Wolverhampton Road, Oldbury, Warley, Sandwell B68
A large brick basilican interwar church by George Drysdale, partner of Leonard Stokes, and occupying a landmark position on the arterial road between Birmingham and Wolverhampton. The church is well-detailed and relatively little-altered, with good low-relief carved panels on the west front and a strong, harmonious interior held together by the generous use of Hornton stone for the facings and fittings.
Under a codicil to his will dated 21 August 1928 Major Howard Gallon planned to apply the proceeds of a sale of land to the building of a church. George Drysdale, a senior partner in the firm of Leonard Stokes & Drysdale and head of the Birmingham School of Architecture, was selected as the architect. The builders were Whittall & Son of Birmingham. The church, seating 500, opened on 3 November 1934 and was consecrated on 18 June 1935. The cost was in excess of £20,000. It was linked to the presbytery by an ambulatory or covered way. A parish hall was added in 1936, also to Drysdale’s designs; the builders for this were Deacon & Son of Lichfield. A primary school (architect Victor Sylvester Peel of Birmingham) opened in 1937.
In 1964 changes included a new lighting system, and addition of acoustic insulation boards to the existing wooden ceiling. In 1967 a fairly sensitive sanctuary reordering by Sandy & Norris of Stafford involved the cutting back of the high altar, re-using the carved stone front to support the tabernacle. The central section of altar rails were also removed. In 1985 land which had been sold off was redeveloped as George Simmons House (sheltered accommodation). This means that there is no room for an expansion of the facilities of the church at the rear.
The church is built of brown and purple bricks, with some sandstone details, under a green slate roof. It consists of a long, wide nave, narrow, windowless passage aisles, a tall southeast campanile, and semi-circular apsed sanctuary. Stylistically it is an Early Christian basilican building, and has round-arched fenestration throughout. There is a clerestory of small double and triple lights. The spreading west front faces the main road and has a super-arch over the square entrance, above which is a Della Robbia-style majolica representation of the Virgin and Child. Above are four carved stone Art Deco-style representations of the symbols of the Evangelists with the Agnus Dei in the centre; the identity of the sculptor is not confirmed but there are strong stylistic and circumstantial grounds for an attribution to William Bloye (1890-1975), who taught at Birmingham School of Art and specialised in low-relief carvings of this nature. In 1949 the Hardman firm was asked to provide a mosaic surround for the Virgin and Child panel (the execution was carried out by the firm of P. Cecconi and Son of Birmingham). Either side of the west façade are projections, that to the north for a stair to the internal gallery, that on the south, presumably, originally for the baptistery. The campanile is designed as a prominent feature to be seen from afar; two of its faces have huge recessed crosses which are now painted white.
The interior is an impressive wide space, the principal feature of which is the four-bay arcading; this consists of wide, plain arches, the piers of which are faced with brown Hornton stone. This stone is also used for the font (resited to the entrance of the chancel), the ambones and surrounding frames, the revetting on the lower parts of the sanctuary and the reredos under the canopy over the tabernacle. The walls are plastered and whitened, apart from the apse, the west wall and the zone between the piers and clerestory which are painted a light yellow. A broad and tall plain arch frames the entry to the sanctuary; in its spandrels are a pair of circular openings. The roof is of tie-beam construction with queen posts, struts and a collar; the whole of the roof is painted white. The underside of the aisle roofs have been lined with insulating tiles. Well-carved Stations of the Cross are placed in shallow recesses in the aisles.
Architect: George Drysdale
Original Date: 1935
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed