Coventry Cathedral

On the night of 14 November 1940, the city of Coventry was devastated by bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe. The Cathedral burned with the city, having been hit by several incendiary devices.

The decision to rebuild the cathedral was taken the morning after its destruction. Rebuilding would not be an act of defiance, but rather a sign of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world. It was the vision of the Provost at the time, Richard Howard, which led the people of Coventry away from feelings of bitterness and hatred. This has led to the cathedral’s Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation, which has provided spiritual and practical support, in areas of conflict throughout the world.

Her Majesty the Queen laid the foundation stone on 23 March 1956 and the building was consecrated on 25 May 1962, in her presence. The ruins remain hallowed ground and together the two create one living Cathedral.

Ralph Beyer carving the foundation stone for Coventry Cathedral.

© Historic England Archive, John Laing Photographic Collection.

Coventry Cathderal

The new Cathedral was itself an inspiration to many fine artists of the post-war era. The architect, Sir Basil Spence, commissioned work from Graham Sutherland, John Piper, Ralph Beyer, John Hutton, Jacob Epstein, Elisabeth Frink and others – most still to reach the peak of their artistic careers.

St. Michael and the Devil on the southern end of the east wall. It was sculpted by Sir Jacob Epstein, who, sadly, died in 1959, and therefore didn’t live to see his masterpiece mounted on the cathedral wall a year later.

Entrance to the cathedral is through the Screen of Saints and Angels – it is seventy feet high and forty five feet wide and is supported by a bronze framework hung by wires from the roof for added strength.

This unique screen formed part of Sir Basil Spence’s first vision for the new cathedral. As he stared out from the ruins of the bombed cathedral, he saw the shape for the new church through a screen of saints. This transparent wall would link the old and new – making each mutually visible from within each other. Provost Howard set out to draw up a scheme consisting of all the saints who were responsible for the bringing of Christianity to Britain. As John Hutton began to make initial designs, he soon realised that row upon row of saints would need to be broken up in some way, and suggested that angels be inserted between the saints.

The eighty one foot high Baptistery Window containing a total of one hundred and ninety five lights of stained glass in bright primary colours designed by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens, with the Stone of Bethlehem for a font just in front. Each individual window contains an abstract design, but the overall effect is breathtaking. Basil Spence himself designed the stone containing the glass.

Study for the the seventy two foot high tapestry designed by Graham Sutherland – collection of The Herbert Art Gallery

The great tapestry was another example of a re-think in design. Basil Spence’s original intention was to depict the Crucifixion but Provost Howard suggested that the subject be Christ in Majesty and from there on, this idea prevailed

Altar cross and crown of thorns by Geoffrey Clarke, large ceramic candlesticks by Hans Coper.

Chairs by Russell Hodgson and Leigh.

The Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane is approached by following the aisle from the Baptistery window towards the altar which is at the north end. The mosaic depicts the Angel of Agony by Steven Sykes and becomes more impressive when seen from a distance through the wrought iron crown of thorns designed by Basil Spence.

A short passageway takes you through to the Chapel of Christ the Servant – also known as the Chapel of Industry due to the view of Coventry workplaces from its narrow windows. 

Monumental inscriptions to walls and floor by Ralph Beyer

Stained glass to aisle walls by Lawrence Lee, Geoffrey Clarke and Keith New.

At the far end of the aisle, opposite the Baptistery Window is the Chapel of Unity, with its detailed mosaic floor, donated by the people of Sweden, representing the nations of the world and lit by shafts of light from the narrow stained glass windows around the circumference of the star shaped chapel. 

This design was Basil Spence’s vision of a chapel representing the star which began the story of Christ – from the outside it appears shaped similarly to a Crusader’s tent.

The chapel is intended for prayer by all denominations, not just Anglican, and for this reason was purposely built with no view of the great altar. 

Historic Coventry

Church of The Latter Day Saints – Stockport

Bramhall Lane Stockport SK3 8SA

Built 1961-1963 – architects Ivan Johnston & Partners of Liverpool.

The proposed modernistic architecture of the building, caused some qualms among members of Stockport’s Planning and Development Committee, which was still discussing the plans early in 1962, but in the end it was built much as the architect had intended.

A 70ft. spire on Bramhall-lane Davenport, will be a new landmark in Stockport next year when the no-labour-cost £41,000 chapel of the Mormons – The Church of Latter-Day Saints, from America – is expected to be complete. The Stockport branch of 150 members will fund over £8000 of the cost and will provide food, shelter and pocket money for volunteer builders from all over the country. 

Text and archive image Davenport Station

A striking A Line addition to the Stockport skyline – its steeply pitched roof punctuated by prominent triangular bays, and partnered with a prominent remote tower of wood and steel.

The front elevation is of concrete, constructed with panels of a rough grey aggregate.

Take a walk around, there have been some additions of single storey ante rooms.

This remains a simple, confident and assured building.

I had gone along today as a blood donor – so granted access to the splendid, elevating well-lit interior.

The front portion of the main body is given over to worship, furnished with light wood pews, altar and panelling.

The suspended lighting groups are of particular note.

St Saviour’s Church – Bradford

St Saviours 25 Ings Way Bradford BD8 0LU

What a delight – the stunning surprise that awaits you, around one particular suburban corner of Bradford.

I had called ahead, to arrange the visit – the Reverend Dorothy Stewart had gracefully invited me to join members of the community and herself, one wild and windy Wednesday.

Steel frame and shuttered concrete with dark red brick walls in stretcher bond, and slate roofs.

Church of 1966 with attached hall of 1971, both designed by architect George Pace. Characterised by asymmetric arrangement of roofs, exposed structure and juxtaposition of materials, this is a complete and largely unaltered example of Pace’s work. The asphalt roof and windows are in very poor condition. Repair works to the roof were carried out in 2016 with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s former Grants for Places of Worship scheme.

Listed November 2007

The exterior is stark and angular, the body of the church is a broad rectangle with no division between nave and chancel, with a bell tower to the east, vestries to the north-west and a chapel to the west. At the western end is the church hall, added in 1971. Externally a single asymmetric roof covers the main body of the church, rising at the east end to form a mono-pitch section over the altar area and incorporating the bell tower. There is a porch at the east end of the north side, and a transept with a double pitch roof. To the west is a single storey, flat roof section with an entrance to the north, extending to the transept. West of the main body of the church on the south side is a separate roof, housing a chapel. To the west is the church hall, with a north-south asymmetric roof. All the windows are rectangular, of varying sizes, with plain glass in rectangular leaded lights. Lintels over the doors and the parapet of the flat roofed block are of shuttered concrete, as are the window surrounds.

The body of the church contains Victorian stripped oak bench pews derived from St John’s church in Little Horton, arranged with a central aisle. To the north side is a range of contemporary pews in wood with vertical slatted fronts, in front of the organ, recovered from St. Chrysostom’s Bradford , by Driver and Haigh of Bradford, which is housed in the transept with a matching front of vertical wooden slats.

Let’s take a look.

To the rear is the cylindrical font in white concrete with a wooden lid, set on a raised platform. Suspended above it is a large light fitting in black metal, inscribed around the edges with the words: “This font is erected by relatives and parishioners in memory of/ Beatrice May Parkin, for over forty years a Sunday School teacher and/ worker for St Saviour’s Church, who died 2nd March 1961”.

There is no separate chancel, and the finishes throughout are exposed brick, shuttered concrete and limed oak. The sanctuary area is in the south-east corner and consists of a tall angled purple brick reredos, topped with concrete, and a lower detached, angled purple brick pillar to each side each holding a shelf and incorporating a wooden seat. In front of the central reredos is an integral wooden bench with three backs, and a large black metal cross in the same style as those on the exterior but with more elaboration, fixed to the floor on a raised concrete block. To the fore is the altar table on a low raised platform. The whole is enclosed within an altar rail of iron and wood, open to the centre.

The main roof has exposed wooden trusses supported on concrete pillars and beams, with rafters and purlins also exposed creating a latticework pattern.

The whole interior order is orderly, calm and coherent, a simple consistency of materials and architectural intent.

