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David Walker, English Religious Architecture of the Fifties (2008)

“No-Fines” Churches in Coventry | St Aidan’s Church, New Parks, Leicester| St Hugh’s Church, Eyres Monsell, Leicester | St Paul’s Church, Ecclesfield, Sheffield | St Catherine of Siena’s Church, Woodthorpe, Sheffield

“No-Fines” Churches in Coventry

In November 1953 the Church Commissioners informed Neville Gorton, Bishop of Coventry, that once the New Housing Areas (Church Buildings) Measure attained Royal Assent, his diocese would receive £30,000 to be expended between January 1954 and June 1956 on buildings for “qualified areas” – those in which the population had increased by 5,000 or more since April 1945. The diocese must also spend £30,000 of its own funds on buildings in new housing areas, qualified or not, before January 1959. The Commissioners required that parish church designs should be submitted to them for inspection. They remembered the Church’s ministry had come very late to many towns which sprang up during the Industrial Revolution, with long-lasting consequences, and they were determined that should not happen again.[1]

The Church Extension Committee asked Beecham Buildings to design a church and hall for Tile Hill North, Henley Green and Willenhall.[2] Each church was to be built in the heart of its community: the Tile Hill and Willenhall churches stand opposite the local social clubs, and had a decision not been taken to build the third church at Wood End rather than Henley Green, that would have been near a club too. Beechams’ estimate for Tile Hill was £12,924. The Church Extension Committee recommended that the Pastoral Committee adopt the proposals for both Tile Hill and Henley Green with improvements, leaving Willenhall until more money was available.

Although the funding seemed generous, a decision was taken to build church and hall at Tile Hill only, and erect hall-churches at Henley Green and Willenhall. Gorton found that unacceptable.[3] On 20 July 1954 he wrote to Basil Spence to see what might be done, a challenge accepted three days later – “I am certain that we can find a simple, direct, topical and traditional solution which should be serviceable to the Church yet inexpensive – and I carefully avoid the word ‘cheap’.”[4] Gorton explained that “Willenhall includes an arrangement of existing trees, in fact I think all the sites have trees which could be kept and would add to amenities of the approach and layout.”[5] He added that George Wimpey & Company were working in Canley and might build a vicarage there. Perhaps during a subsequent conversation, Spence suggested a solution – an annotation on Gorton’s letter read: “It is a marvellous idea. Leave it to you.” On 29 July Spence mentioned sketches he would show Gorton on the latter’s return from holiday, and promised to discuss “the application of this principle” with Donald Gibson, Coventry’s city architect.[6]

The “principle” was use of Wimpey’s “no-fines” concrete – an economical mix without fine materials – which when poured into re-usable moulds created standard constructional units for simple, cheap and rapid building.[7] Spence and Gorton met Sir Godfrey Mitchell, Wimpey’s chairman, in the hope of persuading him to build three churches for £50,000 – a sum equivalent to the War Damage compensation for a single city church. At the meeting Spence produced impromptu sketch plans and a perspective with his fountain pen, smudging the blue ink to create clouds. Mitchell concluded the proposals were practical.[8]

Spence envisaged a plain dignified structure, 90 feet by 30 on plan, accommodating 250 parishioners. It had a concrete floor-slab and reinforced concrete portal frames which internally buttressed walls of “no-fines” construction, so that inside the nave was articulated as eight bays 10 feet long and end-bays 5 feet long.[9] Externally the walls were rendered in a stove aggregate, and internally they were whitewashed. The timber-framed double-pitch roof covered in fural aluminium was pitched at 14 degrees and rose 33 feet above ground.[10]

Small flank elevation windows could be formed in the moulding process, while end-bays and gables could be solid or glazed to help give each church a different external appearance and internal ambience. The horizontal and vertical rolled steel stanchion and transom supporting the metal-framed gable windows formed a large crucifix when their webbing was cut away at the ends, producing a dramatic silhouette when seen from inside. At one end of the nave were a reasonably sized chancel and choir, and at the other a reception area containing the font, with doorways on each side. These doorways led to a foyer, in turn connecting to a low church-hall 50 feet by 30, and to a covered walkway ending in a bell-tower.

The foyer was small, its entrance front distinguished by glazed, double-leaf timber doors with transom-lights, and flanked by large windows with timber louvres for privacy. The church-hall, which could seat 100, was a social hub for everyone from infants to pensioners, and provided a vestry, kitchen, store and lavatories. It had concrete floor and founds, but its principal elevations were breeze-block faced with cedar boarding externally and fair-faced brick internally. The timber-framed windows had opening metal-framed lights. The gables were brick and the monopitch roof was additionally supported on two rows of metal columns.

The covered walkway comprised metal columns supporting a reinforced concrete roof. The bell-tower was also reinforced concrete, and rose from a footprint 11 feet square to 60 feet height. It was plain, of four stages, some sides open and others with cedar slats and stove-enamelled metal louvres in bright colours.

Church, foyer, hall and bell-tower could be arranged in many ways to provide variety and adaptability to different sites – in particular, to allow for the preservation of existing trees. At Wood End it was intended that the visitor should pass from the street under the bell-tower and down the walkway to the church, the foyer on the rear flank linking to the hall which ran parallel with the main building and extended out to one side. The church itself had both gables glazed and two rows of flank windows since it lay north/south rather than east/west.[11]

At Willenhall access was again under the bell-tower and covered walkway to the church, but the foyer linked the hall to it at right-angles rather than in parallel, so the complex formed a “T”-plan. Here only the reception-end gable was glazed, the chancel being lit from the sides; the flanks had a single row of windows.

At Tile Hill, the plan was determined by the relative positions of three mature oaks. The church stood at right-angles to its foyer and hall in an “L”-plan, the bell-tower standing alone without any walkway on the fourth corner of the site, so demarcating the garden-ground that was a feature of all three complexes. The church had small lights around the edges of the reception-end gable framing a large, simple oak cross mounted on the outer face. The chancel was lit from the sides, and there were two rows of flank windows.

Internally, the nave relied on elegant proportions, impressive scale, qualities of light, use of colour and well-designed furnishings for its effect. The concrete floor was covered with Marley thermoplastic tiles except at the chancel which was carpeted, but the “no-fines” concrete walls were simply painted, their rough texture being considered a virtue best left honestly exposed. The ceilings were painted with random chequer patterns suggesting the influence of De Stijl.[12]

The design concept of the Coventry churches could be traced back to Rudolf Schwarz’s Fronleichnamskirche, Aachen of 1928-30, the pioneer example of ecclesiastical architecture responding to the Liturgical Movement. Although in the Coventry proposals the nave’s furnishing arrangement corresponded to Anglican tradition, the emphasis Gorton and Spence placed on their complexes being at once the religious and social hubs of the new housing estates probably owed much to this Continental philosophy. The Coventry churches recalled the Fronleichnamskirche in their basic rectangular plan with low-pitched roofs, simple rows of window openings with a glazed end-bay concentrating light upon the chancel, and plain interior distinguished by modest but highly-finished furnishings.

The Roman Catholic church complex at Thayngen, Switzerland, by Joseph Schutz closely resembled the Coventry designs in many respects, and was still more interesting for differing with them in others: the church itself was, approximately, a double- rather than treble-cube, but its end elevations were basically square; it had reinforced concrete frames which were acknowledged externally by their contrast with the brick infill, and internally formed regular, pronounced bay divisions within the nave; the roofs were low-pitched with overhanging eaves.[13] The Coventry churches also had Scandinavian precedents including the Finnish architect Eric Bryggman’s mortuary chapels at Pargas and Abo, and the Swedish architect Ture Ryberg’s Swedish Church, Helsinki.[14]

None of these had glazed gables, however: the obvious influences for this feature were exhibition pavilions of the 1930s, the 1951 Festival of Britain, and the “West” Window of Coventry Cathedral itself. But in these the window-panes were simply mounted into a metal grid to produce a flush screen. A closer parallel was to be found at Aarhus University, Denmark, by Kay Fisker, C.F. Møller and Povl Stegmann (1937-45), where the screen was given additional strength by a superimposed framework of steel mullions and transoms. The Coventry bell-towers and covered walkways were inspired, as Spence acknowledged, by the equivalent structures at Burkhardt & Egender’s St Johannes’ Church, Basle, although there the campanile’s grid structure was steel, and one side a solid, reinforced concrete upright.[15]

