Over the centuries Holy Trinity has been a showcase for some exquisite woodwork.
We have no idea if there was ever a timber-framed church on the site before the stone building, but we are ever vigilant for potential information about this. Internally there is woodwork in the fixtures, notably the galleries, screens, pulpit and doors, but also, of course in the various types and styles of seating that have been used in the church over the centuries.
Some of the woodwork has ‘been and gone’, notably where galleries have been erected or pulled down, sometimes in a relatively short space of time, for example, when there were galleries for schoolchildren at the new Town School in the early nineteenth century. However, the most significant woodwork in the church is that acquired from Worcester Cathedral in the nineteenth century – it is considered unique and of national importance (see below).
The Worcester Cathedral woodwork
One of the most unusual and exciting additions to the interior of Holy Trinity has been the substantial amount of carved woodwork acquired for the sum of £100 in the nineteenth century from Worcester Cathedral.
We have only in the last few years come to realise the rarity of some of this woodwork, having previously been advised that it was all Jacobean. Some has now been dated to the reign of Mary I (1553 – 1558). Mary was the Roman Catholic queen who was the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, and Henry’s eldest child. This has opened up a new understanding of the importance of the woodwork in wider church history circles. It would seem that this woodwork is quite literally unique, representing the only known ecclesiastical furniture from the reign of Mary I.
“Sutton Coldfield possesses an art work that stands alone, that is of national importance and represents the only major and significant art work to survive from the Marian period.” (Nicholas Riall, BA (Hons), Dip Archaeol, PhD, 2013)
We also have a small amount of wood from the first Coventry Cathedral (St Michael’s) which was used in 1884 together with some of the Worcester oak to construct the inner vestibule to the great West door.
There have been numerous galleries on every wall of the church except the East since the first were added by Bishop Vesey in the sixteenth century.
1533 – Side aisles with galleries were added by Bishop Vesey (1) on North side of church (now called Vesey aisle to distinguish from Victorian-era addition of further North aisle) (2) on South side.
1708 – West gallery added.
1740 – Vesey’s galleries replaced on both North and South aisles.
1760 – Both North and South galleries extended Westwards. West gallery enlarged (“Four Oaks” gallery) with room for choir and organ behind and above.
1825 – Additional galleries built for school children of the new Town School (1) to east end of north side (now Vesey aisle and chapel) for the girls, and (2) on the East end of the south gallery for the boys. Both external entrances on the East wall are still visible externally, and internally only for the girls’ entrance behind the Jesson memorial in the Vesey Chapel. These gallery extensions were removed in 1868.
1875 – North and West galleries of 18th century removed. New north aisle with gallery added, and former North aisle, now between the nave and the north wall, renamed Vesey aisle.
2016 – The West end section of the North gallery was removed to enable the building of the new accessible church entrance on the North west of the church. The curved staircase was re-sited in the middle of the north gallery allowing access from the Vesey aisle close to the new church entrance. Currently the Victorian north gallery and Georgian south gallery are the two remaining galleries in the church. Both still have pews and are used for large-scale services. The pews in the Georgian gallery are the box pews installed at the time.
The current pulpit with its tester (‘roof’) was installed in 1760 when other additions were made to the church, notably the South gallery and new box pews throughout the church (the gallery with its box pews is also still in place).
It was installed in the chancel but moved to the nave when the extensions of 1875 took place. At this time the oak from Worcester Cathedral was used to create the two slender columns now supporting the tester.
The pulpit moved again with the re-design of the Vesey Chapel in 1929, i.e. after the ceilings were painted and the steps were re-designed.
Following the re-ordering of the church interior in 2016, the pulpit was replaced in its former position, but the staircase was moved to the other side with a turn to make it more compact and to accommodate the new dais in front of the chancel area.
The pulpits over the centuries have witnessed some notable sermons, sometimes courting considerable controversy! The Rectors page details some of these. More unusual incidents are cited by Roger Lea as follows:
“The pulpit was the scene of less edifying events. On one occasion when Rector John Riland was in the pulpit he leaned too close to the candles and his wig caught fire. Mr. Packwood was Curate in the mid-nineteenth century – ‘he had a monotonous soothing voice’ wrote Richard Holbeche, ‘we frequently got into trouble for sleeping.’ His aunt Sarah Holbeche noted that Lady Hartopp of Four Oaks Hall provided a special cushion for the pulpit, and commented in September 1866 ‘Lady Hartopp’s good fat pulpit cushion has been supplanted by an antependium – to sit softly on it will we hope mollify the hard words of our preacher the Rev. J.P.’ “
There have been pews of different kinds since the 18th century, probably some benches before this, and, since the re-ordering of 2016, movable upholstered chairs for the congregation, to give greater comfort and to enable the space to be used more flexibly.
Where pewing has changed, the church has been obliged to keep examples of the previous pews, and this is particularly helpful for custodians and visitors in helping us to maintain accurate historical records.
A misericord* was given to the church by Henry Charles Hill in 1892. Mr Hill was educated at Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School and became Inspector General of Forests to the Indian Government. This explains why the stall which surrounded the misericord was made from intricately carved wood of Indian or Burmese origin.
The misericord itself was thought by the Sussex Archaeological Society to be of fifteenth-century craftsmanship in a style favoured around 1490. The centre carving showed a man picking grapes; on one side hiding under a basket and on the other emerging from under it, perhaps to make the viewer suppose he had been stealing the grapes.
A faculty to sell the misericord was granted c.2008. The history is recorded here as there is a brass memorial to Henry Charles Hill on the South wall of the South aisle (in the angle under the stairs) and this might lose its context now the misericord is absent.
*a misericord is defined as “a ledge projecting from the underside of a hinged seat in a choir stall which, when the seat is turned up, gives support to someone standing.” These supports were used originally in monasteries as well as churches where monks or clergy would be standing for prolonged periods.