High Street, Madeley, Telford, Shropshire TF7
© Copyright Richard Law and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.
Madeley is sometimes referred to as ‘the Mother mission of Shropshire’. A long-standing centre of Catholic activity in the penal years, a ‘Massing House’ was built here in 1769, with a chapel behind. This building survives today as the presbytery. In the mid-nineteenth century the old chapel was superseded (but not demolished) by a large new church designed by J. A. Hansom, of which only the nave and aisles were built. Although much altered, the Massing House and attached former chapel is an important early survival in the diocese, predating the Catholic Relief Acts. The house and Hansom’s church are set within a churchyard and make a prominent and positive contribution to the Madeley Conservation Area, which lies within the Ironbridge World Heritage Site.
Madeley maintains a tradition of Catholic worship going back to the Reformation, and is sometimes referred to as ‘the mother mission of Shropshire’. In 1676 there were fifty-one adult papists recorded as living in the town, more than anywhere else in Shropshire. During this period there was an unlicensed school, evidently for Catholic children, and a Mass centre at the Elizabethan Madeley Court, home of the recusant Brooke family. The Brookes were supported in their endeavours to keep the old faith alive by the Giffard family, who in 1760 donated a plot of land on the High Street. Here in 1769 a house incorporating a chapel at the rear – as was common in these early days when public Catholic chapels were still illegal – was built, in the teeth of opposition from the local vicar. Constructed with funds given by wealthy Catholics, including the Duke of Norfolk, this ‘massing house’ is understood to have cost approximately £500. It originally seated 200, although by 1851 there were 400 sittings (and 500 attending Sunday services).
The Rev. W. Molloy took over the mission in 1849 and led efforts to build a new church and larger church which anticipated further expansion and reflected the greater confidence of the post-Emancipation years. On 21 April 1852 the foundation stone of an ambitious new church designed by Joseph Aloysius Hansom was laid. The church was opened on 18 August 1853. Rectangular on plan and incorporating a generous nave flanked by full length aisles, the intention was that the church should accommodate 500 worshippers. The visually inharmonious terminations of both the east and west ends of the church denote the original intention that the building should be extended at either end; such ambitions were never realised.
The 1760s massing house has been put to a variety of uses in its long history. In September 1882 it housed Missionaries of the Sacred Heart from Issoudin, France, who ran the mission briefly. From 1889 Madeley was served from Shifnal, and the house was rented out from 1891 as a boarding school for young ladies; Arundel House school was short-lived, but the house did not become the priest’s house again until 1969. By the 1990s the building was in a state of dereliction. A scheme of adaptation saw the space formerly occupied by the chapel split in two by the installation of a new floor, with the lower level used (as now) as parish rooms.
A 1950s photograph of the east end of the church provides evidence of the extent to which it too has been altered in recent decades. Although it is understood that major schemes of work were undertaken in 1961-2, the 1970s and 1992, it is not entirely clear when each of the known changes took place. The key works in the sanctuary were almost certainly undertaken in the 1970s. These included the dismantling of the high altar and the resiting of the tabernacle at the east end of the south aisle. A new altar was constructed in the forward position. The carpeting of the church (almost) throughout is understood to have taken place in 1992.
St Mary’s is a stone-built church with a clay tiled roof, low aisles and a clerestory. The windows are generally squat with traceried heads of broadly Decorated derivation, a type often used by Hansom. It was built on an east-west axis and the infilled arch in the nave’s east wall suggests that this was designed as the chancel arch of an unexecuted tall sanctuary. Similarly, the great buttresses rising up through the gable at the west end suggests that a tower or spire might have been projected.
The church is entered via a porch towards the west end of its south aisle. Clerestory and aisle windows cast generous amounts of light on the plastered and whitewashed walls of the interiors. Also contributing to the light and open feel of the interior are the generous arcades with columns alternately circular and octagonal in section. Occupying the nave’s easternmost bay, the sanctuary is in the body of the church, marked only by a low dais. There is simple bench seating and a substantial organ (acquired from a local Methodist church) at the west end. The equivalent spaces at the west ends of the north and south aisles are occupied by the boiler room and the sacristy respectively. The red and black tiles – which in the 1950s photograph can be seen on the nave’s aisle floor – remain open to view in the western parts of the church. Apart perhaps from the crucifix which hangs on the east wall, no fixtures or fittings of particular significance were noted.
Update: The presbytery and parish hall was listed Grade II in 2014, following Taking Stock. List description at:https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1416158
Architect: J. A. Hansom
Original Date: 1853
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed