Building » Shrewsbury (Harlescott) – Our Lady of Pity

Shrewsbury (Harlescott) – Our Lady of Pity

Meadow Farm Drive, Harlescott, Shrewsbury, SY1

A late church by F.X. Velarde, completed after his death, with many characteristics and details typical of this interesting and significant post-war architect. The design is similar to Velarde’s earlier church at Monkmoor, but displays more personal and idiosyncratic touches. The exterior is plain, save for the polygonal campanile with diamond-shaped belfry openings and the bluff apsidal east end. The interior is marked by a succession of low-brick arches, culminating in a sanctuary with carved Pietà by Velarde’s frequent collaborator, Herbert Tyson Smith.

A Mass centre was established at St Michael’s Infants School, Ditherington from around 1945, serving the north of Shrewsbury town. The Cathedral parish was split in the post-war years, with St Winefride’s church at Monkmoor (to the southeast) opening in 1957 and Our Lady of Pity at Harlescott (to the north) in 1961. Both churches were designed by F. X. Velarde and have many design features in common; following Velarde’s death in 1960, Our Lady of Pity was completed by the F. X. Velarde Partnership. The dedication relates to a fifteenth-century oak Pietà at St Mary Magdalene church, Battlefield, Shrewsbury. It was reproduced in reconstructed limestone for the church by Velarde’s frequent collaborator, Herbert Tyson Smith.

A presbytery was built by the church in 1971. The parish is now served from the Cathedral.


The church is longitudinal on plan, consisting of an aisleless nave with apsidal sanctuary and separate, linked campanile. The design is very similar to that for St Winefride, Monkmoor (qv) also by Velarde, which opened five years earlier, but is in some ways more personal and idiosyncratic, not least in the design of the tower. The church is orientated with the sanctuary to the south, but for this description this will be referred to as the liturgical east end.

The building is faced in buff bricks laid in stretcher bond, with a shallow-pitched concrete tiled roof. The west end comprises a pitched-roof narthex with a range of square and round-headed windows. There is an entrance on both the north and south sides of the narthex, approached to the south by a ramp. The doorways have cusped heads with a sandstone relief of fleur de lys, and retain their original double entrance doors with brass furniture. The south elevation, facing the road, is five bays long, with a narthex to the west and chancel bay to the east. Between substantial brick buttresses, each bay has a simple rectangular window, with four panes of alternately round and square-headed windows in obscure glass set in metal frames within reconstituted stone surrounds. An octagonal campanile is attached on the south side of the church, towards the east end. Faced with buff brick with small arched windows at the base, this has a stone-faced bellcote with trapezoidal openings on each face, and a octagonal copper roof surmounted with a bronze cross, the latter similar to that at Velarde’s St Teresa, Up Holland. The tower can be accessed on the southwest side via the original double doors. On the north elevation there is a sacristy in the corresponding position, with a hipped roof. The chancel is apsidal and blind at the east end, with large twelve-pane windows – alternately round and square-headed with obscure glass – on the flat north and south walls.

The nave interior is faced in fair-faced buff bricks and has large round arches springing almost from the ground defining the bays. The arch to the narthex bay is smaller and lower. The windows are as described above; some have replacement Cotswold-type glazing. Round-headed openings with original panelled timber doors lead to the campanile and baptistery to the south, and sacristy and confessional, to the north. The floor is laid with linoleum squares with coloured geometric designs to the nave aisle. The ceilings are finished with Columbian Pine boarding. Seating is provided by original mahogany benches.

The chancel walls are plastered and plain painted and the sanctuary contains a freestanding concrete altar with Robin Hood blue stone mensa and a fixed embroidered frontal, added in 2001. The altar is set on a dais in turn stepped up from the nave. The original tiled terrazzo floor survives, although the altar rails have been removed. There is a simple timber ambo and other timber sanctuary furnishings. A carved reconstructed limestone Pietà based on the Battlefield church Pietà is fixed to the east wall; it was made by Herbert Tyson Smith (1883-1972), who collaborated with Velarde on a number of churches. Post-Vatican II reordering has had minimal impact, involving the removal of the communion rails and (possibly) the moving forward of the altar.

Heritage Details

Architect: F. X. Velarde Partnership

Original Date: 1961

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed