History of the church building

Domesday book

Before 1250

Domesday Book of 1086 refers to Sutton Coldfield as  follows:

“in the time of Edward the Confessor, the manor of Sutton was held by the Anglo-Saxon Earl Edwin of Mercia, and in 1086 by King William himself. For tax purposes it was a manor worth four times the value of Birmingham with land for 22 ploughteams against Birmingham’s possible six. However, in Sutton only eight ploughteams were at work after the Conquest. With 10 acres, c4ha, of meadow it had more than any other Birmingham manor. And only Yardley with 100+ hectares had a greater amount of woodland than Sutton. However, the taxable value of Yardley’s woodland stood at 40 pence, while Sutton’s, when exploited, was worth 30 shillings ie. 360 pence.” William Dargue

There is no mention of a church in Sutton, but historians are now agreed from research in other areas of the country that many churches were not listed in the Book as they were not pertinent to taxation information.  Whether there was a wooden church of any kind, at this point, or before the first stone building of Holy Trinity, will probably never be known.

Chapel of St Blaise

The church guide book (NG Evans and M Gardner, 1987) tells us that:

“The Saxon kings, the earls of Mercia and the Norman earls of Warwick in their turn came to Sutton Coldfield to hunt in the woodlands which extended from the River Tame at Gravelley Hill (Spaghetti junction) to Barr Beacon, Shenstone and Middleton.  A hunting lodge was built on the Manor Hill which, over the years, was enlarged to become a manor house with its own chapel dedicated to St Blaise, a bishop of Sebaste in Asia Manor, who was martyred in AD 316…  St Blaize became a popular saint in England and the Council of Oxford in 1222 forbade all work on his festival which is kept on 3rd February.”

When the manor house was demolished, Bishop Vesey used some of the abandoned stone to build two bridges over the river Tame, and some of the carved stones were in the tithe barn subsequently demolished for the Midland Railway bridge on High Street.  Two smaller carved stones are now in the church, but the whereabouts of the larger ones, of which images exist, is not now known (see pictures).

Carved stone
Carved stone

 

The manor house was situated in what is now the parish of Maney.

The only anomaly in all of this is that the chapel would have been served by one chaplain, yet a document dating from the mid thirteenth century is signed by several clerics, whose number and   titles imply they would have served a more substantial church than that of a private chapel.

Roger Lea writes:

“The charter of Waleran, Earl of Warwick from 1184 – 1204, has thirteen named witnesses, including Roger of Ullenhall who was probably his steward. Hugh the Prior of Canwell Priory was another witness, but both Roger and Hugh were alive during the whole of Waleran’s earldom, so no help with dating the charter. Three of the witnesses, Henry the Priest of Sutton, William the deacon of Sutton, and John the clerk of Sutton are surprising because these three clergymen must have been attached to the parish church of Sutton. The charter must date from before 1204, but Holy Trinity Parish Church is generally thought to have been founded after 1250, and the spiritual needs of Suttonians prior to 1250 are generally supposed to have been satisfied by the Earl of Warwick’s Chaplain, based at the Chapel of StBlaise in the Manor House on Manor Hill. These witnesses disprove this theory, providing evidence for the existence of a church in Sutton in 1200 served by three clergymen – perhaps it was a timber structure, replaced by the present stone church later in the century.”  Full information here.

Film

To view a very quick history of Sutton from Roman times to the plague, watch this film made by Secret City Arts with Town Junior School:  This is the Land

Development of the church building

The first stone church is thought to be late thirteenth century and the first Rector is listed as serving from 1250. This first building  consisted of a chancel and nave only.

The next major addition was the tower in the fifteenth century.  When this was built, the nave was extended. it is also thought that the aisles to south and north were added around this time, as their style is ‘perpendicular’ and there is evidence of this in the external brickwork still.  The image shows the exterior of the south aisle and a  thin string of brickwork above the windows, below the castellated top edge, which runs either side of the porch but stops where the chapel starts (on the right).

Bishop Vesey enabled huge changes to be made in his home town.  Historians now think that in 1533 he added  the two extensions at the East end to the South and North aisles, creating the areas which we now know as the Choir vestry / South Chapel and Vesey Chapel.

holy trinity parish church sutton coldfield
Holy Trinity c1300 (credit Norman Evans)
Holy Trinity by 1500 (credit Norman Evans)
Holy Trinity by 1533 (credit Norman Evans)

Galleries were added to the West end by 1750 and to the two side aisles in 1755.

An attempt to install new pews in 1758 was unsuccessful and the foundations were found to be inadequate, so the foundations, pillars, arches and roof all had to be rebuilt in 1760.  This work was overseen by William Hiorn, a noted architect from Warwick whose firm had overseen the rebuilding of the centre of that city after it had been destroyed by fire in 1694.

The box pews from that time remain in the Georgian South gallery.

