St Thomas, Bath Row
Closed; only the tower still stands
This late neo-classical church was designed by the early Gothic Revival pioneer, Thomas Rickman. The church suffered a direct hit by a German bomb during the World War 2 which destoyed all but the tower and west front. The tower still stands and the grounds are now the setting for Birmingham Peace Garden.
Above: Image from Beilby Knott & Beilby 1830 'An Historical and Descriptive Sketch of Birmingham' - out of copyright.
See Google Books to access this book - http://books.google.co.uk.
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Above: Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge map of Birmingham 1839. Image courtesy of the Mapseeker website - http://www.mapseeker.co.uk/ - use permitted for non-commercial purposes.
An Act of 1818 set up a Commission with a £1 million to build churches as a thanksgiving for victory at Waterloo in 1815. Thomas Rickman was an early pioneer of the gothic revival, but he also designed two of the Commissioners' churches in Birmingham in a neo-classical style: St Peter's, Dale End in 1825 (now demolished) and St Thomas' on Bath Row. The first stone was laid in 1826, the church consecrated three years later.
St Thomas’ Church, designed in Greek Revival style, was built of stone with a tall west tower rising above two Ionic porticos. The tower is of three stages, the highest of which is octagonal and surmounted by a ball and cross (no longer there). It was the largest church in Birmingham with seating for a congregation of 2600, 1500 seats being free.
The Gazette described the character of St Thomas' as 'of great simplicity, and in every respect consistent with the sacred purpose to which it is dedicated.'
The neo-classical rather than gothic designs may have been the result of a rumour in The Quarterly Review that the Commissioners wanted no more gothic churches. This was later denied. The reason may have been economic, however. Commission Minute Books indicate that Rickman had produced two designs in Early English style which would have been more expensive than the neo-classical designs which were finally accepted. It is ironic that this early exponent of gothic should have been the last 19th-century architect to build a neo-classical church in the town.
The church was consecrated in 1829 and a parish assigned out of St Martin's in 1834. In the Chartist riots of 1839, the people tore up the railings round the churchyard to use as pikes. The church was refitted in 1893. In 1946 the benefice was joined with that of Immanuel, Broad Street, to form a united benefice, part of the endowment being transferred to St Matthew's, Perry Beeches.
All but the tower and west portico was destroyed by German bombs in 1940, and the church was never rebuilt.
The grounds were laid out for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 when the gravestones were removed and the dead reinterred at Warstone Lane Cemetery.
By 1990 the gardens were relaid as the Peace Garden. The (First World) War Memorial colonnade, which had been built as part of the Hall of Memory project in 1925, was re-erected here when Centenary Square was laid out 1989.
Acknowledgement - See British History Online - Victoria County History of Warwick Volume 7 The City of Birmingham ed. W B Stevens 1964 - http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22976.
See 'Bombed churches as memorials and mementoes: physical traces in the urban landscape' by
Peter J Larkham and Joe Nasr - http://www.docstoc.com/docs/25256688/From-vestiges-to-mementoes-the-treatment-of-churches-and-other.
See photographs of St Thomas' Church by Robert C Jones at http://www.robertcjones.co.uk/St%20Thomas%20Church,%20Garretts%20Green,%20Birmingham.html .
This is a Grade II listed building whose record can be found on the
Historic England website - https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1343348.
William Dargue 18.11.2011