Stanbrook Abbey and Stanbrook Abbey Church
Roman Catholic abbey buildings and Church of Our Lady of Consolation.
DATE AND ARCHITECTS: Stanbrook Hall [now Presbytery] C18/early C19; Abbey buildings of 1838 by Charles Day; New Church and cloisters of 1869-1871 by E.W. Pugin; Holy Thorn Chapel of 1885-1886 by P.P. Pugin; Abbey buildings by Peter Paul and Cuthbert Welby Pugin and George Coppinger Ashlin of 1878-1880, 1895-1898 and 1898-1900.
MATERIALS: Whitewashed brick with slate roofs, red brick with ashlar dressings and tiled roof.
PLAN: Single storey, two and three storey ranges with attics and basements set around two open, cloistered quadrangles with the church and Via Crucis cloister dividing them.
The PRESBYTERY building [formerly part of Stanbrook Hall] is of Flemish bond brick to which fragments of colourwash still adhere,with a hipped slate roof. The entrance front has a projecting, single storey porch at right of centre with Tuscan semi columns at either side of a four panel door with rectangular fanlight which formerly stood on the opposite,north east face. To left of this is a round arched staircase window at mezzanine level. At right are two further bays divided by an external chimneystack and at left is the former, lower service wing which probably formed the C18 cottage to which a third storey was added in the early C19. The right reveal is connected at ground floor level to the cloister added by E.W. Pugin and at first floor level there is a blocked tripartite window with panelled parapet above. The rear north west front has four bays with stone cills and keystones to the windows and a panelled parapet. There is a projecting stone band between the floors. Two of the first floor windows are blocked. At right is later brickwork where a projecting wing was demolished.
The interior has a good staircase with three moulded balusters to each tread, a ramped handrail and column newels.
THE WING CONTAINING THE ABBEY ADDITIONS OF 1838 by Charles Day is to the north-west of the original Stanbrook Hall [to which it was formerly connected]. The chapel wing has to its north west face a series of seven round arched windows and dummy windows at first floor level with an eighth,matching niche. At ground floor level are a projecting extern chapel at left and a lean-to, early C20 loggia at right. The chapel has a stone cornice and a parapet which ramps up at left. The north east face has three bays with a central door and twelve pane sashes. The former chapter house has three round arched windows at ground floor level.
The interior of the chapel has a rectangular body with canted walls at the ritualistic east end and an altar recess with a fixed altarpiece on canvas showing a Lamentation lit by an oval skylight. The former chapter house has iron columns at the south east end. The school has a staircase with stick balusters and a ramped handrail with wreathed curtail. The two classrooms have their original fittings, including double connecting doors, window shutters, high dado rails and nails and brackets for hanging charts on the walls.
THE CHURCH ADDED BY E.W. PUGIN IN 1869-1871 is approached by cloister walks, also designed by him which connect to the earlier abbey buildings. These have simple, square headed windows and encaustic tiles to the floor and the roofs were originally of Seddon's Roman tiles [one pitch of the Priests' cloister survives]. The approach to the west door of the chapel was formerly by the Via Crucis which has traceried windows with stained glass. Between, and connected by a continuous hood mould, are placed fourteen Stations of the Cross, carved by R.L. Boulton. The cloister is vaulted by transverse ribs which are closely set. The Chapel has similar vaulting throughout. It has five bays to the nave of two light windows with quatrefoil and cinquefoil heads divided by offset buttresses and two and a half bays to the chancel marked by two large windows on the north side and five lancets on the south. The south side has the projecting Extern chapel and Chapel of the Holy Thorn and the north side has a projecting, gabled organ loft and a gabled porch, to the left of which is a lean-to storeroom of the 1960s. The roof of the church is covered in John Pollard Seddon's Patent Roman tiles. At the west end is the tower and circular stair turret, both of which have alternating bands of brick and ashlar to their full height. The turret has a battered base and a conical cap with iron cross finial. The ends of the stair treads can be seen in the brickwork. The tower has a sunken two light west window with sexfoil head above which is a clock face and two louvred belfry openings and there are similar windows to the flanks. The parapet is battlemented with gargoyles to the angles.
