In transcribing the following passage from the online version I have expanded abbreviations and added paragraphing, links, and illustrations. The initial “A,” which I have colored red, is in the original. Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are by Lewis, Stratford Road, or Whitlock, New Street, and come from Dent’s The Making of BirminghamGeorge P. Landow

Decorated initial A

T the opening of this last period in the history of the Birmingham churches, the condition of St. Martin’s tower and spire was under consideration, and the last alteration was about to be undertaken in old St. Martin’s, which augured better things for the future of the mother church of Birmingham. “This restoration,” says Mr. Bunce, “was projected in 1849, in consequence of rumours that the spire was unsafe, an impression which subsequent examination verified. A subscription was consequently begun for the general restoration of the church, from the design of Mr. Philip Hardwick, at the estimated cost of ,£12,000. About ,£5,000 were collected, but, through lack of public interest, the project fell through. In 1853, however, it became necessary to restore the tower and spire, by re-casing the former and re-building the latter. The top stone of the old spire was removed July 28th, 1853, and the top stone of the new spire was put on November 22nd, 1855, on the occasion of Prince Albert’s visit to Birmingham, to lay the foundation stone of the Midland Institute. . . . The cost of the restoration of the tower and spire was about £6000 and £700 more was afterwards spent upon the clock, the bell, and the chimes, all of which were put in order in 1858, in preparation for the Queen’s visit to Birmingham. The diameter of the clock dial is 9J feet, and the height of the tower is 72 feet 6 inches, and of the spire 127 feet 6 inches, making 200 feet” [History of Old St. Martin’s, pp. 21-22].

In this condition, the new and handsome Gothic tower and spire serving to intensify the ugliness of the old seventeenth century brick casing of the church itself, the building remained for some years; but in 1869 the rector, the Rev. Canon Wilkinson, D D., set on foot a scheme for the restoration or rebuilding of the church. The proposal met with approval from men of all denominations in Birmingham, the late George Dawson warmly advocating it in a leading article in the Birmingham Morning News, of which he was editor, and a voluntary church rate for this purpose was levied and cheerfully paid by all classes of the community. The old building was demolished in 1872, the last sermon being preached within its walls by the Rev. J. C. Miller, D.D., the late rector of Birmingham, on the 7th of October in that year. The new church was completed in 1875, and consecrated on the 20th of July, the total cost of erection being £32,000.

St. Martin’s Church and Its South Porch. J. A. Chatwin.

The rebuilding was entrusted to Mr. J. A. Chatwin, and the result was one of which all Birmingham men are justly proud. The new church is built in the Gothic style of the early decorated period. The tower opens to the north aisle by lofty arches, which are remains of the old church; the nave is lighted by a well proportioned clerestory, from which springs a beautiful open timbered roof, the carved hammer-beams of which call to mind the noble roof of Westminster Hall. At the entrance to the chancel is a lofty and well-proportioned arch rising to a height of sixty feet—almost, indeed, to the full height of the roof. The church is enriched with several fine stained windows. The large east window, the gift of Messrs. Hardman and Riddell, is an admirable example of the work of the first-named gentleman; the design includes a representation of the Crucifixion, the Parables of the Prodigal Son, the good Samaritan, etc. There are memorial windows at the end of the north and south transepts, the latter designed by Mr. E. Burne Jones, R.A., (who is a native of Birmingham,) and executed by Mr. William Morris; and there is a fine memorial window to the late Canon Miller, rector of St. Martin’s, on the north side of the chancel, designed by T. W. Camm, of Smethwick. Over the altar is a beautiful marble reredos, the gift of the Freemasons of Birmingham and the district. The principal design is that of the Last Supper, the two panels on either side being typical of the evangelists.

The Reredos, St. Martin’s Church and Its South Porch. J. A. Chatwin.

The interior of the church measures, from east to west, 155 feet in length ; at the transepts the width is 104 feet; and across the nave and aisles 67 feet. Although the mother church is now so new, it is not without memorials of the church which had existed on the spot for at least six hundred years. In the south chancel are placed the older altar tombs of the Bermingham family, which were carefully removed from the old church prior to its demolition. The other old memorials, mural tablets, etc., which had been placed in the old church now find a place on the walls of the present fabric ; and portions of the old stonework are also let into the walls. The choir stalls arc made from the old timbers, and as much as possible has been done to connect the present church with its predecessor. The old church, in fact, in its original beautiful condition, lives again in the noble fabric which has been built and adorned by Birmingham men with the same loving zeal which was manifested by their ancestors of the thirteenth century who built Old St. Martin’s.

Left: St Philip's Church, Birmingham/span>, as shown in Birmingham Illustrated (1851), p. 56. Right: ) Looking along the length of the cathedral towards the tower..

