This article is designed to enable a non-specialist to appreciate the churches of one architect, working in a modern style and developing that style over the course of about thirty years. The individual churches are described in the order in which they were built but to visit them in that order would necessitate an undesirably zigzag journey. However, whichever one you start at it would be helpful to read about his earlier designs first.

Richard Twentyman

(Alfred) Richard Twentyman was born in 1903 at the family home, Bilbrook Manor House. His father was a director of the family import/export firm but was also a Master of the Worshipful Company of Turners; his mother was a talented cartoonist; and his younger brother, Anthony, became a famous artist and sculptor of the Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson generation.

Richard took a degree in engineering at Cambridge before going on to study at the Architecture Association in London, a body which was cutting edge then and still is. Twentyman would have been fully exposed to new trends in architecture there. In 1933 he joined up with H. E. Lavender who was already working in Wolverhampton.

The firm was responsible for many buildings in and around Wolverhampton for which Twentyman was the design partner. These buildings included Beatties extension in Darlington Street, the former gas showrooms on the corner of Waterloo Road and the A & E department of the Eye Infirmary.

The firm won a RIBA bronze medal in 1953 for the GKN research laboratories in Lanesfield and a Civic Trust commendation for offices in St John’s Square. They designed pubs for W Butler & Co, as well as a number of private houses.

Twentyman’s abiding legacy, however, is the series of churches, and one crematorium, which he designed and built in the West Midlands area – plus a church in Runcorn and another crematorium in Redditch – between the 1930’s and the 1970’s.

Richard and Anthony continued to live in the family home at Bilbrook until 1958 (it was then demolished) and then shared a house in Claverley. Through his brother Richard got to know artists of the day like the sculptor Donald Potter and the painter John Piper who were commissioned to produce works for Twentyman churches. Richard died in 1979.

Shortly after his death tribute was paid to him at Wolverhampton Art Gallery in an exhibition of his paintings and drawings. His picture of ‘Windmill and Pigeon Loft, Sedgley’ is still held there. The catalogue at the time described his work as generally ‘retaining within it some mystery rather than being too literal…combining a naïve charm in style with a surrealist’s eye for subject details.’


The great church architects of the Victorian and Edwardian eras designed their churches to reflect the pervasive movement in theology at that time. The influential Anglo-Catholic movement wanted to return to a mediaeval view of the church with an emphasis on the mass/eucharist/communion and a stronger separation of the functions of priest and laity. So the altar was pushed back into a deep sanctuary, in some cases behind a screen. And the architects adopted the mediaeval style of church architecture: Gothic, with the familiar soaring stone spires, steeply pitched roofs, pointed arches supported on shafted pillars with decorated capitals, windows with twisting tracery, and ornate furnishings. In many of them darkness was almost a virtue, with dark materials, stained glass windows and gloomy side aisles.

In the 1930’s, however, a new style of architecture swept into Britain inspired by German émigrés who had been building in the radically new style since the turn of the century especially at the Bauhaus Institution. New buildings in Holland and Scandinavia also influenced British architects.

The new style was characterized by strong vertical and horizontal lines and large areas of a single material such as brick, concrete or glass. Architects using the new style were keen to make a clean break with the past – no borrowing from previous styles whether Gothic or Classical. This was encouraged by the new style being applied to whole new types of buildings such as cinemas, power stations, department stores, suburban electric railway stations, apartment blocks, showrooms for motorcars and electrical goods, and the headquarters of the BBC.

Church architects soon took up the new style, though they still had to work within limitations: the layout of a church is largely dictated by what is happening in it, and certain materials are thought more appropriate than others – it would be hard to imagine a church with a steel girder frame and acres of glass like Peter Jones’s pioneering department store in London! But one of the interesting things about Twentyman’s designs is how he was able over time to move away from the traditional view of what a church should look like.

What are we looking for in Twentyman churches?

A composition of a few simple blocks making a bold and severe shell.
Increasingly imaginative ways to introduce natural light into the interior space.

A bold, sometimes stark use of materials: stone in slabs on walls and floors so we can admire its texture, colour, hardness – not because it can be carved into foliage; rendering left with a rough texture and dull colour; copper for roofs because it goes a uniformly pale green as it weathers; brick on vast, flat exterior walls.

Decorative effects usually involving the repetition of simple shapes - a row of square windows or circular ceiling lights; a pattern of repeated diamonds in wood or stone; frequent use of closely spaced vertical lines in wood, stone and glass.

The careful placing of works of art as part of the design scheme - a fine sculpture or a beautiful stained glass window.

The Churches

From the point of view of design Twentyman’s churches fall into three periods:

The two built just before the Second World War: St Martin, Parkfields in Wolverhampton, and St. Gabriel, Fullbrook in Walsall.
The five built in the 1950’s: All Saints, Darlaston; The Good Shepherd, Castlecroft in Wolverhampton; St. Nicholas, Radford in Coventry; Emmanuel, Bentley in Walsall; St. Chad, Rubery; plus Bushbury Crematorium in Wolverhampton.

The two built in the 1960’s: St. Andrew, Runcorn and St. Andrew, Whitmore Reans in Wolverhampton; plus Redditch Crematorium built in 1973.

Descriptions of the churches:

St. Gabriel's, Fulbrook, Walsall, and St. Martin’s, Parkfields, Wolverhampton.
All Saints, Darlaston, Bushbury Crematorium, Wolverhampton, Church of the Good Shepherd, Castlecroft, Wolverhampton, Emmanuel Church, Bentley, St. Nicholas, Radford, Coventry, and St. Chad's, Rubery.
St. Andrew's, Runcorn, St. Andrew's, Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton, and Redditch Crematorium.
A summary of his work

In the journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects for April 1980 Twentyman's former colleague, John Hares, wrote this appreciation:

He had a great ability quickly to appreciate the essential elements of any programme and marshal them into a plan of great clarity. By unending attention to detail he would then develop this into a finished building that was always elegant, well mannered and never dull. His work deserves study by anyone interested in the course of architecture in the last 45 years.

Text by John Wallbridge 2011. Drawings by Steve Rayner, David Billingsley, and Susan Wallbridge.
The author would be delighted to receive more information about Richard Twentyman.

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