Smethwick Old Church

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Until the 19th century Smethwick lay within the parish of St Peter, Harborne. A chapel was consecrated at Smethwick in 1732, but it was not until 1842 that it was assigned a district. A second church was consecrated in 1838 and was assigned a parish in 1842. By 1905 there were eight independent churches in Smethwick and several mission centres. In that year all were transferred from Lichfield diocese to the new diocese of Birmingham.

The first church in Smethwick was founded by Dorothy Parkes of Birmingham, daughter of Thomas Parkes of Smethwick. In 1719 she settled lands in Smethwick and in Halesowen (Worcs.) on trustees who were to build and furnish a chapel on part of the Smethwick property within three years of her death; if possible, the cost was not to exceed £800. The trustees were to provide bread and wine for communion, appoint a paid clerk or sexton, and lay out and maintain the chapelyard. They were to appoint the minister, who was to be a graduate and was not to hold any other ecclesiastical or teaching post; his stipend was to be the residue of the income from the property after the payment of £10 in charitable doles.  By her will of 1723. Dorothy confirmed the settlement of 1719 and gave a further £800 which, with any interest accruing, was to be used to build the chapel. She also left her 'divinity books and other books' for the use of the ministers of Harborne and Smethwick in accordance with the Parochial Libraries Act of 1708.  She left the residue of her personal estate for the building of a house near the chapel for the minister. By a codicil of 1725 she nominated John Williams, curate of St. Martin's, Birmingham, as the first minister. Robert Boyse, who was related to at least three of the trustees, was to be Williams's successor or the first minister if Williams declined the appointment. Dorothy also stipulated that her godson Thomas Bradburne should be offered the curacy after Boyse's death or resignation, but in fact he never held it. (fn. 5)

Dorothy died in 1728.  The new chapel was consecrated in September 1732, and Robert Boyse became the first perpetual curate in October.  A house was built opposite the church in what is now Church Road apparently in the mid 1730s.  By 1739 the trustees' annual income was £84, of which £10 was kept for the charitable doles; the remainder was paid to the minister, who had to provide bread and wine for communion out of it and pay for repairs to the church. Boyse also took fees for burials, which should have gone to the vicar of Harborne. His right to do so was challenged by the parish vestry in 1738, and in 1739 he agreed to desist.  At first marriages as well as baptisms and burials were conducted at Smethwick. After 1743, however, marriages by banns, and after 1758 even marriages by licence, ceased officially; it was not until 1839 that the chapel was licensed for marriages. It appears that in fact marriages continued unofficially at Smethwick, although they were recorded in the Harborne registers.  Harborne lay within the peculiar jurisdiction of the dean and chapter of Lichfield, and in 1807 a dispute arose when the dean attempted a visitation of Smethwick. The curate refused to admit him, and the trustees supported the curate. In the course of the dispute it emerged that only the second of the three curates who had so far held office had been licensed by the chapter. In 1808 the trustees submitted and recognized the chapter's jurisdiction.  In the early 1820s the endowments, c. 75 a. in Smethwick and c. 33 a. in Halesowen, were bringing in £250 a year. The whole sum was paid to the minister, who met the £10 due in doles.  The house, which was enlarged at some time, was demolished in 1929 as part of the development of the area and was replaced by a new house on the corner of Church and Old Chapel Roads. 


Smethwick Old Church

In 1842 the area served by the chapel, covering the southern half of Smethwick, was made into a district chapelry.  Fees were reserved to the vicar of Harborne until the first voidance of that vicarage, but it was not until 1892, after the fourth voidance, that they were transferred to Smethwick.  The district thereupon became the parish of Smethwick under the terms of the New Parishes Act of 1856.  The living, at first a perpetual curacy and a vicarage from 1868, has remained in the gift of the founder's trustees. 

