Smethwick: Roman Catholicism

Page 129

A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1976.

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The first mission in Smethwick was founded by members of the Oratory in Hagley Road, Edgbaston (in Birmingham), a fact which accounts for the dedication of the church in Smethwick to St. Philip Neri, founder of the Congregation of the Oratory. (fn. 1) Edward Caswall, a member of the Oratory, was organizing the building of a school-chapel and a presbytery at his own expense from 1858, and the first resident priest, J. S. Flanagan, was also a member of the Oratory, although he left it a few months after coming to Smethwick in 1862. He lived in a house in Brook Street, which was at first also used as a mass-centre. By 1863 the school, in Watt Street, was being used for worship; part of the building (later the infants' school) was kept permanently as a chapel, and the rest was thrown open for services on Sundays. The presbytery, built on to the school, was completed in 1863. Caswall sold the school-chapel to the diocese of Birmingham for a nominal sum in 1876, but the Oratorians retained the ownership of the rest of the property until 1912.

The church of St. Philip Neri in what is now the Messenger Road section of High Park Road was built by C. E. Ryder, priest at Smethwick from 1882 to 1912 and grandson of Henry Ryder, bishop of Lichfield and Coventry (1824-36); he paid for much of it himself. The nave was opened in 1893. Over the next nine years Ryder added the west porch flanked by the baptistery and a chapel; he also improved the site and bought an organ. In 1904 he built the sacristies and the south transept containing the Lady Chapel and in 1908 completed the work by adding the choir and the north transept containing the Sacred Heart Chapel. The church is a building of brick and terracotta designed in a mixed Romanesque and Gothic style by Alfred Pilkington of London. A marble high altar and sanctuary were installed as a memorial to Ryder in 1926; the altar was moved forward to the front of the sanctuary in 1969. The church was consecrated in 1936. A new presbytery was built south of the church c. 1960. The Roman Catholic population of St. Philip's parish was some 1,500 in 1936 and 2,250 in the late 1960s.

A mission dedicated to St. Gregory the Great was started at Bearwood in 1899 in a converted stable and coach-house in Three Shires Oak Road. It had a congregation of c. 20. A priest from the Oratory was in charge until 1909. The building was extended in that year to hold 200. In 1933-4 the church of Our Lady of Good Counsel and St. Gregory was built in Three Shires Oak Road; it was consecrated in 1961. Designed by P. B. Chatwin of Birmingham, it is a brick building with classical features. The Roman Catholic population of the parish in the late 1960s was 2,000. (fn. 2)

In 1924 a chapel dedicated to St. Teresa and served from St. Philip's was opened at Londonderry in a converted stable on the Oldbury side of Queen's Road. In 1932 the owner of the property required a price for it which was beyond the means available, and the chapel was closed. (fn. 3)


  • 1. This and the following para. are based on T. E. Bird, Church of St. Philip Neri, Smethwick (copy in W.P.L.); Cath. Dir. of Province of Birm. (1914), 93-4; Cath. Dir. of Archdioc. of Birm. (1970); O.S. Map 1/2,500, Staffs. LXXII. 3 (1948 edn.); inf. from the parish priest and Miss Amy Hill, St. Philip's School (1971). The size of the 1936 population is taken from a scrapbook at St. Philip's presbytery. For Caswall see above p. 88.
  • 2. Cath. Dir. of Dioc. of Birm. (1900), 42, 101; (1910), 80; Cath. Dir. of Archdioc. of Birm. (1934), 158; (1935), 170; (1970), 48; Smethwick Telephone, 29 Dec. 1961, p. 5; A. B. Chatwin, 'Architectural Work of Philip B. Chatwin', T.B.A.S. lxxviii. 3; W.P.L., P. 4500 (view of converted stable and coach-house). The baptismal reg. dates from 1900. The 1910 Dir. states that the site for a permanent church and a presbytery had been given by the Galton family.
  • 3. Bird, Church of St. Philip Neri, 27, 29; ex inf. Miss Amy Hill.