Wolverhampton Road, Stafford, Staffordshire ST17
Stafford was a strong local Catholic centre during the penal years, and a public chapel was built as soon as it became legally possible to do so in 1791. This building, placed beside the contemporary presbytery, was remodelled and extended in Gothic style in 1814, but survives only in part. The present church, in effect the third on the site, is a solid Gothic Revival design of 1861-2 by E. W. Pugin, lacking its intended spire but with significant furnishings by P. P. Pugin and others.
Stafford, scene of the martyrdom of Bl. Robert Sutton in 1588, has a strong history of post-Reformation Catholic survival and recusancy. According to the Victoria County History, most, if not all, the holders of the Stafford barony since the Reformation were Catholics, and did much to encourage Catholicism in and around the county town. The Stafford-Howard family supported a priest, Thomas Barnaby, from the 1760s and Mass was apparently said in a garret in a house on the Green. In the 1780s the Rev. John Corne built a small chapel in the garden of a house he rented in Tipping Street.
Built on a plot of land called Middle Friars that once formed part of the estates of the Austin Friars, the current church sits alongside the remains of Stafford’s earliest post-Reformation Catholic chapel. Dedicated to St Augustine, this was built, along with a substantial house, by the Rev. John Corne in 1791 (that is, as soon as the building of public Catholic chapels was legalised under the Second Catholic Relief Act). The presbytery survives, but the chapel only vestigially. It was largely rebuilt in Perpendicular Gothic style in 1819 by the amateur architect Edward Jerningham, with a new nave built to the north, reorientating the building by ninety degrees. The Jerningham family provided late medieval Belgian stained glass (now in the west window of the present church) and oak stalls for the sanctuary. After the building of the present church, the 1819 chapel was initially used as a school. Sadly, the building was largely demolished in 1971, when the schools were relocated. What remained was adapted in 1990 to serve as a parish room.
At the time of the 1851 census, there were 250 people attending Mass in the little Regency chapel, and a bigger building was needed. Perhaps at the prompting of A. W. Pugin’s friend, the Rev. Francis Amherst (mission priest here from 1856-8), in 1858 the Rev. John Wyse commissioned E. W. Pugin to design the present church. Pugin’s early plans show a tall spire, but budget constraints resulted in a less ambitious building, with a belfry rather than a tower and spire. The foundation stone was laid on 21 May 1861 and the church, costing £3,000, opened on 16 July 1862.
The church was embellished in 1884 with a new high altar and reredos, in 1887 with a new Lady Chapel altar and in 1894 the Sacred Heart Chapel altar was added, all to designs by Peter Paul Pugin. New confessionals and sacristies were built in the early 1900s.
In 1954 a detached parish hall was built parallel to the church. Some reordering was carried out in 1958, to designs by Patrick Feeny; the reredos to the high altar was removed and those to the side chapels were reduced. During the 1990s, the interior was redecorated in a historically sympathetic manner and a spire added to the short tower (which itself had been added in 1962 from designs by Sandy & Norris).
The list description (below) provides an accurate summary of the church and principal fittings. Greenslade’s account provides more information on the fittings and decorative details: the sanctuary windows were designed by J. H. Powell and made by J. Hardman & Co. The account of the opening of the church in The Tablet confirms the list entry’s assumption that the Flemish glass in the west window was brought from the old church. A window in the north aisle has stained glass designed by Patrick Feeny for Hardmans in 1951, to commemorate the dogmatic definition of the doctrine of the Assumption in 1950. The oak pulpit is the truncated upper part of a much larger fitting that was made in 1900 in memory of Canon Edward Acton, priest here from 1873 to 1880 and 1885 to 1899 (died 1899). The statues of St John Fisher and St Thomas More, on corbelled plinths flanking the high altar were designed by James Doyle and introduced in 1887. The pews are pine, and the floor is laid with carpet. The sacristies of c.1900 contain a good set of pitch pine cupboards and joinery, and parquet floors. The stencilled wall decoration is part of the 1990s restoration, undertaken by Fisher Decorations of Stafford (architects Duvall Brown Partnership of Lichfield).
Catholic church. 1862. By Edward Welby Pugin. Brick with blue brick diapering and ashlar dressings; tile roof. PLAN: 5-bay nave and lean-to aisles with east chapels flanking short chancel; north-west turret; south-east sacristy. EXTERIOR: canted E end has gabled 2-light windows; chapels have 2-light windows to east and return; aisles have 3-light windows; clerestory has spherical triangle windows; Geometrical tracery. West facade has ashlar banding and some brick diaper and crosses, pointed entrance to centre left end, each with moulded arch and paired plank doors with strap hinges; 5-light W window with small vesica window above; turret to left is flush with facade and shows signs of re-construction, plain parapet, pointed louvred bell openings and short needle spire with metal cladding; coped gable with iron cross. INTERIOR: arch-braced roofs, part ceiled, part painted; chancel has richly coloured tiles below sill level and narrow 2-bay arcades to chapels; nave has 4-bay arcades with marble piers, simple capitals and moulded arches, west gallery with organ and arcaded balcony front. FITTINGS: High Altar has roundels between marble shafts, rich pulpit has ogee panels with relief scenes between canopied figures, similar desk has tracery panels and deep cornice; side altars have relief panels and figures of the Virgin and Child and the Sacred Heart; font has quatrefoils to sides with instruments of the Passion, C20 glazed screen beneath gallery. STAINED GLASS: C19 and C20 glass to N; E windows by Hardman; W window has C16 Flemish glass, presumably that which was installed in church of 1818, now demolished, by Lord Stafford.
(Staffordshire Catholic History: Catholic Chapels in Staffordshire: 1974-: 429; Buildings of England: Pevsner N and Nairn J: Staffordshire: London: 1974-: 249).
Listing NGR: SJ9229822540
Presbytery and chapel. 1791. Georgian style. Brick with ashlar dressings; hipped slate roof with return lateral stacks.EXTERIOR: 3 storeys; symmetrical 3-window range. Sill bands to ground and 1st floors; top modillioned wooden cornice. Round-headed entrance has doorcase with fluted pilasters, entablature blocks and open pediment, fanlight with radial glazing bars over 6-panel door. Windows have rubbed brick flat arches over 12-pane sashes, those to 2nd floor have sills and 9-pane sashes. Returns have sashes windows. Rear has wing with coped gable with kneelers; small wing to left connecting with church (qv). Blocked end window and some altered windows. Right return has gable of demolished 1816 church, now with C20 glazed infill to 4-centred arch. INTERIOR of chapel has arch with continuous moulding to recess and coved ceiling.
(Buildings of England: Pevsner N and Nairn J: Staffordshire: London: 1974-: 249; Victoria County History of Staffordshire: Greenslade MW: A History of Stafford, (taken from VCH): London: 1979-: 250).
Listing NGR: SJ9232122545
Architect: E. W. Pugin
Original Date: 1862
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II