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Church of St Lawrence, Coventry

Description: Church of St Lawrence

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 5 February 1955
English Heritage Building ID: 218541

OS Grid Reference: SP3535582577
OS Grid Coordinates: 435355, 282577
Latitude/Longitude: 52.4400, -1.4813

Location: 140 Old Church Road, Coventry CV6 7ND

Locality: Coventry
County: Coventry
Country: England
Postcode: CV6 7ND

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Listing Text

833/22/136 OLD CHURCH ROAD

Known phases from late middle ages with west tower and north aisle, although earlier building existed on site. Repairs and reconstruction of the north nave aisle roof occurred in 1614. Subsequent known major works include repairs to the nave in 1784 and associated structural changes, notably the rebuilding of the chancel in 1792. Additional structures date to the early 19th century, including the vestry in 1812 and south aisle in 1815. Next known significant changes were in the 1880s (restored T F Tickner) and then a new choir vestry (1904) and south transept (1927). Significant repairs were undertaken on the nave and roof after bomb damage in 1940.

MATERIALS: Predominant building materials are ashlared freestone (locally quarried grey sandstone) and brick, although various phases of each exist and each are differently executed. As a broad principle the stone is medieval or 20th century and the brick is associated with a range of 18th and 19th century phases. West tower and north aisle therefore stone, as well as 1927 south transept and late 19th century south porch. East end as recast in 18th century carefully laid red brick in Flemish bond; 18th century south aisle of red brick as well as 19th century north vestry; the 1904 extension favoured yellow brick. Evidence of structural repairs and alterations to roof of north aisle indicated through brick gable end surmounting ashlar walls. Nave roof slate, rest tiles and south porch stone with patterned tiles.

PLAN: Nave with north aisle and broad south aisle and a south porch, short chancel, south 'transept' directly off chancel, vestries to the north side and a central west tower.

EXTERIOR: The exterior provides the clearest evidence of the medieval church and shows the accumulation over centuries of additional structures radically altering the original ground plan. Even these however are misleading in date. The chancel, of brick, is usually ascribed to the 19th century but the replacement of its original Palladian east window with a rose has largely masked its late 18th century date. Each addition has a different material and or texture to it. Also in the late 18th century the roofs were altered with a new double roof being installed over the nave and (said to be) south aisle. A reference to the enlargement of two windows in this aisle in 1783 implies that the church already had two aisles before the insertion of the new arcade in 1816. The presence of a stone west wall to the otherwise 18th century brick south aisle may support this assertion.

Set in a large and attractive churchyard (closed in 1907) with a number of interesting memorials and tomb chests. The area previously included a mound, since levelled and may coincide with an ancient defensive ditch. The limes, which formed an avenue from the old rectory to the south door of the church were planted in circa 1875. Some of the memorials were removed in the late 20th century and reburial took place in the north-east corner of the churchyard.

INTERIOR: The interior of this building is fascinating and indicative of both radical change and re-orderings and a build up of new and re-used materials and fittings over time and which now define the character of the interior. Collectively these contribute to significant archaeological and historical significance.

Perhaps most visually striking is the presence of the 1816 cast iron columns - quatrefoil in plan with annulets and gothic capitals - and the surprisingly open interior space that is created by them. The church in fact appears more compartmentalised from the outside than inside. The interior is plastered and painted throughout. The chancel and nave are both floored with Minton tiles.

The nave is pewed with fixed seating of pitch pine. These survived fire damage caused by incendiary devices only by being rescued by the congregation. Key decorative features of the late 18th and early 19th century were removed in later restorations including coved ceilings and stuccoed cornice in the chancel, nave and aisle.

PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: A circular 12th century font survives, now located to the east end of the south aisle. Its supporting column may be an amalgamation of remnants of the demolished north aisle arcade. Before the war this was located in a traditional location at the west end of the nave. A 16th century iron bound chest (known as the Armada chest), with engraved lock. The history of pulpits in the church include one from 1605 and its apparent replacement by a three-decker one probably installed in the late 18th century. This one may have survived the major re-ordering of 1888 (although if it did no doubt altered) but was replaced by the current one, dating to 1923 which is said to be given, designed (by Francis Tickner) and carved by local people. Jacobean credence table - used as altar until late 19th century.

Significant collection of 17th century bells all by Hugh Watts of Leicester (no 1 dated to 1635 and other two to 1616) fixed into an 18th century bell frame, which re-uses earlier elements as well. There are a number of 18th and 19th century memorials of note in the church. It is recorded that traces of old wall painting were found during the restoration work in 1942. Scant photographic evidence suggests this is probably 18th century and part of the re-ordering of the building at this time. It is not known what survives if anything, but the possibility of surviving painted schemes under existing decoration should be borne in mind.

The lectern and the pews survive from the 1880s reordering. The pews were by Jones and Willis in Birmingham. The nave and chancel floors are covered in Minton tiles from 1888. The altar dates to 1870 but was lengthened in 1888 and the altar rails and iron work may be by Skidmore of Coventry. Glass includes (in memory of Henry Jacques) the north nave window 1896; the west window by Pearce of Birmingham given by the working guild in 1901. There is glass by Hardman (also Birmingham based but with a prolific national practice) in the east window of the 1927 south transept showing St Elizabeth and St Luke. Other additions of the early 20th century include the lectern (1923) and the west window of the south aisle (1910), both gifts of the Sunday school. Harrison and Harrison (of Durham) Organ c.1908 with case designed by Peter Hurford in 1960.