The interior has a floor of Minton tiles showing symbols of the faith and order with wide black borders which form a grid. The capitals, by R.L. Boulton, are richly carved and six are set low above the choir stalls. They show angels bearing musical instruments and singing [as in the Benedictine Rule which cites Psalm 137/8 " In the sight of the Angels I will sing to you" ]. The stalls are of New Zealand satinwood and mostly fitted between 1871 and c.1926. The western end was re-ordered in 1894 when the west approach from the Via Crucis was blocked and the abbatial throne,to the design of P.P. Pugin, was added. The pews and desks have richly carved bench ends. The organ case to the north side is also of Kauri pine and carved with trumpeter angels in roundels and a passage from Psalm 150 "Omnis spiritus laudet Dominum". At the western end above the abbatial throne is an opening through to the tower space or belltribune which is vaulted. The eastern [chancel] end was re-ordered in 1971 with the loss of the original altar, altar steps, reredos, iron screen and rood. The floor was also re-paved.
Wall painting by Clayton and Bell of 1878 had been painted over at some date before 1950 and this was further covered with a textured wall coating. The altar of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Extern Chapel was also removed. There remain stained glass windows by Hardman to the chancel and chapel including the large east rose window which shows Our Lady of Consolation protecting Benedictine nuns.
The Chapel of the Holy Thorn was added to the south side by P.P. Pugin in 1885 and is built externally in the form of a medieval reliquary shrine. It contains two tombs with recumbent effigies, that to Dom. Laurence Shepherd [d. 1885] by P.P. Pugin, carved by Boulton and that to Abbess Gertrude d'Aurillac Dubois [d. 1897] by Dame Beatrice Brown OSB. The altar has paired niches at either side of a central quatrefoil. On the surface is a tabernacle of alabaster with a silver door set with garnets showing a Pelican in her Piety. The reredos takes the form of a Pieta set in a deep foiled niche with richly carved arch at either side and below which are columns of coloured marbles.
THE EAST AND NORTH RANGES OF ABBEY BUILDINGS built to designs of P.P. and C.W. Pugin and G.C. Ashlin in 1878-1880 [East range and north range basement] and 1895-1898 [North wing].
EXTERIOR: The ranges continue the overall aesthetic of the chapel with walls of red brick and stone dressings. There are continuous moulded sill bands and flush bands at the level of the springing of the window arches. The east face has twelve bays with four pane sash windows to the ground floor with arched, blank tympana and hood moulds with figurehead stops. To the first floor are alternating paired and single lancets and the second floor has gabled dormers [above the paired lancets] and single square headed windows. There are four gabled attic lights. To the right is a projecting gabled wing with three bays and a rose window to the gable. At the corner between the east and north faces is a canopied niche containing a statue of St. Peter by Boulton. The north face has the projecting kitchen and scullery range at near centre. These have Tudor Gothic windows and a slate roof of shallow pitch. To the left are four bays, similar to the east face and there is a projecting gabled wing at left with a rose window to the gable. To the right of the kitchen are a staircase with three mezzanine windows to right of which are the five double height windows of the refectory, each of three lights with transoms and with four centered heads and Perpendicular tracery divided by offset buttresses .At second floor level are transomed three light windows and there are two light gabled dormers above. The walling at far right is keyed to accept the walling of the unbuilt school wing. The sides facing the cloister garth are similar to both wings and have paired lancets with hood moulds and uncarved block stops at ground floor level and are divided by offset buttresses. There are lancets with cusped heads to the first floor and square headed windows to the second floor. The north range has exposed two light basement windows with an iron railing and there are two light dormers with bargeboards, sceptres and iron finials. The left of the north range is keyed to receive the brickwork of the unbuilt west range.T he roof to the east range has been replaced with artificial slates and a number of rooflights to the workrooms and attics have been fitted to both ranges.