The use of “no-fines” concrete for the Coventry churches was noted as being the first application of such a material to ecclesiastical design in Britain, or probably anywhere in the world. The adoption of the same constructional principle as that used for the surrounding mass-produced houses and flats was itself an expression of the churches’ association with their communities.[16]

The vicarage designs were largely worked out by Tony Jackson.[17] Drawings issued in March 1955 illustrated a two-storey house rising from a footprint 30 feet 10 inches square into a pyramidal aluminium roof with apex 22 feet above ground. The architects explained that:

“the appearance of the house derives from its economic construction, which was so designed that the brick work could rise quickly with no interruptions for small window openings, and the windows were all concentrated into the large timber panels which fill in gaps between the walls. These panels, by means of standardisation, will be pre-fabricated in the builders’ joinery shops and erected speedily in one piece on the site. It is by these means that this size of house has been brought to within the available financial limits of the Diocese.”[18]

On the ground floor it contained a combined living-dining room and a study with parquet floors, a kitchen and water-closet. The tightly-planned stair rose to a landing with a cantilevered balcony, around which were four bedrooms (each with a built-in wardrobe), a bathroom and linen cupboard. It was a well-specified house built of quality materials and fitted with central heating.[19] Its design may have been influenced by Willi Vetter’s Bocksriet housing, Schaffhausen, Switzerland (1942-43); Harry Egler’s terrace houses, Stocksund, Sweden, and småstuga prefabricated cottages; and Eric Chick’s demonstration houses in Highworth, Wiltshire (1951) and terrace houses at Baughurst, Hampshire (1953).[20]

Although the vicarage appealed to Gorton, he thought the study too small,[21] and it was opposed by one Commissioner who objected to concrete walls and aluminium roofs as an unacceptable drop in standards.[22] Further designs for the church complexes and vicarages were produced, whereafter revisions were made for economy: despite galloping labour and material costs, the church complexes were held to £15,000 apiece. The vicarages increased in size to footprints 33 feet square, and now had flat roofs. The Commissioners rejected these vicarages in January 1956 as still being too small,[23] but revised plans were prepared and verbally accepted, providing the price were right.

Bishop Gorton died in November 1955. On 9 February 1956 a contract for churches, towers and halls at Tile Hill and Wood End, and church and tower at Willenhall, together worth £44,942, was signed by Archdeacons Parr and Stanford, Canon Buchan and J.N. Westcott of the Finance Board. A separate tender offering a hall at Willenhall for £3,000 was also accepted.[24]

Discussions proceeded slowly on the repousée bronze Crucifixion to be made by the young black sculptor Carroll Harris Simms, who was visiting Britain from America on a Fulbright Scholarship, and the mural to be painted by Gorton’s son Assheton as a memorial to his father at the Tile Hill church, the design of which was slightly adapted to accommodate it;[25] later, thought was given to a tapestry by Mrs E. Brown of Warwick for the Willenhall church.[26] Neither the mural nor the tapestry was executed, but Gerald Holtom designed a large hanging for Tile Hill representing St Aidan and St Oswald.[27] There were also discussions about the foundation stones at Willenhall and Wood End. On 29 August the sculptor Ralph Beyer estimated the cost of supplying and carving these in York stone respectively at £52 and £62 10s. and his offers were speedily accepted so work might be completed before the ceremonies on 22 and 29 September.[28]

Seppi Stöckli returned to Switzerland in February or March 1957, and Roger Button was appointed project architect in his place with the assistance of a promising newcomer to the practice, Anthony Blee.[29] The new Bishop, Cuthbert Bardsley, wrote tactfully to Spence on 27 February asking for revised drawings for altar-tables and candlesticks in which he thought economy might be relaxed a little – the practice designed almost all the furnishings for each church – and received a characteristically courteous and charming reply in which the architect acknowledged the influence of those by Matisse at Vence.[30] Most furnishings in the “no-fines” churches were made by the carpenters Harris & Moulder, and by Coventry Silvercraft.[31]

On 10 April Captain Thurston of the Cathedral Reconstruction Committee wrote to Andrew Renton informing him that the Church Council would pay for the stone which Ralph Beyer was to carve into a font for Wood End.[32] Two days later the architects asked the Reverend Allander for an inscription of approximately twenty letters, since more would reduce character size and increase costs, and Allander suggested “Receive Ye The Holy Spirit.”[33] Schoolchildren collected money for the silver-gilt lid.[34] Wood End was particularly well-specified internally, having a large wooden cross designed by Eric Gill and made by the pupils of Blundells School when Gorton had been headmaster there.[35] Its pews were designed by the architects, whereas Tile Hill and Willenhall purchased chairs for economy.

The architects wrote to the diocese on 28 May advising that Frank Cooke of Leicester had offered to build the Willenhall vicarage for £5,603, and recommending acceptance.[36] The Wood End vicarage was built for £5,947 between March and December 1961, and that at Tile Hill for £5,935 between April 1961 and February 1962. With slightly more generous budgets available, Spence’s office produced new designs in which the external walls were wholly brick, although the internal planning was similar to that of the Willenhall vicarage. Both were put up by a local contractor, N.G. Williams.[37]

The contribution of the “no-fines” churches to the development of post-war Coventry was acknowledged by the inclusion of two of their number, together with both Cathedrals, in a ceramic mural representing the history of the city which was designed by Gordon Cullen for the shopping precinct in the centre of town. Each of the churches received two consecration stones, one from the rubble of the old Cathedral, and one from the new.[38] Bishop Bardsley consecrated St Chad’s, Wood End on 30 May 1957, and paid “special tribute” to Basil Spence, who handed him the keys: “Here in this housing estate we have the first of three new churches built to the glory of God, built in a fashion that seeks, and I am sure successfully, to proclaim the Christian faith in a modern way.”[39] Princess Margaret’s attendance at his consecration of St Oswald’s, Tile Hill, on 6 June proved ample consolation for the lack of any foundation ceremony there in the previous year, although there was concern that furnishings might not be available in time and, like the other churches, its tower received no bell for many years. Her first official visit to Coventry – doubtless instigated by her friend Simon Phipps, the Cathedral’s Industrial Chaplain – acknowledged the wider national significance of the Church of England’s expansion into modern housing areas.[40] The churches’ importance was also recognized by the B.B.C. in a Home Service broadcast, The Cross in the Midlands,[41] and subsequently four broadcasts from Tile Hill on the Sunday morning Peoples Service which took as their theme “The People of God on a New Housing Estate.”[42]

Twenty-five years later Princess Margaret visited St John the Divine, Willenhall,[43] which had been consecrated by Bishop Bardsley on 20 July 1957. There, Andrew Renton handed over the keys. Noting that three churches had been built for the price of one – the total cost was £61,163[44] – Bardsley observed that they were nevertheless “things of joy and beauty forever – despite limited finances. … We have seen something that has never happened before in any diocese. Three churches have been consecrated in a matter of a few weeks.”[45]

St Aidan’s Church, New Parks, Leicester

“May I introduce myself as a friend of the Bishop of Coventry and as a close personal friend of the Dean of Coventry.” Thus wrote Ronald Williams, Bishop of Leicester, to Basil Spence in January 1955.[46] Bishop Gorton had told him about “the special plans that you are producing for a church … at a much lower cost than is usual through the development of new techniques with Wimpey’s.” He wondered if such a church could be built in the New Parks housing estate in his own city.

Replying to Williams on 2 February, Spence explained that the costs at Coventry had been kept so low because three churches were being built from standardised components.[47] He also thought (correctly) that Wimpey would be reluctant to transport their shuttering thirty miles to Leicester for a single job.[48] He was nevertheless keen to take on the commission, and certain there were other ways of building churches affordably.

The design of St Aidan’s was revised several times before working drawings were issued in February 1957. They represented a natural development from the Coventry suburban churches in a context where “no-fines” concrete was inappropriate and a hall-block already existing.[49] A “pavilion” type building, it was roughly similar in size and general outlines to its Coventry cousins, but significantly taller to create a still more impressive effect. The strip foundations were concrete, but the elevations were of cavity wall construction – the exterior was built of buff fair-faced brick, locally sourced, and the inner skin mostly of Broad Acheson block. The walls were supported by steel frames and the roof on five rolled steel joists. Originally the shallow-pitched roof was to be fural aluminium, but at the Church Commissioners’ insistence it was executed in copper.[50] Orientation was north-west/south-east.

