Chapels & Churches in the Ancient Parish of BIRMINGHAM
Until the 18th century the parish of St Martin’s was co-terminous with the manor of Birmingham. This included roughly what is now the city centre and Birmingham Heath, now the Winson Green area. As the town grew, St Philip’s was the first new church to be built to serve the new building developments.
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Churches are in chronological order of foundation
From the Middle Ages the parish of St Martin’s and the manor of Birmingham were co-terminous. The area consisted of the town, roughly what is now the city centre, and the foreign, Birmingham Heath, which is now the Winson Green area.
With the growth of industry and commerce in the 18th century the population of Birmingham grew rapidly. During the Tudor period it had doubled to about 2000. At the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 the population was reckoned as 5472, increasing threefold by 1714 with some 15 000 people living in the town. In 1701 there were over 23 000 inhabitants, by 1770 some 31 000, and by 1801 about 60 000. Clearly they couldn’t all fit in one church.
As the town grew, St Philip’s was the first new church to be built to serve the new middle-class housing developments in the High Town. And during the 18th century three chapels of ease were built in the town to cater for the expanding population.
The new churches, however, provided an inadequate number of seats for the increasing numbers who could not afford to pay for pews, and in 1805 Christ Church was built by public subscription at the top of New Street with the specific intention of providing free seats.
In the early years of the 19th century awareness grew that large numbers especially of the urban poor and working class were not catered for by the Established Church. At a Birmingham parish meeting in 1818 it was calculated that the churches and chapels of St Martin’s parish (St Martin, St Mary, St Paul, St Bartholomew, Christ Church) offered only 7360 seats for a population of over 60 000. If High Town (in the parish), Deritend and Ashted (both in Aston, but physically part of the town) were included, some 11 000 seats catered for over 80 000 people. Even not counting appropriated sittings of which there were very many, this amounted to eight people per seat.
An Act of 1818 set up a Commission with a million pounds to build churches as a thanksgiving for victory at Waterloo in 1815. The first Commissioners’ Church in Birmingham was St George, Great Hampton Row 1819 by Thomas Rickman.
The speed of church building in central Birmingham was initially slow and in 1838 the Birmingham Church Building Society was founded with the object of establishing ten new churches in the rural deanery of Birmingham. The society was usually known as the Ten Churches Fund, although only five were built, four in Birmingham and one in Bordesley, Aston parish.
See Google Books The Ecclesiastical Gazette 1839 Volume I.
However, throughout the 19th century the pace quickened. Church-building in Birmingham reflected the national urban pattern: from 1800 to 1850 more than twenty new Anglican churches were built in Birmingham and the surrounding urban area. As development grew outwards from the town and as the density of inner wards increased, church building grew apace; in the second half of the century an average of one church a year was built, and no less than ten from 1865 to 1869. Especially during the last quarter of the century some 150 chapels were attached to churches. They were usually small and cheap, sometimes temporary, though sometimes they were rebuilt as permanent churches.
The gradual depopulation of central Birmingham started to affect the size of congregations by the 1870s. From a population of 6636 in 1871, the parish of Christ Church lost two thirds of its number over the next 30 years. A handful of churches closed before World War 1, some were destroyed by German bombs during World War 2 and others closed after the war as part of the slum clearance and housing redevelopment programme.