Station Road, Solihull, West Midlands B90
A simple brick Gothic church by A. W. Pugin, his earliest surviving church design, enlarged and enriched at various stages in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with furnishings given by or designed by members of the Pippet family, whose church this was; nearly all the stained glass is by Hardman & Co. Other precious items, possibly given by Pugin, include a Flemish triptych and an ivory crucifix. In 1979 a large extension was built on the (ritual) north side of the building, effectively creating a new church, and involving significant demolition. The rupture caused by this intervention has to some extent been healed by a more recent sympathetic reordering.
Catholic observance in the Solihull area was persistent during the penal years, with nearby Baddesley Clinton, home of the Ferrers, a notable recusant centre. In 1760 a small chapel and priest’s house were built on the site of the present church by Hugford Hassall. The appearance of this (illegal) place of worship is unrecorded, but it was most probably a modest structure set discreetly behind the house.
The present church was built in 1838-9, opening on 6 February 1839. It is commonly regarded as A. W. Pugin’s earliest surviving church (a slightly earlier chapel at Whitwick, Leicestershire, was demolished in 1905). As originally designed it was a plain structure, consisting of a single volume (the nave of the old church). Pugin donated his services free of charge. He designed the stone altar, font, piscina and holy water stoups (carved by Thomas Roddis of Sutton Coldfield, who also worked for Pugin at Oscott and Cheadle) and is also likely to have donated various precious items, notably a Flemish triptych which originally hung over the high altar and possibly an ivory crucifix of seventeenth century Italian workmanship which still hangs in the church. At the opening (presided over by Dr Henry Weedall, representing the Vicar Apostolic and a great admirer of Pugin), John Hardman junior sang plainchant while Pugin himself carried the processional cross. The plain original design was in the Early English Gothic style, being the most economical. It seems likely that Pugin envisaged the enlargement of the building as and when funds allowed – he cannot have envisaged an altar against a plain windowless east wall as anything but a temporary expedient. In 1866 a five-light window with decorated tracery and glass designed by John Hardman Powell of J. Hardman & Son was inserted into this east wall. In 1870 a reredos was added below this, designed by Joseph Pippet and made by Skinner, builder of Solihull. The Flemish triptych was moved to the north wall.
In 1878 a chancel was added. The Flemish triptych was placed on its north wall, the east window of 1866 was reset in its east wall, and below this was reset the 1870 reredos, augmented by figures of St Charles Borromeo and St Michael, again by Joseph Pippet.
Charles Hansom is usually credited as architect for the chancel, and of the presbytery which was built at the same time. O’Donnell considers this ‘improbable’ – the design of the presbytery is certainly more ‘Olde English’ and less Gothic in character than one would have expected of Hansom – and refers to drawings in the diocesan archive dated April 1876 signed ‘G. Heveningham’. The Diocesan Archives hold a specification dated 1877 for the erection of a new sanctuary and other works by Messrs Fort, Hanson (sic) & Son, Architects. However, Malley (1939) states unambiguously that ‘F. B. Endall was the architect of both undertakings’. Endall is a little-known figure, although Warwickshire Record Office has a plan of the sittings at the Anglican church in Solihull signed by him (1896, ref. DRB 64/90). More research is needed to clarify this question. Similar uncertainty concerns the porch. Stanton and Scarisbrick give it to Hansom, along with the sanctuary, which they state is contemporary with it, while Malley states that the porch was added in 1884, and does not name an architect.
The transformation of the building from a small and plain Early English structure to a slightly larger building of more Perpendicular Gothic character was slow but steady, and was accompanied by the introduction of stained glass, nearly all made by the Hardman firm, and all from designs by various members of the Pippet family. This was their church, and they were responsible for its enrichment over many decades. Pugin’s design or budget had not allowed for a great deal of interior decoration, although the ceiling had been painted blue with gold stars. In 1892 a general scheme of stencil and figurative decoration was carried out by Joseph Pippet. This went with the programme of replacing the lancet windows with larger ones of more Perpendicular character –the three windows on the north side of the nave were designed by Joseph Pippet c.1892, two on the south side by Gabriel Pippett c.1899, a third window on the south side by Joseph Pippet, 1902, and two small windows in the side chancel walls by Joseph Pippet, 1902. The glass for the three-light west window, added in 1904 and replacing the lancets, was by Alphege and Oswald Pippet and intended for a church in West Hartlepool – it is the only window in the church not made by Hardman & Co.; the makers were Harvey & Ashby of Birmingham.
In 1892 Joseph Pippet gave two stone statues, of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady, in memory of his parents (carved by John Roddis of Aston, who was probably descended from Thomas Roddis). Other statues (Saints Peter, Paul, Joseph and Augustine) were carved by Martyn of Cheltenham, and placed under elaborate Gothic timber canopies.
In 1897 a new bell and belfry were added, replacing Pugin’s open bellcote. At the same time a garden approach to the church was created.
In 1900 a baptistery was added, giving onto the north side of the nave (architect not established). At about the same time a gallery was formed at the west end of the nave.
In 1917 a pulpit was given by the congregation, from designs by Dunstan Powell, Pugin’s grandson.
In 1920 a rood cross was installed as a war memorial, hanging from the chancel arch. The cross was painted by Odilia and Regina Pippet and the corpus (from the Tyrol) was painted by Elphege Pippet.