Several changes were made by Edward Addenbrooke, incumbent 1850-83. He introduced a daily service in 1867. He removed the high-backed pews and three-decker pulpit and built a vestry. He provided a new organ in place of a small instrument of 1836, which had itself replaced a barrel-organ; he also organized a choir. During his time two new churches were opened in the chapelry, St. Matthew's in 1855 and St. Chad's in 1882; a third, St. Mary's, was opened in 1888. 

The church has no dedication. Originally it was called Parkes's Chapel,  but it was more usually known as Smethwick Chapel.  With the building of Holy Trinity Church in 1837-8 it became known as the Old Chapel,  and it is now called SMETHWICK OLD CHURCH, the name which came into general use in the later 19th century.  It is a classical building of brick with stone dressings. There is a west tower, with a clock given in 1932 by Sir John Mitchell.  The vestry, on the northeast, was built in 1963 to replace a smaller one burnt down in 1962,  presumably the one built by Addenbrooke. The interior is an undivided space with a shallow apse. It has a west gallery, erected in 1759; the rents from the seats in it were then assigned for 'repairs and beautifying the church',  but it now contains the organ. Dorothy Parkes was buried at Harborne in 1728, but her body was moved to Smethwick in 1735. The marble tablet commemorating her on the south wall of the chancel near the spot where she is buried was erected in 1736 under the terms of her will. 

The plate includes a silver chalice and paten inscribed 'Smethwick Chapel 1732'; a silver chalice and paten given in 1697 to Harborne church by Beata, the widow of William Hunt of the Ruck of Stones, and presented by Harborne parish to Smethwick township in 1828, the chalice being remade in 1842; and a silver flagon given in 1842 by 'a lady sincerely attached to the Church of England'.  Originally there was a single bell dated 1732 and given under the terms of Dorothy Parkes's settlement. A peal of eight was installed to celebrate Queen Victoria's jubilee of 1897, but it was removed c. 1963 after being found unsafe. There are now two bells, that of 1732 and the tenor from the 1897 ring. 

The registers date from 1732 and are complete.

The chapelyard was enlarged by the addition of the site of the first charity school when it was demolished in 1855. There were further extensions in 1872 and 1909. A lich-gate was erected c. 1890. 

The church of HOLY TRINITY was already being planned in 1835 to meet the needs of the rapidly growing northern part of Smethwick. Progress was delayed mainly by the difficulty of finding a site, but eventually land on the west side of the main road was given by J. W. Unett of the Woodlands. Building was begun in 1837, and the church was consecrated in 1838. Much of the cost of building was met by the Revd. Thomas Green Simcox, lord of Harborne manor and the first incumbent of the new church.  In 1842 the parish of North Harborne was formed out of Harborne parish, with tithes which by 1851 were leased out for £100.  The living, a vicarage, was at first in the gift of Lichfield chapter, patrons of Harborne,  although it had originally been intended to grant the patronage to T. G. Simcox and his heirs in return for his benefactions to the new church.  In 1883 the patronage was transferred to the bishop of Lichfield with that of Harborne in exchange for the patronage of three Derbyshire parishes,  and since 1905 it has been held by the bishop of Birmingham.  A house for the minister was built to the west of the church in 1838-9 at Simcox's expense on a site given by Unett and was enlarged by J. H. Crump, vicar 1884-92.  It had been abandoned by 1940 when the vicar was living in private accommodation. In 1944 a house in South Road, bequeathed as a curate's residence by A. Prince (d. 1943), became the vicarage. In 1949 the 1839 house was sold with half the ground attached, and in 1952 a new vicarage facing into South Road was built on the remaining ground; it was extended in 1963. 

The following churches and mission centres have been opened in the parish: Chance's schoolroom in 1850, replaced by St. Paul's in 1858;  St. Stephen's in 1882;  Bridge Street, opened by 1883 and apparently replaced by Hill Street, in existence from c. 1886 until c. 1890,  St. Michael's in 1886;  St. Luke's apparently for a short time c. 1887;  and St. Alban's in 1904. 

