All Saints, Darlaston 1951/2
In 1952 Twentyman began work on the design for a new church in Darlaston to replace a Victorian church destroyed in the Second World War. Once again we see the bold use of brick for all the elements – the nave, porch, chapel, tower, sanctuary – with stone used sparingly for the continuous line of eighteen window mullions and the surrounds of the two entrance doors.

The emphasis is again on horizontal and vertical lines but there are more curves here – a gentle arc to the nave roof, repeated on the porch roof, and the dome of the separate chapel.

There is a severely square brick bell tower with the bells exposed. The large expanse of window leads us to anticipate a much lighter interior than Twentyman’s previous designs. Whereas at St Gabriel’s and St Martin’s the nave was dominated by large flat surfaces with monumental arches, in All Saints the great attraction is the shafts of light entering the building. The tall windows are set between deep, fin-like mullions which go some way to hiding the sources of the light; these mullions are then pierced through at ground level to create a circulatory passage; an attractive vista is created down this passage by the perspective of the receding archways. The sanctuary is separated from the nave no longer by the traditional chancel arch but by changes in colour and materials, expensive marble contrasting with roughcast grey rendering.

Behind the altar was originally a tall, pleated curtain but this was replaced by the present wonderful tapestry designed by Stephen Lee and made on a loom on the rectory table by parishioners over two years! Its height, colour and abstract design recall the tapestry of Christ in Majesty in Coventry Cathedral built about the same time as All Saints. The eagle lectern, carved from grey stone in a spare, minimalist style, is wonderfully suited to this building with its restrained use of line and shape.

There is constant repetition of linear forms: strong vertical lines in the windows, the organ screen, the closely spaced lines of the nave roof, the choir stall fronts, the entrance doors; and constant repetition of that gentle arc of the roof – in the aisle passage, the doors, and elsewhere. There is a greater variety of materials compared to earlier designs: look at the marble in the sanctuary, the mosaic under the font. Again there is a sculpture by Donald Potter – the stone reliefs on the main doorway showing angels and saints adoring the Trinity. The chapel is separated from the rest of the church, this time by steps going down. Finally, if you’re very observant you’ll notice again the red and black chequerboard floor of granwood blocks.

Bushbury Crematorium, Wolverhampton 1954

The Crematorium has the familiar characteristics of Twentyman’s work and shares many design details with his churches. It is a careful grouping of balanced masses – the West chapel, the chimney tower (like a belfry) and the office block. The walls are of buff brick laid in a complex Flemish bond but there is a lot of stone too, laid in large rectangular slabs: Clipsham stone on the north wall, window surrounds of cast stone or green slate, and green marble lining the porch. In addition the cloister is paved with Honiton stone and the terrace with York stone. All the roofs were originally of weathered green copper but the predications of thieves have unfortunately necessitated the installation of a much less attractive grey composite material.

Inside the chapel are familiar decorative features – exposed ribs in the ceiling, curved bench ends, an array of small square windows in a six by four grid. There are three fine sculptures by Donald Potter: soaring doves in the chapel, a twelve foot high archangel on the exterior wall of this chapel, and a phoenix on the circular brick tool shed in a corner of the grounds, curiously facing away from the main building, so unseen by most visitors.

The group of buildings takes advantage sympathetically of the elevated site on the edge of the city. As mourners leave the chapel they walk under an elegant, open loggia which overlooks the Garden of Remembrance and the open countryside beyond. No doubt Twentyman knew about Gunnar Asplund’s groundbreaking Woodland Cemetery on the outskirts of Stockholm, built in 1940.

Church of the Good Shepherd, Castlecroft, Wolverhampton 1955
This is the Twentyman church that gets overlooked! It is tucked away among houses and only visible close up. It has no tower or lofty walls, and no fine sculptures. But it bears many of the hallmarks of Twentyman’s designs.

The whole is a composition of cubic masses, though on a smaller scale here: the sanctuary, the nave, the porch and the low side aisle – but no chapel.

The splendid porch (which is not used, so rarely seen) is faced with large oblong slabs of two types of contrasting stone and the steps are paved with a third type. Typically you enter through large double doors with large, flush-fitting handles. Inside, the porch is lit by a porthole in the ceiling, like the porch at the Crematorium (and the old Gas Showrooms in the city centre).

