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
(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.
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
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
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.’
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.
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
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
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.
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
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 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
||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
||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
The author would be delighted to receive
more information about Richard Twentyman.