clerestory level, above the rectangular and stepped piers separating the auditorium from the baptistery and chapel, depict various Christian symbols. The auditorium has timber benched seating and frontals throughout, incorporating a small organ to the east side. Whilst the ribs of the ceiling rise upwards in the direction of the raised sanctuary and altar, the auditorium floor gently slopes down to it, creating a strong visual focus for worshippers. The marble sanctuary and altar is enclosed by timber altar rails, and screened from behind by a wall of horizontal concrete panels, painted blue, set at an angle. Hanging from the ribs to the ceiling above is a timber crucifix, lit by the opening in the roof, situated under the spire. Under the crucifix, the Reserved Sacrament is set into a curved alcove in the angle of the wall. The Baptistery has a drum-shaped font in polished aggregate with a marble cone-shaped lid, standing in the centre of a circular chapel lit from above, with a decorative sunken marble floor. On a plinth in the tall curved brick wall stands a carved wood sculpture of Christ, by an unknown artist. The plain rectangular Lady Chapel has a carved wood sculpture of St Mary, probably by the same artist (who probably also carved the bust of St Thomas More on the wall outside the chapel), and is again lit from above. To the rear of the chapel is a large glass window, also by Chrestien, with an abstract design of three circles, symbolising the Holy Trinity, in black and white with a blue background.
Little, Bryan, Birmingham Buildings. The Architectural Story of a Midland City, 1971, pp.46-47, 110: E-mail correspondence with Richard Gilbert Scott, 16 June 2012; Architectural drawings for the Roman Catholic Church of St Thomas More, Sheldon, RIBA/V&A.
National Grid Reference: SP1490384237
Architect: Sir Giles Scott, Son & Partner
Original Date: 1968
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II