The second parish church of Birmingham has also undergone complete restoration during this period. Like the other older buildings, it was built originally of a soft stone, and by the middle of the present century it presented a very worn and dilapidated appearance. In 1864, however, a scheme of restoration was begun, through the liberality of the late Mr. Peter Hollins, a local sculptor of considerable repute, who at his own cost restored the south-west portion of the church, in memory of his father. The work once begun was carried on by a committee, with the late rector, the Hon. and Rev. Grantham Yorke, at its head, and the whole of the body of the church was restored by the end of 1868, the tower still remaining in its original condition.

In 1884 the church was enlarged, and its internal appearance greatly improved, by the erection of a chancel; and subsequently the three windows in the apse were filled with stained glass, from designs by E. Burne Jones, R.A. These windows, which are the finest examples of stained glass in Birmingham, represent respectively the Nativity, the Crucifixion, and the Ascension of our Lord. The latter, which forms the subject of the central window of the three, is depicted in our illustration. It is intended to complete the series by the addition of a western window representing the Last Judgment, the design for which has already been prepared by Mr. Burne Jones.

St. Philip’s Church.

Surrounded by the fine open space so wisely provided by the donor of the site, St. Philip’s occupies the finest position in the town. The churchyard holds the dust of many local notabilities, and among its many memorials of the dead are several of special interest. On one of the pillars which support the north gallery is a tablet to the memory of Edmund Hector, the friend of Johnson; in the north-west corner of the church is a mural tablet with a bust of Moses Haughton, a local artist of the last century.

Interior of St. Philip’s Church.

In the churchyard are the tombstones of Sarah Basker-ville, the widow of the famous printer, and John Wyatt, the inventor of the spinning machine; and among other interesting monuments is an obelisk erected to the memory of Colonel Burnaby, who fell in the Soudan war, with a medallion portrait of the gallant soldier on the front of the base. After the restoration of the church the spacious churchyard was rescued from its former unkempt condition, but even yet it falls far short of what it might be made. This fine open space might become the brightest spot in the heart of the city, a noble pleasaunce hallowed by the memory of Birmingham men and women who rest within its precincts.

In connection with St. Philip’s Church we may fittingly record the efforts made for the establishment of a Bishopric of Birmingham When in 1889 it was announced that Her Majesty had been pleased to raise Birmingham to the dignity of a city, it was felt by many that the time had come to make a determined effort to obtain the full complement of that dignity by the formation of a new episcopal see of which Birmingham should be the centre. In this desire the late Bishop of Worcester (Dr. Philpott) and other leading churchmen concurred, and a fund was raised towards the endowment of the proposed bishopric, amounting to £25,000. The Bishop of Worcester offered to surrender £800 a year to the new see from the endowment of the see of Worcester, the remainder of the endowment fund being obtained by the transfer of the living of St. Philip’s to the bishopric, that church being designated as the future cathedral of Birmingham. By the retirement of Dr. Philpott in July, 1890, however, the Birmingham bishopric scheme had to be laid aside, as it was not known how far the new bishop might be disposed to favour the alienation of a portion of his revenue to the proposed new see. Soon after the appointment of Dr. Perowne to the see of Worcester the scheme was again taken up, and a bill was promoted in Parliament in the session of 1892 for the foundation of the proposed see of Birmingham. Opposition now arose from an unlooked for quarter. It was felt to be an unconstitutional proceeding to create a new bishopric (the holder of which might in due course become a member of the House of Lords) by means of a private bill, and as the Government was in a moribund condition no step could be taken by a more constitutional mode of procedure, and so the bill was dropped and the scheme ‘hung up’ until some more favourable opportunity should arise of carrying it to a successful issue. The subscriptions were returned to the various donors, and the creation of a bishopric of Birmingham still remains an unfulfilled project.

Within the forty-three years which comprise the period covered by the present chapter much more has been done in the way of Church work in Birmingham than in any half-century in the history of the town; nay, more than this, for in these forty-three years the number of churches within the parishes of Birmingham, Aston and Edgbaston, has been more than doubled.

The first church completed during this period was that of St. Jude, which had been commenced in 1850, in the densely populated district then known as the Inkleys. The land for this church was given by General Vyse, and the money for building and endowment from various sources, including £500 from the Church Commissioners. The first stone was laid August 14th, 1850, and the church was consecrated June 26th, 1851. It is a brick building, in the early English style.

