SP 17 NW 2/88
STRATFORD ROAD (West Side)
Church of Saint James
1830-2, by Robert Ebbels. Enlarged 1882-3 probably by John Cotton of Birmingham.
MATERIALS: Nave and tower rendered, probably over brick, with slate roofs. Transepts and chancel of red brick and red tiled roofs.
PLAN: The orientation is reversed, with the chancel at the west rather than the east end. All references here are to ritual orientation. West tower with five bay nave. Chancel and crossing with big transepts, and vestries etc attached at the north side.
EXTERIOR: The exterior is very noticeably in two halves, with the tower and nave in pale grey render, in the rather spare Gothic of the 1830s, while the east end is in sharply contrasting patterned red brick, in the Early English style. The short tower has two stages with diagonal buttresses, embattled parapet and uncupsed lancet openings. There are small square stair turrets in the returns of the tower, for the gallery stairs. Four pinnacles on the parapet were removed in the mid-20th century. The main entrance is a small porch in the west bay of the south nave wall. There are triangular dormer lights in the nave roof, and the nave windows (again uncusped lancets) are evenly divided by narrow buttresses. The east end has plate traceried windows with limestone dressings, and blue brick diaper work in the gables, etc. The east wall and the prominent south transept gable have a similar arrangement of a central two-light window, its base stepped up, with lancets either side. The north transept has a simpler triple lancet, and to its west, attached to the nave is a small red-brick addition probably c. 1990s.
INTERIOR: The effect of two disparate churches squashed together is equally apparent. The nave is rendered and painted, and has a dark-stained tie-beam roof, probably of 1882-3, with leafy gilded wrought-iron supports. The 1830s north and south galleries were removed in the 19th century, and the ritual west gallery in 1969. The 1880s enlargement is of exposed red brick, with minimal dressings; the arch mouldings are mostly brick. In contrast with the nave the roofs here have a white-painted ground. The chancel arch has no capitals but continuous mouldings with brick cogging around the soffit. Twin arches of brick with some dressed stone insets sit between transepts and crossing; above are pierced vesicas with tracery forming a sort of internal window in the brick walls that divide the roof spaces. Over the crossing the roof is timbered and folded.
PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: The reredos has two big panels with angels flanking a central patterned panel with gilded mosaic: similar borders line the whole of the tiled east wall. It was supplied in the mid-1880s by Powell of Whitefriars, who also made the east window in 1886. Neo-Perp altar of oak. Floors of mutli-coloured encaustic tiles. The north transept glass is of 1897, the S of 1901. In the centre of the crossing is an altar on Gothic arched supports, designed by Illingworth & Partridge, 1997. The font (1969) is a plain circular bowl of Clipsham stone on a brick plinth, re-sited at the ritual west end in 1994. Simple but robust oak chancel stalls and nave pews with shaped bench ends, 1937.
HISTORY: St James was a chapel of ease to Solihull, on land given by the Lord of the Manor, the Earl of Plymouth. Plans were made in 1830 and the chapel was consecrated on August 2, 1832. The cost was £1,584. Little is known about the architect Robert Ebbels (d. 1860). He trained possibly under William Atkinson, and practised in the Wolverhampton area, although he also designed several churches in Hampshire, Surrey etc. St James, Shirley appears to have been his first known work. The reason for the church's reverse orientation is uncertain; Ebbels's plans show the chancel at the east end. A new ritual east end was begun in 1882, and the church reopened on January 31, 1883. The architect was 'Mr Cotton of Birmingham' (Kelly's Directory of Warwickshire, 1912 p241); presumably John Cotton (1844-1934). He came from Bromsgrove and seems to have favoured a rather hard-edged Early English Gothic in red brick, sometimes with contrasting patterns in brick or slate. His works include Bromsgrove Big School, the Bromsgrove School of Art And Science, and St Thomas, Hockley Heath (1879). The interior was comprehensively reordered in 1969 with the altar re-sited at true east under a Modernist baldacchino, a new font under the crossing, and the main entrance in the south transept. These changes were reversed and the original orientation restored in 1994.
Colvin, H., Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840 (1995), 328-9.
Pevsner, N., Buildings of England: Warwickshire (1966).
Lambeth Palace Library, Incorporated Church Building Society (ICBS) archive, file 01204, plans of 1830 (www.churchplansonline.org).
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION
The Church of St James is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* A chapel-of-ease by a little-known architect, Robert Ebbels, 1830-2, constituting the ritual west tower and nave.
* Crossing, chancel and transepts of 1882-3, on a larger scale and in patterned blue and red brick, probably by John Cotton of Bromsgrove, forms an interesting enlargement, in a distinctly different style.
* Pleasing and thoughtfully handled internal brickwork throughout the 1880s enlargement.
* Good Late Victorian fittings including a mosaic reredos and stained glass by Powell & Sons, c. 1886.