Stratford Road, Shirley, Solihull B90
A striking design of the Post-Vatican II period, the baptistery with its tall needle spire a local landmark. Inside, the main volume of the church is a single impressive space, well detailed and little altered. Its main significance however lies in the quality of its original furnishings and artworks, by Walter Ritchie, Tom Fairs and Elisabeth Frink.
The present site, at the time occupied by a large house called Heathfield in an extensive plot, was acquired in the early 1930s. A small church dedicated to Our Lady of the Wayside was built in 1935 (Scarisbrick) or 1937 (Murray), served from St Augustine, Solihull. This building survives behind the present church as a parish meeting room and nursery school. A primary school followed in 1956 (since enlarged).
The present church was designed for the Rev. P. Mahoney by Brian Rush, then at the start of his career and in partnership with Remo Granelli; by the time the church opened Rush was practising on his own. The design was developed at the time of, and in response to, the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, allowing the congregation (capacity of 650, including the gallery) to be grouped around three sides of the high altar, thereby maximising active participation in the liturgy. Externally, a tall needle spire over a circular baptistery announced the presence of the church from the street. The foundation stone was laid on 2 October 1965 and the church opened on 23 June 1967. The contractors were J. & P. Kelly Ltd and the cost £84,000. As well as its contemporary architectural design, the church is notable for original furnishings and artworks by Walter Ritchie, Tom Fairs and Elisabeth Frink. The church was consecrated on 22 May 1988.
The church was built in 1965-67, to serve the new liturgical requirements emerging from the Second Vatican Council (1962-5). Working with the parish priest Fr Patrick O’Mahony, the architect Brian Rush created a single worship space, broadly rectangular but with curved walls to the sanctuary and the back of the gallery, lit by a high level clerestory and slit side windows at the sides and by concealed top lighting over the sanctuary. The church is reached via a narthex, with a circular baptistery and a day chapel giving off. Sacristies lie to the rear of the sanctuary. The main body of the church is built of pale loadbearing brick laid in Flemish, with a steel framed roof. The circular baptistery flanks the narthex and is largely glazed, with reinforced concrete vertical fins and brick upper panels; above this, a thin fibreglass needle spire rises from a circular glazed top light. On the other side of the narthex, the narrow vertical elements of the curved, single storey weekday chapel are recessed and glazed between wider brick panels, the play of solid and void a counterpoint to that of the baptistery.
The area around the entrance retains its original hard landscaping, with circular paviours set into granite setts. A step riser is inscribed ‘BRIAN A RUSH Architect’. The narthex has a terrazzo floor and bare brick walls, and features a powerful life-size low-relief carving of the Crucifixion, carved in situ by Walter Ritchie of Kenilworth (1919-97), who had briefly trained under Eric Gill. Giving off the narthex to the right is the baptistery. This also has a terrazzo floor and at its centre a Portland stone font on a narrow, rough granite base, by Walter Ritchie, drum-shaped and carved with images of human and animal life. The stained glass windows are by Tom Fairs (1926-2007), who had worked with Geoffrey Clarke on the nave windows at Coventry Cathedral; they depict typologies of Baptism (Passovers in the Old and New Testaments, Resurrection). Around the perimeter of the baptistery is a trench lined with tiles, providing for a swirling cascade, a most unusual, symbolic feature.
A weekday chapel gives of the other side of the narthex. This has a woodblock floor, bare brick-faced walls and a lowish flat boarded ceiling. A large plate glass window with clear glass affords a view of the main altar. In front of this window, a simple table altar can be easily removed when not required (the room also serves as an area for noisy babies and young children during Sunday services). In the narrow lights of the chapel, the abstract coloured glass is different in character from the baptistery glass, but appears to be also by Fairs. A full-size framed sketch by Ritchie for his Crucifixion hangs in the chapel.
