Queen’s Avenue, Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent ST6
A large, unusual and impressive essay in the Romanesque style of south west France, the green copper-clad domes forming a major local landmark. The original architect was the noted Arts and Crafts figure J. Sydney Brocklesby, with the parish priest acting as clerk of works and using unemployed parishioners for much of the labour, including some of the furnishings. The church also contains furnishings acquired abroad by the parish priest.
The Tunstall mission, the first to be started from Cobridge and covering Tunstall, Goldenhill, Red Street, Kidsgrove, and Norton-le-Moors, was established in 1853, in a dual purpose school/chapel built in Plex Street and dedicated to St Mary (demolished in the 1960s). This continued to be served from Cobridge until 1854 when a resident priest was appointed. A new church, also dedicated to St Mary, was built in Sun Street (now St Aidan’s Street) in 1869 and remained in use until 1930.
The present church was begun in 1925 (foundation stone 7 May) and was opened on 27 June 1930 by Archbishop Downey of Liverpool, when he described the building as ‘a miracle of beauty’. The architect was John Sydney Brocklesby (1879-1955), a noted Arts and Crafts architect who also designed the Italianate Romanesque St Joseph’s, Burslem (qv, completed 1925). Exactly contemporary with and similar to the Sacred Heart is Brocklesby’s St Oswald & St Edmund Arrowsmith, Ashton-in Makerfield, Greater Manchester. The basic form of a domed nave and apsidal chancel with ambulatory first appeared at his St Augustine, Nottingham (1921) where the west front is the mirror image of that at the Sacred Heart. The major benefactor of the work was a physician, Dr Patrick Garvey. It is said that the parish priest, Fr P. J. Ryan (d. 1951) had disagreements with the architect and dismissed him, and that he was responsible for some of the design himself. Fr Ryan acted as clerk of works and used unemployed parishioners on the building and much of the stained glass and woodcarving was created by teams of young parishioners under the guidance of Dr Gordon Forsyth, Director of the Burslem School of Art. The church was built on a raft foundation to avoid the danger of subsidence which could have arisen due to the site having been used for depositing pottery waste (this is said to be the first use of such a construction method in Stoke-on-Trent). The site of the Sun Street church (St Mary’s) was sold in 1934 and redeveloped. A presbytery was built beyond the east end of Sacred Heart church in 1937. A building in The Boulevard was later acquired to serve as a parish hall, and was named the Ryan Hall in memory of Fr Ryan.
The church was reordered in about 1974 under architects Wood, Goldstraw & Yorath of Hanley. A new marble altar and marble paving was sited forward from the sanctuary and the existing altar rail was removed along with the inner screen, and new porch and entrances provided.
The list description (below) mentions the chief features of the exterior and repetition is unnecessary. It can be added, however, that the choice of style is a most unusual one; church builders seldom drew inspiration from the great domed churches of south west France, such as Angoulême and Perigord.
The interior is a remarkable and powerful display of Romanesque work. The body of the church consists of three huge bays, each covered by a dome (formerly painted blue, but now an anodyne cream with rather distracting coloured borders round the rims). Each bay is subdivided at ground level into three by sub-arches with square piers made up of four detached shafts. The north aisle is quite narrow. The south one also has a narrow passage but opens out into a series of chapels with rich altars (as noted in the list description); one has a particularly striking nearly life-size Pietà. Sturdy round, carved columns carry the western organ gallery. The bench ends are also noted in the list description. In addition, the immense round font and pulpit (carved from Derbyshire stone) are notable features. The reredos forms a brilliant focus at the east end with a series of tall, narrow arches with gold mosaic backing. The wooden Stations are copies of those in the Franciscan church in Innsbruck. There is a good stained glass window to Dr Patrick Garvey at the west end of the Lady Chapel made by Abbott & Co. of Lancaster. The tower carries a great 2.5 tonne bell, cast by Mears & Stainbank, and named ‘Patrick’ in memory of Patrick Garvey. His daughter is thought to have supervised parishioners in making the stained glass in the sanctuary. Fr Ryan brought items such as candlesticks abroad and installed them in the church.
Roman Catholic Church. 1925-1930. By JS Brocklesby, completed by PJ Ryan, the parish priest. Rusticated stone with copper domed roofs. NW tower, nave with 2 aisles, chancel and ambulatory. Romanesque Basilica style. North-west tower with round-arched doorway in north wall and tiers of blank arcading over, elongated in 2nd stage. Bell chamber lights also form part of an arcaded tier. Pilaster buttresses at angles form small pinnacles to parapet. Giant archway to west door with chevron moulding, frieze and round-arched window above, all contained beneath giant archway. Interlaced arcading in stepped gable, and decorated round stair turret to SW. Nave divided into bays by deep buttresses over the flat roofed aisles. Each bay contains 3 round-arched windows in the aisle, and a tier of 3-lights to the clerestory. A series of 3 domes form the roof. Apsidal east end with ambulatory. The church is bounded on the north by a low stone wall with wrought-iron railings with geometric Art Nouveau detailing.
INTERIOR arcades of clustered, banded shafts. A series of side altars in the north [in fact the south aisle – GB] aisle, and the main altar, all marble, richly decorated with inlay and mosaic. Simply carved bench ends. Much of the labour of building the church, and some of the internal decoration said to have been provided by the parishioners themselves during the Depression.
(The Victoria History of the Counties of England: Pugh RB: Staffordshire: Oxford: 1963-; The Buildings of England: Pevsner N: Staffordshire: P.265).
Listing NGR: SJ8644251304
Architect: J. Sydney Brocklesby
Original Date: 1930
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II