The solid wood, studded chapel door has the words “I am the Good Shepherd” engraved on it. The chapel has exposed beams and rafters, and an altar to the north with iron and wood altar rail in front. Pews are as in the church. There is a mosaic plaque behind the altar which came from St John’s church in Little Horton.

Beyond to the west is the narthex, with shuttered concrete ceilings pierced by circular skylights, exposed brick walls and doors to the chapel, service rooms and hall. 

Such a pleasure to visit such an enchanting church – it was a precious privilege to be welcomed by the congregation, warden and Reverend Dorothy.

Once again – many sincere thanks.

See also: William Temple Church of St Mark’s and St Mark’s Broomhill

The Avenue Methodist Church – Sale

Wincham Road Sale M33 4PL

Wandering Washway Road on a windy wash-day with local lad Bill Mather, I was lead down the Avenue in search of a Methodist Church.

I was ill-prepared to meet such a suburban ecclesiastical behemoth, a giant of a building – It opened in 1963, and was designed by Halliday and Agate.

My thanks to Matthew Steele of Sacred Suburbs for this information.

They were also responsible for the Ordsall Secondary School and designs for Battersea Power Station.

The Avenue Church is no less monumental – a steel, brick and glass octagon with attached single storey hall – set in a shimmering sea of grass and tarmacadam.

The interior is open and light illuminated on four sides by large plain glass windows, broken up by a vertically unchallenged grid.

Artificial lighting is provided by suspended groups of lamps.

The seating a mix of plain wooden pews and portable chairs.

The altar a simple statement of panels and cross.

Treat yourself to a walk down the Avenue – take a look around.

St Anthony and Our Lady of Mercy – Hull

667 Beverley Rd Hull HU6 7JL

Set back from Beverley Road – we just about found this delightful Modernist gem. Tucked in amongst student accommodation and approximate to the Endsleigh College.

It was well worth the circuitous bust journey from the Interchange to St Anthony and Our Lady of Mercy

The church built in 1965 is fan-shaped in plan. Concrete portal frame with yellow brick infill. Shallow-pitched sheet metal clad roof. The main rear wall is flat and blind, with a parapet, and extends across the building at full height. From this wall the main body of the church radiates, three facetted bays to either side, with a saw tooth eaves line, then a projecting square block which houses the narthex and west gallery. The saw tooth eaves continue just above the entrance block to complete the fan shape. Attached to the other side of the main wall are the low, square projections of the side chapels and sacristies and a concrete framed bell tower with shallow pitched roof. The entrance block is clad is artificial stone, has a wide, glazed screen with central doors and a thin flat canopy. 

We had arrived some twenty five strong as part of Manchester Modernist’s Hull Mooch – we were very warmly welcomed and left more than satisfied by the riches both within and without.

My thanks to Deacon Rev. Robert Shakesby

Above this an inset panel of decorative mosaic by Ludwig Oppenheimer Ltd of Manchester -the firm ceased trading in 1965. The facetted elevations have large glazed areas set in a bold concrete grid of mullions and transoms, tripartite in the centre with a border of smaller divisions. The bell tower is placed in the centre of the east wall and has a port cullis-like bell-opening facing west.

The mosaic is surrounded by decorative abstract panels in light relief

Let’s take a look inside.

The interior is a light and spacious essentially single cell, with the shallow canted projection of the sanctuary – top lit by a row of seven small circular skylights, the low side chapels and the organ gallery. The concrete portal frame provides a dramatic grid radiating from the centre of the east wall. Sanctuary fittings in contrasting marbles, by Toffolo & Son of Hull, designed as a piece. Similar marble altar in the northeast side chapel. The chapels have subtle shallow-pitched arches. West gallery also with circular skylights. Organ pipes at either end arranged within a striking double-curve enclosure, like a grand piano in plan. Open-backed pews and original light fittings. Stained glass by Leo Earley of Earley & Co. of Dublin. Stations of the Cross, wooden relief panels set within integral frames, somewhat stark.

Thanks to Taking Stock for the facts.

Holy Cross Church – Gleadless Valley Sheffield

Spotswood Mount, Sheffield S14 1LG

Constructed between 1964 and 1965 and designed by the architects Braddock & Martin-Smith.