INTERIOR: The ground floor rooms of both ranges lead off from cloister corridors. These have floors of black and buff tiles laid diagonally and beamed ceilings.The chief architectural feature is formed by the series of wide, transverse vaults which have hollow and keel mouldings tying into the chamfered piers. To the base of each chamfer are offset and broach stops. At the angle between the two cloister walks the north east staircase leads up to all floors. It has massive treads of limestone which rise in a dogleg around a central light and heating well, the side walls of which are punctured by arcuated triangles, and which has a wrought iron balustrade to its upper flight. The refectory has a beamed ceiling and four trusses with tracery to the spandrels supported on stone corbels. To the west end is panelling and a large wooden crucifix and at the east end a pulpit with canopy. The last three are by Robert Thompson of Kilburn. The kitchen, pantry and scullery conform to their one plan form as originally built, although fitted with modern equipment. The cellars beneath the north range also retain their plan for the laundry rooms and the original large bread oven made by Parker of Birmingham in the tiled bake house.
At first floor level the abbess's room and its ante-room retain their fireplaces and the linen room has its original cupboards and linen presses lining the walls. The corridors to the top three floors are all centrally heated with radiators, but the cells have only pipes. Each cell has its original door with chamfered detailing. The circular inlets for the ventilation system are in situ as is the dumbwaiter leading from the pantry to the first and third floors. The nuns' common room or calefactory on the second floor above the refectory has been formed from two smaller rooms and has a fireplace at each end. The timber staircase to the north wing has an elaborate balustrade with chamfered timbers set vertically and diagonally.
THE SACRISTY added to the east end of the church in the 1899 has Tudor fenestration and projecting gabled wings at either side, and a parapetted flat roof to the centre in front of the chapel rose window. The left gable has a three light window with traceried head and the right gable has a central projecting chimney with canopied niche containing a statue of the Virgin and Child by Boulton.
INTERIOR: The principal room is top lit with a trio of doors leading to the staircase hall, the Nazareth and the basement. Above is a traceried screen. There are fitted cupboards including one which connects to the boys' sacristy and a wicket and the curved wall of a former "turn" for passing objects through to the enclosure. There are two timber staircases both of which have an elaborate balustrade. The C20 Cloister Ranges and Sun Room are largely functional in their design. They are not considered to be of interest.
HISTORY: The Benedictine nunnery for English ladies at Cambrai founded in 1623 was expelled from France in 1795. In 1835 they bought Stanbrook Hall, a small country house adapted by Richard Case in 1755. The County Surveyor for Worcestershire, Charles Day, added a classical range including a chapel, chapter house and school rooms from 1835-38. Between 1869 and 1871 a new, Gothic church was built to the designs of E.W. Pugin, together with connecting cloister passages and an elaborate cloister leading to the west doors of the church. It seems likely that E.W. Pugin designed a quadrangular group of abbey buildings but these were not put up, instead a new set of plans for an ideal abbey were drafted by two members of the Benedictine order, Dom. Laurence Shepherd and Dom. Hildebrand de Hemptinne and these were partially realised, with some alterations, by P.P. Pugin, C.W. Pugin and G.C. Ashlin between 1878 and 1898 and the Chapel of the Holy Thorn was added by P.P. Pugin in 1885-86. In 1963-64 Martin Fisher of Bath added two further ranges of cloisters to complete one quadrangle. The high altar was altered in 1937-38 and in 1971 the eastern end of the church was greatly simplified with the removal of many original fittings.
SUMMARY OF IMPORTANCE: Stanbrook Abbey is a rare and largely complete example of early Roman Catholic architecture in this country following the passage of the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1827. The mid-C19 additions, by the noted Catholic architectural practice of Peter Paul and Cuthbert Welby Pugin and their brother-in-law G C Ashlin, possess clear special architectural interest, and are of historical interest too for their place in Catholicism's flourishing in High Victorian England. Function, decoration, architectural quality are all evident, but the alterations to the church and the impact of later additions warrant listing in Grade II.
SOURCES: N.Pevsner, Buildings of England, Worcestershire (1968) ,246; Victoria County History, Worcestershire Vol 4 (1924), 184; Michael Hill, Conservation Plan on behalf of the Benedictine Community at Stanbrook Abbey, Callow End, Worcestershire, April 2005; Roderick O'Donnell,The Pugins and the Catholic Midlands (2002),116-117.