The Twentieth Century Society is delighted that three highly significant churches in Coventry by Basil Spence have been listed at Grade II.
St Oswald’s, Tile Hill, St John the Divine, Willenhall and St Chad’s Wood End were all built at the same time between 1954-57, while the Grade I listed Coventry Cathedral (1951-62) – Spence’s showpiece and one of England’s most important post war buildings – was being constructed.
They were the first parish churches which Spence built in England and were completed in 1957, five years before Coventry was consecrated.
Henrietta Billings, Senior Conservation Adviser, Twentieth Century Society said, “It is really fantastic to see these three very special churches recognised and celebrated by listing. From the grade II listed swimming baths and Coventry train station to the Cathedral and Broadgate House, this city is a show case for high quality post war architecture.”
The churches were commissioned in 1954 by the Bishop of Coventry, the Very Reverend Neville Gorton. He asked Spence to design three churches for suburban estates on the edge of the city to be built with funds from the War Damages Commission paid as compensation for the bombing of one inner city Coventry church. All three were built for £50,000.
They were constructed by builder’s Wimpey to Spence’s designs with similar carefully considered layouts: a re-enforced concrete bell-tower, church hall and vicarage. Each church was designed to the same plan – a 90 foot long nave with a shallow pitched roof and lightweight ‘no-fines’ concrete walls that Wimpey was using for new housing in the areas surrounding the churches.
Spence believed that striking works of art were essential to these churches, and the plain exteriors contrast with the richer interiors. At St Oswald, he designed the silver gilt altar set and the font and foundation stones were carved by Ralph Beyer, most famous for his work at Coventry Cathedral.
At St Oswald, Gerald Holton made the colourful hanging for the east end and a bronze sculpture by sculptor Carroll Simms was commissioned for the exterior east gable wall. At St Chad’s, Bishop Gorton donated a wooden crucifix designed by Eric Gill, and the benches and choir stalls were also designed by Spence.
We strongly supported the designation of these churches following an application to list St Oswald’s in 2013 and we asked English Heritage to widen their assessment to all three. St Oswald’s was listed in October 2014, followed by St John the Divine and St Chad’s in February 2014.
Another of Basil Spence’s works, Hyde Park Barracks in London is currently under threat from demolition. We have submitted a listing application to English Heritage and are awaiting a decision from the Secretary of State which is expected imminently.