HISTORY: Evidence of the early medieval church is restricted to the 12th century font, at which time Foleshill was part of the Godiva estates; a church must have existed on the site at this time, possibly as a dependent chapel of St Michael¿s, Coventry. But in the later Middle Ages a north aisle (said to be 1544) and a west tower were constructed. Evidence of works to repair the church in the form of roof tiling occurred in 1614 and the ancient chancel was said to be in disrepair in 1635.

Repairs to the nave are recorded in 1784. However a series of significant structural and internal alterations to the building are recorded in the late 18th century at which time it is believed that box pews were installed in the church (1786) and the current chancel was built (1792); stated to be the same length as the medieval one; subsequent references to the loss of a three-decker pulpit most likely refers to fittings installed at this date (or maybe c 1816) in what appears to have been a recasting of the interior in a more auditory fashion.

A new vestry to the north of the chancel and accessed from the north aisle was constructed in 1812. Shortly after, in 1816 a new wide south was added by Johnson and Line of Coventry. These changes went hand in hand with demolition of the north (and maybe south) arcade (remnants of north survive) and interesting and unusual construction of two rows of cast iron columns with supported galleries in the aisles; to accommodate these the north aisle was heightened, re-using 16th century beams. The insertion of the cast iron columns and the associated re-ordering included the retention of box pews and the three-decker pulpit indicative of a continuing Georgian approach to churchmanship. In this case there is evidence that the rebuilding was, in part at least, a direct response to serious over-crowding of a well-attended church. An illustration in the Aylesford collection, Birmingham suggests that the nave roof was also raised at this point to accommodate a wooden clerestory, constructed to light the new but otherwise dark galleries. Although this radical change has been considered by some an iconoclasm that destroyed the medieval interior of the building, its remnants provide some of the most significant and distinctive aspects of the interior today. In this case the reform seems to have survived until the 1880s when Ecclesiological reform swept away much of the evidence of the pre-Victorian era. The cornice above the columns was replaced in 1958 when the structure was strengthened.

Significant changes to the layout and appearance of the building were made in the 1880s (it was T F Tickner's first ecclesiastical brief), including the addition of the grey stone porch and significant changes to the interior and some fenestration. This work seems to have included the heightening of the 18th century chancel. At the same time the box pews were replaced with the current benches, and there was associated retiling of the nave and aisle floors with Minton tiles. Of interest is the decision to re-use the panels from the box pews to line the ceiling of the chancel and the nave; this appears to have replaced a coved 18th-century ceiling. Those of the nave were lost in WWII, those of the chancel survive intact. At this time the 18th century character of the church was fundamentally altered, including the replacement of a Palladian style east window with a gothicised replacement of a new rose window. An organ was introduced at the west end of the nave at this time, alter moved to the east end of the south aisle and ultimately replaced in 1904.

The early 20th century saw renewed activity with a new choir vestry being added in 1904 on the north side; the restoration to the tower in 1923 and a large south transept was added opening off the chancel in 1927, a response to an increasing congregation size, along with some new fittings. The creation of this large transept significantly increased the floor space and was supposed to have been matched by a similar one on the north side for which funds were never found.

The church was hit by an incendiary bomb on 29 October 1940 necessitating its closure. During the closure the community preached in a wooden building near by. The western section of the nave roof and south aisle were completely burnt out and fire damage to the pews beneath them was caused by falling burning timbers. The contents of the church were mostly saved by the local congregation rescuing items from the church; the 'armada' chest and the nave pews were saved in this way.

Some charred timbers are said to remain in situ in the nave roof (revealed during retiling work of the 1980s), the surviving evidence of the bombing and restoration of the church in the 1940s. Equally it is said that some of the pews and parts of the floor retain scars from the fire that followed the WWII bombing.

Work to restore the church started in April 1942 and took 3 months with the church re-opening in June, although works to the interior continued after this. Of the total cost of £632.14s.6d the War Commission contributed just over £96. The work included the rebuilding of the lost roofs, re-using timbers where possible and restoration of the furnishings. Dry rot was discovered in the wooden beam above the nave columns in 1958 resulting in its replacement by concrete girders encased in brick.

N Pevsner and A Wedgwood, Warwickshire (1951), 278.
Victoria County History Warwickshire volume 6, 341-4.
A A Upton, 'The Church Among the Trees': The story of St Laurence's Foleshill (1986)
A A Upton, Burnt Roof: The bombing of St Laurence's Church, Foleshill, Coventry 29 October 1940 (1992)
G A Cowley, Folks Hill: A History of Foleshill Warwickshire 1745-1945 (2000)
Historic faculties in Warwick Record Office: DR 223/56; 223/41-51; DR 223/53-54; DR 223/63; DR 1055/11.

The Church of St Lawrence is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Medieval origins and interest of early building surviving in parts
* Re-use and incorporation of older materials during various consecutive rebuilding programmes demonstrating clear evidential and historical interest, reflecting both the 18th century rebuilding of the east end, and the early 19th century re-casting and expanding of church (especially the construction of the cast iron columns)
* Range of historic fittings and fixtures, notably font, credence table chest and significant bells and bell frame
* Considerable archaeological and historical interest in accretive alterations and additions to building associated with architectural and liturgical change.

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.