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Church of St Paul, Coventry

Description: Church of St Paul

Grade: II
Date Listed: 24 June 1974
English Heritage Building ID: 218481

OS Grid Reference: SP3412481149
OS Grid Coordinates: 434124, 281149
Latitude/Longitude: 52.4273, -1.4996

Locality: Coventry
County: Coventry
Country: England
Postcode: CV6 5PA

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Listing Text


The west tower, of brick construction, is in its lower two stages from a church constructed in 1841, to designs by J L Ackroyd. The remainder of the church date to the immediately post war period, as the Ackroyd building was damaged by bombs in night raids on 14 to 15 November 1940. The replacement building was designed by Sir Charles Nicholson in 1945. Nicholson died in 1949 and slight modifications were made before the laying of the foundation stone in April 1951 by Nicholson's architectural partner T J Rushton. It was consecrated in January 1955. At this time the tower was reduced in height but retained.

A late C20 church hall of the 1970s is attached to the north of the building (not of special interest).

MATERIALS: All parts of the buildings are of brick. The west tower is laid in English bond, in contrast to the brick of the post-war building (which was selected specifically by the architect to blend with the C19 work) which is laid in Flemish bond. The church hall is stretcher bond brick. All roofs are tiled. The building may also have reinforced concrete superstructure.

PLAN: The aisled nave comprises three large bays leading into an aisled chancel and an unaisled and square-ended sanctuary of 1 bay. To the south of the sanctuary is a lady chapel leading off the south chancel aisle. To the north of the north chancel aisle is a northwards extending building, which houses the organ chamber and the vestries either side of a corridor. The office part of the extension is single storey. The link and vestibule of the later church hall building was attached directly to this building and the hall itself is parallel to the church.

EXTERIOR: The lower portions of the west tower retain evidence of the design of the pre-war building, most notably with pointed arched openings to the tower with some moulded details. The body of the church is a restrained design with a minimalist approach. Paired round-arched lancet windows with narrow 'roman' brick voussoirs form the main articulation to the exterior. The north wall of the north transept is articulated by recessed windows of the same type above the single storey vestry building below. The church hall is architecturally undistinguished, and not regarded as of special interest.

INTERIOR: The interior is light and well-proportioned, being dominated by three large rounded headed arcade arches forming north and south nave aisles. The minimalist effect is heightened and the interior unified by the white painted wall surfaces, with the simple unmoulded capitals being picked out in grey above square piers with chamfered corners. A barrel vault of transverse arches and small panels covers the church. A tall round headed opening leads into the tower. This feature and the choice of lancets (especially the stepped triple lancets of the east wall) appear to be a conscious point of reference to the design of the C19 church. This was a restrained Early English 'Commissioners' church. This lost building was not aisled but a broad pewed building with galleries running the length of the building supported on iron columns. The decision to abandon the concept of galleries and reduce the available seating capacity of the church was a feature of the 1940s brief for the replacement building.

PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: The principal furnishings comprise the main altar and lady chapel altar designed by the architect and executed in wood (lime and oak); the Bishop's chair of 1954 by T J Rushton architect in oak and the font, at the west end of the nave in stone. The candlestick and chair are listed as by Nicholson and Rushton, with drawings of 1953-4 now in the RIBA drawings collection.

The principal window of the church in the east wall was executed by Mr Gerald Smith of the Nicholson studios at a cost of £756. The east window of the Lady Chapel, which was paid for by the St Paul's Mens Guild, in memory of those who fell in the war likewise by the Nicholson studio. In 1953 a bell was dedicated and inscribed in honour of the coronation of HM the Queen and first rung at 8am on 2nd June (coronation day) 1953.

All the wooden furniture (not pews) is contemporary and was made by Messrs Bowman & Sons, Stamford, Lincolnshire including pulpit, readers desk, priests chair, candlestick desk and altars. The pews were apparently introduced into the building from Stoneleigh and the organ was a later addition to the building. The principal wooden fittings as detailed above make a complete set of architect-designed fittings for this church and along with the cupboard (aumbry) door and hanging pyx form a seat of 1950s features introduced at the time of the church's construction (and in evidence at its consecration).

HISTORY: The original church was newly built in 1841 to serve a newly created parish. This was carved out of the parish of St Lawrence, the large medieval parish that had previously encompassed a large area to the north of Coventry. It was the first of the 'modern' churches in the area. The new parish was designed to meet the pastoral (and moral) needs of the rapidly expanding population, largely a result of the increase in weaving and nearby collieries, and to challenge the dissenters who were rapidly establishing themselves with a wide variety of nonconformist chapels. This building, the lower stages of the tower which still remain, was constructed by a local architect J L Ackroyd, from Coventry and who worked predominantly in the immediate vicinity (Bedworth, and Exhall for example and designed Fillongley Hall in 1830), and was partly funded by a grant from the Church Commissioners; possibly with donations from factory workers. Photographic evidence shows this church to be galleried inside, and an ICBS plan shows the original layout of seating at ground floor and gallery level. Bays are defined by single attenuated lancet windows with pointed heads, in many ways a simple 'Commissioners' style church in a low key 13th century gothic style. In general appearance it may be compared to the still surviving (although closed) church of St Peter's in nearby Hillfields (also 1841 and designed by Robert Ebbel's). The parish was re-absorbed into Coventry with the first boundary extension of 1899.

The church was severely damaged by bombing in 1940 and the interior completely burnt out. A temporary church was created in the nearby New Schools, which were furnished as such in 1941. The first meeting of the appeal fund for the reconstruction of the church met in January 1943. At this time the Ackroyd church survived in ruined form, and a local architect Mr P.B. Chatwin devised a scheme for a temporary church in the ruins. This was abandoned on the grounds of cost and the church was soon agreed to be a total loss and a plan for total replacement was initiated. By October 1944 the vicar approached 3 architects, 2 of whom were on active service and the third, a Mr Roger Bell of Belfast, had sent photographs of executed buildings. By January 1945 Sir Charles Nicholson had visited the ruins and agreed to produce a sketch; his designs were accepted by December. They comprised a building on the foundations of the old with an apsidal east end and without the galleries of the earlier building, a decision made by the congregation which decided it could manage the associated reduction in seating capacity from 900 to about 384. Nicholson was a leading ecclesiastical architect of the first half of the C20, having trained under J D Sedding. He acted as consulting architect to Belfast, Lincoln, Llandaff, Portsmouth and Wells cathedrals as well as diocesan architect for Chelmsford, Portsmouth, Wakefield and Winchester; he was responsible for the reconstruction of the cathedral in Portsmouth and additions to those in Chelmsford and Norwich. He was educated locally, at Rugby School, where he later returned to design the memorial chapel.

The new design successfully replaced the 7 bay preaching box of the earlier church with something that both suited its contemporary congregation and which provided a more intimate Romanesque space which reflects a trend towards the Early Church. This rescaling was assisted by the reduction of the tower, the base of which is incorporated skilfully into the new building.

Sir Charles Nicholson died in 1949 and the project was taken over by his architectural partner Mr Rushton (Rushton had worked as an assistant to W D Caroe and then Nicholson before setting up Nicholson and Rushton in 1927). It seems as though the Nicholson plan was essentially retained but with some the squaring off of the east end and some modification of the east window and other details. Fund raising was slow, although supported by a grant from the war commission. It appears to be the first fully rebuilt church in Coventry, and was consecrated on 22 January 1955. The building had been constructed by Messrs Harris and son of Burnsall Road Coventry at a cost of £21,952. The vestry was a secondary consideration although built as part of one campaign, and rejected at first on the grounds of the presence of graves, although permission for their removal was eventually granted.

Warwickshire County Record Office for parish records: DR 614/45; DR 614/47; DR 614/41; DR 614/42; DR 614/43; DR 614/ 44
Victoria County History Warwickshire, Volume 8, (1969) 366-7
GA Cowley Folks Hill: A History of Foleshill Warwickshire 1745-1945 (2000)
MH Port 600 New Churches (2006)
Incorporated Church Building Society (ICBS)

The Church of St Paul is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* A late work by the leading C20 ecclesiastical architect, and writer, Sir Charles Nicholson and partner T J Rushton.
* It retains a set of contemporary and architect designed fittings which make a significant contribution to the completeness of the mid C20 interior.
* The history of the building has particular significance for the history of Coventry and WWII, as a symbol of the re-building of Coventry as the first damaged church to be fully rebuilt following the 1940 bombing of the city.

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.