Sansome Place, Worcester, Worcestershire WR1
There has been a Catholic church in Worcester on or near the present site since the 1740s. The present building was built about the time of Catholic Emancipation, from designs by Henry Rowe. A large copy of Raphael’s Transfiguration was given by the Sixteenth Earl of Shrewsbury. The church was refronted and richly refitted in the late 1870s and 1880s. Worcester has a long association with the Society of Jesus, who built the church and had care of the parish until 1990. Sir Edward Elgar was organist here in the 1880s. With the historic lamp standards at the front and adjoining presbytery, the church makes a notable contribution to the city centre conservation area.
Worcester has a long association with the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), who were active in the town and surrounding area from the later sixteenth century. A map of the town in 1741 shows a Mass centre in the town ditch (more or less in the location of the present Sansome Place) at the back of a house belonging to Mr Bartlett and enclosed by other buildings. This Mass centre or chapel was rebuilt and enlarged in 1765. The passing of the Catholic Relief Act in 1791 removed the need for concealment and in 1828 the old chapel was demolished and new one fronting the public road was built to the designs of Henry Rowe, a local man who was appointed City Surveyor the following year. Rowe’s chapel was built of brick, with a pedimented west front with giant pilasters and a recessed centre with the central entrance doorway and two fluted Doric columns in antis. A substantial donation to the cost of the building was made by the Sixteenth Earl of Shrewsbury, who gave a copy of Raphael’s Transfiguration, which forms the reredos of the main altar.
The presbytery next to the church and the adjoining house (numbers 1 and 2 Sansome Place) were rebuilt in 1851, to the designs of Joseph Hansom. The small cemetery at the rear of the church was closed the following year. In 1878-80 the church was enlarged by the addition of the sanctuary with its side chapels and a new sacristy. The architect was S. J. Nicholl of London, a pupil of J. J. Scoles and like Scoles a favoured architect of the Jesuits. Nicholls also designed the three altars (made by W. Forsyth of Worcester), and oversaw the substitution of benches for box pews. In 1887 Rowe’s original main front was replaced by a new Portland stone facade, probably also by Nicholl.
Further internal alterations were made in 1906, when the inner columns were removed from the sanctuary screen, skylights inserted over the side altars and the whole interior redecorated.
The setting of the church was changed in the early 1970s when the ample gardens in front of both church and presbytery were taken for the building of the new City Walls relief road. A major restoration of the church was undertaken in 1988. Two years later the Jesuits handed control of the parish to the archdiocese. A drum-shaped parish hall was built next to the church in 2006 on the site of the former parish school (architect Vincent Kirk RIBA of Worcester).
St George’s has a strong association with the composer Sir Edward and his family. William Elgar, the composer’s father, was organist here from 1842 to 1883 and the composer himself from 1885 to 1889.
See list description below. The church has a rectangular nave, with a lower and narrower sanctuary flanked by side chapels. The main walls of the church are of red brick, with a west front of Portland stone. Both nave and sanctuary have shallow pitched roofs covered in Welsh slate; the south Lady Chapel has a lean-to roof. The west front is set back from Sansome Place with a forecourt enclosed by iron railings. The front itself is three bays wide with a pedimented central bay on paired Corinthian columns standing on a rusticated plinth. The exposed south and east walls are plain, with rectangular window openings and signs of patching or alteration to the brickwork. A new covered loggia has been formed at the base of the nave wall.
The fittings of the handsome interior include the main reredos painting (a copy of Raphael’s Transfiguration made in Rome by an English painter named Furse, with side panels by Francis Bouvier); the three stone altars designed by S. J. Nicholl; an early nineteenth century window by Francis Eginton in the Lady Chapel given by his daughter in 1889, and the triptych painting over the St Joseph altar (by Wallich of St Petersburg) which was given by Sir Frank Brangwyn in 1956. The organ in the west gallery is by Anneessens of Belgium and was installed in 1885, when Edward Elgar became organist. It has been considerably altered but preserves the stops which Elgar used.