A three-sided cloister was formed against the church’s north-east flank, with the fourth side sealed off by a wall, but the cloister was not continuous, and the court not fully enclosed. One arm extending from the car-park towards the church in line with its front gable was an open-sided covered way, and from the sloping ground in front of St Aidan’s it was possible to see the composition as a whole, church and cloister together, and indeed to enter the court directly. As it approached the church the covered way passed by a shallow pool within the court, out of which rose a concrete campanile; it then continued between two tall brickwork slabs rising to the church’s wallhead.

Here the church gable was stepped back to provide a deep entrance recess or portico, sheltered beneath the overhanging roof. This broken frontage – and the enormous ceramic mural designed by William Gordon which covered the entire recessed plane – gave St Aidan’s a character that was immediately distinct from the Coventry churches.[51] The main doorway was set into the re-entrant angle, the glazed aluminium doors having mosaic panels, also by Gordon, which represented the four Evangelists.[52]

The cloister’s second arm extended along the flank of the nave, forming a low aisle. The exposed steel of the frames between nave and aisle was painted black, and the wall above was of lightweight concrete blockwork. The chancel contained a choir with a balustraded organ loft on this side, which was enclosed in an outshot that answered the two brick slabs framing the covered way near the entrance gable. The aisle was fully glazed and was one of the principal sources of light inside the church.

The contribution of light and colour to the internal atmosphere was, as always, very carefully considered. The baptismal area next to the main entrance was well lit both by the glazed doorway and by a gable window rising from floor to wallhead.[53] The chancel at the other end of the church was similarly lit by a tall window in the south-west flank. These windows were timber-framed and louvred at their lower levels for privacy, and aluminium-framed above. A band of clerestorey lights ran along each flank just below the pine-boarded ceiling, which was inset with rows of spotlights, a classic motif of the time. Certain details – for instance, the rail running across the aisle glazing at hand-height, and the clerestorey window cills – were executed in meranti wood.

The south-west flank wall facing opposite the aisle was finished in a sandy gold plaster which picked up the colour of the woodwork. This bright colour was set off by the grey floor tiles and the gables’ brickwork to give a very warm but airy ambience. The steel frames on this side of the church were again painted black to clearly differentiate the bays, and so gave aesthetic as well as physical structure to what would otherwise have been a long unbroken plane. The nave’s floor-tiles were of plastic, but in the chancel more expensive ceramic tiles were preferred.

The cloister’s third arm was a glazed corridor similar in appearance to the nave aisle, which it met at a right-angle. It connected the plain vestry block with the church, conveniently close to the chancel and the choir. The vestry block was mostly of simple cavity wall construction, with squarish windows and a flat roof. It contained rooms for the priest and choir, and lavatories.

The court which was enclosed by this three-sided cloister, and by a plain brick wall on the fourth side, was 42 feet broad by 50 feet deep – spacious enough for large gatherings, yet still intimate enough for relaxation and contemplation. The pool gave it serenity, and the campanile a strong vertical accent. This reinforced concrete tower rose from a base 9 feet square to a height of 50 feet. Its openings contained metal louvres, but these took the form of long horizontal panels rather than the small oblong panels of its Coventry counterparts. It had a water drain or trough supported on the cross-beams marking its second stage, while at its summit the beams carrying bell and crucifix formed an interesting abstract pattern.[54]

The project architect Seppi Stöckli played an important rôle in the development of the design, but after he returned home to Switzerland he was succeeded by Tony Moyse and then by Roger Button.[55] Five contractors were invited to tender and the best bid was that submitted by Clark & Garrett, who offered to build for £22,232 within a twelve-month timeframe.[56] Although only a small firm, it operated under Major Clark with regimental efficiency.[57] Work began about 6 March 1958,[58] and the foundation stone was laid on 20 June.[59]

The architects discussed their furnishing proposals with the diocese on 11 November, and thereafter forwarded designs by Anthony Blee together with material samples for approval.[60] At a second meeting the diocese suggested revisions, which were incorporated into the designs. The contract for pews, choir-stalls, pulpit and lectern, priest’s desk, seat and kneeler, the communion rail, altar cross and hymn-boards was put out to tender, and won by Harris & Moulder with a bid of £1,532 7s.; however, a subsequent note of costs indicates that they received £1,461 for pews, choir-stalls, pulpit, lectern and altar cross only, so presumably the other items had been dropped.[61]

The Nine Elms Stone Masonry Works produced the marble font for £96 17s.,[62] its afromosia cover being graced by a handle in the form of a fish (described by Blee as “vigorous and exciting”) which was carved in ebony by Mr Harris himself.[63] Beryl Deane made an altar frontal for £273 2s. 4d.; it was well received when put on public display, and received a certificate for its quality from the West German government.[64] Altar candlesticks were provided by Highton & Son for £34 7s. 5d. A tablet of Clipsham stone carved by Ralph Beyer[65] commemorates the church’s consecration, in a thirteenth century style ceremony, by Bishop Williams on 11 July 1959.[66]

St Hugh’s Church, Eyres Monsell, Leicester

Bishop Williams first raised the prospect of building St Hugh’s Church in the Eyres Monsell estate in February 1955, only a few weeks after his original letter about St Aidan’s.[67] A surviving block plan, prepared by Seppi Stöckli on 2 January 1956,[68] and a number of related elevational sketches indicate that it would have been fairly large, seating some 500 parishioners.

Conventionally orientated east/west, the nave walls would be brick-built, but carry relatively little load; a continuous clerestorey extending right round the entrance gable and the flanks would give the impression that the low roof simply floated without any support. In fact it was to be borne up from within the church by two longitudinal rows of columns – following the precedent of the Cathedral – which produced aisles to north and south.[69] The bay divisions formed by the colonnades would determine the exact spacing of the individual lights within the clerestorey and (in certain elevational sketches) the spacing of fenestration within the walls themselves, or even French windows in the north flank.

The chancel was not to have been as broad as the nave, but it would have been taller. From the sketches it appears that it was to be built of – or at least faced with – random rubble. Above the height of the nave roof the chancel would have had its own westward-facing clerestorey, flooding the altar at the back of the sanctuary with sunlight. Different treatments of the chancel roof were considered: double-pitched to echo that of the nave,[70] or a monopitch roof sloping down to the east end, or even a dome. Further options included a large crucifix rising from the chancel clerestorey, or a Cathedral-style flèche.

St Hugh’s Church was to be entered off the east side of a cloister court, which would contain a tree and a pool. Standing at right-angles to the church on the north side would be a hall-church, which would be constructed first, and could be used for religious or social purposes. In the event only the hall, vicarage and tower were built. The hall was the simplest of structures, but with a beautiful interior distinguished by the careful selection and good use of natural materials. The vicarage, built by Frank Cooke of Leicester between March and May 1956, represented a development of that originally proposed for the Coventry churches. The complex was completed and opened in the Autumn of 1958.

St Paul’s Church, Ecclesfield, Sheffield

St Paul’s Church was built as a result of Sheffield City Council’s extension of its Parson Cross housing estate into the Parish of Ecclesfield between 1947 and 1950. The diocese purchased half-an-acre in Wordsworth Avenue from the Council on 5 June 1947[71] and contracted with W.G. Robson & Company to erect a concrete brick hall-church in the north-west corner of the site as a temporary measure.[72]

On 4 March 1955 Bishop Leslie Hunter reported to his Church Extension Committee that he had asked Basil Spence to prepare designs for a church costing £15,000, the same price as the “no-fines” churches in Coventry.[73] When the Committee met on 13 May, the Secretary suggested that the War Damage compensation for St James’ Church – estimated at £19,000 – might be transferred to Ecclesfield, and on 1 July he noted that the compensation for Emmanuel, £2,250, might also be transferred.

On 14 November Hunter reported that plans and a model of the new church had been prepared, which he hoped to see in London. Presumably he was referring to the sheet of pencil proposals, certainly neat enough for presentation, which Seppi Stöckli sketched out that month, and which constitute the earliest dated designs for St Paul’s to be preserved.[74] They represented a church for which the inspiration seems to have come from exhibition pavilions – most immediately, Goodden and Russell’s the Lion and the Unicorn Pavilion at the Festival of Britain, 1951 – rather than pre-war Continental churches. The church had glazed gables approximately 40 feet broad and brick flank elevations 90 feet long, above which rose a segmentally arched roof. Broader gables than those of the Coventry churches offered a larger floor area at modest additional cost, although construction of the flank walls in brick rather than moulded concrete would obviously incur significant extra expense. In this light, an anticipated cost of £21,000 was understandable, but to Hunter it seemed too much.

