The land surrounding the church has witnessed many changes over the centuries.
Currently it is part of a local conservation site. There was a graveyard for much of the time, and residential houses and two public houses on the site which is now the Vesey Gardens. These were created in 1939.
The other major change on the hill in the twentieth century was the construction of the Trinity Centre in the 1990s, offering the facilities of a large hall for the first time in close proximity to the church itself.
An old brick wall, demolished in 1832 when the graveyard was enlarged, marked the boundary of the first stone-built grammar school put up by Bishop Vesey in 1541. This wall ran from the East corner of the Sons of Rest building to near the single sycamore tree in the churchyard.
The path from Coleshill Street on the South east side, which leads to what was until 2016 the main entrance through the South porch, came into existence in 1817. Prior to that there was an entrance further down Trinity Hill called Blind Lane.
From the church’s beginning burials were made within the church in vaults, and outside. With the expansion of the building, some external burials came to be within the walls of the church. This is believed to be the case with two mediaeval burials of priests re-discovered by the south door in archaeological excavation in 2016.
As with most churches burials took place immediately outside the walls and extended as far as was possible over time, sometimes with re-burial over the top of earlier burials in succeeding centuries. However, churchyards quickly filled.
In 1832, the burial ground at Holy Trinity had to be enlarged and the obvious land to use was that of the old grammar school building (the school being by this time in Lichfield Road).
The headmaster, Charles Barker, found a way to make a deal by selling the land to the Corporation, rather than deal with the church, in return for the relinquishing of the leasehold on the new school site. This suited the Corporation in terms of no longer having to oversee Mr Barker’s educational activities! (the map by Snape is here shown as drawn by Norman Evans, p 73).
These were over the graves in the original burial ground around the church until 1950/51. Margaret Gardner, Parish Archivist from 1980 to 2010, wrote about this as follows:
“In 1950/51 the churchyard was cleared of headstones and the responsibility for the maintenance of the churchyard was taken over by Sutton Coldfield Borough Council. Though the faculty for this work indicated that the headstones should be laid flat, it must have seemed more practical to place them round the perimeter overlooking Trinity Hill and the Town School, thus facilitating easier use of the mower.” (from: ‘Around the church’, 2000, p29)
The churchyard remains under the care of Birmingham City Council which also manages the Vesey Gardens.
During the preparations for the building of the Trinity Centre (1990s), graves which were still in place at this point were de-consecrated and the remains sensitively re-interred where they would not be disturbed.
The stones are now at the perimeter of the church’s land which is the car park on the South West edge. The two images showing gravestones near the church are on the left, from the south-east and in the middle, from the west side. The third picture on the far right shows some of the stones in their current position.
Headstones and memorials
There remain a number of large memorials still in place around the church site as described below in more detail.
Sundial and Dawnay tomb
The current position of the sundial, in a paved area on the high ground on the South side of the church building, marks the position of the vault of Thomas Dawnay, buried in 1671. It is thought to pre-date this by some 80 to 100 years and marked the time long before the first clock was put in the tower in 1760!
Dawnay’s burial record refers to “a grave on the North side of the Dyall Post”.
Mary Ashford’s grave
From the South porch across the path, and a little to the right, a gravestone lies flat in the turf between two trees, marking the burial place of Mary Ashford.
The inscription is worn away but the text is shown here.
Mary was from Penns on the edge of Sutton Coldfield, and her sad death provoked national publicity and two landmark changes in the law of this country. More of her story is elsewhere on our page devoted to parishioners of Holy Trinity, Sutton Coldfield.
Richard Holbeche, in his diary about church life in the 1850s, writes rather unhelpfully as follows:
“The churchyard was very badly kept, and sheep grazed it. It was uninclosed and the Birmingham roughs used to sit and make a noise about Mary Ashford’s grave during service.”
Norman Evans wrote in 1987:
“A little further from the South Porch … stands the memorial surrounded by an iron fence, covering the vault in which Joseph Webster, his wife [Maria Mary] and some of their 12 children are buried.”
Joseph ‘s family owned the watermill on the Ebrook at Walmley. He was active in local affairs and the principal founder of St John’s Church in Walmley in 1845, where a memorial is inscribed in the chancel windows. More about his life is on the parishioners page.
Norman Evans writes that in the time of King Charles II, to help the wool trade of the Cotswolds and other areas, legislation was introduced in 1667 and 1678 ordering that: “no corpse of any person (except those who shall die of the plague) shall be buried in any garment other than what is made of Sheep’s wool only”. The penalty for non-compliance was £5.
The Holy Trinity Parish Registers of 31st August 1678 record in the burials: “Thomas Benian in woollen, according to the Act of Parliament, being the first soe buried here”.
The burial of 14th March 1684 is recorded of: “Anne Lynes, wife of Thomas Lynes, the last that was buried in wolen.”
A rather sad record of 1668 reads: “There was buryed the sixth day of June, Eleanor Oldbury. Also William Oldbury, sonn of the sd Eleanor was buryed the same day of June, both brought to their graves together (who were both of ym Drowned in a pol in going into a pytt to fetch out a Gosling, as it was credibly reported).”
Information from Margaret Gardner, Around the church, 2000, p 29.
This roofed structure on Coleshill Street was built in 1898 during the lifetime of Revd William Kirkpatrick Riland Bedford, “in recognition of his unceasing interest and participation in all aspects of the life of the town and parish during his incumbency”, as Norman Evans puts it.
The word lych refers to a body, and these gates gave protection from the elements for coffins on their way into church.