The next major change affecting the exterior of the building was the raising of the nave roof in 1863. This gave it a steeper pitch and meant the clerestory windows were enlarged (the windows just below the roof around the nave).  The double-storeyed gallery that had been installed at the West end was removed.

The final large-scale alteration until the twenty-first century was the addition of the present north aisle in 1879 to give increased capacity,  following increases in population with the coming of the railway to Sutton Coldfield.

A further extension on the East side, for which detailed plans from 1891 exist in the Library of Birmingham archives, was never executed.  It was probably decided that the extra capacity would be better achieved by the building of churches in the new centres of population, and through the nineteenth and early twentieth century the other churches in the town were built – and were, one imagines,  much more accessible for the people!

The timeline is a useful guide to the key milestones of the church’s history, and a series of floor plans shows the additions to the church visually.  Information about specific features of the church can be accessed from the main Heritage area of the website (see the drop down menu at the top of the page).

Re-ordering 2016-18

From the latter part of the twentieth century the congregation and clergy sought advice on ways to make the space in the church more accessible and flexible, yet remain true to the history of the building.

After the construction of the Trinity Centre in the 1990s to create a hall on site, attention turned to the church itself in earnest, and, under Revd John Routh, feasibility studies were conducted with the congregation and community to see if funding might be found. Plans were developed with the church architects to create a facility that was fit for purpose for the twenty-first century and beyond.

Work began in January 2016, with the congregation using the Trinity Centre for Sunday worship as the changes inside the church would be whole-scale and far-reaching.  The principal reason for this was the removal of the Victorian pews and old stone slabbed floor and the replacement of underfloor heating. A new stone floor was laid throughout the church with the exception of the chancel and clergy vestry.

Alterations to the church itself were principally the new accessible entrance in the south-west corner, new doors for the west entrance and the removal of the west end section of the north gallery.

In order to have the new church entrance at the right level, the floor was lowered. This work, as well as the replacement of the floor within, necessitated archaeological excavation to record what was underneath the floor and to enable reburial of any remains at the former ground level.

Inside, the spiral staircase which had led up to the north gallery from the tower base at the west end was re-sited in the middle of the remaining gallery against the north wall and extended to reach the new lower floor height.

The space under the north gallery was divided by glass partitions to be open or to form up to three separate rooms as required.  At the south-west end of the north aisle a kitchen has been created in keeping with the style of the interior.

The chancel floor was not disturbed, but a new dais was built extending the floor area into the nave.  Ramped access to the dais was enabled on the south side.

The font was moved to the centre of the raised area in the west end (within the tower).  The new inner glass doors in the west end enable an uninterrupted view  through to the east end stained glass window.

The old library (South Chapel) was re-designed, the chancel organ removed, and the space was converted into the choir vestry.

The former choir vestry, in the nineteenth century Bidlake extension in the south west corner, was absorbed into the new entrance and toilet facilities, while the exterior has remained unchanged. The old oak door leading to the choir vestry now leads to the ladies’ toilet!

Upholstered chairs were bought for the congregation.  These allow the main space to be used not only for worship but for a range of other activities by the congregation and wider community.

New lighting and cleaning has greatly enhanced the look of the church.  Indeed, the re-ordering project earned the church two Design awards in the Sutton Coldfield Civic Society awards of 2017 for best restoration project and best overall project.

During re-ordering 2016
During re-ordering 2016
During re-ordering 2016
PLaque commemorating re-ordering 2016
Pre 2016 reordering
After 2016 re-ordering

Phase 2

The church was re-opened in October 2016 with a service of re-dedication led by the Bishop of Birmingham.

At that point part of the work in the tower had not been undertaken, partly because of funding and partly because the work required meant the removal of the 1950s pipe organ.  After some discussion it was agreed that a new digital organ was the only viable option in the space available as speakers took less space than pipework.

This second phase was undertaken in the spring of 2018, and worship  continued in church through this phase.  The removal of the organ ‘works’ in the tower enabled the west stained glass window to be visible once again as well as the painted ceiling.

Where woodwork was removed, examples were placed against the south and south-west walls under the gallery.

Further information

The information on this website is designed to give a brief summary of the key historical milestones as well as the many and varied features of the exterior and interior of the building.

A series of publications is in process to aid visitors, from a trail with web links to an illustrated guide book.  A full church history is planned as part of the heritage project of 2017-19 which will draw its information from the enormous amount of previous writing about the church and its many interesting and unique features.

References

The following list represents whole works relating to the history of Holy Trinity Parish Church or those which make significant mention of its history.  There are many press cuttings and other works known to us, so we would always be keen to hear from individuals, especially those who are undertaking research of their own that might be made known to us.

The extensive resources of Sutton Coldfield ‘s public library as well as of the City of Birmingham Archives and those of Warwickshire County Record Office are the best places to start for anyone wishing to research any aspect of our Town’s past.