Spence’s office produced revised designs some time before the Committee meeting on 13 April 1956, when a new (or adapted) model was available for display. But how substantial the changes actually were is unclear since no drawings survive for this phase of the church’s evolution and the decrease in estimated cost, from £21,000 to £20,000, was less than might have been expected. Nevertheless Hunter, mindful of the effects on costs and morale of any further delay, appears to have already seen and approved the new drawings since tenders were being sought. Besides £17,000 compensation for St James’, Emmanuel and Holy Trinity parish hall, the scheme would be financed with £2,000 from the Church Commissioners and a £1,000 loan from the Church in Action Fund. On 13 July the Committee learned that Miss G.M. Walker had bequeathed a legacy to assist construction of the new church, which proved to be worth £2,091. Plans and sections – drawing SP1 – and elevations – drawing SP2 – for a more economical church were prepared by Michael Blee on 15 April 1957, and the principal working drawings were ready by the start of July.

With elegance of concept and economy of construction equal in his mind, Spence envisaged the church as a building essentially similar to the Lion and the Unicorn Pavilion, its north-west entrance gable and ritual south-east gable both being wholly glazed while the flank walls were of uninterrupted brickwork and the lightweight, segmentally-arched roof was carried on a scaffolding framework. The church’s presence was to be advertised by a tall plain bell-tower linked to the north-west gable by a covered way, providing additional vertical and horizontal accents to the design. The vestry would be accommodated in a modest annexe to one side of the church. The glazed gables would significantly reduce the quantity of masonry required, the cost of foundations, and construction time.

The church’s proportions were based on mathematical ratios. As represented in the drawings it was a rectangle on plan with breadth across the gables at 37 feet almost exactly half the flank elevations’ length at 72 feet. The gable windows, double-glazed with Holloseal units to retain heat in winter and repel it in summer, were timber-framed. The flank walls, constructed of handmade rustic-red facing bricks from the National Brick Company, rose without fenestration for 18 feet to the wallheads. Although these walls had cavities, their inner skin was staggered inwards and outwards in zig-zag fashion at 6 feet intervals – like the Saarinens’ Christ Evangelical Church, Minneapolis – to give added interest to the interior, and probably also for additional structural strength and acoustic effect, the brickwork’s beautiful surface qualities being left exposed.[75] Above the wallheads, which were capped with concrete cills, a continuous band of clerestorey lights, again timber-framed and double-glazed, extended round all four sides, the roof seemingly floating over this without support.

The Lion and the Unicorn Pavilion had no continuous clerestorey. It probably derived from the hall-block of Spence’s own School of Art & Industry at Kilsyth, but may also reflect the influence of David Stokes & Partners’ Roehampton church, a perspective of which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1954.[76] All these buildings had a common source, the Swiss Pavilion at the Paris Exhibition of 1937.

The roof was supported on a lattice shell of scaffolding tubes designed by Ove Arup & Partners on the diaframe principle, which internally was clearly visible like gothic rib-vaulting against the background of the ceiling.[77] Beneath its surface – at the Church Commissioners’ insistence, copper rather than fural aluminium, at an additional cost of £400 – the roof incorporated a thermacoust. At its highest point over the centre of the church it rose some 27 feet, this being approximately three-quarters the breadth of the gables and exactly three-eighths the length of the flanks. The church’s design as a whole was thus conceived within a proportional framework of 9 feet units, overall height, breadth and length being related 3-to-4-to-8 (= 27:36:72).

In Stöckli’s 1955 proposals the church was shown with two doorways in its north-west gable flanking a central polygonal bay containing the font. The gable glazing was reeded to a height just above the doorways, and the baptismal area itself also obscured somehow for privacy. The font’s location within this bay, adjacent to the doorways but distinctly separate from the congregation in the nave, symbolised that only through Baptism was it possible to enter the body of the Church. Arranged en axe with the central aisle running between the banks of pews, the font faced directly opposite the altar at the chancel end and, clearly visible beyond this through the glazed south-east gable, towards a very large timber cross rising from a rocky landscaped garden which was to be formed by the Council – a representation of Christ’s sacrifice in the Garden of Gethsemane, and our consequent salvation in the afterlife.[78]

But in February 1957 it emerged that the Council would not lay out the ground to the rear of the church as a garden after all. In the April 1957 designs (Michael Blee’s drawings SP1 and SP2) the church was entered through a single central doorway, which was sheltered by a monolithic porch. This porch projected out through the glazed gable from the floor of the gallery that now spanned the western end of the nave interior, and over the roof of the covered way which approached the church from the streets on each side.

Internally, the gallery was almost exactly 18 feet deep, and its weight was supported by rolled steel joists front and rear which, with the gables’ wind-braces, gave the whole structure additional rigidity. It was made partly of afromosia and partly of hardwood. The visitor who passed through the entrance foyer’s inner storm doors remained for some time in its shadow before emerging into the light and spaciousness of the full height of the church. Originally the font was intended to stand within this low shadowed area, opposite the gallery stair, but in a subsequent reversion to Stöckli’s 1955 scheme it was placed at the start of the central aisle, a position which caused some inconvenience to processional parties.

The concrete floor-slab was shown on the plans as being paved with quarry tile in the nave and York stone in the chancel, but in the event grey “Accotile” was used instead. The roof lattice, constructed like all the structural steelwork by Scaffolding (Great Britain) Ltd, was painted in royal blue to contrast with the white ceiling, and the copper roof itself was by Builders’ Iron & Zincwork.[79]

A number of designs for furnishings were prepared by Anthony Blee. Preserved within the Spence Collection are sketches of the pews in his hand, these being made in agba mahogany and seating 208 of the church’s total complement of 250 parishioners. The pews were not part of the contract – although they were made by the contractor – and cost the congregation and its supporters some £1,400.[80] Altar drawing SP39 and lectern drawing SP40 also carry his initials. He was responsible for three large sketches relating to the altar crucifix and candlesticks, which were fashioned of hammered iron, and were Spence’s personal gift to the church. The altar frontal, supplied in November 1958, was the first ever made by Beryl Deane and cost the congregation £60: its background was woven from black and yellow tweed together with green lurex threads, and it incorporated twenty-seven types of gold and silver wire in its design.[81] The cylindrical copper lights seem to have been made by Frederick Braby & Company, almost certainly on the basis of Spence office drawings.[82]

In Stöckli’s 1955 proposals an annexe accommodating the choir and the vestry was shown standing directly against the church’s north-east flank. The organ was to be set above the opening between them. But in Michael Blee’s drawings SP1 and SP2 of April 1957 the vestry block was joined to the church’s south-west flank near the chancel by a short glazed passageway, and was based on the same proportions as the church itself, being just over 9 feet high, 12 feet broad and 24 feet deep (3:4:8). The choir and, when it eventually arrived, the organ – a Conacher manual – were placed in the gallery.[83]

The church is actually 12 feet longer than suggested by Blee’s drawings. When the Parochial Church Council was presented with the designs, it expressed the view that the seating accommodation was inadequate. Spence attended the Church Extension Committee meeting of 11 October 1957 to discuss possibilities for increasing capacity, and it was concluded the church should be lengthened by an additional bay providing for four rows of pews at a cost of £1,500, which was to be met by savings elsewhere in the scheme.

The tower comprised two parallel brickwork slabs 54 feet 9 inches high, and held together by concrete ties. Although at one time it was intended that the slabs and ties should form a framework for four timber bell-boxes, in the event the tower was left a hollow structure with the ties supporting only the weight of a laminated timber cross rising 65 feet 9 inches above ground.

Building work began in May 1958, by which point many detail drawings had been prepared. The general contractor was Charles R. Price of Doncaster who offered to build for £23,687, and did so in just seven months. Inclusive of all expenses, the total cost was about £30,000. At the consecration service on 24 January 1959, Bishop Hunter expressed his view that only a church in a contemporary style related to that of other works of modern architecture could proclaim the relevance of Christianity to individuals and communities in the modern world, and that therefore any other style must suggest a false concept of the relationship between secular and sacred life.[84]

St Catherine of Siena’s Church, Woodthorpe, Sheffield

The Parish of St Catherine was constituted as a district for spiritual purposes in 1941. Sixteen years earlier, a temporary corrugated asbestos hall-church with “half-timber” detailing had been erected on Richmond Road, Woodthorpe near its junction with Hastilar Road to serve houses recently built in that area, but by the mid 1950s the district’s population was over 10,000.

