I first became aware of Pugin’s Gem (St Giles Roman Catholic Church) driving home from work one day by virtue of a brown heritage sign in Blythe Bridge. I have probably driven past the church 500 times in my lifetime and never really noticed it. When you do notice, it is an unbelievable sight, towering, silent, straight as a dye high above the small Staffordshire town of Cheadle. And that is just the exterior. The secret lies within.
Simon Jenkins calls this church “the outstanding English church of the 19th Century” and in his book, England’s Thousand Best Churches, lists St Giles at Cheadle within the Top 15.
In 1840 the famous and celebrated architect Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (who designed much of the Houses of Parliament) was commissioned by John Talbot, the 16th Earl of Shrewsbury, who resided at Alton Towers to design and build a Roman Catholic church “that would have no rival”. The earl placed unlimited means at Pugin’s disposal. The church remains one of the finest examples of Gothic Revival church architecture in the world today.
The church was completed in 1846, although the style of architecture reflects early Gothic buildings such as Salisbury Cathedral which dates from 1220. Pugin, driven by deep personal beliefs, had only the best local suppliers of materials to furnish and decorate this church.
Pugin was born in 1812, the son of a French family, and died tragically young at the age of 40. Yet by that time he had designed a substantial number of churches and other buildings. However, the church at Cheadle must surely be his finest memorial. Pugin also designed St Wilfrid’s Church in Gothic Revival style at nearby Cotton.
As you walk in and turn on the lights a glorious, awe inspiring sight becomes clear. The decoration thorough every part of the church is glorious and the level of detail is simply phenomenal. The West Door showing the two Talbot lioness is exquisitely wonderful. I have never set foot in a reasonably small church decorated anywhere near as beautifully as this in this country and this is less than 5 miles from where I live.
The design is very intricate and at the same time strikingly bold almost to the point of being slightly overbearing. It was special to spend half an hour sitting and admiring the magnificence in complete silence.
This masterpiece often goes overlooked even by people from the town and surrounding area despite it towering above its surrounds and being visible from the surrounding valleys. The magic of this place is the fact you really have to step inside to appreciate its true majesty and brilliance.