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Roman Catholic Church of St Thomas and St Edmund with Lych Gate and walls to its south-east

A Grade II* Listed Building in Erdington, Birmingham

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Latitude: 52.5285 / 52°31'42"N

Longitude: -1.8362 / 1°50'10"W

OS Eastings: 411208

OS Northings: 292299

OS Grid: SP112922

Mapcode National: GBR 3GQ.4H

Mapcode Global: VH9YR.4Q41

Entry Name: Roman Catholic Church of St Thomas and St Edmund with Lych Gate and walls to its south-east

Listing Date: 21 January 1970

Last Amended: 26 April 2016

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1076125

English Heritage Legacy ID: 217662

Location: Birmingham, B23

County: Birmingham

Electoral Ward/Division: Erdington

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Birmingham

Traditional County: Warwickshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): West Midlands

Church of England Parish: Erdington St Barnabas

Church of England Diocese: Birmingham

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A Roman Catholic church of 1848-50 founded by Rev Daniel Henry Haigh, designed by Charles Francis Hansom in a C14 Gothic style.


A Roman Catholic church of 1848-50 founded by Rev Daniel Henry Haigh, designed by Charles Francis Hansom in a C14 Gothic style.

MATERIALS: red sandstone with ashlar dressings with pitched roofs covered in Welsh slate.

PLAN: the plan of the church comprises a nave with double aisles and a long chancel with chapel to the right (the former sacristy). Attached to the south-west is a sacristy, added in 1933. The west end has, to the left-hand side, a tall tower, square in plan, now comprising the main entrance. To the right-hand side is an oratory, converted from a former porch in 1932, with a turret, octagonal in plan. The church is linked to the former abbey buildings (listed Grade II, now a school in separate ownership and not under assessment).

EXTERIOR: The centrally positioned entrance (now no longer used) at the west end of the church has a Gothic arched doorway with cusped moulded heads. Above is a large Gothic arched window with six lights and a traceried head with a small Reuleaux triangle window above. To the left is a corner buttress forming part of the tall four stage tower with full height buttresses. It has traceried windows, a rose window at the third stage, and paired traceried lights at the top bell stage. The tower is capped by a stone broach spire with three tiers of lucarnes. The base of the tower contains a new entrance on the north side and is enclosed by sections of elaborate wrought iron railings as also found around the corner at the west front of the church.

The north side of the nave has projecting double aisles each with pitched roofs, the outer one with traceried windows, and with a small projecting transept (the former sacristy). The south side of the nave has a continuous lean-to aisle with a former two storey porch containing an elaborately decorated doorway, now blocked, set between decorative buttresses, and with a Gothic style three-light window above containing a statue at the centre. Behind the porch on the left is the small octagonal turret with an eight-gabled bell stage and a crocketted spirelet. Two bays east of the porch is an outer aisle similar to that on the north side under its own pitched roof. Behind it, only partially visible, is the single storey of 1933.

The east end of the church comprises a four bay long chancel with two-light windows in each bay and a large Gothic arched five-light window at its east gable end containing a large rose window in the top tracery.

INTERIOR: the internal wall surfaces have been painted white. Throughout the interior contains elaborate and intricate decorative and figurative carvings on head-stops, corbels and plinths, including statues. The large east and west windows and the windows to the aisles contain C19 stained glass.

The nave has arcades to either side with chamfered pointed arches resting on octagonal stone columns with moulded capitals and bases. The timber roof to the nave is boarded, with two tiers of cusped wind-braces, and with principal trusses with cusped arch braces brought down to wall posts resting on stone corbel heads.

The roof to the south aisle also has cusped timbers, but the roof to the taller north aisle has plain rafters. That to the outer south aisle (containing a tabernacle, see below) has a timber panelled ceiling richly painted with suns, stars, angels and saints. There are low arched openings leading to the confessional in both aisles, and triple moulded arches to the outer aisles. The inner north aisle has a cusped archway at its east end, next to the chancel, leading to the chapel of St Alphonsos, created in 1933-4 by Brother Aloysius (Frederick Winders), from the original sacristy. It has a painted timber ceiling and is lined with wood panelling re-used from the Abbot's Chapel.