By October 1954 the War Damage compensation for Christ Church, Attercliffe had been identified as transferable for the purpose of building St Catherine’s, since it was thought this should be sufficient for a new church seating 500 people. Unspecified factors delayed further action until February 1956, when Bishop Hunter reminded the Committee that Frederick Etchells had been issued with preliminary instructions to design a church for the district some years earlier. Etchells, however, was now sixty-nine and declined to take up his renewed appointment. Hunter therefore turned to Basil Spence, asking him to produce designs for church, hall and vicarage as the existing residence was insufficient.

The first surviving plan (without elevations) in the Spence Collection is closely related to the designs proposed for St Hugh’s, Leicester. However, a completely new scheme was in preparation by 15 February 1957, when Hunter explained to the Committee that Spence had handed him “preliminary proposals” and was preparing “sketch plans.” Anthony Blee produced drawings of the floor plan and Hastilar Road flank elevation on 22 February, revising them on 4 March, and Spence painted a perspective in April.[85]

All these represented the church much as it would eventually be built, a long nave with a sloping roof extending without interruption into a taller chancel that terminated in a semi-circular apse. The hall-block was shown built across the nave’s opposite (liturgical west) end gable at right-angles, but its two-storey design would be totally rethought before execution. On 17 May Hunter reported that Spence had shown him “a very attractive elevation” – possibly the perspective – but that he was still to be presented with working drawings.

Spence may have been awaiting the final outcome of his own and Donald Gibson’s negotiations with the War Damage Commission before expending too much office time on the project, but when he attended the Committee meeting of 11 October he could announce that compensation of £42,000 (including a glass payment) would be offered for construction of a new church and hall.[86] This seems to have been £15,000 more than was anticipated eighteen months earlier, in which case the Committee’s expression of thanks must have been particularly heartfelt.[87] On the basis of what Spence had told them, and having studied a perspective and a model which he had brought for their inspection, they gave instructions to proceed as quickly as possible. The key plans, elevations and sections for the church and hall, prepared by Blee with the assistance of “C.J.W.,” were completed in early January 1958.

In these drawings the church itself was orientated roughly north/south. The chancel faced south onto Richmond Road while the hall-block, orientated east/west, was built at its north end. A bell-tower stood separate from the church on the east, opposite where the nave met the chancel, but was connected to it by a glazed passage. On the west there was a garden with a covered walkway – in some designs extending round all four sides to form a continuous cloister – which gave access to the vicarage. But in late March or April 1958, although the relationship of the elements remained basically similar, the complex was re-ordered so that the church was orientated roughly east/west. The apse-ended chancel now faced east towards Hastilar Road, the hall-block, orientated north/south, was built at the west end, the bell-tower stood on the south, and the garden and vicarage lay on the north. Revised drawings were produced between April and June.

Construction was put out to tender and Charles R. Price of Doncaster was again chosen as the general contractor, having submitted the lowest bid of £43,236.[88] The total cost of over £50,000 made St Catherine’s the most ambitious building programme undertaken by the diocese since the war, and its modern design soon attracted controversy and made it the subject of a radio programme. The church’s shell was reported to be “half completed” when the foundation stone was dedicated by Bishop Hunter and laid by the Earl of Scarborough on 11 April 1959. The vicarage was built under the same contract as the rest of the complex, although it could not be financed by the grant.[89]

The working drawings represented the church itself as brick-built, rising from concrete foundations and with a concrete floor-slab, and roofed in copper. It was 99 feet in length – divided approximately 2-to-1 between the oblong nave and the apse-ended chancel – and 42 feet in width. Although “a plain structure” as required by the War Damage claim conditions, it was of distinguished character, solidly constructed and well specified. The outer skin of its cavity walls was of facing brick provided by Williamson Cliff, which was bonded to a layer of common brick, while the inner skin was Broad Acheson block.

The nave’s flank elevations were indeed quite plain in appearance. Across their length, for about half their height from floor-level, they were punctuated at regular, closely-spaced intervals by tall narrow window openings, the metal-framed windows themselves being specially made by Aygee of Perivale.[90] Above the window lintels the brickwork continued uninterrupted to the wallheads, which rose at a gentle angle towards the chancel. Thereafter, at a low clerestorey level, the wallheads supported laminated timber beams spanning the nave’s breadth north/south at 15 feet centres, these carrying joists running east-west at 6 feet centres, which bore the weight of the roof.[91]

The chancel walls were windowless, but its roof was higher than the nave’s, and this additional height allowed for a western clerestorey which could not be seen by the congregation but which flooded light onto the altar. The chancel roof was supported on laminated timber beams at 6 feet centres running east/west, and slotted into the undersides of these were joists running north/south which were much more tightly spaced at only 18 inches apart. Both the nave and chancel roofs, which incorporated channel reinforced woodwool slabs, were of 24 gram copper. The nave roof had timber fascias over the low horizontal of the clerestorey, while the chancel rose sheer to a concrete coping to emphasize its height. Kingston Architectural Craftsmen were the sub-contractors responsible for the laminated beams, and Grocock & Day sub-contractors for the roofs.[92]

Internally the walls were plastered. The floors were originally intended to be paved with quarry tile, but during construction a decision was taken to lay them in brick instead, this work being carried out by F. Morley Ltd. The window-cills were decorated with blue mosaic. The church could accommodate 350 parishioners, the nave furniture being made by Rowland Brothers, although Harris & Moulder were responsible for the altar and pulpit, and the altar furnishings were by Coventry Silvercraft.[93] Rising above the altar against the apse wall was a simple crucifix, partly of afromosia and partly American black walnut. This, too, was made by Kingston Architectural Craftsmen.[94] The Derbydene marble font was carved by Nine Elms Stonemasonry Works, and had a timber cover with a dove sculpture for a handle; the dove was designed by the architects and executed in reinforced concrete cement with a bronzed surface by Anthea Alley. The piscina was blue slate and the sedilia afromosia, rising on welded steel legs. The tubular copper lights in the nave were designed by the architects and made by Frederick Braby & Company.[95]

The nave’s north and south flank elevations had doorways at each end. The western doorways next to the hall-block were the main entrances from Richmond Road and the vicarage garden. The eastern doorways near the juncture with the chancel gave, on the north flank, to the garden and, on the south flank, to the passage leading to the sacristy in the bell-tower. These doorways were all of the same pattern, with glazed double-leaf doors with timber slats, and glazed and slatted transom-lights.[96]

Different aspects of the design can be traced to various sources. So far as the plan is concerned, recent precedents in which the nave extended straight into a chancel with a semi-circular apse included Maurice Novarina’s Nôtre Dame de Toute Grâce, Assy; Fritz Metzger’s St Karl, Lucerne; Karl Wach’s Matthaikirche, Düsseldorf; and Domenikus Böhm’s Church Gladbachrheydt.[97] As Edward Mills observed of St Karl, its layout was based on the “one-room” philosophy expounded by Pope Pius X. The raised chancel at St Catherine’s, with its concealed light illuminating the altar, would seem to answer Mills’ criticism of St Karl that it did not sufficiently emphasise its sanctuary. Possible sources of inspiration for a high chancel included Richard Nickson’s Bolton St Chad’s (1937), N.F. Cachemaille Day’s St Barnabas’, Tuffley, and Lavender & Twentyman’s St Gabriel’s, Walsall (both 1939); and for a blind bowed chancel, C.M. Hadfield and Robert Cawkwell’s Hillsborough Church, Sheffield (1936), Welch, Cachemaille Day & Lander’s St Nicholas’, Burnage, Manchester, Cachemaille Day’s Sunderland Mission Church (1938), and A. Randall Wells’ St Wilfred’s, Holton (1938).[98]

The stylistic treatment of the elevations owed principally to Eliel and Aero Saarinen’s Christ Evangelical Church in Minneapolis. Although that church had low side aisles, which St Catherine’s did not, the manner in which it was lit by closely spaced lights rising from floor-level to approximately half the height of the nave, with the brickwork thereafter continuing uninterrupted to the wallheads, was notably similar, as was the formation of much broader openings (windows rather than doorways) at each end of the nave flanks. St Catherine’s also clearly resembled the Christ Evangelical Church in the relationship of its nave to its bell-tower via a short, double-height glazed corridor – as shown in Spence’s perspective – on one side, and to a cloistered garden linking to a relatively low two-storey building on the other.

