High Street, West Bromwich, Sandwell B70
A substantial red brick church in the Early English style, built in two phases from designs by two notable Catholic church architects, and typical of many urban churches of its time. The interior is relatively little altered, but is unremarkable for its date; the chief interest of the building lies in its prominent townscape contribution in the West Bromwich High Street Conservation Area.
It is to the Rev. Martyn Francis of St Mary, Walsall – said to be the first priest in England to be entirely trained in this country – that the development of the Catholic faith in West Bromwich can be traced. Having established St Mary’s, he turned his attention to West Bromwich, where he achieved numerous conversions and rented a dissenters’ chapel in which to say Mass. The building of a church, designed by Joseph Ireland, commenced in September 1830 and it was opened by Bishop Walsh, Vicar Apostolic, on 21 November 1832.
In the 1870s plans were put in motion for a school and to remodel the church as a suitable memorial for the late mission priest, the convert Hon. Fr George (Ignatius) Spencer. Bishop Ullathorne wrote that the Ireland church, which was Gothic in style, had been built ‘before the time when ecclesiastical architecture was well understood’, and that the rebuilding would ‘give it the dignity that it wants, and would not only very much improve the church, but make it a more suitable memorial to its pious founder’ (quoted in The Tablet, 12 September 1874). Plans in the Diocesan Archives from 1873 (signed Daly?) show a somewhat different building from what we see today, envisaging a three-sided apse at the east end and more bays to the body of the building (but still with a northwest steeple). The present church appears to have been built de novo, in 1875-77 from designs by Dunn & Hansom, and opened on 19 March 1877. In 1911 the stone steeple was completed (architect Edmund Kirby).
The church is orientated to the south-west; all directions given in this report are liturgical.
See list description, below. The church expresses the Victorian confidence in the Gothic style as the most appropriate for churches. It is built of red brick with a limited amount of limestone dressings (the spire is sandstone). It consists principally of a three-bay nave (plus narthex), northwest three-stage tower plus its spire, lean-to aisles, a shallow south transept and a square-ended sanctuary, south of which is a Lady Chapel; the north (Sacred Heart) chapel has its own gable but its building line is flush with the aisle; the presbytery is attached on the south side. The style is Early English, hence the triple lancet west windows, paired lancets (with intermediate circular windows) in the north aisle, and single lancet clerestory windows. The east wall has a rose window. The steeple is the landmark but suffers from a rather clumsy transition between tower and spire with a confused assemblage of gables over the belfry windows, angle pinnacles and an ornamented horizontal banded being jumbled together. The single tier of elongated lucarnes further disturbs the picture.
Inside, the most prominent element is the nave arcading of three bays with moulded brick arches (one of the sunk chamfer mouldings is embellished with dog-tooth ornament). The circular piers, no doubt of limestone or sandstone, have unfortunately been painted over. There is no formal sanctuary arch but the division with the nave is marked by a stone shaft and a change in roof design (that in the nave is scissor-braced). The walls are plastered and whitened. The sanctuary area was extended at the time of reordering (presumably about 1970).
The seating consists of benches with inverted Y-section ends. Stained glass is in the east window (a good piece with angels surrounding the Agnus Dei) and the south chapel (routine work). The Stations of the Cross are good pieces of woodcarving. Victorian alabaster work survives in the north chapel altar and the tops to the (resited) altar rails.
Roman Catholic Church. 1875-7 by Dunn and Hansom, with tower and spire added 1911 by Edmund Kirby. Red brick with some stone dressings and tile roof. The chancel is at the south-west end, but for purposes of description the orientation is assumed to be conventional. Comprises a north-west tower, a nave with clerestory and continuous chancel, north and south aisles, and north and south chapels. The west wall has triple stepped lancets with stone heads and sills, and a moulded pointed doorway with angle shafts. The tower has clasping buttresses to the lower stage, angle buttresses above, and corner pinnacles. The spire is of stone. The bell openings are each of two trefoiled lights with a quatrefoil under a pointed head. The north doorway is moulded and pointed. The aisles are of five bays, with alternate paired lancets and round windows. The clerestory has single lancets. The transeptal chapels each have two lancets with a round window above. At the east end is a rose window.
Interior: three-bay nave arcades with pointed moulded brick arches springing from painted round columns with moulded capitals. The roof has scissor-braced rafters. West organ gallery. The chancel is divided from the nave by an arch-braced truss carried on slim engaged shafts. The chancel roof is boarded. East window contains glass of late C19 date. (VCH, p 61).
Listing NGR: SP0044491209
Architect: Dunn & Hansom; Edmund Kirby
Original Date: 1877
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II