Much of the history recorded here would not have seen publication or mention on this site without the tireless and meticulous work of the Sutton Coldfield Local History Research Group.

Some key historians of our church are referenced on the people pages of this site.

Author surname Author first name Title Year Publisher Notes
Bracken ?L History of the forest and chase of Sutton Coldfield 1860 Simpkin, Marshall & Co Church p76ff
Duffy Eamon Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor 2009 Yale University Press p6 and p20 refs wood in Holy Trinity from Worcester Cathedral
Dugdale William The antiquities of Warwickshire 1656 Church pp909-919.  Records office Warwick, numerous sources
Evans Norman Granville An investigation of Holy Trinity Parish Church Sutton Coldfield 1987 (typescript) The first definitive history of the church.  Several copies were made and in some cases bound.
Foster Andy tbc See Pevsner.
Frankling Marian Early Days on the Parade 1989 N/A p143-153 in ‘Scenes from Sutton’s Past’ ed. By Roger Lea
Fryer Geoffrey John Vesey and his world: a biography of Bishop Vesey of Sutton Coldfield 1997 GRD Fryer
Gardner Margaret Around the church 2000 HTSC Ed. Thebridge, S.  A collection of M Gardner’s earlier writings in the church magazine. Margaret was Church archivist
Gardner Margaret Holy Trinity Parish Church guide book 1987 and 1996 HTSC The reprint of 1996 was to change the initial and end pages to include the newly-built Trinity Centre.

Based on NG Evans “Investigation..” of 1987 (qv)

Holbeche Richard Holbeche Diary (Richard) 1893 Transcript by Janet Jordan References Sutton life in 1850s.
Holbeche Sarah Holbeche Diary (Sarah) Transcript by Janet Jordan References Sutton life 1790s to 1840s.
Jordan Janet Tall tales from the top of Trinity Hill N/A Local History Research Group
Kendall K.M From Church Hill to Vesey Gardens 1989 Sutton Coldfield Local History Research Group
Lea Roger (ed) Scenes from Sutton’s past 1989 Westwood Press Collection of articles edited by Roger Lea about all aspects of Sutton’s history.
Lethbridge JP Foul deeds and suspicious deaths in Warwickshire 2007 Wharncliffe Chap 7 – “The man who was tried twice….” (Ashford case law changes)
Midgley W A short history of the town and chase of Sutton Coldfield with two maps and many pictures 1904 Midland Counties Herald church p106ff incl woodwork.  Trinity Fair p30ff.
Moss Hilda A royal town and its park: a history for junior citizens 1973 Birmingham Public Libraries ill Sue Beeson. Originally pubd SC Corporation. Reprinted 1977,1984
NADFAS (Sutton Coldfield Branch) Report 2000 Not published – for church use only (National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies)  An inventory with images of internal features of the church including stonework, furniture, textiles, paintings and stained glass.  A new survey will be undertaken in due course to update the record, it is hoped
Osborne HWS An armchair and the pipe of peace 2017 Bannister Publications Ed Geoffrey Howell, Osborne’s grandson.  Fascinating accounts of aspects of church life in the early twentieth century, especially in chapter 5
Pevsner

Wedgwood

Nikolaus

Alexandra

Warwickshire 1966 Penguin books The Buildings of England series.  pp 424-429

A new edition of this work in relation to the Sutton Coldfield Area is in preparation by Andy Foster.  This will include a thorough appraisal of Holy Trinity.

Riall Nicholas tbc Dr Riall has alerted us to the unique nature and importance of the woodwork in Holy Trinity which was originally in Worcester Cathedral.  Some of his images are used on this website with permission.  He plans to write an article on this woodwork for the website in the very near future.
Riland Bedford Revd W.K. History of Sutton Coldfield 1891 SC Corporation (reprint 1968) Rector 1850-92.  Chap 3 p15 – Bp V; Chap 10 p73 – church.
Riland Bedford Revd W.K. Three Hundred Years of a Family Living, being a history of the Rilands of Sutton Coldfield 1889 Cornish Brothers
Sidwell and Durant G and W.J. The popular guide to Sutton and Park N/A N/A before pg 5. and pages 9-11. Records office Warwick
Smith Christine Sutton Coldfield under the Earls of Warwick 2002 Acorn (Newark) Chapel of St Blaize p 27; Manor House (incl Bp V, Miss Bracken and stones p72ff. Church p33, rectory p 35
Thebridge Stella An informal and personal history of music at Holy Trinity Parish Church to 2017 2017 HTSC Available for sale £1
Wood Revd William A. Letters printed in Parish Magazine 1985-92 Parish Magazine Booklet collected of the travel ‘letters’.  William Wood was an honorary Curate of Holy Trinity Parish Church Sutton Coldfield 1975-92