Completed in 1936 John Keble Church in Edgware was also designed by DF Martin Smith 1900-84.

Martin Smith later went into partnership with Henry Braddock and together designed St. Mary’s church in Crawley. 

Holy Cross is positioned in a spectacular position among the houses on the Rollestone hillside.

Holy Cross is a church for people of all ages and stages of life.

Apart from the warm welcome at Holy Cross, you will always find something that is relevant to your age and stage in life – however old you are and whatever walk of life you come from.

Built to serve the Gleadless Valley Estate perched high above the Sheffield city centre.

It has a canted front which is triangular in shape which has a large white cross at its apex.

The interior features full height stained glass windows of the Virgin Mary and St John by John Baker Ltd.

Born in 1916, John aka Jack studied at the Central School in London and worked under James Hogan at the Whitefriars stained-glass studios before joining Samuel Caldwell junior at Canterbury Cathedral in 1948 to help reinstate the medieval glass removed for safekeeping during the Second World War.

He subsequently authored English Stained Glass; the revised edition of this work, English Stained glass of the Medieval Period , which was to become one of the most popular soft back books on English medieval glass ever published.

Apart from his conservation skills, John was also an inspired teacher at Kingston College of Art. He produced windows for a number of churches, including eleven windows for the church of the Holy Name, Bow Common Lane, Mile End; two windows and a brick sculpture for the church of Little St Peter, Cricklewood; eighteen windows for St Anne’s church, East Wittering, Sussex; two large abstract windows for Broomfield Chapel, Abbots Langley; ten large concrete and glass windows for the new parish church, Gleadless Valley, Sheffield; and twenty-two glass windows for the Convent Chapel, St Michaels, Finchley. He also created a huge Jesse window for the church at Farnham Royal. The church was demolished in 2004, but the glass is now in storage, and some of the panes will be installed in the welcome are of the new church.

His favourite works were the windows he produced for Auckland Cathedral, New Zealand – as seen above.

John Baker, born Birmingham, 11 March 1916, died Hastings, 20 December 2007.

Vidimus

The concrete altar is set on a raised paved podium, complemented by a silver cross and distinctive Arts and Crafts style oak chairs.

The original seating seems to be no longer in use, replaced by a newer more comfortable alternative.

There is a large carved stone font.

The main body of the steeply pitched roof space is illuminated by slotted windows.

Many thanks to the key holders and parishioners at Holy Cross, our Sheffield guide Mick Nott and Claire Thornley at Eleven Design – for making our visit possible.

Thanks also to all those who turned up on Saturday to walk a very, very wet Gleadless Valley.

St Stephen RC – Droylsden

Chappell Road Droylsden Manchester M43

One fine sunny Monday morning I set out cycling to Ashton-under-Lyne to buy an enamel pie dish. Almost inevitably I was pushed and pulled in a variety of unforeseen directions, incautiously distracted and diverted serendipitously – towards Droylsden.

Idly pedalling down Greenside Lane looking this way and that I was drawn magnetically to a pitched roof tower, towering over the red brick semis. Rounding the corner I discovered the delightful St Stephen’s RC church, stood high and proud on a grassy corner, glowing golden in the March sunlight.

I leaned my bike against the presbytery wall and with the kindly bidding of a passing parishioner, I went inside. 

Thanks to Father Tierney for his time and permission to snap the interior. It was a calm space, the large open volume side lit by high octagonal honeycomb modular windows. The elegant plain pitched concrete gambrel roof beams a simple engineered solution.

The church and attached presbytery were built from designs by Greenhalgh & Williams in 1958-9, the church being consecrated on 12 May 1960. A reordering took place, probably in the 1960s or 70s, when the altar rails were removed and the altar moved forward. Probably at the same time, the font was brought into the church from the baptistery.

Taking Stock

The altar and apse beautifully restrained in colour form and choice of materials. The design and detailing on the pews so warm and understated.

I was loathe to leave.

The exterior does not disappoint, the repetition of modular window shapes, the integration of doors, brick and mixed stone facing.This is a building of elegant grandeur, well proportioned, happily at home in its setting.

I suggest you set out there soon.