Cannock Road, Wolverhampton WV10
A striking interwar brick design by Sandy & Norris, with a showpiece frontage fusing modern Romanesque and Art Deco elements, and a basilican interior of austere gravity. The church occupies a prominent position facing a roundabout on a major road leading north out of Wolverhampton.
The parish was erected in 1923 and a church, dedicated to St James and St Francis, was built, but on a different site from the present one (now demolished). Designs for the present building by Sandy & Norris were approved by the Borough Council on 15 May 1933). Accompanying the design in The Tablet (15 July 1933) was this account:
‘The accompanying illustration shows the design by Mr. E. Bower Norris, F.R.I.B.A., for the new Catholic church at Wednesfield, Wolverhampton. This design provides accommodation for six hundred persons at the comparatively low cost of £6,500. The church will be carried out in solid brickwork, the architectural effect of the interior being revealed in a series of lofty arches of 17 feet span, separating the nave from the aisles, which are taken up to the full height of the church. Although all dimensions everywhere are generous, economy has been achieved by a careful balance of all brickwork on well-defined points of support, and all architectural features have their origin in real structural need. Accommodation is provided also for a spacious sanctuary, Lady Chapel, confessionals, narthex and sacristies.
The ceremony of turning the first sod for the new church was performed last week by Father Francis Swift, rector of the historic church of SS. Peter and Paul, Wolverhampton, where Bishop Milner ministered and has his tomb. The building soon to be set up at Wednesfield is the “great grand-daughter” of that famous old church in North Street, and was so entitled by Father Swift in an address giving an outline of the spread of the Catholic faith since Milner’s time. The Wednesfield parish was established about ten years ago, by the late Bishop Glancey, with Father John Hughes, now of St. Paul’s Convent, Selly Park, as first rector. He built a temporary church of brick, intended to serve ultimately as part of a school. A year later, in 1924, the present rector, Father Maurice Woulfe, was appointed. The Wolverhampton Town Council having launched an extensive building scheme, for the erection of from 3,000 to 5,000 houses, Father Woulfe advised the purchase of a more central site; and it is on this site that the new church will stand. In 1928 an elementary school was built, for 250 children’.
The church was opened by Archbishop Williams on the Feast of St Peter and St Paul, 29 June 1934. The design illustrated in The Tablet did not include the belfry, but this was built at the same time as the rest of the church.
The church is built in a modern basilican Romanesque style. The materials are buff brick with sandstone dressings. It has passage aisles and a square-ended sanctuary and a show façade at the west end facing on to a main road, clearly aiming at a strong presence. It is in fact asymmetrical, a tower being placed on the south side; it carries a belfry stage with large, almost square openings, a heightening of the design of 1933, no doubt to give greater presence to the west end. The most striking feature is the pair of semi-circular side projections, built lower than originally designed, which lend the building something of an Art Deco quality. The southerly projection originally housed the baptistery, the northern one the stair to the gallery. Behind the west front the building is impressive but plain, almost to the point of austerity, with sheer brick walls and simple tall, round-arched windows. There is no clerestory and the sanctuary ends in a square, blind wall. The rainwater hoppers bear the date 1934.
The theme of austere gravity is followed through internally with five mighty round arches to the arcades on either side. They have no mouldings, only a tiny step and minimal imposts. Bare brick is exposed throughout, mostly dull red but with a darker dado. Low arches straddle the arches through internal buttressing. There is an open timber roof of basilican character. A fine hanging crucifix is placed at the entrance to the sanctuary, but otherwise there are no furnishings calling for special mention.
Architect: Sandy & Norris
Original Date: 1934
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed