St Agatha’s tall tower is a prominent landmark on the Stratford Road in Sparkbrook. Although severely damaged by a German bomb in 1940, seriously damaged by fire in 1959 and hit by the Birmingham Tornado in 2005, the church was restored on each occasion and still has the appearance intended by architect W H Bidlake in 1901.
St Agatha's Church website
The church's own website is to be found at - http://www.saintagathas.org.uk.
You might also be interested in - A History of Birmingham Places & Placenames . . . from A to Y - Sparkbrook - http://billdargue.jimdo.com/placenames-gazetteer-a-to-y/places-s/sparkbrook/.
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Designed by the noted Birmingham architect, W H Bidlake, St Agatha’s church is an expression of the freer Arts & Crafts approach to Gothic architecture at the end of the 19th century. It is a Grade I listed building.
Work on the church began in 1899 and was funded by the sale of the site of Christ Church, New Street which was demolished that same year to make way for shops and offices. With increasing commercial development in the City Centre the population had dropped significantly and the decision had been made to make the church redundant.
At the same time the population of newly developing areas, such as Sparkbrook, just outside the City Centre was increasingly rapidly. St Agatha’s was consecrated in 1901 by Charles Gore, the Bishop of Worcester, who in 1905 became the first Bishop of Birmingham. The following year St Agatha’s was assigned a parish out of Christ Church, Sparkbrook which was originally in the ancient parish of Aston, and St Paul's, Balsall Heath, originally part of the parish of Kings Norton. The old boundary between the two, the former in Warwickshire (north), the latter in Worcestershire (south) ran along Highate Road a few hundred metres south of the church.
The church is built of good quality red and blue brick with stone dressings with buff brick on the inside. The building consists of a nave and chancel, north and south aisles and a west tower. Externally the church’s most striking feature is certainly tower, which stands 35m high hard by the Stratford Road; Bidlake had planned it to be even taller.
The tower has slender octagonal corner turrets, their upper stages composed of red and white chequer-work surmounted by open work pinnacles crowned by wrought iron finials. The tower clock by Gillett & Johnston dated 1900, designed to strike the hours, was fitted with an electric winding mechanism by the makers in 1984. The tower bell, cast by Rudhall of Gloucester in 1813, was brought from Christ Church.
The west front facing the Stratford Road is richly ornamented in stone. Above the south door St Agatha is depicted with Quintianus, her persecutor. Above the north door she is seen chained and imprisoned with the figure of St. Peter holding a chalice, comforting her. Above the west window in a massive arch is a canopied niche enclosing angels of Justice and Pity beside a figure of Christ the King. Below the west window the apsidal baptistery projects from the tower. The large crucifix outside the church was brought 1971 from the now demolished St Jude’s church, Hill Street in the City Centre.
Although the chancel was virtually destroyed during the Second World War by a German bomb in 1940 and the roof destroyed by fire in 1959, it was subsequently restored to Bidlake’s design on both occasions. The church was reconsecrated by the Bishop of Birmingham in 1961. The church again suffered damage from the Birmingham Tornado in 2005. It was subject to major restoration work from 2002 to 2005, paid for largely by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The church was officially reopened in 2005 by Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.
The interior of the church light and airy thanks to a combination of the simplicity of design, the height of the building, the pale buff brick and the large clear windows and clerestory.
Between the two west entrances is the baptistery, the wood panelling and font having been brought from Christ Church whose foundation stone of 1805 is set in the south wall. The nave is of six bays with tall Gothic arches forming an arcade through to the side aisles. The arches of the tall clerestory windows above echo their counterparts below. Richly-carved foliage corbels carry the timber ribs of the roof.
The sanctuary takes up the whole of the raised chancel which is distinguished from the nave by its vaulted stone roof born by stone arches springing richly carved corbels. The large stained glass east window was designed and executed by the Newcastle-based Leonard Evetts in 1961 replacing a window destroyed during World War 2; it depicts scenes from the Book of Revelation. The crucifix above the altar survived the bomb, as did the original pulpit which stands south of the chancel arch.
The Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament is accessed via an arcade from the south side of the chancel. It was originally dedicated as a Memorial Chapel in 1919 to those of the parish who gave their lives in the First World War. The altar of Westmorland Green Stone was consecrated in 1964; the six candlesticks were given in 1979.
The present organ was installed by Nicholson’s of Malvern in 1960 and incorporates those parts of the original organ which survived the bombing and the fire. The building is noted for its excellent acoustics.
The church has always had a high-church tradition and a number of statues reflect this. On the south side of the nave is the statue of St Agatha, dedicated in 1931, restored.in 1961 when the church was rededicated and again in 1977. Also on the south side stands the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham dedicated in 1978. And in the south aisle is an antique statue of St Joseph from Bavaria, dedicated in 1991 in memory of a member of the congregation.
This is a Grade I listed building whose record can be found on the
Historic England website - https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1210221.
William Dargue 14.04.2012