To coincide with Mead Gallery’s John Piper exhibition, which includes several works associated with Coventry, we step out of the gallery to take a look at some of Piper’s lesser known excursions into the West Midlands.
St. Andrew’s Church, Whitmore Reans, Wolverhampton
You’d never know it was there.
Situated in Whitmore Reans, on the north-west side of Wolverhampton, St Andrew’s Church is practically invisible.
Close to a health centre and a shopping precinct, it’s tucked away at the end of a truncated cul de sac on a post war housing estate, just off New Hampton Road West. Even standing in front of it, the church is still strangely invisible.
Designed by renowned local architect Richard Twentyman – who also designed St Nicholas’ Church in Radford, Coventry, as well as churches in Walsall and across the Black Country – St Andrew’s was consecrated in September 1967, replacing a 19th century Victorian church which had been irreparably damaged by a fire three years earlier.
The last church Twentyman built, St Andrew’s consists of a series of brick blocks, with no visible windows, giving it an almost fortress-like appearance.
The inside is arguably just as stark as the outside. Yet light streams down from hidden shafts, and the church is bathed in a blue hue from the sizeable West Window high above the entrance, opposite the altar.
Designed by John Piper and executed by Patrick Reyntiens, the loose, fluid design was inspired by the story of the fisherman St Andrew, and the Sea of Galilee, and is reminiscent of the University of Cambridge’s oil painting Garn Fawr one of a number of images the artist created of his Pembrokeshire cottage/studio.
During Evensong (back when church attendance was higher), as the sun set through the window, a richer deeper blue flooded the church and the congregation within. Interestingly, because the window is set behind and above the parishioners, many left, with their heads down, barely noticing it.
They missed a treat as it’s quite a stunning sight, its impact accentuated by the relative plainness of the church interior and stern nature of the exterior.
Access: The church plans to open for a period over Heritage Open Days in September; or by prior appointment.