St. Gabriel’s, Fulbrook, Walsall 1939

When Twentyman’s first church was built it must have seemed starkly modern in its suburban setting. The lines are all severely horizontal and vertical and the lofty brick walls are relieved only by thin stone dressings round the few rectangular windows. Asymmetry, seen here in the placing of the tower, was to be a feature of Twentyman’s work.

The interior has a traditional layout and features but in a simpler, plainer style. So the long nave leads to a chancel arch but this is high and plain. There is no east window – this area is lit by side windows almost out of sight. The nave walls are cut through by plain semi-circular openings into aisles, but these are narrow and only for circulation – no sitting behind a pillar here! The ribbed roof is a strong and powerful element often repeated by Twentyman in his other churches.

The curved ends of the roof ribs and the matching pulpit and lectern might seem influenced by the Art Deco movement, as with the rather theatrical nave lights. On the other hand the aisle windows with their horizontal shape, stone mullions and lead glazing bars recall the earlier Arts and Crafts style.

The Lady Chapel is quite separate from the main body of the church and here the darker materials and subdued lighting do seek to convey something of the mystery of Gothic churches.

The church has a tubular bell system which is broadcast from speakers in the tower, used for weddings, funerals and as ‘calling bells’ for Mass.

St. Martin’s, Parkfields, Wolverhampton 1938/9

St Martin’s was designed and built at the same time as St Gabriel’s and bears many resemblances. The outside is again a vast brick box (like a Thames-side power station or the back of an Odeon cinema) with a minimal amount of stone dressing, the monumental appearance made even more striking by the imposing west tower with its larger than life statue of St Martin.

Inside we see again all the features of St Gabriel’s – plain white walls with simple semi-circular arches; a ribbed roof; a shallow sanctuary lit by narrow side windows; narrow, vertical clerestory windows in the nave but this time higher up; and once again ornate lights held out on brackets into the nave.

The choir has more art deco features – the rounded walls and the glass screen. In the Lady Chapel, which is again quite separate from the body of the church, we have again the contrast between the circular Art Deco style ceiling lights and the horizontally rectangular Arts and Crafts windows. The eminent sculptor, Donald Potter, a pupil of Eric Gill, carved the font and the pulpit as well as the statue of St Martin.

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