Sacred Heart Church in Hillsborough, Sheffield provides an example of a balanced mixture of innovation and conservatism at a time when central Europe was enthusiastically embracing the changes brought by the Liturgical Movement. Commissioned by Fr. Robert Dunford to replace a temporary structure which served the small community in Hillsborough for 15 years, the church was designed by C. M. Hadfield to accommodate a congregation of up to 800 people. It was completed in 1936 and opened with a solemn High Mass.
Located on a slightly raised level, the church of the Sacred Heart dominates the landscape with a prominent bell tower which has become a landmark in the area. It’s bold massing and flat roof distinguish it from the school and the presbytery on either side, as well as the other nearby pitch-roof buildings but the external brick cladding helps it blend in the surrounding context. The main axis is south-east by north-west, close to the traditional orientation of facing the entrance towards sunset and the altar towards sunrise.
Western door with Sacred Heart statue and tympanum Photo: Mick Knapton
Going up a flight of six broad steps, one is faced with a bipartite western door flanked by two arched porches. The central portal is toped with a timpanum depicting scenes from a pilgrimage to Lourdes undertaken by the community in 1930 when a member of the parish was miraculously cured of his paralysis. Separating the two doors is a statue of the Sacred Heart and together with the tympanum, it was sculpted by Lindsey Clarke in Portland stone.
Above the semi-obscure narthex is the 22 m tall bell tower which tapers towards the top and is perforated by narrow round-arched louvered openings in groups of three and two. Construction throughout the building is steel frame and solid brickwork, and the flat roof is of hollow fireclay blocks, finished with concrete and asphalt. This roof was replaced in 1983 and again in 2008 by a slightly pitched roof because of problems with leakage. The external walls are faced with thin red Maltby metallic bricks (only 5 cm wide), using a Monk bond coursing.
Central nave with round-arched arcades, facing the sanctuary Photo: church website
The plan comprises a wide ceremonial nave with five bay round-arched arcades separating it from the two low side aisles. Above the aisles is the clerestory with 11 narrow arched windows allowing generous amounts of light to wash the warm interior faced with hand-made Lincolnshire bricks, graded in tone and pointed in lime mortar. There is also a baptismal chapel to the North side, confessionals, transepts with large rose windows and two chapels, one for St. Mary to the right of the altar, connected with the sacristy, and one for St. Joseph to the left of the altar. The side chapels have segmental east ends with sculptured figures and panelled ceilings with rooflights. The pews are made of untreated Burma teak and 14 Stations of the Cross are arranged around the internal walls.
St. Joseph chapel Photo: church website
The interior is decorated with rich and dignified mosaics designed by Eric Newton, two above the side chapels and a central one depicting the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the apse behind the marble floored sanctuary. The tabernacle is recessed within the mosaic wall, underneath Jesus’ feet and above the original green marble altar. After the Second Vatican Council, marble from the high altar was cut to form a new altar and positioned on four pillars in the centre of the sanctuary.
Despite the few changes in the second half of the 20th century, the Sacred Heart of Jesus church in Hillsborough still maintains its warmth and dignity in design, making a remarkable statement about the relationship between material, light and ritual.
Central altar Photo: A2-33
For more photographs and information about the parish history, visit the Sacred Heart parish website: http://www.sacredheartsheffield.co.uk/