St Chad’s is a unique church because it is round. With a capacity of 1200 people the building has the ability to make everybody feel close to the centre of the church. At the heart of St Chad’s spirituality we believe that all are included in the body of Christ. The round setting of the church complements this theology. The three angels on the ceiling are a representation of the Holy Trinity, reminding us that we are always in relationship with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
The uniqueness of the round building reminds us of the importance of this theological understanding.
Since early medieval times there has been a church in Shrewsbury dedicated to St Chad, first Bishop of Mercia in the 7th century. By the end of the 18th century the large but ageing building (see photo to left below) had fallen into disrepair, and cracks had appeared in the tower. The great engineer, Thomas Telford, advised that it was in danger of collapse, and he was right. One morning in 1788 the parishioners awoke to find they had a pile of rubble but no church. The centre photo below shows all that remains today of “Old” St Chad’s.
After much argument a new site was found on the derelict town wall, and the Scottish architect George Steuart, who had designed nearby Attingham Park and a church in Wellington, was commissioned. He submitted various designs, and although the Parochial Church Council preferred a rectangular one, ‘due to a misunderstanding’ he actually completed a circular plan that had been considered but rejected. Time was short, however, and it became the final design. Stones from old St Chad’s were used as foundations and the foundation stone was laid on St Chad’s Day, 2 March 1790.
The new church was opened on 19th August 1792 (see photo to right above). Its design differs from typical Georgian buildings, and mixes Ionic, Doric and Corinthian styles in its facade and interior. The central hall, with a sweeping double staircase to the gallery, is more like a country house than a church, as is the decoration on the ceiling of the nave. Yet the church is a child of its time, for the delicate banisters and the slender pillars supporting the gallery are early products of the Industrial Revolution then beginning in Shropshire.
On November 15th 1809 Charles Darwin was baptised in St Chad’s Church.
The circular nave is unique, with pews arranged like a maze. The original ‘three-decker’ pulpit has been replaced by one in Arts and Crafts style in copper and brass, placed under the rim of the gallery. This opens a clearer view of the Sanctuary, which, bordered by Corinthian pilasters and columns, contains a fine reredos and a colourful window, made by the renowned Shrewsbury firm of Betton and Evans.