Roman Catholic Church of St Mary and St Modwen


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
Statutory Address:
Guild Street, Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire


Ordnance survey map of Roman Catholic Church of St Mary and St Modwen
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Statutory Address:
Guild Street, Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
East Staffordshire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Roman Catholic church of 1878-9, by J Knight Morley to designs of John Young of London, in a Decorated Gothic style. Tower by local architect Mr Mills and completed in 1897; interior re-ordered in 1975.

Reasons for Designation

The Church of St Mary and St Modwen in Burton-upon-Trent, a Roman Catholic church of 1878-9 by J Knight Morley, which underwent some minor re-ordering in 1975, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: the composition is fairly conventional, but it is elegantly massed with lofty proportions and some good detailing; * Interior: the spacious interior is well-handled and richly embellished with murals to the east end. Furnishings include altars by John Roddis of Birmingham and Boultons of Cheltenham and chapel windows by Meyer of Munich; * Degree of survival: the church remains substantially intact and the reordering does not detract significantly from the overall interest.


From the 1830s Fr James Jefferies travelled to Burton from the Catholic chapel (Grade II) at Woodlane, Yoxall to celebrate mass, which is said to have initially taken place in an old malthouse in the town. Due to the increasing number of Catholics in the town, largely the result of immigration from Ireland, Fr James' successor secured land on the east side of Guild Street for a small Catholic school-chapel which opened in 1852. The present church, dedicated to St Mary and St Modwen, was built in 1878-79, partly funded by F M Spilsbury of Willington, Derbyshire, a former Anglican priest and a convert to Catholicism. Kelly’s centenary history attributes the present church to Dunn & Hansom of Newcastle. A handwritten chronicle states that they were asked to design the new church and were sent an older sketch proposal by a Mr Young of London (possibly John Young, Jnr.), however Dunn’s estimate was considered excessive and Young’s plans were returned, to which ‘it was thought with some modification, could be carried out with the aid of a local architect at much less cost’. J Knight Morley was then instructed to prepare new drawings. The builders were Messrs Lowe and Sons. The base for a tower was built as part of the original design and was completed, together with a spire, in 1897. Fitting out took place as and when funds allowed. The roofs, originally tiled, were replaced with slates after 1923. The north-west tower was the original west entrance, but in 1962 a large doorway was added to the west end of the nave. The following year the railed and gated south-west baptistery was dismantled to provide additional seating space, and in 1975 the interior was re-ordered to comply with the provisions of the Second Vatican Council. The high altar, font, pulpit and altar rails were removed and replaced by the present fittings. In 2000 the space below the west gallery was glazed to form a narthex.

The original 1852 school-chapel building was retained until 1910 when it was replaced by a new school (latterly the parish hall) on the north side of the church. A presbytery was added to the south-west of the church in 1880.


Roman Catholic church of 1878-9, by J Knight Morley to designs of John Young of London, in a Decorated Gothic style. Tower by local architect Mr Mills and completed in 1897; interior re-ordered in 1975.

MATERIALS: constructed of red brick, rendered to the aisles, with Stanton stone dressings, under slate roofs.

PLAN: the church is orientated north-west to south-east and consists of an aisled nave of five bays, aisles, a sanctuary with north (added in 1960) and south sacristies, and a north-west tower. There are C20 extensions to the south sacristy.

EXTERIOR: the west façade to the street has a large round traceried window in the gable, over two canopied niches containing statues of St Mary and St Modwen. The large pointed west doorway was inserted in 1962, replacing two windows.; it has a reconstituted stone surround. The tower has clasping corner buttresses, a door in the south face, and a two-light window to the west above a battered plinth. The upper two stages of 1897 are in a ‘Free Gothic’ style, with the two levels of openings linked by a stone frame. The short stone spire has flat corner broaches. The nave aisles, which were originally flanked by buildings, have no windows, except the two-light west window of the south aisle. The south aisle door is set back and is approached by a wooden porch that also serves the adjacent presbytery, enriched with French stained glass, probably displaced from the east window. The chancel east window has five lights below a central roundel with three foiled circles. There is a two-light window in the north wall of the chancel and similar windows in the east wall of each flanking chapel. The flat-roofed north sacristy was added in 1960. On the south, the original vestry has a gabled roof and two windows; it has been extended southwards. The priest’s sacristy overlaps the nave and chancel and is linked to the presbytery to the west and has C20 flat-roofed extensions.

INTERIOR: the nave is in the early Gothic style of c1300, with a large west organ gallery (now glazed below for a narthex). The canted wooden gallery front has a clock at the centre, also in a canted wooden casing, and the C20 organ is by W Hawkins and Son of Walsall Wood. The steeply-pitched nave roof is divided into five bays by six arched trusses rising from short wooden wall posts sitting on gilded stone corbels just below the clerestory string course. Each bay has two clerestory lancet windows with trefoil tracery above tall four-centred, moulded arcade arches rising from round-moulded capitals and polished granite columns, said to be from Connemara, Ireland but as they are mottled pink and not green, more likely from Aberdeen, Scotland. Within each spandrel of the arcade is a short pink granite column with a gilded foliate corbel and capital on which stands a painted statue. The eight statues of 1882 were carved by John Roddis of Birmingham. The aisle walls are articulated by shouldered-arched recesses and the roof trusses are triangular. The former baptistery in the south-west corner has a C20 tiled floor and stained glass window; the north-west bay is the original west lobby entrance under the tower. At the east end of each aisle is a small chapel; each with a Boulton of Cheltenham marble and stone altar and reredos (1898 Sacred Heart on the south, 1901 Lady Chapel to the north). The two-light windows were filled with glass in 1902 by Mayer of Munich. The font and pulpit to the east end of the nave are late C20. The tall chancel arch rises from moulded capitals on a corbelled pink marble shaft, its mouldings enriched with gilded square foliate paterae. The carved timber rood beam with painted figures is a First World War memorial. The original reredos and high altar were replaced by three reconstituted stone shelves in 1975. The stencilling around them and in the side chapels is of c.2000. The stencilled dado is of 1879, and the sanctuary walls with their figures of saints and martyrs and the scene of the Assumption over the chancel arch were painted by Jeffries Hopkins in 1889. A small pointed-arch door leads to the north sacristy; that to the south is now glazed. There is a two-light window in the north wall and a stone piscina to the south wall. Taller moulded stone arches rise from marble columns giving access to the side chapels. The stencilled chancel roof is divided into two bays by a pointed-arched truss rising from a foliate stone corbel.

Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the linked presbytery and the former school building and boundary wall are not of special architectural or historic interest.


Books and journals
Scarisbrick, JJ, History of the Diocese of Birmingham 1850-2000, (2008), 114
Burton-upon-Trent: Roman Catholicism. A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 9, Burton-Upon-Trent. Victoria County History, 2003 , accessed 27 November 2015 from
Kelly, R A, St Mary and St Modwen Catholic Church, Burton-on-Trent 1879-1979 Centenary Souvenir
The Architectural History Practice Limited: Churches in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham: An Architectural and Historical Review Prepared for English Heritage and the Archdiocese of Birmingham (2015)


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

The listed building(s) is/are shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.

End of official listing

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