Extract from The story of the Parish Church of St Barnabas, Erdington.
It must be remembered that in a story of Erdington Parish Church, nothing of historical or antiquarian interest can be said, for it was not until 1824 that Erdington, with a population of less than 2,000 possessed a church of it’s own. Originally it was part of the parish of Aston, which once contained 14,090 acres and covering such remote places as Deritend and Water Orton, Bordesley and Castle Bromwich, Duddeston and Erdington and was one of the largest parishes in England. But the continual increase of population necessitated divisions of this parish and new ecclesiastical districts were formed. The ancient hamlet of Erdington- as it once cailed- contains 3,600 acres, a good fourth of the mother parish.
At the end of the Napoleonic Wars in the year 1818, a sum of £1,000,000 was granted by Parliament of Commisioners for the erection of new churches in those places where the population was so rapidly increasing. In 1824 a further sum of £500,000 was added. Erdington was one of the parishes which benefited by this grant. A site was given by Earl Howe, who on June 11th 1822 laid the foundation stone of St Barnabas Chapel-of-Ease the remnant of which forms the nave of the present church. Great interest was shown in the ceremony. We are told that it took place “in the presence of the clergy, a considerable number of gentry and families of the neighbourhood and of a large concourse of spectators.” When his Lordship and party reached the stone, the Hundredth Psalm was sung by the charity children assembled. The inscription plate and medals were deposited, the stone lowered, and the ceremony of striking with the mallet and trying with the square, gone through. Then prayers were offered, and the whole concluded with the singing of the national anthem.
The following is a copy of the inscription deposited:
“This stone of a new chapel, dedicated to St. Barnabas, was laid by the Right Hon. Richard William Penn, Earl Howe, on Tuesday, the 11th June A.D 1822, being the second year of the reign of His Majesty, King George the Fourth. The entire expense of the building accounting to £5,633 5s. 4d was defrayed by the Commissioners for building new Churches in His Majesty’s name, out of a Parliamentary Grant of £1,000,000. The site was given by Earl Howe. “The Right Hon. and Right Rev. James Cornwallis, Lord Bishop of the Diocese, The Rev. Benjamin Spencer, LL.D Vicar of Aston. Thomas Rickman and William Henry Hutchinson, Architects.”
Actually the cost exceeded the amount inscribed on the stone and it is believed that the sum of £1,000 was subsequently raised by the subscriptions of the inhabitants.
Thomas Rickman, the architect was a remarkable man- grocer, medical doctor, com factor, insurance clerk and architect in turn! He was called “the Wren of the Midlands” for he broke away from conventional designs and ideas and revived the pure Gothic style which is that of the best period of English ecclesiastical architecture. Since the days of Sir Christopher Wren, the mode had been the Italian style (eg. In Birmingham, St Philip’s and St Paul’s) Rickman died in January 1841 and the monument erected over his grave in the Churchyard of St George’s Church Birmingham bears the inscription that “he first correctly determined the several styles and clearly elucidated the principles of our ecclesiastical architecture.”
Erdington Church, Gothic in design, the west front finished with a tower of pinnacles, took two years to erect. An extract from “Aris’s Birmingham Gazette” of that period states.:
“The chapel is most advantageously situated, and is an exceedingly chaste and appropriate edifice in the Gothic style. The interior is in perfect harmony with the exterior, and forms an admiral room for sound.”
The building was intended to seat 700 people. On Friday July 23rd 1824 the Church was consecrated by the Lord Bishop of the Diocese. We are told that after the consecration, “his Lordship delivered an able, eloquent, and highly appropriate discourse which was listened to with the deepest attention by a numerous and most respectable congregation.” After the service the Bishop proceeded to consecrate the burial ground surrounding the Church.
The first ministers of this Church were in reality Curates of Aston and the Vicar of Aston was their chief. But in 1858, the hamlet became a separate ecclesiastical district and the then Curate-in-charge, the Rev. Hyla Holden Rose was made the first Vicar of the new parish. Marriages began to be solemnized and parochial life commenced.
All this time Erdington was a village, in condition, appearance and population. For fourteen years the first Vicar lived at Edgbaston and came over on Friday for Sunday duties. When he married he lived first in the house in Summer Road which was pulled down recently for the road to be widened.
In 1860 the Vicarage was built at a cost of £1,700,the land having been given by the Rev. John Holden Harrison. Erdington now had its resident Vicar and he was “quite the rural pastor, knowing everybody and visiting everybody.”
Gradually the town population of Birmingham and Aston commenced to move in this direction. The pretty village began to change; farms, market gardens and country residences slowly disappeared. In 18883 the Church was enlarged by the addition of a chancel and two transepts. Sittings were provided for 1,100 persons which is the present accommodation. It is estimated that the amount spent on the enlargement of the Church, including gift of pulpit, lectern, reredos, windows etc, was £5,000.
We will look at these additions later in the story. The work of enlargement was carried very ably and will remain a lasting monument to the memory of the first Vicar who gave himself whole-heartedly and untiringly to the great task.
In 1887, the Rev. Frederic Smith Swindell, M.A became the second Vicar of Erdington. In the course of a sermon on the history of the Church preached by him on January 5th 1896 he said: “I am able to speak with more assurance of what has taken place since I came here in January 1887. I found a Church very beautiful ad modern of the east end; the nave, that is the body of the old Church was not beautiful. It was quite out-of-date and quite out of harmony with the new portion; and although it was thought by some that nothing more ought to be attempted in this generation considering the great expense of the then recent enlargement, yet I purposed the Divine Power, I would in due time finish the work begun by my predecessor. It was easy to see that Erdington would grow in importance and that it ought to have a Parish Church completely beautiful , wanting nothing in appearance and equipment, a model church fit to be a mother of Churches in time to come.”
How well the Vicar fulfilled his purpose carried out his ideals and aims, is best summed up in the words on the beautiful Oak Screen which has been recently erected at the conclusion of his long minisitry in the parish:
“This screen was erected as a Tribute of Respect and Affection to the Reverend Canon Frederic Smith Swindell, M.A, Incumbent of this Parish for 49.5 years from January 1887 to August 1936.
“In grateful appreciation of his untiring energy in promoting the Spiritual Welfare of the Community and the success which attended his efforts in contributing to the growth and development of the Church during his incumbency of forty-nine and a half years from January 1887 to August 1936. During this period the Church expanded from a small Chapel-of-Ease to a large and important Parish Church. The Church was beautified by mural paintings at the West Gallery, the former flat ceiling replaced the present lofty roof. Stonework to the tower restored, a peal of bells installed and several stained glass windows added. A new organ was constructed, new seating provided, the lighting and heating improved. The Chapel was fitted up as a Memorial Chapel in the remembrance of Erdington men who fell in the great War. The Lych Gate was erected and the Churchyard enlarged several times. The schools have been preserved and improved from time to time. The creation of the Parishes of All Saints, Graveley Hill and St. Mary’s, Pype Hayes and the erection of the Mission Churches of St. Margaret, St. Chad and St. Etheldreda, afforded vastly increased facilities, for the convenience of worshippers, while the building of the Church House Assembly Rooms added to the social amenities of the Parish.
The Canon was ably assisted by his beloved wife Allas Hindle Swindell who, as President of the Ladies’ Needlework Guild by her indefatigable efforts in many other ways, helped to provide the money to carry out alterations and additions to the Church.
All friends in the Parish united in this grateful tribute of Christian worth and service.
On December 12th 1936 the Rev. Walter Sandiford Power was instituted by the Right Rev. Ernest William Barnes, D.Sc D D LLD FRS the Lord Bishop of the Diocese as the third Vicar of Erdington.
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