Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton

by A. Elizabeth Chipping

The old church of St Andrew's was badly damaged on Sunday, May 31st 1964, by a fire, which began in the pitch pine organ loft.  Built piecemeal over the second half of the nineteenth century, there is no doubt that the most important extensions were those of F. T. Beck, 1891-1892, which were particularly imposing. The church was typical of those influenced by Anglo-Catholicism and the Oxford Movement, designed to provide colour and excitement for those parishioners whose lives were drab and uneventful, and so induce the requisite sense of wonder and obedience.

The church that was to rise, like a phoenix, in its place, was very different, yet more in keeping with its surroundings and with contemporary liturgical developments. It took two years to build and is described by Pevsner as 'Blocky, of brick, and convincing' (Pevsner, 1974, p324). The architect was Richard Twentyman, of Twentyman, Percy & Partners, a Wolverhampton firm, and the builder was Henry Willcock & Co. The Bishop of Lichfield consecrated the new building on Sunday, September 15th, 1967.

The new church cost c£48,000, not all of which was forthcoming from insurance and so, parishioners were asked to make good the deficit by means of Covenants. Despite this, there was still a shortfall and the 'temporary' electronic organ became a permanent fixture, thus leaving an empty the altar loft on the south wall of the Sanctuary. The parishioners had asked that some fixtures from the old church be incorporated into the new, and so the font, chapel altar, some pews and two small stained glass windows were carefully included in the design.

The church stands out from somewhat drab and unprepossessing surroundings. The original design brief was, in a sense, constrained by redevelopment plans, which did not materialise. Originally it was intended that Coleman St should become a dual carriageway, serving as a main route into town. The noise engendered by this at the east end of the church would have caused considerable disruption, and so Twentyman designed St Andrew's with no doors or windows facing east or south. When the plans were changed, converting a truncated Coleman St into St Andrew's Close, the design proved to be fortuitous as a public house and its car park were constructed to the east and south of the church.

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