St Catherine’s bell-tower stood about 56 feet 8 inches high.[99] It enclosed the sacristy between its two plain brick walls of slightly convex profile, these being rendered internally as protection against the elements, and tied together at the upper levels by reinforced concrete beams and cross supports. They not only carried the weight of the bell, made by John Taylor, but a laminated timber crucifix, 20 feet high above the wallhead and with an arm-span of about 10 feet 8 inches.

In many working drawings (and in Spence’s perspective) the hall-block, although lower than the church, appears to have risen to two storeys. But in the final scheme the hall-block was represented as a single-storey brick-built rectangle on plan, standing at right-angles to the church across its west end. It extended 30 feet along its north and south frontages, by 97 feet deep along its exposed west flank. Its southerly Richmond Road elevation – faced in slate,[100] with the church’s name carved by Ralph Beyer next to the doorway – projected only modestly forward from the nave to accommodate hall, kitchen, cloaks and lavatories, the wallhead being kept very low at just over 10 feet above ground; but it rose to 14 feet over the hall itself, which could seat 150, and be opened into the church for particularly well-attended occasions. Like the church, the hall’s ceiling was supported on laminated timber beams. At its north end was a stage, the original curtains for which were provided by Conran Fabrics. The vestries for priest and choir behind the stage could double as changing rooms when required.

The vestries had a doorway onto the garden allowing easy access to the vicarage. The vicarage was based on that at St John the Divine, Coventry, but with a pitched roof.[101]

Bishop Hunter consecrated the church on 5 December 1959 and expressed the hope that the complex would be used by the community not just on Sundays, but every day of the week.[102] At first the church had only a piano to accompany services, but it soon gained a Compton manual organ over the south doorway.[103]

Spence and Blee interviewed Ronald Pope about a sculpture for the church in November 1961, but three years elapsed before he was called upon to make a presentation to the Diocesan Advisory Committee. Thereafter he produced a work of beaten and welded phosphor bronze sheeting which represented St Catherine holding the burning heart before Christ on the Cross. Completed in November 1965, this was mounted on the bell-tower’s eastern face in the following month and dedicated by Hunter’s successor, Bishop Francis Taylor, on 13 February 1966.[104]

[1] The introduction to this section derives from an information sheet, “Notes on proposed churches and church-halls in new housing areas” (no author or date); minutes of the Quarterly Meeting, 9 March 1954; and minutes of the Church Extension Committee, 7 May 1954. The author found copies of these in the records of St John the Divine’s Church, Willenhall, which are particularly complete.

[2] For further information on the Tile Hill estate, which attracted considerable attention and praise, see “District Centre at Coventry” in The Architectural Review, July 1956, pp. 25-32.

[3] Letter from Neville Gorton to Basil Spence, 23 July 1954 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS).

[4] Letter from Basil Spence to Neville Gorton, 23 July 1954 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS).

[5] As n. 2 above.

[6] Letter from Basil Spence to Neville Gorton, 29 July 1954 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS). See also letter from Spence to J.W. Smethurst, 11 November 1964 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS).

[7] In the words of the churches’ specification, “The aggregate for ‘no-fines’ concrete shall be graded as follows: – 95% to pass a ¾” ring and not more than 10% to pass a 3/8” ring.” For a photograph of the walls under construction, see Coventry Evening Telegraph, 6 October 1956, p. 4.

[8] Information courtesy of Roger Button, in conversation with the author, 20 June 2006. There was subsequently thought of building “no-fines” churches in the ecclesiastical district of St Francis, North Radford, and at Binley, Allesley Park, and possibly Wyken (Evening Telegraph, 12 December 1955, p. 9; 17 February 1956).

[9] Originally the frames were to be pre-cast, but subsequently it was decided they should be formed on site.

[10] According to The Architectural Review, April 1954, pp. 285-86, fural aluminium was invented by J. Furrer, an Altdorf architect, as a roofing or cladding material which could be fitted easily and neatly without nails, yet still offer exceptional performance. For a general discussion of aluminium alloy roof coverings, see Robert Maguire in the Review, March 1956, pp. 212-16.

[11] Press release drafted by Roger Button, September 1959. In the event Wood End’s covered walkway was seldom used as it had to be approached down a flight of steps from the road. Even the consecration procession passed along the path which runs parallel to the walkway and continues towards the foyer (Evening Telegraph photo at St Chad’s).

[12] For the general influence of De Stijl on architecture at this time, see Reyner Banham, “Mondriaan and the Philosophy of Modern Design” in The Architectural Review, October 1957, pp. 227-29.

[13] Letter from Basil Spence to Neville Gorton, 15 December 1954 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS): “I enclose with this letter the latest number of the Swiss magazine Werk. It is interesting to see photographs of a church so similar to ours at Coventry. I may say I designed mine quite independently and did not know of its existence but as I have found before there is something in the air which seems to be catching.”

[14] The “no-fines” churches’ relationship to Thayngen was noted at the time – Peter Hammond, “A Liturgical Brief” in The Architectural Review, April 1958, pp. 240-55; see fig. 17 and note.

[15] The Fronleichnamskirche, Pargas and the Swedish Church, Helsinki were illustrated in Edward Maufe’s Modern Church Architecture (1948); Thayngen, St Johannes’, Pargas and Abo were illustrated in Edward Mills’ The Modern Church (1956), in which details of Coventry Cathedral and the “no-fines” churches also appeared, and for which Spence wrote the introduction. Aarhus University was illustrated in Thomas Paulsson’s Scandinavian Architecture (1958). For a discussion of the Fronleichnamskirche, see Peter Hammond (ed.), Towards a Church Architecture (1962). For correspondence on the bell-towers, see The Architectural Review, April 1958, p. 296.

[16] The Architectural Review, May 1958, p. 360/lxxx: “Wimpey Builds. When the history of the ’forties and ’fifties comes to be written, historians will have to take care to notice how much of the development of our technical knowledge is due to a very small number of very large organizations. If they omit to do this they will have no excuse, for it has become the custom of these great organizations to issue publications from time to time describing what they have done. One such – perhaps the most handsome of them all – is Redevelopment in Wimpey No-fines Concrete. This is a record of what this pioneering Coventry firm have been up to: it is a very proud record, amounting to 86,349 dwellings completed prior to December, 1956. The book contains photographs, many of them in colour, progress photographs, finished exteriors, interiors, staff at work, plans, diagrams, typical details of no-fines construction and charts. It is of limited use to architects in the sense of supplying technical information, since its object is not so much to explain how things should be done as to give confidence that Wimpey’s can do it.”

[17] Information courtesy of Roger Button, in conversation with the author, 20 June 2006.

[18] Letter drafted by Roger Button to Ronald Stanton, 31 July 1957 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS).

[19] Letter from Basil Spence & Partners to Smethurst, 25 September 1956 (St John the Divine’s Church records). Letter drafted by Seppi Stöckli to Lewis Davey, 23 January 1957 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS).

[20] G.E. Kidder Smith illustrated Vetter’s Bocksriet housing in Switzerland Builds, and Egler’s Stocksund houses and småstuga cottages in Sweden Builds (both 1950). Chick’s Wiltshire houses were published in The Architectural Review, April 1952, p. 262; the plans show each house to have been just 20 feet 4 inches broad by 23 feet 7½ inches deep. His Hampshire houses also appeared in the Review, April 1954, p. 263, and were 20 feet 3 inches broad by 23 feet 10 inches deep. For a larger example built on the same principles, see the house at West Mersea designed by Richard Finch: Review, October 1955, p. 188.

[21] Letter from Neville Gorton to Basil Spence, 24 May 1955 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS).

[22] Letter from Neville Gorton to Gillian Spence, 4 July 1955 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS). The vicarage gables were actually brick. The architects asked the Building Research Station to investigate the durability of both the aluminium roofing and the pebble-dash.

[23] Letter from J.W. Smethurst to Andrew Renton, 28 January 1956 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS).

[24] Evening Telegraph, 17 February 1956; letter from Andrew Renton to J.W. Smethurst, 10 February 1956 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS). On 11 January prices for individual churches were Wood End £16,069 10s. 9d., Tile Hill £15,831 5s. 8d. and Willenhall – excluding hall – £12,819 9s. 10d. Letter from Smethurst to Renton, 11 January 1956 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS).