Folding doors lead from the narthex into the main space, a single volume with a lower Lady Chapel (and rear entrance porch) giving off at the far side. The walls are of bare brick, the floor of the nave woodblock, and of the sanctuary polished stone. A timber boarded ceiling swoops down from above the wide cantilevered gallery, ramping up again steeply over the top-lit sanctuary. Very simple Stations of the Cross, numbered rectangular granite blocks with superimposed wooden crosses, are placed on the wall to left and right of the sliding doors leading to the sacristies. The curved dais of the sanctuary incorporates the foundation stone at the centre of the lower level. Three steps up, the altar is made of a very large single block of Portland stone, the raised inscription I WILL POUR OUT MY SPIRIT ON ALL FLESH by Walter Ritchie. The tabernacle is placed on the wall behind this, above which is a large, animated, gilded bronze figure of the Risen Christ, by Dame Elisabeth Frink (1930-93). The original bench seating is arranged around three sides of the sanctuary. Beyond, the Lady Chapel has a low boarded ceiling and a wall of abstract coloured glass, similar to that in the weekday chapel and attributed to Tom Fairs in the church guide, which forms a reredos or backdrop to a concrete altar with cantilevered mensa. In the corner of the chapel is an affecting large teak carving of the Virgin and Child, by Walter Ritchie. Behind this, an inscription in the brickwork reads MEN ARE MEANT TO SHARE HER LIFE AS LIFE DOES AIR / IF I HAVE UNDERSTOOD / SHE HOLDS / HIGH MOTHERHOOD (from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem ‘The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe’).
List description (2015)
A Roman Catholic church built between 1965-67 to the designs of Brian Rush of Rush, Granelli and Partners with glass by Tom Fairs and sculpture by Dame Elisabeth Frink and Walter Ritchie.
Reasons for designation: The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Wayside, built 1965-67 to designs by Brian Rush of Rush, Granelli and Partners, with glass by Tom Fairs and sculpture by Dame Elisabeth Frink and Walter Ritchie, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: as a striking and confidently designed church whose form and plan is a fully fledged expression of the liturgical developments enshrined by the Second Vatican Council; * Artistic interest: the quality of its original furnishings and artwork which are incorporated into the fabric is high, in particular the carved work by Walter Ritchie, the glass by Tom Fairs and the bronze figure of the Risen Christ by Elisabeth Frink; * Plan: the layout of the church on a restricted site shows considerable skill in the planning of the internal space so that the congregation and priest are united in a manner that firmly places the Eucharist literally and spiritually at the centre of worship; * Intactness: the church remains largely as built in 1965-67; * Historic association: for its association with Fr Patrick O’Mahony, a notable human rights activist within the Catholic Church.
History: The parish of Shirley was founded in 1934. In June of that year the Church of Our Lady of the Wayside opened as a mass centre in a former house known as ‘Heathfield’ on Stratford Road, served by the Church of St Augustine in Solihull. In the following year a small, permanent church was built on land to the rear of ‘Heathfield’, the building surviving behind the present church as a parish meeting room and nursery school. In 1962, Father Patrick O’Mahony (1925-1991), who was ordained for the Birmingham diocese in 1949, was appointed parish priest and immediately instigated the building of a larger church on the site of ‘Heathfield’. The site, however, presented difficulties in that it already contained a new presbytery on the south-east side and a service road to a school at the rear on the north side. This severely restricted the east-west dimensions of the site and resulted in the functional axis of the church being aligned north to south. Built between 1965 and 1967, the new church was designed by Brian Rush, then at the start of his career and in partnership with Remo Granelli; by the time the church opened Rush was practising on his own. Its Modernist design was inspired by the requirements of the liturgical revival brought about by the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), allowing the congregation to be grouped around three sides of the high altar, thereby maximising active participation in the liturgy. Sculpture was commissioned from Dame Elisabeth Frink (1930-1993) and the Kenilworth sculptor Water Ritchie (1919-1997), once a pupil of Eric Gill. As Ritchie produced a font carved from a single block of Portland stone that weighed seven tons, it was positioned on the altar platform before the walls of the church were built. Stained and coloured glass was designed by Tom Fairs (1925-2007), who worked on the nave windows of Coventry Cathedral with Geoffrey Clarke. The new church opened on 23 June 1967 and was completed at a cost of £84,000, including works of art and furnishings. It was designed to seat about 600 people with space provided for a further 200 at balcony level. Contractors were J and P Kelly Ltd. The church of 1935 was subsequently converted into a church hall. Father Patrick O’Mahony, in the thirty years of his ministry as parish priest of Our Lady of the Wayside, established links to aid projects in India and Africa, sending money and goods from the parish and receiving news in return. He also established the first church-based Amnesty International group and was actively involved in the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Linacre Centre for the Study of the Ethics of Health Care, of which he was governor.
