Heathcote Road, Longton, Stoke-on-Trent, ST3
A post-Vatican II town centre church, its design owing something to the influence of Francis Pollen and Maguire & Murray. The church has a large semi-circular central worship space with the presbytery and other spaces radiating off it. It replaced an earlier church designed by E.W. Pugin.
A community of Benedictine nuns exiled from Ghent were settled at Caverswall in 1811 by Walter Hill Coyney of Weston Coyney and his Catholic wife Mary. The nuns opened their chapel for public services and in 1812 their chaplain established a Mass centre at Normacot. In 1819 he opened a small church dedicated to St Gregory in the Greendock area of Longton. The mission was served from Caverswall and Cresswell until 1822, when a resident priest, the Rev. Edward Daniel, was appointed. He added ‘a low pinnacled tower’ (1835), presbytery (also 1835), organ (1830) and Lady Chapel (1850).
In 1863 land was secured on Heathcote Road and a new and larger church was built from designs by E. W. Pugin. The foundation stone was laid on 12 May 1868 and the church was opened on 20 July 1869. At its opening Bishop Ullathorne is said to have declared that the church should prove ‘a great boon to the poor Catholics in this dreary town of sin and mud’. The church was a tall red brick Gothic building with blue-brick bands and stone dressings. It consisted of an aisled and clerestoried nave, with a west gallery and vestibule, and a high vaulted chancel. Externally the five-sided east end was roofed in a series of small gables with carved figures standing between them. The windows contained Geometrical tracery, and there was a large rose window at the west end of the nave. The presbytery was built onto the church in 1880.
The Pugin church was demolished in 1968 because of structural problems caused by severe mining subsidence (repair estimates were over £40,000) and replaced by the present building, built from designs by F. King of Wood, Goldstraw & Yorath. The contract price was £98,332. The National Coal Board contributed £35,000 in compensation. Building began in September 1968 and the church was officially opened in December 1970. The consecration took place on 29 November 1978.
The new church is an interesting composition, clearly inspired in some respects by the work of Francis Pollen (the brick-clad rounded form reminiscent of Worth Abbey) and Maguire & Murray (the multi-pitched roof to the narthex reminiscent of St Paul’s, Bow Common). It is built on a concrete raft on account of subsidence problems in the area, which had provided the reason for the demolition of its predecessor. The building is modern in style, with a steel frame faced in hand-made red brick with concrete detailing and flat, copper-clad roofs. The principal part of the building is the church itself, built to a semi-circular plan. To the body of the building is added a forebuilding with a multi-pitched concrete centrepiece and a canopy over the main entrance. The centrepiece is flanked by lower single-storey projections containing the confessionals and baptistery and beyond the left-hand projection is the two-storey, flat-roofed presbytery.
The interior is a brightly-lit space with the seating arranged in an elongated semi-circle focusing on the sanctuary. This projects forward from the back wall as a peninsula and has over it a correspondingly shaped skylight with a continuous line of rectangular windows. The concrete-clad trusses framing the structure of the building are exposed and radiate upwards to the skylight over the sanctuary. The main walls are painted yellow which contrasts with the blue and maroon of the sanctuary. On the right hand side is a glazed-in Lady Chapel.
Behind the sanctuary is a striking aluminium Crucifixion, designed by the architects. There are brasses with a figure and inscription to Fr Edward Daniel, the first priest (d. 1856), evidently resited from the old church.
Architect: Wood, Goldstraw & Yorath
Original Date: 1970
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed