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THE PARISH CHURCH
ST. MICHAEL BOLDMERE
1857 - 1957
A short account
Parish Church of St. Michael. Boldmere,
written in celebration of its centenary
E. M. JOINER, B.Sc., F.R.I.C., A.C.I.S.
THE SOUTH AISLE
During the long vicariate of Boldmere's first incumbent the seeds of the new church had been well planted and lovingly nurtured and conditions were ripe for an increase of some magnitude. The gradual displacement of agriculture by a more prosperous industry had produced an increase in the professional classes and the village slowly gave place to the suburb. Church attendances increased and the demand for sittings was greater than the number available. Fortunate indeed was the new vicar, Rev. A. E. R. Bedford, to take over a parish in such heartwarming circumstances. One of his first tasks in his new living was to execute the further church enlargement contemplated by his predecessor by building the south aisle.
At a vestry held 23 February 1895 the vicar and churchwardens were authorised to proceed with plans submitted by a Birmingham architect, J. A. Chatwin. The scheme included the addition of a nave aisle and a chancel aisle on the south side of the church 'together with clergy and choir vestries on the north side of the church. The estimated cost of the work was £2,500 of which some £850 had already been collected. Among the donors were E. H. Kittoe, W. K. R. Bedford, W. Ansell, E. Ansell and W. T. Rushton each of whom subscribed £100. A few weeks after the vestry meeting half the money having been subscribed the work began and was completed in about nine months. The balance of the payment was raised by a successful bazaar held in Sutton Town Hall and which realised £1100. The dedication service was held on 14 February 1896 and the Bishop of Coventry preached to a crowded congregation.
The church enlargement had provided accommodation for an additional 200 people. About this time the population of the parish was some 3,400 people who occupied about 700 houses.
About four years later the "gallery" or raised seats near the west door mostly used by children was removed and replaced by pews.
One of the aims of the new vicar was to encourage sporting activities‑he was no mean performer at football, cross country running and archery‑and social work. Concerts were also much in vogue and to meet the demands for more social life in the parish it was agreed to build a parish room.
THE PARISH ROOM.
The Parish Room was formally opened by P. A. Muntz M.P. on 27 October 1900 and at the same time a Working Men's Institute with J. C. Bourne as secretary and 125 members was inaugurated. The occasion was celebrated with a concert and dramatic performance (arranged by the curate, Rev. T. Everard Healey) during the afternoon and repeated in the evening.
Two years previously a committee consisting of the Rev. A. E. R. Bedford, J. C. Bourne, W. T. Rushton, E. Ansell, W. Bailey and T. Turner had been appointed to look into the possibility of social amenities in the parish. As a result of an enthusiastic meeting with the Mayor in the chair a good start was made and many generous donations promised so that it was possible shortly afterwards to accept a tender of £1050 for the erection of a suitable building.
The room was built on glebe land transferred by the vicar to a body of trustees who acted as a management committee. This arrangement which was common in those days has now been superceded by the modern method of investing the property in the church council which is a statutory body having permanent succession. A small charge is now made for the use of the room for parish purposes but in general the aim is only to make such charges as will cover upkeep and this objective has mainly been achieved.
After functioning successfully for a decade the Institute became detached from the church. Its membership dwindled during the war but it was revived afterwards with what were considered suitable "safeguards" against the overriding influence of non-church members but it gradually lapsed. The parish room however has always been and still is the centre of considerable social activity. The Boldmere Players, Oakwood Players and other groups have produced many plays; numerous socials, children's parties, lectures and meetings have been held there and the room at times has proved unequal to the demands made upon it.
St. Michael's was now nearing its jubilee year and enjoying a large measure of prosperity. Church attendances sometimes taxed the seating capacity considerably and there was great enthusiasm. Collections for hospitals compared more than favourably with most Birmingham churches. During this time many of the smaller items of church furnishings were provided. It is impossible in this short account to give detailed particulars of the many gifts made over the years by parishioners but included in such a list would be a credence table, mosaics, altar desk, hymn and psalm board, reading desk, alms dishes, curtains and banners. Mention should also be made of many devoted women who have provided offertory bags, altar cloths, covers, markers, corporals and chalice covers; most of these gifts have been the work of their own hands.
Until 1906 a solitary bell called worshippers to Divine Service but in that year a new peal of eight bells was installed through the generosity of the Misses Inston who wished to honour the memory of their father Thomas Inston.
The bells were cast by Barwell's of Birmingham and installed after extensive alterations had been made to the belfry and baptistry. On Saturday, 22 December, the bells were dedicated by Canon Mansfield Owen (afterwards Dean of Ripon) acting on behalf of the bishop of the diocese and rung for the first time. The record of the ringing as set out by St. Martin's Guild of Church Bell Ringers for the Diocese of Birmingham is as follows:-
At the Parish Church, Boldmere, Warwickshire.
on Saturday, 22 December 1906.
A Peal of Grandsire Triples
(Groves Variation of Parker's Twelve-Part)
containing 5040 changes. Time 2 hours 47 minutes.
Harry Dickens ...... Treble Alf. Paddon Smith ........ 5
Sams. Reeves ................ 2 Thos. Reynolds ............. 6
Chas. Dickens ............... 3 Jas. E. Groves ............... 7
Thos. Miller .................. 4 Sydney J. Jessop .... Tenor
Conducted by Jas. E. Groves.
It is interesting to note the name of Alf. Paddon Smith among the ringers. He was Lord Mayor of Birmingham 1950/51.
The ringers reported the "go" as perfect, the tone full and rich but they thought the bells too noisy in the ringing chamber - a fault which no doubt would be duly remedied. However they were unequivocal in their satisfaction when they were invited to "slip across the road " to the house of Mr. Appleby, the mayor, and partake of his hospitality. They found their host in genial mood and the table loaded in a manner none can appreciate better than the ringers when they have rung a full peal. Further comment runs "the party had not been there long when the weight borne by the table had been materially reduced." Evidently. a good time was had by all!
The bells all bear the founder's name and date and the tenor bell has in addition this inscription -
"To the Glory of God
and in memory of their father
this ring of bells was given
by Harriett and Charlotte Inston
This gift formed a fitting prelude to the jubilee year of 1907.
(For details of weights and sizes of bells see Appendix 1).
When the Church of England Men's Society held their monthly meetings in the parish before the first world war a quarter peal was usually rung before the service. On the occasion of the visit of Canon Willink (Rector of Birmingham) a quarter peal of Stedman Triples was rung by St. Michael's guild and for the visit of Rev. E. Priestley Swain (afterward Bishop of Burnley) the ringing duties were taken over by the Sutton Coldfield guild.
On Saturday, 3 May 1913 a full peal of Stedman triples, 5040 changes, was rung in 3 hours 20 minutes. This occasion was noteworthy for the presence for the first time in Boldmere history of a lady member of the band, Miss Margery F. Sampson of Tamworth. After the ringing Miss. Sampson was presented with a framed photograph of the Erdington band in which she had taken part a few weeks earlier. On 12 May 1937 the bells rang for 1 hour 5 minutes in honour of the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth; all the ringers were our own church members.
Among those who have done good service for St. Michael's Guild of Church Bell Ringers are R. A. Eaton, Geo. F. Swann, Chas. Cottrill, Wm. J. Meers and others.
In 1946 the bells were found to be in poor condition and it was considered dangerous to ring them. An estimate for repairs and recasting obtained from a firm of bell manufacturers amounted to £1200 and not unnaturally was received by the church council with great concern. Fortunately, help was at hand. Mr. J. Grason with the aid of his son Arthur and his son-in-law, George Lister, offered with considerable trepidation as he himself admits to undertake the work. Enlisting the help of the church's good friends, Messrs. G. T. Stephens and Son, Builders, who supplied the scaffolding they dismantled the bells under conditions of great difficulty - lack of manipulation space, amid filth and grease and exposed to the icy winds in the belfry - in their spare time during six weeks to complete their self-imposed task. The total cost of this work was £55/9/2!
So modestly was this work performed and so little publicity did it receive at the time that without doubt there are many members of the congregation who to this day are unaware of it. In these days when so much prominence is often given to things trivial and futile it is a source of satisfaction to the writer to disclose to a wider public this piece of communal benevolence - a real job of work well done.
REV. A. E. R. BEDFORD M.A. VICAR 1894-1907.
When E. H. Kittoe died the rector of Sutton Coldfield (Rev. W. K. R. Bedford) who was patron of the living nominated his second son, Edward Bedford, to the vacant incumbency of St. Michael, Boldmere. In these days such flagrant nepotism would not be tolerable but in those times it was by no means unusual and by every other standard the rector's choice was a sound one. It could hardly have proved otherwise for the then ageing rector had proved a faithful friend to the church which he had founded and endowed so liberally. What better choice than his own son to carry on the work he had so courageously initiated. And so it proved.
During Mr. Bedford's incumbency great progress was made with the extension of the church fabric. The south aisle contemplated twenty years earlier was built; the chancel aisle was added as well as vestries and a porch; new choir stalls were inserted and the chancel floor retiled; the parish room was built. The cost of this work, about £5,000, was quickly defrayed by willing subscribers fired by their vicar's enthusiasm. It is satisfactory to note that despite its pre-occupation with these problems St. Michael's at this time did not neglect its wider obligations. Hospital collections averaged £200 per year, £62 was sent to the Indian famine fund and £102 to the Birmingham Bishopric Fund. Small wonder the churchwardens could report "prosperity in all departments of the church's work."
A. E. R. Bedford also made a notable contribution to the work of church extension in the Wylde Green district which culminated in the building of Emmanuel church by his successor. He also introduced a monthly magazine to the parish and operated a clothing club so that the poor might be encouraged in thrift. This gave the vicar the opportunity to visit people in their homes and it was this person to person approach that typified his ministry. To know this man was to love him and all his parishioners knew him and talked to him as he cycled his way daily through the parish.
Much to the regret of his congregation Edward Bedford resigned the living of Boldmere in 1907 to become rector of West Hallam, Derbyshire. In noting this fact the vestry referred to his "untiring work in the parish." After his retirement from active work in the ministry he settled once more in Boldmere to renew old acqaintances and to become "the children's friend" to a new generation. Five years later, returning from morning service, he entered into his well-earned rest the same afternoon. His obituary in the parish magazine concluded as follows. "We shall not look upon his like again. Mr. Bedford was a parson of the old school. He came from a clerical family which has been connected with Sutton Coldfield for centuries. Older people still remember his ministry with gratitude and affection. He was above all a pastor who took a personal interest in individuals. No vicar has ever been more greatly loved. When he retired from clerical work in 1934 he came back to Boldmere and, by his regular attendance at church, his friendly visits to many homes and his interest in parochial activities won the affection of another generation. He was a fine type of English gentleman, a lover of the out-of-doors, a good sportsman and a man of real but unostentatious goodness. His memory will be an inspiration for many years to come."
The death of A. E. R. Bedford terminated an association with church work in the Sutton Coldfield district of a family which first provided a rector in 1689. Present day parishioners may well reflect on the great debt owed to the Riland-Bedford family for their devoted labours in church work extended over many generations. Their public spirit, sense of vocation and devotion to the people among whom they worked are much to be admired and respected.
The life and work of the Rev. A. E. R. Bedford was memorialised a few years ago by the erection of a Children's Corner. This is situated in the north aisle of the church behind the choir vestry. It was designed by the Boldmere architect, A. L. Snow, and is artistically furnished and suitably decorated to appeal to the young. It contains several gifts which appropriately enough honour the memory of former sunday school teachers.
CHURCH EXTENSION - EMMANUEL, WYLDE GREEN.
Following the church enlargement which had taken place for the second time with the building of the south aisle it was not long before the pressure on accommodation was again felt in this rapidly expanding neighbourhood but this time the answer was not further enlargement but expansion into a new area. By 1901 mission services were again being held in Green Lanes School and a few years later preparation began in earnest for the erection of a new church on the Birmingham Road at Wylde Green. In response to overtures from the vicar, Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1903, offered on certain conditions to provide a building site for the new church. A special vestry was called to consider the matter, the offer was accepted and a committee formed to further the work and raise the money necessary for the building. It is interesting to note that ladies were present at this vestry for the first time, it is believed, in the history of Boldmere parish. It was a condition of the gift of land that half (£2,500) the money immediately required should be raised by Easter 1906. In fact only £1,800 was raised by the specified date but the college generously agreed to sign the conveyance on the condition that building commenced forthwith. By continued perseverance the money was eventually collected and the church was dedicated by the Bishop of Birmingham (Charles Gore) on 11 December 1909.
REV. REG. BEVISS THOMPSON M.A. VICAR 1907-1910.
When A. E. R. Bedford resigned the living he was succeeded by Rev. R. Beviss Thompson who, however, only stayed a short time. Beviss Thompson was headmaster of St. Oswald's College, Ellesmere, and vicar of Newbould on Avon before coming to St. Michael's. His scholarship was highly regarded by Bishop Gore but he was a shy, sensitive man and it appears he never settled comfortably in the parish. Differences arose between the vicar and his parishioners regarding the Working Men's Club and some prominent workers decided to concentrate their energies on the work at the newly-formed Emmanuel.
Towards the end of 1909 a party of Cambridge missioners came to Boldmere at the vicar's invitation. Every day, for a fortnight, they pursued an active campaign but their teaching met with a very hostile reception and the unhappy vicar resigned the living shortly afterwards. Writing in the parish magazine in February 1942, shortly after R. B. Thompson's death Canon Brown said "Beviss Thompson was an able man and very keen on work among men. Unfortunately, misunderstanding arose. A diocesan mission was held and priests from a very high church Anglican community were sent to Boldmere to conduct a mission here. Their teaching caused great resentment in which the unfortunate vicar was involved. His after career showed that the charges levelled against him were unjust."
Beviss Thompson left Boldmere in 1910 to become rector of High Ham in Somerset. He served as a chaplain to the forces in the first world war and was elected prebendary of Wells Cathedral in 1920. A year later he revisited Boldmere during the Church Congress and preached from his former pulpit.
It was during this short vicariate that Emmanuel church, Wylde Green, was built and consecrated chapel-at-ease by the Bishop of Birmingham (Charles Gore) with Rev. A. Combe as curate-in-charge. This work must have afforded considerable satisfaction to Beviss Thompson in whom the missionary spirit was very strong as shown by his interest in the Congo Reform Association and in King's Missioners. To him also must go the credit for bringing the work of the Church of England Men's Society to the parish. To Mrs. Thompson goes the credit for starting the work of the Mothers' Union in Boldmere.
Beviss Thompson also obtained a faculty from the bishop for the removal of the piggeries from the vicarage grounds. Whether this was to his credit or discredit may be arguable but it is certainly in character of a reserved and saintly man whose last act at St. Michael's was to give his Easter offering to Emmanuel.
LIGHTING AND HEATING.
One of the tasks confronting the new vicar, Rev. O. H. Wethered, was the problem of lighting and heating the church. Electricity was now coming into more general use. Opinion in the parish about this new and perhaps dangerous innovation was sharply divided but on 4 July 1911 the church council decided by a majority of 9 to 5 to accept the offer of the Sutton Coldfield Electric Light Department to equip the church with electric light at an estimated cost of £80. Arrangements were made with the bank to advance the money which was repaid over several years.
For the first twenty years of the church's history it is probable that no evening service was held except perhaps in the summer months owing to lack of lighting facilities. This was remedied in 1876 by the introduction of gas. Three years later the gas pipes in the nave were extended to the north aisle.
Just prior to the second world war the church was rewired so that a change-over from direct current electricity to alternating current could be made. The opportunity was taken following the advice of Dr. Wilson to modernise the equipment and to introduce concealed lighting in the nave, aisles and chancel.
The church is heated by steam pipes and renovation of boilers and replacement of pipes have taken place regularly at intervals of about 15 years. When the boiler was replaced in 1915 at a cost of £69 Miss Bourne made a donation of £21-the proceeds of collecting and selling waste newspaper!
The arrangements for lighting the church with electricity actually became so protracted that it was in 1914 that the lights were first switched on. Ironically, about the same time the "lights of Europe" were switched off and another epoch for St. Michael's and the world generally had ended.