Details: A Roman Catholic parish church, built between 1965 and 1967 to the designs of Brian Rush of Rush, Granelli and Partners, with stained and coloured glass by Tom Fairs and sculpture by Dame Elisabeth Frink and Walter Ritchie. MATERIALS: it is constructed from handmade, silver-grey, facing brick, internally and externally, with reconstituted stone copings and window dressings. The roof is made up of a series of bow-shaped steel trusses covered with bituminous felt over reinforced wood wool slabs. The baptistery spire is of reinforced glass fibre on a timber frame. PLAN: the church’s plan is expressed as a series of linked blocks comprising a narthex, a weekday chapel, a baptistery, a main chapel, lady chapel and sacristy. EXTERIOR: the principal elevation to Stratford Road has a central, aluminium-framed doorway giving access to the narthex. The circular baptistery to the right-hand side of the doorway is divided by slender, reconstituted stone ribs with an infill of stained and coloured glass over which is a band of several brick courses. Surmounting the baptistery is a tall, slender spire which rises from a circular, glazed top light. The weekday chapel on the left-hand side has a reconstituted stone plinth, rounded corners and full-height slit windows between wider brick panels. Set behind and rising above the narthex, baptistery and weekday chapel is the large main chapel. It has a dual, mono-pitched roof of which the right-hand pitch, which slopes downwards from right to left, is shallower and longer than the left-hand pitch which, sloping downwards from left to right, is steeper and shorter so that the church’s external mass reaches its peak over the sanctuary. A ribbon clerestory window runs the full width of this elevation. To the right-hand return a full-height window separates the baptistery from the blind wall of the narthex. To the right of the narthex wall is the large convex wall of the main chapel which is blind and rises to a shallow parapet with reconstituted coping stones. To the left-hand return a recessed bay with a full-height window separates the day chapel from the convex wall of the main chapel which has a deep parapet with reconstituted coping stones. Adjoining the main chapel is a flat-roofed, single-storeyed range which houses the sacristy and boiler house. The rear elevation has slit side windows rising to a ribbon clerestory which runs the full width of this elevation. Adjoining this elevation is a flat-roofed, single-storeyed range that accommodates the rear entrance, toilets and the Lady Chapel. It has, from left to right, a wooden-framed doorway and four, metal-framed casement windows. In the re-entrant angle with the main chapel there is a full-height stained glass window. INTERIOR: the main door leads into the NARTHEX which has terrazzo flooring, bare brick walls and a part boarded and part glazed ceiling. The left-hand wall between the day chapel and main chapel has a life-size low-relief carving of the Crucifixion of Christ, carved in-situ by Walter Ritchie. Standing by the doors to the main chapel is a wooden sculpture titled ‘Peace in Our Time’ by Angelo Bordonari which depicts the murdered dove of peace. To the right-hand side of the narthex is the BAPTISTERY. This also has a terrazzo floor which is surrounded by a mosaic-tiled water cascade which incorporates a holder for the Paschel Candle. Standing in the centre is a drum-shaped font of Portland stone on a narrow, granite base, with relief carvings of human and animal life by Walter Ritchie. Encircling the baptistery is a wall of strip windows with abstract-patterned stained and coloured glass depicting, in three scenes, the Passovers of the Old and New Testaments and Resurrection. The WEEKDAY CHAPEL stands to the left-hand side of the narthex and is accessed through double sliding doors. It has bare brick walls, a hardwood block floor and a boarded ceiling painted white. This chapel is divided from the main chapel by a full-height glazed screen and contains two confessionals and wooden bench pews. In front of the screen there is a single-stepped altar platform on which stands a simple altar