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Church of St John the Divine, The Church Hall and Bell Tower

A Grade II Listed Building in Binley and Willenhall, Coventry

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.3877 / 52°23'15"N

Longitude: -1.4636 / 1°27'49"W

OS Eastings: 436601

OS Northings: 276768

OS Grid: SP366767

Mapcode National: GBR HRW.K2

Mapcode Global: VHBX5.L73X

Entry Name: Church of St John the Divine, The Church Hall and Bell Tower

Listing Date: 17 February 2015

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1422601

Location: Coventry, CV3

County: Coventry

Electoral Ward/Division: Binley and Willenhall

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Coventry

Traditional County: Warwickshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): West Midlands

Church of England Parish: Willenhall St John the Divine

Church of England Diocese: Coventry

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Summary

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

Description

A church, church hall 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 choir and again to the sanctuary. The church shares a porch at its north-western corner with the community hall which extends to the south. The bell tower is set to the north-west of the church and joined to it by a covered, processional pathway which connects to door in the north flank.

CHURCH
EXTERIOR: the western gable end is entirely glazed with ribbed panels. At the centre is a cross formed of steel beams. The eastern gable end is blank. Both flanks have bays formed by the portal frames which are marked by chamfered joints in the concrete panels. Windows have projecting, concrete surrounds and are set in the lower wall. 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 glazing, casting light onto the altar. On the north side this is of ribbed glass and on the south side there are a series of five similarly shaped, concrete frames with angled surrounds which run up the wall and contain clear glass. There is a fascia board, above the eaves, which surrounds the building. At the west end the lobby which acts as an entrance to both the church and church hall adjoins on the south side.

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 red, with occasional, bright blue or green panels, making an abstract pattern. Original fixtures designed by the architect include the choir stalls with their ribbed fronts and storage for music. Both of the reading desks, set at either side of the steps up to the choir, are in situ. The altar and the altar rails with their attached kneelers, both have inlaid 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. At the west end a circular, wooden font has fluted column and a copper bowl. A red sandstone tablet, inscribed with a cross, is fixed to the north chancel wall. The stone from which it is carved was taken from the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral. Heating dials for the original thermostats are set into the column uprights of the portal frame and skittle-shaped light fittings are also original. To the centre of the eastern wall is a glass sculpture by Chris Browne representing features of the parish, installed in 2000.

CHURCH HALL
The community hall is approached from the shared lobby and has a monopitch roof with glazing across the whole of the upper eastern wall. The west wall has clapboarding to the lower body, above which are slit windows and the south wall is of yellow brick with a door and porch to left of centre.
The interior of the hall has a row of metal poles to the west, which support the roof. There are fitted lockers to the south wall and the western side has a range of doors providing access to a kitchen, changing rooms and lavatories.

BELL TOWER
The tower has four open stages, of ascending height, with corner posts and lintels of re-enforced concrete. The lowest stage is bare, but the upper 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, from which is suspended a central bell. To the top of the building is a cross, made from hollow metal poles.


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 about materials were started at an early stage in the design process with the contractor, Wimpey. 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.

Reasons for Listing

The Church of St John the Divine, Robin Hood Road, Coventry, together with its church hall and bell tower, are 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 on a larger scale, which had previously been used by Wimpey for house building;

* Intact survival: despite some restoration, the church, the church hall and bell tower remain in a very largely complete and original state with many internal fittings.

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