The sanctuary is lit by four by three grids of small square windows in the side walls; the wall behind the altar is panelled with dark wood. There are characteristic decorative features – closely spaced vertical lines in the glass of doors and windows and the familiar curved bench ends in the choir.

Emmanuel Church, Bentley 1956

The overall design and the features of this church follow on clearly from All Saints, Darlaston. Outside we see the plain walls of brick over a concrete frame; the lofty bell tower with asymmetrical openings; the copper roofs; the row of conjoined, strongly vertical windows which light the chancel and sanctuary. The arrangement of windows on the nave south wall is reversed compared to Darlaston – here small slits up high and long windows below. The asymmetry of the tower is carried on inside – the different arrangement of windows on the north and south sides, and a very open aisle on the north side only, just about separated from the nave by slender pillars which disappear straight into the ceiling so you can’t see if they have any structural function.

Now they are painted purple; would Twentyman have approved? The rounded cruciform cross-section of the columns is reflected in the shape of the stone base of the font – the sort of attention to detail that can often be seen in Twentyman’s work.

The sanctuary is separated from the nave not by an arch but merely by the treatment of the walls and ceiling – the lines, the materials, the texture – the pattern of the ornate wooden panelling which fills the wall behind the altar contrasting sharply with the rough texture of the nave walls. In the nave long lines are almost an obsession – the nave ceiling, the wall behind the altar, even the light fittings. This time the chapel is separated from the nave by being placed at right angles to it. The church was built on an elevated site and on the west side a wide flight of steps leads from the road up to the church. Unfortunately the view of the church and the adjoining hall is made less imposing by the overgrown trees.

St. Nicholas, Radford, Coventry 1955/7

Of all Twentyman’s churches this is the most dramatic in its shape and setting – a hangar like building with walls which slope inwards as they rise up and a soaring tower on rising, open ground beside a main road. The building has a severe, industrial look to it, maybe reflecting the manufacturing base of the city. It is, unfortunately, not used any more due to serious structural defects in the concrete frame, accentuated by stresses induced by the sloping design. Did Twentyman’s engineering knowledge let him down here? The congregation now meets in the adjacent hall.

The chancel and sanctuary are clearly marked out externally with a grid of square windows which fills the side wall, and an east wall covered with a pattern of lozenges and a large cross. (Most of Twentyman’s churches have a large cross in this position.) The tall bell tower with its asymmetrical opening recalls those at Fullbrook and Bentley. On the base of the tower is a fine piece of sculpture showing Jesus standing in the prow of the boat on the Sea of Galilee, his frightened disciples looking up at him. (Is it by Potter? It is his style.) Inside there is the familiar arrangement of chancel and sanctuary differentiated from the nave by lighting and texture of materials – the east wall is covered with wooden panelling (like Bentley) in a pattern of lozenge shapes imitating the outside of that wall. There is a hark back to the side aisles of the pre-war churches but here they extend out from the lower part of the walls under low flat ceilings.

St. Chad’s, Rubery 1956/7

St Chad’s has many similarities with All Saints but is not quite so adventurous; the roof is copper covered but ridged rather than attractively curved, and the separate green-roofed chapel is hexagonal rather than round. We have again the row of vertically accentuated windows, the cross on the exterior of the east wall, and the tall brick bell tower with openings for the bells – but here the tower is separated by a short passage from the body of the church. It is always interesting to see how Twentyman arranged the essential elements. The chapel too is separated by a short passage.

The end wall of the chapel has bricks laid vertically. It is said that Twentyman arrived during construction to find the bricklayers laying them in the normal, horizontal way; he was furious and personally demolished their handiwork!

Inside all is strong vertical lines, including three thin columns like those at Bentley but here on both sides. We see a font cover with a tall wooden spike just like Radford; choir stalls with all the corners attractively rounded like Bentley, Darlaston and Radford; and the wall behind the altar has a pattern of oblong stone slabs arranged in tiers one above the other – like the wooden patterns at Bentley and Radford.

Of all Twentyman’s buildings this seems to be the most lovingly cherished!

Return to the
previous page