Initially a small mission built to serve the housing estates being built after the First World War, the old chapel was rebuilt to an innovative design in 1964.
Below: St Peter's 'dalle de verre' stained glass windows
St Peter's, Hall Green, started life in a temporary building in 1922 allegedly designed by Birmingham architect Holland W Hobbiss. A mission of Christ Church, Yardley Wood, it was originally known as St Cadoc, Gwynfa Dale. Gwynfa is Welsh for 'Paradise' - the church was built near to Paradise Farm after which nearby Paradise Lane is named and St Cadoc was an early Welsh saint. The church was given its own conventional district (though not a parish) in 1954 and the name changed to St Peter's.
The temporary church burned down in 1959. A Nissen Hut, in use as the church hall, was used for services for twelve months until the Parish Hall was built. This was then used for services for four years until the new church building, designed by Norman T Rider, opened in 1964.
The tower houses a single 7 cwt chiming bell cast in 1964 by Taylor's of Loughborough.
Extract from A STUDY OF CHURCHES BUILT FOR THE USE OF CONGREGATIONS OF THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND BETWEEN 1945 AND 1970 AND OF THEIR EFFECTIVENESS IN SERVING THE NEEDS OF THEIR CONGREGATIONS TODAY by Michael Gilman, BA, FSA (Scot) - Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the School of Architecture of the University of Sheffield May 1999
St. Peter, Hall Green. Highfield Road B28.
Date: 1964. Architect: Norman Rider.
Incumbent: Revd. NE Ball
A brief description of the building, compiled for the records of the DAC, describes the church thus:
'St. Peter's church was completed in 1964 to the design of Norman T. Rider. It is constructed from reinforced concrete, is octagonal, roofed with a copper covered reinforced concrete dome and supported on reinforced concrete columns at the intersection of the sides. Around this area, which is undivided, low passage aisles form a second octagon. The East side has been made into an apse and the chapel runs off the aisle in the middle of the south side and the vestries project from the north East side of the octagon. The main entrance is through the West tower which is tall and tapering. There is an East facing window of five lights designed by Tristan Ruhlmann and made at Strasbourg. There are other windows by the same artist based on the designs of Persian prayer carpets. '
A short typescript historical note on the parish, produced within the parish circa 1970/1, supplements the information found in the Diocesan records.
A good deal of development took place in the area in the years immediately after the First World War and a local landowner, Colonel Jervoise, offered a plot of ground, on the site of the present church, on which a wooden mission church was built, dedicated to St. Cadoc, and licensed for services on 24th September 1923.
The parish includes the area known, in the 1940s, as the 'Robin Hood' area. A sub-Committee of the DRC was set up to consider the area in 1946. The report of the Sub-Committee, dated 27th January 1947, states (inter alia):
'Though the Sub-Committee was appointed following a request that the Reorganisation Committee should consider the position in the district including the many built-up roads radiating from the 29A 'Bus Terminus, the members felt that it was necessary to include in this survey the district that is strictly "Robin Hood", and in which on the East side of Stratford Road the Diocese has already a site for a Church.
The Sub-Committee considers :
(1) That the present parish of Yardley Wood should be divided ...
(2) That a new Parish should be formed ...
(3) Some of the members of the Sub-Committee considered that the site at present held by the Diocese on the East side of Stratford Road just beyond the City boundary would be an excellent position for the new Robin Hood Parish Church. On the other hand, while all recognize the great advantage of the Church being on a main road, some members are doubtful about this particular site. An arterial road with a double carriageway separates it from the thickly populated Baldwins Lane district. The location of the Parish Church here would involve drawing the parish boundaries so as to include some parts of the present parishes of hall Green, Shirley and (? ) Solihull on the East side of Stratford Road. ...
(4) In view of the very large population in the district round the 29A 'Bus Terminus, and the fact that there is neither an Anglican nor a Free Church in the District, nor, as far as is known, any Sunday School, the Sub-Committee feels that'as a temporary measure, a priest should be appointed to St. Cadoc's and be given as independent a status as may be possible.. He might be asked to give special attention to evangelistic, pastoral and children's work in the Baldwin's Lane district, though this would be some distance from his church. '
In November 1954 a priest was appointed as Minister-in-Charge, and the church was re-dedicated to St. Peter. A local architect was asked to prepare plans for a new church, and the task of building up the congregation, and building up the fund for a new church, went ahead with vigour. The fund for the new church rose from £600 in 1954 to £6000 by 1959. The number of Easter communicants rose from 54 in 1953 to 130 in 1954,231 in 1955, and 279 by 1959, and the number of children attending Sunday School over the same period rose from a handful to over 160.
The wooden temporary church was burnt down in 1959. However, in order to accommodate the growing work of the parish a Nissen Hut had been erected and this housed services for some twelve months. At this time the Parish Hall was built. It was licensed for services in June 1960 and this served as a dual-purpose building for some four years.
The designs for the new church were completed by Autumn 1960. The Bishop's Appeal Fund allowed £49,000 towards the cost, of which the parish had to repay £7,000. The estimated cost was some £2,000 above this, and a private, and anonymous loan, was given to enable the work to commence. Until the estimated cost could be covered the Archdeacon of Birmingham would not authorise the contract. Work commenced in Spring, 1961, and Z, 77 the Foundation Stone was laid on 14th July 1962. In May of that year Joseph Adlam, the Priest in Charge, was made Vicar.