[25] Letter from Basil Spence to J.W. Smethurst, 16 December 1955 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS).

[26] Letter from Andrew Renton to Lewis Davey, 1 January 1956 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS). Letter from Ronald Stanton to Basil Spence, 8 January 1958 (St John the Divine’s Church records).

[27] Gorton described Simms to Spence as “incredibly able and imaginative. … You’ll like him. He has fires and Christian ones” (undated letter at R.C.A.H.M.S.). The sculpture was paid for by an unnamed American donor. Simms had joined Texas Southern University in 1950, and was a co-founder of its Art Department; he retired as professor in 1987. Assheton Gorton studied Architecture at Cambridge (where he was a contemporary of Roger Button) and Fine Arts at the Slade before enjoying a long and highly successful career as the production designer of a series of major films. Gerald Holtom is best remembered as the designer of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s “peace symbol” (1958).

[28] Letter from Andrew Renton to J.W. Smethurst, 29 August 1956; letter from J.N. Westcott to Renton, 30 August 1956 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS). Foundation stones were laid at St Chad’s and St John the Divine’s, for which priests had already been appointed, to kick-start local fundraising. At Tile Hill no stone was laid since it was thought that without a priest to front a sustained campaign, the desire to raise money would quickly fizzle out. See letter from Smethurst to Renton, 31 May 1956 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS); Evening Telegraph, 18 August 1956, p. 7; 24 September 1956, p. 5; 1 October 1956, p. 2; Coventry Standard, 28 September 1956, p. 3.

[29] Letter from Andrew Renton to Lewis Davey, 6 March 1957 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS).

[30] Letter from Cuthbert Bardsley to Spence, 27 February 1957, and reply 4 March 1957 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS). Among the finer sketches for furnishings is one showing perspectives of pulpit, altar and pew (R.C.A.H.M.S. DP/4574). Further pulpit designs were prepared by Hugh Pope on 7 January 1957, and alternative altars and communion rail by M.W.D. on 9 and 10 January 1957. Most finished drawings were produced by Brian Nicholls between February and April in the same year: altar details (Design LCC-50B); pew details (54); choir-stalls (63); kneeler and pew front (64); credence table (66); elevation of chancel (68); sedilia bench (72); altar, standard and taperer’s candlesticks (73); crucifix (74); pedestal font (76-78); number-board (82). The communion rail (62) was again by Pope. The drawing for a cauldron-type font with gilt metal lid (53) is unsigned and undated but based on a design by Keith Fendall (= Keith Murray) and Ralph Beyer dated 31 January 1957, also preserved at R.C.A.H.M.S. Designs for cylinder and inverted, truncated cone type fonts with flat lids, again unsigned and undated, feature a similar style of lettering around their circumference. A plan of tile floor patterns (75), dated April 1957, was prepared by Alan Avery.

[31] Jethro Harris and Leo Moulder of Cowley, Oxford, were recommended to the architects by the diocese. The work of both Harris & Moulder and Coventry Silvercraft was judged to be of such high quality that they were commissioned again for other projects.

[32] Letter from N.T. Thurston to Andrew Renton, 10 April 1957 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS)

[33] Letter drafted by Roger Button to William Allander, 12 April 1957 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS).

[34] Evening Telegraph, 24 May 1957, p. 10. The first child to be Christened in the font was the vicar’s own daughter, Margaret Jane Allander.

[35] Evening Telegraph, 2 December 1957, p. 9; photo, 3 December 1957, p. 3.

[36] Letter drafted by Roger Button to Lewis Davey, 28 May 1957 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS).

[37] Sir Basil Spence Collection, job records; see also Standard, 15 November 1961.

[38] See letter from N.T. Thurston to Basil Spence & Partners, 4 February 1957 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS). Photo, Evening Telegraph, 9 May 1957, p. 13.

[39] Evening Telegraph, 31 May 1957, p. 4; see also 24 May 1957, p. 10.

[40] Evening Telegraph, 5 March 1957, p. 1; 6 March 1957, p. 9; 11 April 1957, p. 15; 6 June 1957, p. 14, 18. Standard, 7 June 1957.

[41] Letter from Ronald Stanton to W.E. Purcell, Director of Religious Broadcasts, Midland Region B.B.C. (undated); Willenhall Parish Church Monthly Reporter, January 1957 (St John the Divine’s Church records).

[42] Evening Telegraph, 29 August 1959, p. 9.

[43] Evening Telegraph, 30 September 1982, p. 4; 25 November 1982, p. 9; 2 December 1982, p. 1ff. See also Coventry City Archives 641/21/89/1-3.

[44] Inclusive of sites, furnishings and fees. Letter from J.N. Westcott to Ronald Stanton, 4 June 1958 (St John the Divine’s Church records).

[45] Evening Telegraph, 22 July 1957, p. 3; Standard, 26 July 1957, p. 7.

[46] Letter from Ronald Williams to Basil Spence, 27 January 1955 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS MS 2329/ENG/6/4/147). The author of this chapter regrets that, despite extensive enquiries, no copies of the Church Extension Board or the Finance Board minutes have come to light at the time of writing.

[47] Letter from Basil Spence to Ronald Williams, 2 February 1955 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS MS 2329/ENG/6/4/146).

[48] See letter from Basil Spence to Ronald Williams, 3 January 1956 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS MS 2329/ENG/6/4/135).

[49] The drawings in the Sir Basil Spence Collection are very incomplete, but a full set is preserved in the Leicestershire Record Office. Application 89,774, filed under “New Parks Boulevard” in the street indexes.

[50] Letter drafted by Roger Rigby to Thomas Pitcairn, 20 December 1957 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS MS 2329/ENG/6/4/101-102).

[51] The p.c. sum for this mural in the bill of quantities was £640: letter from Andrew Renton to Thomas Pitcairn, 22 August 1958 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS MS 2329/ENG/6/4/86). According to Edward Mills, who doubtless discussed the design with Spence when preparing his feature for The Architect & Building News (21 May 1958), the porch and mural were made as large as possible to counteract what was then the empty vastness of the surrounding area.

[52] Letter from Andrew Renton to Ronald Williams, 19 November 1958 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS MS 2329/ENG/6/4/85).

[53] As indicated on the plans; at the time of writing the font was placed against the gable’s recessed wall immediately next to the main doorway.

[54] An inscription reads “The tower and other parts of this Church were given in loving memory of their mother Lady Oliver 1868-1950 by her children Barry, May, Ernest and Claude.” (See letter from Thomas Pitcairn to Basil Spence & Partners, 26 May 1959, MS 2329/ENG/6/4/1957). Spence’s perspective shows the original intention was that the louvres should be like those of the Coventry towers.

[55] Information courtesy of Roger Button, in conversation with the author, 20 June 2006.

[56] Extras subsequently increased the price to £22,902. See letters written by Roger Rigby to Thomas Pitcairn, 20 December 1957 and 3 January 1958; and from Pitcairn to Basil Spence & Partners, 26 October 1959 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS MS 2329/6/4/100-102 and 40).

[57] Information courtesy of Roger Button, in conversation with the author, 20 June 2006.

[58] Parochial Church Committee minutes, Leicestershire Record Office DE 5397/2, committee meeting of 24/2/1958.

[59] Ibid., emergency meeting, 21 June 1959; Order of Service, Leicestershire Record Office, DE 4651/16; Leicester Mercury, 21 June 1958, p. 5; Evening Mail, 21 June 1958, pp. 6-7.

[60] Letter drafted by Anthony Blee to Thomas Pitcairn, 21 November 1958 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS MS 2329/ENG/6/4/81).

[61] Letters drafted by Roger Button to Thomas Pitcairn, 30 April 1959 and 5 October 1959 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS MS 2329/ENG/6/4/65 and 4X).

[62] Ibid.

[63] Letter drafted by Anthony Blee to D. Harvey-Rowe, 28 September 1960 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS MS 2329/ENG/6/4/26).

[64] Letter drafted by Anthony Blee to the Archdeacon of Leicester (undated); letter drafted by D. Harvey-Rowe to Blee, 22 September 1960 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS MS 2329/ENG/6/4/51 and 27). This altar frontal was paid for with money from the Four Servicemen’s Club (P.C.C. minutes DE 5397/2, 29/6/1959). Twelve years later it had fallen on sadder times, having become worn and soiled; it was difficult to mend or clean. Running repairs were carried out with Bostik (4 February 1971).

