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.
List description (the church was listed Grade II in 2016, following Taking Stock)
Summary: A Roman Catholic parish church, 1934. Designed by George Drysdale in an Early-Christian basilican style and built by Whittall & Son of Birmingham. Not included in the listing are the presbytery and the covered walkway between the presbytery and the north aisle.
Reasons for Designation: The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady and St Hubert, designed by George Drysdale and built in 1934, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: an accomplished Early-Christian style church designed by a noted architect; *Artistic interest: the quality of both the brickwork and the stonework demonstrates a high degree of artistic quality and craftsmanship; * Intactness: the church remains almost entirely unaltered since its completion and the reordering, which is minimal, does not detract from the overall interest; * Fixtures and fittings: it retains a complete suite of Hornton stone furnishings.
History: Following a generous bequest by Major Howard Galton the Church of Our Lady and St Hubert was built. It was designed by the Catholic architect George Drysdale and built by Whittall & Son of Birmingham. It cost in excess of £20,000 and was built to seat a congregation of 500. The church was opened on the 3 November 1934 by Archbishop Williams, and was consecrated on 18 June 1935. In 1949, the mosaic surround to the majolica above the west entrance door, designed by Hardman & Co was installed by P Cecconi and Son of Birmingham. In 1967 the sanctuary was reordered to a design by Sandy & Norris of Stafford. The high altar was cut back to form a ledge to support the tabernacle, which was approached by a predella of three steps, the crucifix was replaced with the three-dimensional crucifix, and the altar rail was removed.
Details: A Roman Catholic parish church. 1934. Designed by George Drysdale in an Early-Christian basilican style and built by Whittall & Son of Birmingham. MATERIALS: built of narrow brown and purple bricks laid in English Garden Wall bond to decorative effect, with brick and some sandstone dressings. The roof is covered in green slate tiles. The windows have leaded lights. PLAN: the building is roughly orientated on its ritual compass points, with its apsidal sanctuary at the ritual east end. To either side of the wide nave are passage aisles with side chapels. The narthex with organ gallery above is at the west end, and to either side is the side chapel and the former baptistery. To the south-east corner is the campanile. EXTERIOR: the gabled west elevation is flanked by single-storey bays with hipped roofs. The central entrance is recessed within a tall, round-headed brick arch with a stone keystone carved with cross keys. The stone, square-headed, doorway has a roundel to each spandrel containing a floral motif, and the entablature above comprises a moulded cornice supported on Doric-style corbels. Above the doorway is a Della Robbia-style majolica representation of the Virgin and Child, with later mosaic surround designed by Hardman & Co and installed by P Cecconi and Son of Birmingham. Above the archway are four, Art-Deco stone bas-reliefs of the emblems of the four Evangelists and the Agnus Dei. The stone plat band above is inscribed with the words ‘FIDES SPES CARITAS’ (translated as ‘Faith Hope Charity’). Above the plat band, which continues around the rest of the church as a moulded cornice, are four round-arched windows. To the centre of the tympanum is a recessed, brick-tile circle with a brick quadrate cross. The north and south elevations have blind, lean-to aisles, and round-arched clerestorey windows to the nave. There is a set-forward bay to the east end of the north aisle with full-height round-arched windows and a hipped roof. The east elevation is defined by the full-height apsidal sanctuary with windows to the lower section. There is a campanile to the south-east corner, with a huge recessed cross, painted white, to two of its faces. Towards the base of the campanile is a stone sculpture of the symbol of St Hubert: a kneeling stag with the crucifix between its antlers. INTERIOR: the west entrance leads into the brick narthex. To the north end is a brick semi-circular archway leading to the staircase to the organ gallery above. At the south end of the narthex is a round window set within a semi-circular arched recess with the foundation stone beneath. The narthex is separated from the nave by a timber and plastered screen with five, glazed archways, and above is the panelled organ gallery. In the main body of the church, either side of the narthex, is the former baptistery and side chapel with timber altar, surmounted by an aedicule. The nave has a four-bay arcade of wide semi-circular arches with square piers faced in brown Hornton stone, which are carefully detailed with decorative carving; one pier includes a relief carving of a figure supported on a corbel. Above the arcades are the round-arched clerestory windows and the timber roof of tie-beam construction with queen posts, struts and a collar. To the north and south side are passage aisles with carved Stations of the Cross set into shallow recesses, and arched openings to the confessionals. The side chapels at the east end of the aisles have stone altars set within arched-stone recesses. The east end of the church is faced in Hornton stone to the height of the arcade piers, and the tall semi-circular chancel arch (with corresponding sanctuary arch behind) has circular openings to the spandrels. At the base of the chancel arch are octagonal pulpits on square bases, approached by Caernarvon-arched openings from the chancel. The font, re-sited adjacent to the south pulpit, is also of Hornton stone. The stone altar has a tall, stone reredos with timber canopy. Either side of the altar are curved arcade walls with pairs of columns supporting the wall above, which to its west face has a Latin inscription. Behind the sanctuary is an ambulatory.
Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the presbytery and the covered walkway between the presbytery and the north aisle are not of special architectural or historic interest and are not included in the listing.
Books and journals: Scarisbrick, JJ, History of the Diocese of Birmingham 1850-2000, (2008), 179. Websites: The Great White Cross on the Hill, by Bob Edwards, accessed 2 February 2016 from sthubertswarley.org.uk/history.html Other: The Architectural History Practice Limited: Churches in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham: An Architectural and Historical Review Prepared for English Heritage and the Archdiocese of Birmingham (2015).
Architect: George Drysdale
Original Date: 1935
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II