Holy Trinity Church stands within a spacious churchyard bounded by High Street, Trinity Street, Church Hill, and South Road. The original church, designed in the Early English style by Thomas Johnson of Lichfield,  was built of Tixall stone and was cruciform, with a west tower and spire and one bell; there was a west gallery.  In 1877 a clock, given under the will of T. G. Simcox, was placed in the tower.  Thomas Roper, vicar 1871-84, removed the three-decker pulpit and highbacked pews and moved the organ and choir out of the west gallery. He also installed a new organ as part of his improvement of the musical side of the services.  The church, except for the tower and spire, was rebuilt on a larger scale in 1887-9 to the designs of Francis Bacon of Newbury (Berks.), mainly in the Early English style; much of the stone from the earlier church was reused.  In addition to the tower and spire, it consists of chancel with north vestry, nave with aisles under separate roofs, and south porch; the eight dormer windows which light the nave were added in 1934 as a memorial to Laura Hewitson (d. 1934). 

The pulpit in the churchyard in the angle between the chancel and the south aisle dates from 1913. It was erected by the Brotherhood, a men's organization founded by J. H. Newsham, vicar 1912-14, for its open-air services. The lich-gate was built by the Brotherhood in 1914. 

Before the building of the church of ST. PAUL, West Smethwick, the schoolroom at Chance Brothers' glass-works in Spon Lane was used for church services. It was licensed in 1850 and had its own curate-in-charge; it served part of Christ Church parish, West Bromwich, as well as the West Smethwick part of North Harborne parish.  Its congregation on Census Sunday 1851 was estimated at 20 in the morning and 50 in the evening.  Numbers increased rapidly, and St. Paul's Church in St. Paul's Road was begun in 1857 and consecrated in 1858. The cost was met entirely by private subscriptions, notably from Chances and the workers of the area; contributions were also received from Lord Dartmouth and 'the neighbouring gentry'. The site was given by John Silvester of Birmingham.  In 1860 a parish was formed out of North Harborne.  The living, at first a perpetual curacy and a vicarage from 1868,  was originally in the gift of five trustees. In 1858 it had been agreed that the first trustees should be the people who had contributed the greater part of the cost of building the church, and most of the trustees were members of the Chance family until 1955.  In that year the patronage was transferred to the bishop of Birmingham, who still holds it.  A house for the minister (now no. 109 St. Paul's Road) was built at the same time as the church at the expense of T. G. Simcox, the vicar of North Harborne.  A new house was built in West Park Road in 1905, with the Chances meeting much of the cost.  The adjoining Milverton Grange was bought as the vicarage house in 1968. 

The board school in Oldbury Road was used as a mission centre c. 1892-4.  St. Andrew's mission church on the corner of Oldbury Road and Bridge Street West (later West Street) was licensed in 1898. Formerly a Separatist chapel, it was bought in that year from the trustees of R. L. Chance, most of the cost being met by the Chances. It was closed in 1928. 

The original St. Paul's was a building of white Stourbridge brick with stone dressings. Designed in the Early English style by G. B. Nichols of West Bromwich, it consisted of apsidal chancel, nave, transepts, and north-west tower and spire; there were also north-east and south-east turrets containing spiral staircases giving access to galleries in the transepts. A west gallery contained the organ, but in 1891 a new organ was installed in the north transept; in 1919-20 a choir vestry was created in the transept and the organ placed above it.  Also in 1919-20 a Lady chapel was made in the south transept in memory of Louisa Jane Downing.  A new fibre-glass spire was erected in 1961.  There were originally three bells.  A peal of eight was installed in 1924 in memory of Isaac Pitt, who had practised as a doctor in the parish for nearly sixty years. 

The church was burnt down in 1963. A new church, designed in a modern style by Denys Hinton & Associates and built over the east end of the former church, was consecrated in 1966; it is not orientated, the 'east' end being on the north. It incorporates the south-east turret of the former church, while the old tower and part of the old north wall form a screen between the street and the forecourt of the new church. It received a Civic Trust commendation in 1969.