History of the Building
We hope you find this brief history interesting. - it was written for us a few years ago, by a congregation member. But remember that reading about a place & visiting it are different experiences. We hope you will visit the church 'in the flesh' because you'll find that it's about more than just the stones it's made of. You'll discover something of the God whose reality is expressed within it - the God who offers life, love and hope to all people in every age.
The only religious observances in Sutton Coldfield during the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries took place in the Chapel of St Blaize at the Manor and continued there until the end of the fifteenth century, even though the Parish Church had been built some two hundred or more years before. When both house and chapel were demolished, Bishop Vesey used some of the abandoned stone to build two bridges over the River Tame and put some of the carved stones both into the bridges and into the gable of the tithe barn which stood on the site of the present railway bridge in High Street.
The only remaining traces of the earliest building in the present Parish church are to be found below the east window — a plinth and remains of clasping buttresses known to be features of a method of construction associated with the first half of the thirteenth century.
The tower is of an architectural style found in the late fifteenth century. It is thought probable that, for its first two hundred years the church consisted of a chancel and nave rather shorter than at present and that, when the tower was built, the nave was extended westwards to be joined into it.
Documentary evidence of the church being enlarged in Bishop Vesey's time is to be found in Dugdale's The Antiquities of Warwickshire, where it is stated that the Bishop gave an organ in 1530 and that, in 1533, he built two aisles.
So it is probable that the side chapels were added (the one on the south side to house the new organ) and that these were extended westward during the following three years to form the aisles. The parapet of the tower was restored and five new bells were hung at that time.
In the early part of the eighteenth century a small gallery was built across the west end of the nave and, before 1755, galleries had also been constructed over the two side aisles. In 1758 the Corporation allocated £100 for 'New Pewing in the Parish Church', but while this work was being carried out, holes appeared in the floor and, at first, the carpenters were blamed. However, on examination it was found that 'the breach in the Church was occasioned by the Badness of the Foundations of the Arches or Walls of the Middle Isles'. In consequence, by 1760, repairs and alterations were put in hand under the supervision of William Hiorn, an architect-builder from Warwick.
Temporary benches for the congregation were provided in the chancel and two side chapels so that worship could continue and the rest of the church was boarded off while foundations, pillars, arches and roof were rebuilt. In the course of the reconstruction, the new box-pews were installed throughout, the pulpit was set up in the chancel on the south side with its tester (canopy) supported by two Corinthian columns with a reading desk in front just projecting into the nave. A clock was put in the tower and new galleries were built.
The present south gallery is still as it was then, so it is possible to imagine another just like it on the north side over what is now called the Vesey aisle (the far north gallery was not built until the late nineteenth century).
The west arch was blocked in and what can best be described as a two-tiered or storeyed gallery was built out over the whole width of the rear of the nave, backing on to the tower arch where the organ pipes are today. The lower part of this gallery was for the use of Simon Luttrell and his family of Four Oaks Hall. In the second tier, the choir and a new organ given by John Riland were accommodated. The total cost of this entire operation was £910.17s.2d., most of which was raised by the sale of trees from the Park.
The font at this time was a white marble basin supported on a classic pedestal and standing, probably, somewhere near the base of the tower.
Bishop Vesey's effigy was recessed in the north wall of the north chapel and protected by iron railings which had been placed there in 1748 when the effigy had been restored and beautified by the Warden and Society, following a period of neglect. Heated controversy followed the allocation of the newly installed box-pews which continued for some years — the matter being passed to the Spiritual Court in Lichfield to be settled. The Warden and Society, in their Minutes, record that 'several Greedy People of Low Rank' had gone over the heads of the Corporation and applied to the Bishop of Lichfield for the privilege of occupying the best pews.
A new ring of bells costing £100 was hung in 1784 but, proving unsatisfactory, was replaced in 1795 by six new bells by Mears of London. The south chapel was used as a vestry at this time.
In 1828 galleries were added to both the side chapels to accommodate the children from the newly built Town School. To minimise disturbance the children entered from the churchyard through small doors made in the east wall on either side of the east window. The outlines of these can be seen today on the outside wall.
Both galleries were approached by narrow stairways. The girls and infants sat in the north — now Vesey — chapel gallery and the boys in the south. Rush matting was put down on the floor where the boys sat to deaden the noise of their boots. At the same time an external door was made to the tower stairway in the south wall of the tower, while the tower west door was closed up to make the ground floor into a vestry, which was used until 1874.
In 1829 the tester was removed from the pulpit, perhaps to afford a better view of the preacher from the children's galleries or, more probably, so that the preacher could keep a sharp eye on the children. A convenient storage place for the tester was found on top of an inner canopied porch which was then over the door on the north side of the Vesey chapel.
In 1858, however, the children's galleries and stairs were removed and the children were then seated on benches in the side chapels, facing west.
In 1863 the nave roof was raised to its present steep pitch, the clerestory windows were enlarged, the double-storeyed gallery at the west end was taken down and the choir moved into the south chapel where a new organ by Gray and Davidson was installed.
In 1875 Bishop Vesey's monument was in need of repair. On 25th August of that year the stone over his grave was lilted, revealing part of the skull, a jawbone with a few teeth, and various other bones. These were put into an earthenware jar together with a certificate confirming the facts of the exhumation and names of witnesses. The jar was sealed and reburied in the grave, covered by the alabaster stone and the present altar tomb was built over it with the Bishop's effigy laid on top.
At the same time, the floor of the chancel was raised to the present level and carved oak panelling and columns, dating from the seventeenth century, bought from Worcester Cathedral (then undergoing restoration itself) provided sufficient wood to make the choir stalls and the screens behind them.
Also in 1875 the pulpit was moved to the north side of the chancel — almost as it is now — but with steps leading up from the chancel. The tester was restored to its proper position supported on slender oak columns. About 1939 the pulpit was moved around the pillar towards the Vesey aisle with the steps rising from the nave.
With the coming of the railway the town had grown considerably, so in 1879, the church was extended on the north side by the building of an additional aisle with gallery above to accommodate the larger congregation (only the south gallery was left of William Hiorn's eighteenth-century timberwork). In addition, the Vesey aisle roof had to be raised to make the new north extension possible.
The present font, lined with the marble basin which was its predecessor, stood in the tower from 1879 until the turn of the century, but it may have stood near to the south door prior to this date. In 1884, two more bells, by Taylor of Loughborough, were hung. The clock was removed from the tower because it was not functioning well and it was considered that the Town Hall in Mill Street had a clock quite adequate for the whole town.
In 1914 the chancel ceiling was decorated following a design drawn up by Charles E Bateman, who was also responsible for the painting of the nave and Vesey Chapel ceilings in 1929.
All the stained glass is classed as modern, the earliest dating from 1863 and the latest from 1965.
In 1929 the stonework outside also had to undergo considerable restoration. To pay for this and for the redecoration of the interior of the building, the Parish raised a large sum of money by all the means at its disposal, the biggest event being at the Town Hall in King Edward Square. This was a 'Bazaar in a Japanese Garden' held in November 1928.
In 1965 the bells and the frames supporting them were in need of repair, the work was ultimately completed after the many difficulties had been overcome and the bells were rededicated in 1973.
In 1986 the outside of the building underwent major restoration of the stonework.
Birmingham Heritage Forum
We are proud of our church’s history and the heritage it represents. So we are members of the Birmingham Heritage Forum, an organisation which encourages people to experience the rich heritage of this city. You can find out more from the Birmingham Heritage Forum website.