Parsonwood Hill, Whitwick, Leicestershire LE67
A substantial red brick Edwardian church of 1907 in the Gothic style designed by a parishioner, adjacent to the school and presbytery of similar date and across the road from the former presbytery of 1837 belonging to the first chapel designed by A.W.N. Pugin (now demolished). The church stands on a prominent site and makes a positive contribution to the local townscape.
Holy Cross owes its foundation to Ambrose Phillipps de Lisle of Grace Dieu Priory on the north east edge of Whitwick, who set out in the 1830s to Catholicise North West Leicestershire (prompting the Anglican vicar of Whitwick to write that there was: ‘a large body of Roman Catholics in the Charnwood Forest, preying on an ignorant population, withdrawing [them] from the profession of the Protestant faith and rendering [them] violent and…successful opponents to the granting of a church Rate’ (quoted in Hill, 192). Phillipps purchased the site for Mount St Bernard Abbey in 1835 and promoted its building. Many of the building labourers were Irish Catholics who took up residence in Whitwick and Phillipps paid for a small chapel with an attached presbytery to be built on Parsonwood Hill in 1837 to cater for their spiritual needs. The architect for the buildings was A.W.N. Pugin. Pugin also built a presbytery next to the church, later a small convent.
For most of the nineteenth century the Whitwick mission also included Coalville but the growth in coal mining and the arrival of the railways in the last decades of the century brought an increase in population. Coalville was made a separate parish in 1910 and the original small chapel at Whitwick was replaced in 1907 by a large new church on the opposite side of the road, designed by Thomas Ignatius McCarthy of McCarthy & Collis of Coalville, who was a parishioner. As first built the church comprised an aisled nave and a sanctuary; the tower was added at a later date. The attached presbytery and school to the rear appear to be contemporary with the church, and were also designed by McCarthy.
More recently a parish hall has been built between the church and the school.
The church of Holy Cross consists of a tall nave with narrow aisles divided into bays by prominent buttresses, low double transepts, an apsidal sanctuary and a south east tower. The walls are faced with red brick laid in English Bond with stone dressings. The nave roof is covered with concrete tiles, the aisle roofs with brick tiles. The building is in the Early English Gothic style. The west gable wall has three tall lancet windows with a small vesica-shaped window above and a modern projecting brick porch enclosure below. The aisles have curved west ends and single lancet window the transepts have triple lancets and the clerestorey paired lancets. Attached to the centre of the north aisle is a small mid-twentieth century brick projection, presumably for a baptistery. The 75 ft tower is of two tall stages with corner buttresses, corner pinnacles and a stepped parapet. There are paired lancets in the lower stage and a single tall lancet in the north and south faces of the bell-stage. There are a contemporary school (to the rear) and presbytery (attached), both also by McCarthy.
Internally the church has a broad nave and narrow aisles with five-bay arcades on each side borne on cylindrical stone columns, now painted. The walls are plain plastered. Over the nave is a tall open roof with the timber principal trusses brought down onto wall-posts between the clerestorey windows. At their eastern end, the aisles open into the double-transept spaces. A tall arch in the east nave wall opens into the sanctuary, which has a curved timber roof and a canted end with three-two- light traceried windows. The sanctuary is flanked on the south side by the organ chamber and on the north side by the Lady Chapel, which contains the original high altar from the 1837 chapel. The east end was reordered in 1987, when the pulpit and altar rails were removed and a new altar installed under the sanctuary arch. The floor was carpeted at this time. The original high altar and stone reredos remain in situ. The stone font, presumably of 1907, now stands in the north transept. The benches appear to be original to the building. Much of the stained glass in the transept windows dates from the 1950s.
The Pugin church is no more, but the Grade II-listed former presbytery/convent survives next door. This appears to be Pugin’s work, although the list description makes no mention of his involvement.
Architect: McCarthy & Collis
Original Date: 1907
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed