Building » Birmingham (Small Heath) – Holy Family

Birmingham (Small Heath) – Holy Family

Coventry Road, Small Heath, Birmingham B10

A brick building of the 1920s by George Drysdale, built on a Greek cross plan, and significantly enlarged in the 1960s to accommodate a large influx of (mainly Irish) Catholics, attracted by jobs in local industry. The interior is a fine barrel vaulted space. An intended campanile was not built, the result being that the townscape contribution of the church is relatively minor. 

The mission was founded by the Revd James Wright in 1901, and a school-chapel built in 1903 (destroyed by enemy action in 1940). The present church originated as a Greek cross design by George Drysdale, seating 400, and opened in August 1929 (builders William Sapcote & Sons). It was described in The Tablet (1 September 1928) as ‘a quiet design … unity of character has been sought in the architecture, in the treatment of furniture and fittings, and also in the arrangement of the forecourt’.

The forecourt was developed in the 1960s when, following a large influx of (mainly Irish) Catholics drawn by jobs in local industry, the nave was extended to form a Latin cross plan, increasing the seating capacity to approximately 1,000. The architect for the additions was J. T. Lynch of Jennings, Homer & Lynch, and the extended church was blessed on 25 October, 1967. New sacristies, meeting rooms, cry room and confessionals were also built, but an intended 100ft campanile was never realised. The total cost was for the built additions was about £120,000.

The church was consecrated on 10 June 1976. Today, the Irish population has largely moved on (although many still come back for Sunday Mass). The local population is now predominantly Muslim, although there are also some Asian, African and Filipino Catholics.


The church is orientated roughly north-south, but this description follows conventional liturgical orientation, as if the altar was to the east.

The church was built in two phases. The first, in the 1920s, was on a Greek cross plan, and was built of local purple brown bricks, with Green Westmorland slate roofs. The eastern arm of this was demolished and the nave extended to form a Latin cross, using complementary materials, in the 1960s. An intended northwest campanile was not built.

The 1920s church has open pediments on the north and south faces with moulded brick string courses and a row of arched clerestory windows. The east end is apsidal. The 1960s additions are a modern and simplified version of the original work. The west front has brick pilaster/piers at the corners and an open pediment framing a large central ‘feature panel’ faced in Portland stone. A crucifix is placed against this. Below this, solid oak entrance doors are placed beneath a flat canopy, with windows on either side. Flanking the entrance, low flat-roofed wings with recessed stone faced bays incorporating windows were presumably built as the baptistery and a side entrance. Above these, a round arched window on either side lights an internal gallery. Beyond this are raised (but not as high as the nave) and plain ‘aisle’ walls, the ‘aisles’ lit by one rectangular window per bay.

The interior is an impressive barrel vaulted space, with a groin vault at the crossing. Although externally expressed, there is no internal separation into ‘nave’ and ‘aisles’, the nave is one wide space, with the barrel vaulting springing from great steel joists spanning east to west. There is a gallery and narthex at the west end, with a mosaic roundel of the Holy Family fixed to the gallery front, possibly from the 1929 church and possibly by Pippet. In the narthex are brass panels to Fr Wright, founder of the mission, and Fr J. P. Dowling, benefactor. At the east, arched openings are located at the corners of the Greek cross. The sanctuary is placed in the eastern arm, and is dominated by a large freestanding altar, with a crucifix and tabernacle in the apse. Side chapels are placed at either side. At the time of the writer’s visit the church was undergoing repair and redecoration, and the chief furnishings were covered (including a large organ of 1903 by Steele & Keay of Burslem, acquired c.1993 from Pitts Hill Methodist Church, Stoke.

Heritage Details

Architect: Leonard Stokes & Drysdale

Original Date: 1929

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed