Looking at Buildings

, printed from the Looking at Buildings website on Monday 26th August 2019

St Philip's Cathedral

Birmingham, St Philip's Cathedral

ST PHILIP'S CATHEDRAL, Colmore Row.
Open Fri 10th & Mon 13th 0800-1800; Sat 11th 1430-1700; Sun 12th 1000-1600.

St Philip's, by Thomas Archer, 1709-25, is an building of national importance, exceptional in what was a modest C18 town. It is small for a cathedral, only 150 ft. long, and was a parish church until the Diocese was created in 1905. But it is one of the earliest English town churches of the C18, and in Alexandra Wedgwood's words "a most subtle example of the elusive English BaroqueGlossary Term [1]."

Archer was a local man, whose brother Andrew owned Umberslade Hall in Warwickshire. But he was also the only English architect of the generation after Wren who knew Italian BaroqueGlossary Term [2] at first hand. He is known to have travelled in Europe in 1690-1, going via Holland to Italy, visiting Padua and almost certainly Rome, where he would have seen at first hand the work of Francesco Borromini: S. Carlo alle Quatro Fontane, and S. Ivo in Sapienza. It is the Borromini-like treatment of details such as pediments, and use of dramatically contrasted convex and concave shapes, which make St. Philip's so remarkable. Also impressive is the grand but sympathetic late C19 enlargement by J.A. Chatwin, done with the building's new status already in mind.

 

History

The church was built by a Commission set up under an Act of Parliament of 1708, obtained by John Hough, Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, because St Martin's was already inadequate for the growing town. The Commissioners were mostly local landowners. The active members, who signed most of the annual accounts, were Lord Ffoliott, Lord Digby, Sir Charles Holte, Arden Adderley, William Jesson, William Inge, and Andrew and Thomas Archer. Thomas, significantly, signed the final accounts in 1718. A gentleman, holding the lucrative court position of Groom Porter, he must have given his design free.
The site was a fieldGlossary Term [3] called the Horse CloseGlossary Term [4], sold at favourable terms by its owners, Inge and Elizabeth Phillips, who was rewarded by the dedication. At the time they were developing Temple Street and Temple Row; so St Philip's is also an estate church of the type familiar in C17/18 London. Construction began in 1709 and the body of the church was completed for its consecration in October 1715. It cost £5073 13s. 10d, nearly all raised by small local subscriptions, though Sir Charles Holte gave £100, Bishop Hough £50, Lord Digby £40, and Lord Weymouth £20. The tower was completed between 1722 and 1725, when George I gave £600. We know the craftsmen's names: Joseph Pedley the stonemason, William Davis who carved "ye 4 Pediments and Windows over ye Doors", Richard Huss the plasterer, and the carpenters and joiners, including William Westley, Thos Lane, Richard Perks, John Blun, and William Ashes (or Ashcroft). Richard Pimley the brickmaker built two kilns on site. The original stone came from Andrew Archer's quarry at Umberslade, and from nearby Rowington, brought by Wiiliam Shakespear. It did not last, and re-facing of the naveGlossary Term [5] and aisles started in 1859 at the SW corner, supervised by the sculptor Peter Hollins. In 1860 the parish petitioned to remove memorials from the outside walls for "the recasing with stone, which the said church is about to undergo", and the work was completed by 1871, when Yeoville Thomason re-decoratedGlossary Term [6] the interior. The church was re-pewed in 1814, with a central three-decker pulpitGlossary Term [7], and the pews were reconstructed conservatively, still as boxes, by Orford & Nash, in 1850.

In 1883-4 J.A. Chatwin extended the church E with a full chancelGlossary Term [8], replacing the original small apseGlossary Term [9] and the E naveGlossary Term [10] bayGlossary Term [11], created NE and SE vestries, and opened out the ground floor of the tower, removing the W galleryGlossary Term [12]. He was the intermediary between Edward Burne-Jones and Emma Villiers-Wilkes, the donor, for the superb stained glass windows installed between then and 1898 (see below). In 1905 the pews were replaced by chairs. In 1940 an incendiary bomb burnt much of the roof off. Philip and Anthony Chatwin repaired the damage the 1947 and re-faced the tower in 1958-9. Michael Reardon and Partners re-ordered the interior in 1980-2, and built an underground meeting room and song school in the former burial vaults in 1989.

Exterior

A preliminary warning: every stone one sees is 19th or 20th century, though details appear to have been very carefully reproduced. Hollington stone. Archer's PLAN is a simple aisled naveGlossary Term [13] and W tower, with none of the complexity of his later churches at Deptford and Westminster. What distinguishes it from Wren's City of London churches is the use of a giant orderGlossary Term [14] to control the elevations all the way roundGlossary Term [15]: sober DoricGlossary Term [16] pilasters, coupled on the W bayGlossary Term [17], and with a full entablatureGlossary Term [18] throughout. A controlling giant orderGlossary Term [19] appears only once before on a English church, at Dean Aldrich's All Saints, Oxford (1706-10), though Sir William Wilson's Hall Green church has a naïve treatment without a proper baseGlossary Term [20]. Archer would have known both. The walls have channelled rusticationGlossary Term [21], highlighting the plain pilasters and bases, and above the windows are raised blocks - a three-dimensional, plastic treatment. The doors and "ye 4 pediments" are particularly Borrominesque: the W ones have incised pilasters tilted outwards, enclosing a fluted architraveGlossary Term [22] tilted inwards, and hugely extended triglyphsGlossary Term [23] supporting a pedimentGlossary Term [24] broken forward in the middle and with its ends tilted backwards to mirror the pilasters. The E ones have plain panelled pilasters but extraordinary bulbous shapes above like table legs supporting big segmental pediments. The "windows over ye doors" are all oval, with scrolly surrounds growing into goggling masks at the tops. The urns were originally over alternate pilasters, though the full set was present by 1756. Chatwin's E end follows Archer's elevationGlossary Term [25] closely, even to the quarter rounds flanking the E window, which follow the design of the small C18 apseGlossary Term [26]. Only the windows are taller, so the raised blocks are omitted.

The W end projects forward with a big segmental pedimentGlossary Term [27]; its sides have deep round-headedGlossary Term [28] and circular niches. The TOWER above is where the RomanGlossary Term [29] BaroqueGlossary Term [30] character is strongest. Above the convex shape of the pedimentGlossary Term [31] is a tremendous bell stage with four deeply concave sides running to paired CorinthianGlossary Term [32] piers set at the diagonals; then the clock stage with big paired volutesGlossary Term [33] to the diagonal faces, supporting an elongated convex octagonal dome. The clock faces incorporated into the design are also a step beyond London churches of the period. Above, an open colonnaded lanternGlossary Term [34] encircled by an ironwork balcony is topped by a boars' head WEATHERVANE, the Gough crest. All the way up, convex and concave shapes succeed each other in dramatic contrast, but the result is perfectly unified.

Birmingham, St Philip's Cathedral

Interior

Entrance is by the D-shaped SW porch, its curving galleryGlossary Term [35] stair retaining the original iron balustrade and dadoGlossary Term [36]. The NAVEGlossary Term [37] has five bayGlossary Term [38] arcades of square fluted DoricGlossary Term [39] piers, the lower parts reeded. Arches with plain soffits, perhaps a C19 alteration as early illustrations show panellingGlossary Term [40] and rosettes. Stepped keystones with big attached consoles. Deep entablatureGlossary Term [41] with four part architraveGlossary Term [42], plain friezeGlossary Term [43], and corniceGlossary Term [44] with alternating leaf consoles and rosettes: coved ceiling. The galleries are flush with the piers. Their fronts have simple fielded panels, of the "Norway oak" supplied by S. Fosbrook in 1714. The original giant CorinthianGlossary Term [45] orderGlossary Term [46] survives in the pilasters at the W end, their unusual low capitals with one big tier of leaves and flying volutesGlossary Term [47]. The combination of two ordersGlossary Term [48], a BaroqueGlossary Term [49] treatment deriving from Michelangelo's Capitoline palaces, is Archer's. The E vestries were extended into the aisles in 1905. The FLOOR is by Michael Reardon, 1980, Hopton Wood stone, with black and white paving for the extended chancelGlossary Term [50].

Chatwin's tower archGlossary Term [51] tactfully follows the design of the arcades. But looking E the view is dominated by his magnificent chancelGlossary Term [52], enriching the BaroqueGlossary Term [53] character of the interior, with its three bays divided by giant CorinthianGlossary Term [54] columns and sections of entablatureGlossary Term [55] coming forward on each side, with answering pilasters behind. The marbling of the shafts is by Michael Reardon, 1979-80. The capitals are grand but more conventional than Archer's. The inspiration must be Cockerell, who gave the young Chatwin a reference with Charles Barry. The narrow setbacks of the coved ceiling between each bayGlossary Term [56] faithfully follow the treatment of the original E end. The dramatic stroke is the omission of a chancelGlossary Term [57] archGlossary Term [58]. The ceiling runs straight through, in the chancelGlossary Term [59] coffered with rosettes.
FURNISHINGS. Former ALTAR RAILGlossary Term [60] at the E end. A beautiful wrought-iron piece by Robert Bakewell, 1715, with rosettes, sprays of leaves, and religious symbols: flaming urns, and St James' cockleshells. - STALLS by Chatwin, 1884, rich RenaissanceGlossary Term [61] designs with his typical scrolled tops to the ends. - BISHOP'S THRONE and CANONS' STALLS by P.B. Chatwin, 1905. - ORGAN CASE. Early C18, certainly pre-1733, probably by Thomas Swarbrick, who repaired it in 1748. Big putti heads, and towers with traditional crownGlossary Term [62] and mitreGlossary Term [63] finials. Facing the N galleryGlossary Term [64], a second ORGAN CASE with beautiful carved trophies of instruments. Made by Dr Justinian Morse for Barnet church, Herts. before 1749; moved several times, latterly to St Chrysostom, Hockley; installed here c.1980. - New forward ALTAR RAILGlossary Term [65] by Michael Reardon, 1980-2. - PULPITGlossary Term [66]. A simple C20 wooden drumGlossary Term [67]. - S aisleGlossary Term [68] ALTAR, heavy, with blind arcading, probably by A.S. Dixon, 1908. - SCULPTURE. N aisleGlossary Term [69]. A crucified Christ carved from railway sleepers, and two standing figures, by Peter Eugene Ball, 1984. - BOX PEWS. Two survivors, probably of 1850, at the W end. More in the galleries.- Bronze DOOR HANDLES, S aisleGlossary Term [70], E end door, finely fashioned as three-winged heads of a lion and bull, Evangelical symbols (the other two on the inner face). By David Wynne, part of the Bishop Barnes memorial (see below). - DADOGlossary Term [71] along the aisles and roundGlossary Term [72] the pierGlossary Term [73] bases made from C18/19 pews. - FONTGlossary Term [74] by John Poole, 1982. A lettered bronze-gilt bowl. - PLAQUE in the SW porch recording George I's donation "upon the kind Application of Sr. Richard Gough to the Rt. Honourable Sr. Rob. Walpole", 1725. - Four PORTRAITS of early rectors, N galleryGlossary Term [75],
STAINED GLASS. Chatwin always intended his new chancelGlossary Term [76] for stained glass. His good luck was that the patron of the work, the heiress Emma Villiers-Wilkes, agreed also to meet most of the bills for three new E windows, and that the greatest stained-glass designer of the day, Edward Burne-Jones, agreed to design them. Burne-Jones was born closeGlossary Term [77] at hand in Bennett's Hill in 1833, and - like Chatwin himself - had been baptized in the church. By the mid-1880s he was at the height of his powers, and his long-time collaborators William Morris & Co. knew exactly how to translate his painterly designs into the bolder outlines and simpler colours the medium required. Even so, Burne-Jones grumbled about his 'pittance' of £200 per design - the Morris firm gave no special favours, even to their old colleague. The subjects are the Ascension (centre, E), 1885, and Nativity and Annunciation to the Shepherds (NE) and Crucifixion (SE), both 1887-8. The choices were the artist's own, overruling his patrons (though Emma did manage to exclude oxen from the NE window, saying 'I wish the "Nativity of Our Lord" not a Cattle Show'). Colours are vibrant and exciting, with reds and blues predominant; designs are simple and dramatic, with a strong division between upper and lower zones, and with figures of an exceptional scale. - The W WINDOW of 1897 glows from within the tower. A separate commission, in memory of Bishop Bowlby of Coventry (d. 1894; rector here 1875-92), it shows the Last Judgment.

Monuments

Many small tablets, with much contrast of limestone and grey marble and many urns, the general quality higher than at St Martin's or St Paul's, reflecting the fashionable status of the church. Particularly appealing the ones with obeliskGlossary Term [78] tops in the naveGlossary Term [79] piers. These include, N side, Chief Justice Oliver of Massachusetts, d.1796, the inscription stressing his "love and loyalty to his SOVEREIGN"; Francis Rogers M.D. d.1804 by P. Ruow. Oval tablet, snakes coiling roundGlossary Term [80] a club, for a doctor, in the pedimentGlossary Term [81]. Girton Peake d.1776, oval tablet with soul rising above, odd relief in the predellaGlossary Term [82]. S side, William Higgs d.1733, the first rector. With coat of arms, and foliage scrolls in the predellaGlossary Term [83]. William Vyse d.1752, stag's head and cross in the predellaGlossary Term [84]. Revd. Charles Newling d.1787 with an elegant low urn. Edward Villiers Wilkes d.1833 by Peter Hollins, urn and mourning woman solid but with a calm expressive face. Entrance to chancelGlossary Term [85], S side, Bishop Ernest William Barnes d.1953, small bronze portrait relief by David Wynne, 1954. N aisleGlossary Term [86]: N wall, Rebecca d.1791 and William Grice d.1790 by William Thompson. Henry Perkins d.1817 by William Hollins with his typical drooping foliage. W wall, Sobieski Brookshaw d.1811 by Thompson, with scrolls above and a very severe urn. Moses Haughton "an eminent artist" d.1804 by Ruow. Impressive portrait medallion, books (one labelled 'Sketches') and palette below. Sir Edward Thomason d.1849. Small tomb chest above, and a bird holding a twig, symbolising hope. Royal Worcestershire Regiment war memorial, 1920 by A.S. Dixon. An unusual and original arrangement of five tablets, central rectangle with top and bottom triangular projections surrounded by four diamonds. S aisleGlossary Term [87], S wall, James Bayley d.1834, William Taylor d.1825, and Edward d.1786 and Hannah Wilkes d.1820, all three by William Hollins. W wall, Beatrix Outram d.1805 by Westmacott. A rose in bud above, a rose broken off below. Edward Outram Archdeacon of Derby d.1821 by William Hollins. Draped tomb chest above. William Westley Richards d.1865 by J. Gow, still in the C18 tradition but more decorative. In the tower, S side, George Yeoville Thomason d.1896 by Roddis & Nourse, alabaster. Then a group brought from Christ Church when it was demolished in 1899. Revd. John George Breay d.1839 with oval portrait medallion and pedestalGlossary Term [88] tomb. Revd. Albert Workman d.1881 by T. Chaplin. John Binnie d.1856, GothicGlossary Term [89]. Edward Palmer d.1818 by William Hollins, with draped urn, foliage and good lettering. N side, Henry Price d.1890 by W. Lindley. In the SW lobby David Owen d.1823 by William Hollins, typical, with draped urn and droopy foliage.

Last updated: Monday, 26th January 2009