table with a wooden altar top and metal-framed plinth which can be easily removed when not required. The strip windows to the external walls contain abstract-patterned stained and coloured glass depicting the different stages of life, from birth to death and the afterlife. To the right-hand side of the doorway there is a life-size sketch of the Crucified Christ by Walter Ritchie for the sculpture in the narthex. Folding doors lead from the narthex into the MAIN CHAPEL which is formed of a broad single space with its volume defined by a convex ceiling spanning between concave front and rear walls with the sanctuary emphasised by natural light from a concealed, curved roof light. The wide nave has a fan-shaped seating plan of wooden bench pews arranged on three sides of the altar. A rectangular-shaped sanctuary of polished stone with a curved dais extends from the rear wall in the form of a thrust stage. It is two-stepped with a narrow bottom step incorporating the foundation stone and a wide pavement above. In the middle there is a three-stepped altar platform on which stands a broad High Altar of Portland stone with a granite plinth, by Walter Ritchie. Its front has a raised inscription with text from St John which reads ‘I WILL POUR OUT MY SPIRIT ON ALL FLESH’. Set into the wall above the altar is a cantilevered plinth on which stands a life-size, gilded bronze figure of the Risen Christ bearing the five wounds of the Passion, by Elisabeth Frink. Below is the tabernacle. Flanking the sanctuary on each side are two sliding doors to the sacristies. Very simple Stations of the Cross comprised of numbered rectangular blocks with superimposed wooden crosses, are placed on the wall to the left and right of the doors leading to the sacristies. At the rear is a wide gallery with wooden railings, a deep wooden handrail and steel brackets. It is supported on steel columns and is accessed at each end by an open-riser staircase with steel balusters and a wooden handrail. The sacristies for the priest and servers are located behind the sanctuary and contain a series of original cabinets and cupboards. They are divided by a folding partition wall so that they can be opened into one large room. To the right-hand side of the main chapel is the LADY CHAPEL which has a full-height window of abstract-patterned painted and stained glass which forms a reredos or backdrop to a concrete altar with cantilevered mensa. In the corner is a large wooden sculpture of the Madonna and Child, carved from a single block of teak by Walter Ritchie. Inscribed into the brickwork behind the sculpture is a line from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem ‘The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe’ which reads ‘MEN ARE MEANT TO SHARE HER LIFE AS LIFE DOES AIR / IF I HAVE UNDERSTOOD / SHE HOLDS / HIGH MOTHERHOOD’. To the right-hand side of the Lady Chapel are double-doors through which is a small lobby from which the toilets and rear doorway are accessed. Set into the wall between the Lady Chapel and the doorway is a wooden windchest which holds the organ pipes. The organ itself is free-standing, located on the nave floor, to the left-hand side of the Lady Chapel. SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: in front of the doorway there is a small, stepped, paved area with the riser inscribed ‘BRIAN A RUSH Architect’. Flanking the step are circular paviours with geometric patterns set into granite setts.
Books and journals: Proctor, R, Building the Modern Church: Roman Catholic Church Architecture in Britain, 1955 to 1975, (2014), 300-302; Scarisbrick, JJ, History of the Diocese of Birmingham 1850-2000, (2008), 159; ‘Two RC Churches: Our Lady of the Wayside, Shirley and St Joseph’s, Whitnash’ in Brick Bulletin, , Vol. 3, (1972), 3-10; ‘Church of Our Lady of the Wayside, Shirley’ in Catholic Building Review: Southern Edition, (1965), 128-9, 132-3; ‘Our Lady of the Wayside Church, Shirley, Solihull, Warwickshire’ in Catholic Building Review: Southern Edition, (1967), 96-99.
Architect: Rush, Granelli and Partners
Original Date: 1967
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II