Here, as elsewhere, the Birmingham Institute made its influence felt. The historical note comments:
'It was at this stage that the Vicar and Architect became interested in stained glass windows created "in concrete" by M. Tristam Rhulmann of Strasbourg. During a tour to see Churches on the Continent, where much post-war rebuilding had taken place, the Vicar and Mr. Rider met the French artist. Resulting from this a design was submitted which met with general approval and, when the window was ready for shipment, import difficulties were resolved with the Board of Trade by our then M. P., Mr. Aubrey Jones.'
The Diocesan Leaflet, April 1964, notes that:
'There have been delays ... but it is hoped to be ready by the Autumn. ' and the church was consecrated on 24th October 1964.'
Description of the church
The building is an interesting essay in reinforced concrete construction. It is octagonal in plan and is formed as a tall octagonal drum, with an aisle encircling it on all sides but the East. The aisle walls are faced, externally, in brickwork, but the main structure, the infill of the walls of the upper part of the drum, and the domed roof structure to the drum, are all formed in reinforced concrete. The walls of the upper part of the drum appear to be constructed in a 'thin-wall' system, which has suffered from some movement and cracking. The ceiling of the drum is some 35' above the floor, and the main body of the church is 93', East to West, and 75', North to South. The tower is 102' high, to the top of the cross.
At the Western side the entrance to the church is beneath a tower, also built in reinforced concrete. The tower is square in overall plan; it tapers as it rises, and each of the four faces is concave, resulting in a projecting 'wing' at each corner. There are thin rectangular slit windows in the lower part of the tower, and a bell-chamber with openings for the sound of the bells formed as rectangular panels with diagonal mullions, all formed in concrete. At the top of the tower is an open platform, surmounted by a flat 'lid' supported on four small piers, and surmounted by a cross, in metal. The tower appears to have been constructed of concrete poured in situ, and the lifts and shuttering marks are clearly seen in the interior of the tower.
There is a very useful assortment of additional accommodation, which has grown like Topsy, including a very good hall. This is housed in the Nissen hut which, with its extensions, offers an interesting example of the use of factory-made pre-cast I 73 concrete units. The whole complex is a fascinating example of the use of concrete in the 1960s.
The East window, by Rhulmann, is 18' by 16' and consists of five tall panels, set in a reinforced concrete frame. The upper walls of the drum are pierced by a series of smaller windows, also by Rhulmann, designed to represent ancient Prayer Mats as, according to the historical note: 'were hung up to open windows in extremely early Churches and have slightly wavy edges to symbolise movement in the wind. '
The Lady Chapel East window, also by Rhulmann, was dedicated as a memorial in 1970.
In contrast with the form of the building, the interior furnishings are laid out in an apparent attempt to create the late nineteenth century church which never existed here. The floor is formed of wood block, in good condition, with the seating in the form of chairs, laid out in rigid, parallel, East-facing rows. Beyond the front row of chairs is an area set aside for choir and clergy, with two rows of seating on either side, and a further two rows of six chairs on the south side, for additional choir. The furnishings are of a high standard - as would be expected at this time; the font was carved by a local stonemason and its cover made at a local Secondary School. The Processional Cross and candlesticks were made by the Birmingham School of Jewelry and Silversmiths.
The sanctuary is at the East, opposite the principal entrance, and I understand, though I have not yet found evidence for this, that this was not the original concept. The sanctuary is elliptical in plan; its Eastern half projects into an apse, formed as an extension to the main drum, and with its roof formed as an extension of the concrete dome of the drum, sweeping down towards the head of the East window. This apparent amendment to the original design sits somewhat unhappily against the clear logic of the principal structure. The Western half of the sanctuary projects into the 'nave' where it is delineated by the first of three steps. The altar is of timber, with altar rails of timber and stainless steel. The sanctuary is generally clear and unencumbered, and permits a dignified celebration of the liturgy.
Present use and condition of the building
The church gives the appearance of being well looked after, with the parish in control of any building problems. £60,000 has just been spent on repair work to the failing reinforced concrete of the East window, Lady Chapel window and the upper windows, and on re-cladding half the copper roof. The building is high, and expensive to heat, and has curious acoustics. There are still problems with the reinforced concrete of the walling of the upper part of the drum which is cracking, as is the sanctuary floor.
There are two principal Sunday services; Choral Eucharist at 9.15 am, and Morning Service and Sunday School at 11 am. There is a curious apparent mismatch between the revolutionary nature of the building, and the conservative nature of the parish and its life. The church generally works well for worship, I am told, and it is flexible enough, with movable chairs and the open sanctuary, to be adapted in future.
Some of the information and images of the stained glass windows are from the church website - http://www.stpetershallgreen.org.uk/
Interior photograph from A.C. Special Projects (ACSP) Ltd website - http://www.etnow.com/news/2012/6/acsp-supplies-energy-saving-lighting-scheme-for-st-peters-church
The extract from Michael Gilman's thesis is from Leeds University website - http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/
William Dargue 06.06.2016