Church. 1829 with later alterations including those to chancel of 1880 and west facade of 1887. Architect Henry Rowe with alterations probably by S J Nicholl. Ashlar facade to west, otherwise pinkish-red brick with red brick window arches and slate roof. STYLE: west facade is in Italianate Baroque style. PLAN: nave and chancel. EXTERIOR: single tall storey, 3 bays. Central bay breaks forwards. Plinth. To centre bay the lower stage is rusticated, drawn into voussoirs over central entrance, 2 roll-edged steps to 8-panel double doors, fanlight with decorative ironwork grille, in stepped reveals. Mid-stage band surmounted by ‘plinth’ with bulbous balusters as apron to central window; ‘plinth’ surmounted to ends of outer bays by composite pilasters and to centre bay by paired, three-quarter engaged composite columns. Crowning entablature and central dentil pediment inscribed ‘IHS’. Three round-arched windows with honeycombed glazing to centre and stained glass, in tooled architraves and with pediments on corbels, that to centre with keystone. North and south sides have 5 windows under flat arches of gauged brick and with coloured glass. INTERIOR: gallery to west, north and south sides; curved staircases to either side at west end with sticks and carved tread ends to gallery on two Ionic columns. Stepped benches to gallery. Cornice has egg-and-dart and acanthus moulding; moulding to centre of ceiling and 3 ceiling roses with acanthus motifs. Screen to east end has two fluted columns to centre with honeysuckle frieze and wide opening between 2 smaller openings; coloured marble reredos.
HISTORICAL NOTE: This is a robust example characteristic of those which manifested the confidence of the Catholic community after the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, which caused (NB: eased?) constraints on public worship. Sir Edward Elgar was organist here during 1885-8.
(The Buildings of England: Pevsner N: Worcestershire: Harmondsworth: 1968-1985: 319).
National Grid Reference: SO 85091 55182
House and presbytery. c1829. Architect probably H Rowe. Numbered right to left, described left to right. Pinkish-red brick in Flemish bond with red brick window arches and stone architrave to entrance and hipped slate roofs, off-centre south brick ridge stack with oversailing course and pots and two truncated stacks and ridge stack with oversailing course and pots to north side. The houses are back to back; although with different storeys, their heights are the same. North facade: 3 storeys, 2 first-floor windows. Ground and first floors have 2/2 horned sashes; second floor has 4/4 sashes, all in plain reveals and with sills and flat arches of gauged brick. Off-centre right entrance set back within segmental arch of gauged brick; 6-panel door, part-glazed, with 2 lower flush-beaded panels; 3-pane overlight; panelled reveals. South facade: 2 storeys, 2 first-floor windows. 6/6 sashes throughout. Entrance to right, steps to 6-panel door with lower flush-beaded panels, the upper panels raised and fielded, with overlight and in Doric architrave with pilasters, frieze and cornice. Right return breaks forwards to right part and has 1:3 first-floor windows. To left part a 2/2 sash to ground floor; 8/8 sash to first floor; to second floor a 4/4 sash. Right part: plinth, three 6/6 sashes to ground and first floors. All windows in plain reveals and with sills and flat arches of gauged brick. INTERIOR: not inspected. No.1 is the presbytery to the adjacent Church of St George, Sansome Place (qv); also grouping with Pair of Lamp Standards to west of Church of St George and Nos 3-7 (consecutive) Sansome Place (qqv).
National Grid Reference: SO 85073 55188
Pair of lamp standards. c1829-87 with later conversion to electricity. Cast-iron. Spearhead railings arranged as open columns with 3 levels of finials, surmounted by scrolls which support lamp-holders with honeysuckle cresting. Forms a good group with Church of St George and with Nos 1 and 2 Sansome Place (qqv).
National Grid Reference: SO 85070 55174, SO 85072 55169
Architect: Henry Rowe; S. J. Nicholl
Original Date: 1829
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II*