22 August 2023

A pagoda and a former
synagogue at the heart of
China Town in Birmingham

The Chinese Pagoda in the centre of the Holloway Circus roundabout is now a landmark in Birmingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

I was in Birmingham last week, on my own self-guided walking tour of the former Jewish Quarter and in search of the synagogues of the city. To my surprise, I found myself in Birmingham’s China Town, face-to-face with the Chinese Pagoda, which is one of the city’s landmarks, and visiting the city’s first Chinese restaurant in a former synagogue.

The most prominent landmark in China Town in Birmingham is the seven-storey granite Chinese Pagoda surrounded by Chinese style gardens and sculpture. It was erected in 1998 and is situated on the outskirts of the Chinese Quarter in Holloway Circus also commonly referred to as ‘Pagoda Island.’

The Chinese Pagoda is a 40-ft (12 metre) granite carving in the centre of the Holloway Circus roundabout on the Inner Ring Road. It is said more than 60,000 motorists see the Pagoda every day. It was carved in Fujian in China, and was donated to the city 25 years ago by the Wing Yip brothers, the founders of a local Chinese supermarket chain.

The small area surrounding pagoda and in the middle of the roundabout has been turned into a Feng Shui garden, with a large Taijitu, a traditional Chinese symbol, embedded in the pavement. The Wing Yip brothers said it was their way of saying thanks to the city and its people for providing a home for them and their families and for the city’s support over the years.

China Town is just five minutes’ walk from New Street Station, close to the Bullring. The neighbouring areas include the Irish Quarter in Digbeth, the Arcadian Centre, the Gay Village and the Theatre District to the west.

The Chinese Quarter first emerged as an informal cluster of Chinese community organisations, social clubs, and businesses in the 1960s centred on Hurst Street. The area developed as Chinese-owned businesses, organisations and social clubs began to cluster in the area. The area developed with the arrival in Birmingham of migrants of Chinese heritage from Hong Kong after the end of World War II.

The Chung Ying Cantonese Restaurant opened in a former synagogue on the corner of Wrottesley Street in 1981. It was the first Chinese restaurant in the area now known as China Town.

The Chinese Quarter was officially recognised in the 1980s. China Town now includes Hurst Street, Ladywell Walk and Pershore Street. Many buildings have Chinese architectural features and art, including Chinese style roofs and murals. A large event there each year celebrates Chinese New Year.

The Wing Yip Chinese supermarket chain was founded by Woon Wing Yip in England in 1970. The company expanded into wholesale and export international trade and real estate development and management, with shops in large commercial centres.

The original shop in Birmingham now serves as the headquarters of the chain, handling international trading, property investments, and online shopping, as well as serving as a warehouse and national distribution centre. The chain now has superstore branches in Manchester, Croydon and Cricklewood.

The founder of the chain, Woon Wing Yip, was a Hakka born in Dongguan County, Guangdong, China, in 1937. He arrived in Britain from Hong Kong in 1959 with £10 in his pocket, but in time became the first Chinese tycoon in Britain.

Wing Yip was made an OBE in 2010 for his services to the Oriental food industry. At the time, Wing Yip said ‘I was so surprised and feel very honoured, especially after coming here as an immigrant. I knew when I arrived in the UK that I wanted to be more than a waiter and quickly became head waiter, then opened my first restaurant with my business partners in Clacton in 1962. I would like to thank all my staff who have provided me with their support and dedication and made the success of Wing Yip possible.’

The Chung Ying Cantonese Restaurant opened in 1981 and was the first Chinese restaurant in China Town in Birmingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (86) 22 August 2023

Holy Cross Church, Lichfield … Joseph Potter’s design influenced Pugin’s design of Saint Michael’s Church, Gorey, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began on Sunday with the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XI, 20 August 2023).

Before this day begins (22 August 2023), I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.

In recent weeks, I have been reflecting on the churches in Tamworth. Throughout this week and last week, I am reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at a church in Lichfield;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The entrance to Potter’s turret in Holy Cross Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Holy Cross Church, Upper Saint John Street, Lichfield:

My photographs this morning (22 August 2023) are from Holy Cross Church, Upper Saint John Street, Lichfield.

Joseph Potter (1756-1842), who was born in Lichfield, who had a considerable practice in Staffordshire and the neighbouring counties in the late 18th and early 19th century. Potter had some bruising encounters with Pugin in the 1830s, but also influenced Pugin in ways that the great master of the Gothic revival in church architecture never acknowledged .

Early in his career as an architect, Joseph Potter was employed by James Wyatt, one of the most prominent architects of the day, to supervise his alterations to Lichfield Cathedral in 1788-1793 and to Hereford Cathedral in 1790-1793.

At this time, Potter also worked with Wyatt in repairing Saint Michael’s Church, Coventry (later Coventry Cathedral) in 1794 and on rebuilding Plas Newydd, Anglesey (1795-1823), for the 1st Marquess of Anglesey. At Plas Newydd, Potter was responsible for designing and building the Gothic chapel. He also carried out alterations between 1816 and 1830 to the Gothic Hall at Beaudesert House, on the edges of Cannock Chase, for the Paget family, Marquesses of Anglesey.

Potter became the established architect at Lichfield Cathedral, overseeing the repairs to the south-west spire (1794), the restoration of the vaults in the north transept (1795-1797), and the restoration of the west front (1820-1822).

Potter was also the architect in 1800 for Newton’s College in the Cathedral Close. The college was established by Andrew Newton as an almshouse for the widows and unmarried daughters of clergy, particularly those who had served in Lichfield Cathedral. Newton was the son of a Lichfield brandy and cider merchant, and endowed the college with a bequest of £20,000.

The college buildings are a range of 16 dwellings with a central doorway designed by Potter and built in brick with stone facings on the south side of the road from Beacon Street. The first almswomen moved in probably towards the end of 1803. Potter also designed a house at the south-west corner of the range in Beacon Street that provided a further four dwellings. The college trustees transferred the building to the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral in 1988.

In 1816, Potter designed the Causeway Bridge at Bird Street, crossing the Minister Pool and linking the Cathedral Close with the rest of the city.

Towards the end of his career, Potter also designed Holy Cross Church, Upper Saint John Street, Lichfield, in 1835. Father John Kirk bought the site for a Roman Catholic church in Upper Saint John Street in 1802 and within a year had built a house and a chapel that was originally dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

When the chapel was enlarged and rebuilt by Joseph Potter in 1834, the dedication was changed to the Church of the Holy Cross. The Church is a brick building in a Gothic style with an entrance front and turret of Tixall stone in a mixed Romanesque and Gothic style, designed by Joseph Potter.

While Potter was working on Holy Cross Church in 1834, the great Gothic revival architect, AWN Pugin, first visited Staffordshire and stayed in Lichfield during this architectural tour of the Midlands and the West Country ‘in search of the picturesque and the beautiful.’

Pugin’s stay in Lichfield was memorable for two reasons. First of all, he arrived late at night, and in the dark he crept unwittingly into the wrong bedroom. Aware of something soft and warm in the bed, he found it to be ‘the thigh of a female occupant already turned in.’ There were loud screams and shouts. Chambermaids came rushing in with lighted candles. Pugin had some difficulty in convincing everyone that he had made a genuine mistake.

But Pugin was in for another unpleasant shock when he visited Lichfield Cathedral the next day. Taken aback by the refurbishment of the cathedral 30 years earlier by James Wyatt (1746-1813), he declared: ‘Yes – this monster of architectural depravity, this pest of Cathedral architecture, has been here. need I say more.’

Referring to Lichfield’s own architect, Joseph Potter, he said: ‘The man I am sorry to say – who executes the repairs of the building was a pupil of the Wretch himself and has imbibed all the vicious propensities of his accursed tutor without one spark of even practical ability to atone for his misdeeds.’