The tall pointed chancel arch is moulded with octagonal responds and the raised, deep chancel behind has an elaborate open timber roof. The walls to both sides of the chancel are adorned with wood carved figures of saints. The oak carved reredos by Pippet of Solihull, introduced in 1897, has a pinnacle throne for the Blessed Sacrament surrounded by four painted angels, with niches to either side containing further paintings alternated with statues showing the Benedictine Apostleship of England. The stone altar and pulpit, and the stone tabernacle in the outer south aisle, and the tomb altar with the figure of Christ in the Passion Chapel, all have elaborate figurative carving in a similar style (artist unknown). At the east end of the inner south aisle stands the Lady Altar, reconstructed in 1947. The Stations of the Cross in carved and painted wood (artist unknown) are mounted on the walls in the aisles but were previously attached to the nave piers. The former entrance porch (now blocked off) at the west end of the church, contains an oratory dedicated to the English Roman Catholic Martyrs.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: a mid to late C19 lych gate with boundary walls, stands c16m south-east of the church. It is built in red sandstone ashlar with a stone hipped roof. It has two pointed entrance arches, originally hung with cast iron gates now lost, that in the main arch being a later replacement. The gate is set within a stretch of walling (approximately 30m long) with moulded copings.


By 1839 there were several Catholic families in Erdington, and a mission was established which was served by a succession of wealthy converts, culminating in the Rev Daniel Henry Haigh, an antiquary and the son of a Lancashire industrialist. He was appointed to Erdington in 1848 and used his inheritance to build a new church, commissioning the architect Charles Francis Hansom (1817- 1888), a prominent Roman Catholic Victorian architect primarily designing in the Gothic Revival style. The new church, dedicated to St Thomas and St Edmund, was consecrated by Bishop Ullathorne, Vicar Apostolic, on 11 June 1850.

In 1876 Father Haigh retired and the parish was given to the care of Benedictine monks from Beuron, Germany, who had fled Bismarck's Kulturkampf persecution. Around this time the church became known as Erdington Priory. In 1878 the church was given a ring of eight bells cast by Messrs W Blews & Sons of Birmingham (illegal in Catholic churches until 1926); these were recast in 1950 by J Taylor & Co of Loughborough. Father Haigh died in 1879 and was buried in his church with a commemorative brass.

The Benedictine community grew with the first of a range of monastic buildings built adjacent to the church in 1879, and in 1896 the priory was raised to the rank of an Abbey and further monastic buildings were introduced. A tower was added to the west end of the church by Harry Haigh, nephew of the founder, and a south-west porch (converted into an oratory dedicated to the English Martyrs in 1932) with an octagonal turret.

In 1897, to mark the thirteenth centenary of the conversion of England, a reredos by Pippett of Solihull, carved with scenes depicting the Benedictine Apostleship in England, was introduced behind the High Altar. The church had become too small by then, and as such plans for a new and much larger abbey church were prepared by Thomas Garner, but this was never built.

During the First World War some of the German Benedictine monks were interned and by 1922 they had all returned to Germany. Subsequently the abbey was given into the care of the Redemptorists, and the church was repaired in 1922-4, with its spire partly rebuilt. In 1933 a new sacristy was built and the old sacristy was converted by Brother Aloysius (Frederick Winders) into the chapel of St Alphonsos, re-using wood panelling from the Abbott's chapel in the monastery.

In the early 1980s, due to a desire for greater visibility and active participation for the congregation, the stone rood screen was removed and a new organ was installed. In 1994 the monastery buildings were sold to Highclare School (listed at Grade II). The Redemptorists moved to smaller accommodation but continued to serve the church and parish.

Reasons for Listing

The Roman Catholic Church of St Thomas and St Edmund with Lych Gate and Walls, Erdington, Birmingham, of 1848-50 by Charles Francis Hansom, is listed at II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest: it is a particularly interesting example of a mid-C19 abbey church by Hansom, a nationally important architect who specialised in Roman Catholic church architecture, in a C14 Gothic style displaying good quality architectural detailing;

Interior, fixtures and fittings: its rich interior, including high quality carvings, decorations, fixtures and fittings, is of a particularly high standard;

Historic interest: it is a key building in illustrating the history and development of Roman Catholicism in the West Midlands from the mid-C19 onwards;

Group value: it has particularly important group value with the attached Erdington Abbey (now Highclere School) and the Abbey Hall, together surrounded by landscaped grounds, including a churchyard.

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