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Church of St Oswald and bell tower, Tile Hill

A Grade II Listed Building in Woodlands, Coventry

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.4068 / 52°24'24"N

Longitude: -1.5795 / 1°34'46"W

OS Eastings: 428703

OS Northings: 278839

OS Grid: SP287788

Mapcode National: GBR 5KS.3GR

Mapcode Global: VHBWX.KRVT

Entry Name: Church of St Oswald and bell tower, Tile Hill

Listing Date: 2 October 2014

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1417936

Location: Coventry, CV4

County: Coventry

Electoral Ward/Division: Woodlands

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Coventry

Traditional County: Warwickshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): West Midlands

Church of England Parish: Tile Hill St Oswald

Church of England Diocese: Coventry

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Summary

A church and bell tower, designed by Basil Spence with assistance from Seppi Stöckli and Roger Button and built by Wimpey between 1954 and 1957.

Description

A church and bell tower, designed by Basil Spence and built by Wimpey between 1954 and 1957.

MATERIALS
The church has a concrete portal frame with panels of ‘no-fines’ concrete and spar dash render to the exterior with a shallow-pitched, aluminium roof. The bell tower is of re-enforced concrete and cedarwood.

PLAN
The church has an open, basilican plan and measures 90 x 30 feet. Steps rise to the sanctuary. The church shares a porch at its south-western corner with the community hall which extends to the south. The bell tower is freestanding and set to the south east of the church.

CHURCH
EXTERIOR: windows across the building are of clear glass which is vertically ribbed to the east and west ends. There is a fascia board, above the eaves, which surrounds the building. The eastern gable end is blank, save for the central, beaten copper sculpture of the crucified Christ by Carroll Simms. Both flanks are similar; the bays formed by the portal frame are marked by chamfered joints in the concrete panels. Windows have projecting, concrete surrounds and are set in the lower wall and at the top, forming a clerestory. These windows were held in place while the 'no-fines' concrete was poured around them. At the eastern end of each side is a half bay of clear glass, casting light onto the altar and the hanging on the east wall. At the west end the lobby adjoins on the south side and there is a doorway with canopy to the north. The western gable end has margin glazing to the sides and top, and the solid, central panel bears a large, timber cross.
INTERIOR: window surrounds to the flanks project, as outside. The ceiling has thin, timber joists laid between the concrete portal frames. Between these are set filler boards of dark green, with occasional, bright blue or red panels, making an abstract pattern. Original fixtures designed by the architect include the choir stalls with their ribbed fronts and storage for music, the organ desk and organ case. Both the altar and the altar rails with their attached kneelers have inlayed strips of lighter wood to their uprights. At the east end, a piscina with copper bowl is set in the walling on the south side and to the north is an aumbry with brass door, engraved with a cross. At the west end a circular, wooden font has fluted column and a copper bowl. Heating dials for the heating thermostats are set into the column uprights of the portal frame and skittle-shaped light fittings are also original.
The hanging at the eastern end is fixed to a rail.

BELL TOWER
The tower has four stages, of ascending height, with corner posts and lintels of re-enforced concrete. The lowest and highest stages are bare, but the middle two stages have screens to their sides of cedarwood posts which have enamelled metal plates set at angles between these uprights. Platforms at the different levels have holes and iron hoops to allow for ladders and bell ropes. The ceiling of the topmost stage has a cross, made of concrete beams, which has been gilded and which bears bolts to anchor a central bell.

Pursuant to S.1 (5) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 ('the Act') it is declared that the community hall to the south west of the church, which was entirely rebuilt at the start of the C21, is not of special architectural or historic interest..


History

In 1954 Bishop Gorton of Coventry, who was a strong supporter of the appointment of Basil Spence as architect for his new cathedral, also commissioned three new churches from the architect for outlying areas of the city. To pay for these Gorton used the money which the diocese had received from the War Damages Commission as compensation for the bombing of one inner-city church. Spence wrote to the bishop offering to provide a ‘simple, direct, topical and traditional solution which should be serviceable to the church yet inexpensive’. £50,000 had to be made to stretch to all three churches, each of which would also have a community hall and a bell tower. The three churches, St Chad, Wood End; St Oswald Tile Hill and St John the Divine, Willenhall, were built in 1954-1957, and in each case a vicarage, designed by Spence, was later added to the grouping.

The tight budget called for stringency. Discussions were started at an early stage in the design process with the contractors, Wimpey’s, about materials. Although the individual designs differed in their details and the siting of the different elements, all three churches shared a rectangular, basilican plan and the same system of construction. The basic structure was a concrete portal frame, set at intervals of ten feet. Walls were formed from a lightweight concrete called ‘No-fines’ which Wimpey was also using for new housing in the areas surrounding the churches. Shuttering for both the portal frame and walls, was transported between the sites and the pre-cast window frames, which appear at two levels in the side walls, were set into the shuttering before pouring. An external coating of spar dash render was applied to the walls. The plans of the three churches differed slightly. At St Oswald's the placing of the bell tower was influenced by the existence of three mature oak trees on the site. At St John's Willenhall and St Chad's, Wood End entry to the church was via a pathway that led beneath the tower, but that was not possible at St Oswald.

Works of art were an important part of Spence’s vision for the project, as well as a means of differentiating the buildings. At Tile Hill a hanging was commissioned for the wall behind the altar from Gerald Holtom, showing St Oswald and St Aidan. The American sculptor, Carroll Simms, created the beaten copper sculpture of the crucified Christ, which is set on the external east wall, while he was in England on a Fulbright scholarship and apprenticed to Jacob Epstein. Spence himself designed the altar, choir stalls and font and the delicate, silver and gilt altar set and communion vessels.

Working with Spence on the buildings were Seppi Stöckli, Roger Button and Brian Nicholls. Others from his practice were also involved, included Tony Jackson and Anthony Blee, who were building Coventry Cathedral at the same time. The three churches and cathedral were regarded as linked and each church had two foundation stones, one of which was taken from the rubble of the former cathedral. The three churches provided test beds for some of the ideas which were to be seen at the cathedral when it opened five years later; although the tapestry at the east end of the cathedral had been long planned, changes in the appearance of the interior and problems with the weavers who had initially been chosen, meant that the weaving of Sutherland’s tapestry by Pinton Frères was only started in June 1959, some two years after Holtom’s hanging was in place at Tile Hill.
The belfry tower has never contained a bell, although Spence had schemes to provide a ring of bells and a belfry chamber, as circumstances might allow. In February 1958 he wrote to the editor of the Architectural Review saying that the idea of an open bell tower with exposed bells and ropes had come from the Steel Church in Basle. Of the Coventry churches, he wrote ‘we could easily erect a specially designed little house for the bell-ringers. This could be sheathed in copper and make an exciting design feature’.

The linked church hall at Tile Hill was rebuilt to a new design on the original foundations in the early C21. A pair of pulpits, at either side of the sanctuary, has been removed. Other than this, and the building of the vicarage in 1960-61 to designs by Spence and Tony Jackson, the church has been little altered since its completion.

Reasons for Listing

The Church of St Oswald and the Bell Tower, of 1954-7 by Basil Spence, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural quality: Basil Spence was one of the foremost architects working in the immediate post-war era. This is one of three church designs, commissioned by Bishop Gorton in which Spence experimented with design ideas which would be used at Coventry Cathedral;

* Technical innovation: the building is one of the first to use the 'no-fines' method of concrete construction which had previously been used by Wimpey for house building;

* Intact survival: although the church hall has been rebuilt, the church and bell tower remain in a very largely complete and original state with many internal fittings.

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