Pugin found the fabric of the cathedral had been mutilated by ‘the Wretch’ – and he also described Lichfield as ‘a dull place – without anything remarkable.’

Pugin returned to Lichfield in 1837. After staying briefly at Wolseley Park with Sir Charles Wolseley, a recent convert to Roman Catholicism, Pugin returned to Lichfield. By then, Potter had completed Holy Cross Church, and Pugin would add a screen and other furnishings in 1841 … although they have long disappeared.

Potter’s designs for Holy Cross, including his entrance door and his turret of Tixall stone in a mixed Romanesque and Gothic style, later influenced Pugin’s designs for Saint Michael’s Church, Gorey, his only Romanesque-style church in Co Wexford. Potter’s West Doors of Lichfield Cathedral would also inspire Pugin’s design for the doors of Saint Chad’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Birmingham.

It was only after this second visit to Lichfield that Pugin arrived for the first time at Alton Towers, the home of the Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury, on 31 August 1837, staying there for the next four days. Lord Shrewsbury’s Irish titles included Earl of Wexford; Lady Shrewsbury was Maria Theresa Talbot, was the daughter of William Talbot of Castle Talbot, Co Wexford, and the favourite niece of John Hyacinth Talbot MP, of Ballytrent, Co Wexford.

The visit changed Pugin’s career for ever, and transformed the ecclesiastical landscape of both Staffordshire and Co Wexford. Lord Shrewsbury’s influence led to Pugin rebuilding Alton Towers and designing great works of architecture including Saint Giles’s, Cheadle, and Saint Mary’s, Uttoxeter. The patronage of Lady Shrewsbury’s uncle brought Pugin to Wexford the following year.

Potter was the architect at Oscott College from 1834 to 1839, but he was replaced by Pugin when the college buildings were almost complete.

Potter’s other works in Lichfield and the surrounding area include:

● Christ Church, Burntwood (1819-1820);
● Chetwynd Bridge, Alrewas (1824);
● Freeford Hall, enlarged for the the Dyott family (1826-1827);
● The High Bridge, Armitage (1829-1830);
● Saint John Baptist Roman Catholic Church, Tamworth (1829-1830).

Potter lived in Pipehill outside Lichfield and had his office in Saint John’s Street. He was the county surveyor of Staffordshire for 45 years until his death in 1842. He had three sons who all carried on the family profession:

● Robert Potter (1795-1854), the eldest son, was architect and designed many buildings.
● Joseph Potter Jnr. (1797-1875) took over his father’s practice after his death. He designed the Guildhall (1846-1848) and the Clock Tower (1863) in Lichfield.
● James Potter (1801-1857), the youngest son, was a civil engineer who worked mainly on canals and railways.

Inside Holy Cross Church, Lichfield (Photograph Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 19: 23-30 (NRSVA):

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’

27 Then Peter said in reply, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?’ 28 Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’

The interior of the Church of the Holy Cross, Upper John Street, Lichfield, today … the screen and furnishings designed by Pugin in 1841 are no longer here (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Modern-Day Slavery Reflection – The Clewer Initiative.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

For more resources: www.theclewerinitiative.org

The USPG Prayer Diary today (22 August 2023, International Day Commemorating the Victims of Violence Based on Religion or Belief) invites us to pray in these words:

We pray for an end to all forms of religious persecution and sectarianism.

The Collect:

O God, you declare your almighty power
most chiefly in showing mercy and pity:
mercifully grant to us such a measure of your grace,
that we, running the way of your commandments,
may receive your gracious promises,
and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Lord of all mercy,
we your faithful people have celebrated that one true sacrifice
which takes away our sins and brings pardon and peace:
by our communion
keep us firm on the foundation of the gospel
and preserve us from all sin;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Holy Cross Church, Upper John Street, Lichfield … the door is reflected in AWN Pugin’s designs for Saint Michael’s Church, Gorey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org