[65] Letter drafted by Roger Button to Thomas Pitcairn, 23 June 1959 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS MS 2329/ENG/6/4/1953).

[66] Leicester Mercury, 13 July 1959, p. 5; Evening Mail, 13 July 1959, p. 4. Rain marred the ceremony and may account for the surprising brevity of these reports. None of the professional journals commented on St Aidan’s after its consecration.

[67] Letter from Ronald Williams to Basil Spence, 14 February 1955 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS MS 2329/ENG/6/4/145). Drawings for this project are preserved in the Sir Basil Spence Collection, but correspondence is scant, and there are no records relating to it – not even P.C.C. minutes – either at St Hugh’s itself or at the Leicestershire Record Office.

[68] Drawing no LEM7.

[69] Externally, the effect was quite similar to the two-storey pitched roof blocks of the CLASP schools designed by Hertfordshire County Architects Department: for illustrations of the prototype schools at Cheshunt and Essendon (both 1948), see Robert Elwall, Building a Better Tomorrow: Architecture in Britain in the 1950s (2000).

[70] As illustrated in Spence’s perspective of early 1956. This perspective was exhibited with one of St Aidan’s at the Royal Academy exhibition that year.

[71] Information from documents at St Paul’s. The diocese commissioned Aerofilms Ltd to take aerial photographs of Parson Cross in 1946-47.

[72] Star, 18 October 1949, 19 October 1949, 20 October 1949; Morning Telegraph, 20 October 1949.

[73] Church Extension Committee minutes, Sheffield Archives PR/12.

[74] A related, but rougher, undated sketch plan survives offering a larger seating capacity.

[75] The Lion and the Unicorn Pavilion itself had staggered walls for additional structural strength.

[76] See The Architectural Review, July 1954, p. 48; the criticism of the Roehampton church expressed therein now seems unjust. Stokes’ design also predates Spence’s unexecuted scheme for St Hugh’s Church, Leicester, although the influence for the clerestorey there would seem to be the CLASP schools.

[77] For details of Ove Arup’s lattice shell technique, see The Architectural Review, March 1955, p. 216. Although not referred to as such, this was closely similar to the lamella roof construction used for the Lion and the Unicorn Pavilion (engineers R.T. James & Partners and E. Lewis). The “lamella (patent) roof” – or Zollinger roof, named after its designer – was supported on a substructure of steel members arranged in a triangular pattern to form a vault suitable for broad spans; the roof at St Paul’s would appear to have been influenced by it. Timber lamella roofs adopted a rhomboid pattern, and reinforced concrete could also be used. For examples applied to religious architecture, see Leslie T. Moore’s St Wilfrid’s Parish Hall, Harrogate and E. Meredith’s Church Hall, Romford, both of which were illustrated in “Refinement of Structure,” Architectural Review, February 1936, pp. 66-67; also Moore’s St Luke’s Mission Church, Luton (1936) illustrated in Fifty Modern Churches (no author; published by the Incorporated Church Building Society, 1947). Horseley Bridge & Thomas Piggott Ltd produced a booklet, Architectural Beauty, in which they explained that lamella roofs could span from 30 to 250 feet and could be “quickly erected without skilled labour or special equipment.” A number of continental examples are illustrated in G.E. Kidder Smith’s The New Churches of Europe (1964). For a recent discussion, the reader should refer to J.S. Allen, “A Short History of ‘Lamella’ Roof Construction” (Transactions of the Newcomen Society, 1999, vol. 71, no 1), but should bear in mind that the technique remained in use for longer than he suggests.

[78] In Kaija and Heikki Siren’s Chapel of the Technical University, Otaniemi, Helsinki (1956) the congregation look past the simplest chancel and altar and through a completely glazed rear elevation towards a large plain crucifix in a garden. See Peter Hammond, Towards a Church Architecture (1962); G.E. Kidder Smith, The New Churches of Europe (1964).

[79] S.G.B. Welded Structures Division, job no 693. Copies of their drawings, which were principally the work of M.M. Howes, are preserved in the Sir Basil Spence Collection.

[80] Board of Finance minutes, 6 October 1959, item 3(b)(i); see also Church Extension Committee minutes, 18 July 1960, item 3(iii), which together detail the congregation’s financial difficulties at that time.

[81] St Pauls Church, Wordsworth Avenue: A Short Guide (published by the church).

[82] See drawing for lights for St Catherine’s, SC40, noted below. Hermann Baur often used black cylindrical lamps, for instance at Ste Thérèse, Roubaix and Bruderklausen Church, Munich; Sep Ruf used cylindrical lamps at St Johann von Capistran, Munich. A variation was to form the lamps of concentric cylinders, the inner cylinders being longer than the outer ones; see Josef Lehmbrock’s St Albertus Magnus, Leverkusen-Schlebusch and Dieter Oesterlen’s St Martin’s, Hanover. All illustrated in G.E. Kidder Smith, The New Churches of Europe (1964).

[83] For the remarkable story of this organ, Morning Telegraph, 26 February 1962.

[84] Star, 24 January 1959, 26 January 1959.

[85] The date on this perspective “April 1956” appears erroneous in the context of Blee’s drawings and the Church Extension Committee minutes; the earliest reference to the project in the professional press appears in The Architect & Building News of 9 May 1957.

[86] The minutes refer to “Sir Basil Gibson,” presumably in error.

[87] See Church Extension Committee minutes, 13 April 1956, appendix dated 20 April 1956.

[88] For details of the bidding process, see Church Extension Committee minutes, 25 September 1958, item 6(a).

[89] Star, 10 April 1959; Morning Telegraph, 13 April 1959.

[90] Copies of Aygee drawings 4557/1848, 1848A and 1848B by H.S. Hardaker, November 1958, are preserved in the Spence Collection.

[91] Clerestorey window schedule, drawing SC30B, August 1958, “A.S.M.”; clerestorey details, SC38 and 38B, 10 April 1958, “D.I.”; laminated beams, SC39, 16 April 1958, “D.I.”

[92] The original roofs soon gave serious trouble, resulting in extensive correspondence between the architects, clients and contractors which is preserved in the Spence Collection. Grocock & Day agreed to contribute £400 towards the re-roofing by Frederick Braby in accordance with revised working drawings dated April and May 1963, the remaining costs being met by the War Damage Commission and the sale of the old copper. Uncertainty over how the re-roofing would be paid for delayed the commission of Ronald Pope’s sculpture of St Catherine: see Spence’s letter to the Bishop, 20 January 1963 (R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS)

[93] See also drawings SC20, April 1958, “C.B.,” and SC21 (unsigned, undated).

[94] Serious thought seems to have been given to a carving of the crucified Christ, which not only appears in Spence’s charcoal perspectives for the chancel, but also (presumably in model form) in photographs preserved in the Spence Collection.

[95] Drawing SC40, April 1958, “A.U.” See also note in respect of the lights at St Paul’s.

[96] Drawing SC42A, 8 April 1958, “C.J.W.”

[97] Nôtre Dame de Toute Grâce and St Karl were illustrated by Edward Mills in The Modern Church (1956); St Karl, the Matthaikirche and Church Gladbachrheydt by Edward Maufe in Modern Church Architecture (1947).

[98] All of these were represented in Fifty Modern Churches, except Hillsborough Church, which was illustrated in The Architectural Review, August 1936, p 61, and St Nicholas’, Burnage which appeared in Recent English Architecture 1920-1940 (published by Country Life for the Architecture Club). Gillespie Kidd & Coia used a rather different form of chancel clerestorey at St Paul’s R.C. Church, Glenrothes (1957).

[99] Drawing SC23A, May 1958, attributable to “A.S.M.”

[100] Drawing SC28, August 1958, “A.S.M.”; see also SC29.

[101] See drawing SCV1, 15 April 1958, and Dilapidations Committee minutes, Sheffield Archives PR/21, under “R” (Richmond).

[102] Star, 5 December 1959; Morning Telegraph, 8 December 1959.

[103] Subsequently moved to the centre of the west wall; information courtesy of Fr Harold Loxley.

[104] R.C.A.H.M.S. SBS files; Star, 26 January 1966. Pope received £815 for the sculpture and the architects £69 17s. 4d. in fees. The War Damage Commission met £770 of the costs.




St Oswald, Tile Hill, CoventrySt Oswald

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St John Willenhall

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 St Aidan, Leicester St Aiden Leicester

St Aiden Leicester