St Thomas’ Church

(Based on the official “Statement of Significance” drawn up for the Church Council in 2007)

History of the Area

In the 19th century Keresley was a very desirable area. Many prominent Coventry businessmen kept large houses in this village, and a number of these got together to found the church building and the parish. By the end of the 19th century the area was still rural, dominated by a few big houses. During the 20th century the general housing of Coventry was developed right up to the churchyard wall on the South and East sides, to the North there is still only the Vicarage and a (Roman Catholic) Secondary School.

Setting of the church

Today the church stands in an extensive churchyard (closed) of about 4 acres, fronting onto the busy B4098 Tamworth Road. There are some large very mature trees (subject to Tree Preservation Orders) set in the grass between the church and the road. The oldest part of the churchyard is surrounded on the South, West and North sides by a fine sandstone wall with triangular coping. The City Council have designated the area as a Greenbelt, but it is not a Conservation Area. The attractive setting is popular for weddings and other events.

Within the West end of the graveyard there are monuments to quite a number of the wealthy families of this part of Coventry including William Hillman the car maker. There is also a large War Memorial situated between the main road and the church tower.

Description of the church

The church was completed in 1847 to designs by Benjamin Ferry, the land and stone were the gift of T.B.Troughton. The whole premises are quite small, they were described by one architect as “Disney Style” (ie built at slightly less than life size to accentuate the romanticism). The original church consisted of a 4-bay Nave (16.5m x 8m) with West end Gallery, a Chancel (5.5m x 5.5m), and a West end Tower with Spire (approx 30m high). There is a small South porch.

Externally the walls were all of dressed sandstone, pierced with rather small gothic arched windows on the North and South sides. The only stained glass is from the 1870s at the East end: a rose window depicting the Beatitudes above 3 lancets showing the Resurrection and the raising of Lazarus and the widow of Nain’s son. The roof is covered with clay tiles, over exposed black wooden beams. Internally the walls are white painted plaster with a simple string moulding. The tower now houses 6 bells (recast in 1980) and a clock whose 2 faces were recently restored. There is a large octagonal font placed in the main aisle in front of the main door. The organ by Whitely (1897) is located in the Gallery.

Because of the small size of the church, it was built with 2 very narrow aisles between the pews in the Nave and Balcony to maximise the seating. Clearly this was impractical, and since then nearly half the seating has been removed, the central block of pews was taken out many years ago making way for the organ in the balcony and a strangely wide aisle in the nave. About 40% of the pews on the North side of the Nave have been removed at various times, together with all the original chancel furniture apart from the communion table. The pulpit was also moved to its present nave position about 100 years ago.

The pews once all stood on plinths of suspended wooden flooring which by the time of the 1st World War was rotting, at that time the decision was taken to make a solid concrete floor under the pews with wood block covering. A small amount of suspended flooring remains although it is showing signs of rot. The centre of the nave is the only part of the church to have York flagstones (It has been infilled in patches with concrete where an earlier heating system had vents all the way down.) The original Chancel flooring was replaced with tiles in the 19th century, then covered over in the 20th century – see below.

A flat roofed vestry was added in the 1970s to the South East side, this is in matching (salvaged) stone. The communion table was brought forwards within the chancel and the platform extended in wood to accommodate this, there is a carpet glued onto the tiled floor. In order to provide better access to the Gallery, a large wooden staircase was erected in the nave which overshadows the Font. (The alternative access is via a very steep and narrow spiral stair in the Tower.) In the late 1980s a church room was added on the North side of the Nave, called the Galilee Room – due to shortage of funds this was rendered externally in coloured mortar instead of matching stonework. Part of the Nave floor has been covered by a loose carpet for a number of years in order to make it look better.

There remain about 25 original pews, they are made of oak with large Fleu-de-Lys ends and low doors to the aisle. Some are still in their original position though some were rearranged, there is evidence of some rot and woodworm damage. The pews arouse very mixed feelings amongst present day church users, some people express a fondness for them even though though most agree that they are uncomfortable, and the large “Poppy Heads” provide a very effective block to the lines of sight in the Nave. A modern gas fired central heating system was installed in 2000 which cuts through the base of every pew.

The Church Council has been working for a number of years on plans to improve and extend these premises, it is hoped to add the details of this scheme to the website in due course.