In 1930 the nave was entirely re-plastered and repainted by Messrs Hardman, Powell and Pippet, the decorative scheme an exact copy of that of 1892.
In 1932 a Lourdes grotto was created in the church garden, from designs by Elphege Pippet. The Hollington stone statues were carved by Messrs Bridgeman & Son, Lichfield.
Free of debt, the church was consecrated on 12 July, 1932.
In 1939, new carved wooden Stations of the Cross were installed to mark the centenary of the church, replacing pictorial Stations erected in 1892.
The expansion of Solihull, which really began with the arrival of the railway in 1852 (the lane at the side of the church was renamed Station Road), continued into the twentieth century. The number of Masses was increased, and daughter chapels of ease or parishes were established at Dorridge (1915) and Shirley (1935). On two occasions, the second in 1933, Elphege Pippet drew up plans for the addition of an aisle and Lady Chapel. However, these came to nothing, and the 1939 centenary publication was ‘glad to say that the present Archbishop of Birmingham, Dr T. L. Williams, desires Pugin’s church to be spared further extension or alteration’. Summing up the work of the previous decades, in which the Pippet family had played such a prominent part, the same publication wrote that ‘we cannot but know whether the pastors and people of Solihull have caused to be done what Pugin would have done in like circumstances; but they have certainly beautified his church and kept it free from artistic degradation and unsullied by any odious addition, which he would have vehemently decried’ (Malley, p. 72)
However, the continued expansion of Solihull in the post-war years was such that the demand for more space in the church would not go away. Finally, in the 1970s, under the Rev. Edward Steward, Brian Rush & Associates were commissioned to prepare plans for the enlargement of the church. Their plan was in effect to create a new church at a ninety degree angle to the old, with the sanctuary of the Pugin church retained as a day chapel, similar to what had happened at Brentwood Cathedral earlier in the same decade. The scheme was highly controversial, with objections from the Victorian Society and others, but obtained the necessary planning approvals; work started in January 1979 and was completed by Christmas of the same year. The addition involved the creation of a large opening in the north wall of the nave as well as the demolition of the 1900 baptistery and 1878 presbytery. The seating capacity was doubled, stained glass from the north wall was reset in the new building, and a flat for the priest was created over the new sacristy.
In the 1980s, major repairs to the church were undertaken. A second brick skin/plinth was added around the sanctuary, the belfry was rebuilt (with a larger bell) and the wall paintings were restored.
More recently (2010) the 1970s sanctuary was reordered under Fr Dominic Kavanagh, and an attempt made to better unite the two spaces, primarily by the use of consistent stone paving through the circulation areas of both. The sanctuary was refurnished and the new altar consecrated by Archbishop Longley on 17 October 2010. Shortly after this a specially commissioned icon of the Crucifixion by Stephen Foster was set up over the new sanctuary.
A small brick church of 1838-9 by A. W. Pugin, his earliest that survives, with additions of 1878 (chancel, possibly by Charles Hansom), 1884 (west porch) and 1979 (major enlargement on the north side, with new entrance narthex, nave, sacristies and presbytery, by Brian Rush & Associates. The earlier church is built of red brick with minimal stone dressings under slate roofs. The 1970s addition is built of similar materials, but the red brick is harsher in tone and texture. The style of Pugin’s church was originally plain Early English Gothic, but later alterations and additions have given it a more Perpendicular Gothic character. The 1979 addition is a frankly modern juxtaposition, although deferent in its choice of materials, and incorporating pointed lancet windows where stained glass windows have been reset. The plan of the original church consists of a nave and sanctuary with a western porch. This is now a subsidiary element, with the main worship space in the 1979 addition, spilling over into the old nave (where a large opening in the north wall was formed). The addition is rectangular on plan, with the seating placed around close to the altar, as befitting the modern liturgy. The sanctuary is side-lit by coloured glass in the ‘dormer’ cheeks, and projects a little.
The interior of the original church has an arch braced roof, plastered in the nave between the trusses. The braces are painted with stencil decoration, rising from carved stone corbels. The interior is richly decorated and furnished, as described above. A Flemish triptych, originally placed over the altar of Pugin’s church and later moved to the north wall of the sanctuary, has now been returned to that position (having been moved to the sanctuary of the 1979 addition when that was built). A large opening with a jagged lintel has been formed between the original church and the 1979 addition. As originally designed the new space had mostly bare red brick walls, but these have recently (2010) been plastered and painted, brightening the interior and helping to unite it with the older church (shown also in the use of common stone floor finishes). The new church has a timber boarded ceiling and a small upper choir gallery is formed in the corner (the gallery at the west end of Pugin’s church was removed). Furnishings moved from the old church into the new space include the octagonal stone font, with the 1920 war memorial cross now mounted on the wall behind it, Roddis’s statue of Our Lady, several reset stained glass panels (formerly on the north wall of the nave and now mainly in the new narthex) and the 1939 Stations. The pews are all of 1979. The centrepiece of the new sanctuary is a fine large pierced quatrefoil roundel of the Crucifixion, Virgin Mary and St John, with polychrome low relief carving by Stephen Foster (c.2010).
Begun April, 1838. Architect: Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. Perpendicular style, red brick with stone dressings. Nave with small bell turret, west gallery. Contains C16 Flemish triptych. West porch added and chancel rebuilt to designs by Charles Hansom, 1878.
Listing NGR: SP1498279564
Architect: A. W. Pugin
Original Date: 1839
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II