The work of church-building, for some years after the opening of St. Jude’s, was carried on chiefly in the outlying districts. In 1852 a second offshoot from the parish church of Edgbaston was created by the erection of the church which it was at first proposed to dedicate to St. Augustine, but which was afterwards called St. James’s. This church, for which a site was given by Lord Calthorpe, at the junction of St. James’s and Pakenham Roads, is a pleasing structure in the early decorated style, was erected in 1851, and consecrated on the 1st of June, 1852. In 1851 a meeting was held to consider the provision of church accommodation for the rapidly growing district of Ladywood, the Rev. George Lea (an enthusiast in the work of church extension) having offered the sum of £1,000 towards the erection and endowment of a church in this district. The Governors of King Edward’s School had granted a site, and the Rector of St. Martin’s had promised “to give a piece of glebe land towards the endowment on condition that the patronage be vested in the Rector of St. Martin’s for the time being.” It was therefore resolved to build a church tQ be called by the name of St. John the Evangelist, to accommodate about 1,400 persons. The site given by the School Governors was on Ladywood Green, and here the first stone was laid by Lord Calthorpe, September 28th, 1852, and the church was completed and consecrated on the 15th of March, 1854. It is built in the Geometrical style, and has several stained windows. This church was greatly enlarged in 1881.

In the low-lying district at the bottom of what was formerly called Hangman’s Lane, but is now known by the more euphonious name of Great Hampton Row, a new settlement was growing up, for which no church accommodation had as yet been provided. Accordingly, a brick church of little external beauty, but internally of fair proportions, (St. Matthias’), was erected at the junction of Farm Street and Wheeler Street, in 1855-6, being consecrated on the 4th of June in the latter year. It underwent considerable improvement in 1879.

From the parochial district of St. Matthews’, Duddeston, a new outgrowth was formed in 1858 in the direction of Nechells, the long projecting strip of the borough which extended between Aston and Saltley, which had already become a populous suburb within the borough boundaries. A pretty Gothic church was erected in the midst of this district in 1858-9, from designs by Mr. J. A. Chatwin, and was consecrated August 30th, 1859. Its plan is cruciform, and it consists of a nave, aisles, transepts and chancel, and is dedicated to St. Clement. The cost of erection amounted to £3,500.

Another church was erected in the Ladywood district in i860, to supply the needs of the thickly populated district lying to the north of broad Street. This was St. Barnabas’, the site of which was given by Miss Ryland. It is a pleasing specimen of modern Gothic architecture, but is largely hidden from view by the houses which crowd around it and close up to its walls. It was built by voluntary contributions, at a cost of £4,000, and was consecrated on the 24th of October, 1860.

The earnest efforts which had been made towards the provision of church accommodation in the rapidly extending outskirts of the town still left much to be desired, and at the close of the year 1864 a movement was set on foot for the establishment of a society for the promotion of church building in Birmingham. A public meeting was convened by invitation of the Bishop of the Diocese, for January 31st, 1865, to consider what measures it was desirable to take to bring about this result, and as the outcome of this meeting the Birmingham Church Extension Society was formed. Towards this laudable purpose Miss Ryland contributed the sum of £10,000, and other donations were received to the amount of about ,£3, coo, and the first church was erected by the Society in the growing neighbourhood lying alongside the banks of the Rea, in. what was then the parish of St. Luke’s. This was St. David’s, in Bissell Street, which was built at a cost of £6,680, and consecrated August 2nd, 1865. It is of the usual modern brick Gothic style, with a slated spire rising to a considerable height, which is a conspicuous object in that neighbourhood. The need for the new church was speedily demonstrated. Dr. Miller, speaking at a meeting of the Church Extension Society shortly after its erection, said, “St. David’s was the most successful piece of church-building there had been at that time, as the church was furnished with a considerable congregation at once, without any appreciable loss to the parent church of St. Luke’s.”

In the same year a new church was built in Broad Street, on the site of what had been the chapel of the Magdalen Asylum. The first stone of this building, which was called Immanuel Church, was laid by the Rev. G. S. Bull, May 12th, 1864, and the church was consecrated May 7th, 1865.

The second of the churches built by the Church Extension Society was in the dismal, smoke-begrimed district intersected by Dartmouth Street and Heneage Street, perhaps the most disheartening spot in Birmingham to be the field of Christian enterprise. The church itself was without architectural pretensions, being a plain brick structure dedicated to St. Lawrence, and was consecrated on the 25th of June, 1868. A third church was erected as the result of the efforts of this Society in Lower Tower Street, the first stone of which was laid by Mr. Frederick Elkington, on the 15th of October, 1867. It is a plain brick edifice in the prevailing Gothic style, dedicated to St. Nicholas, and was consecrated July 12th, 1868.

In the same week that the first stone of this church was laid, the Bishop of Worcester laid the foundation stone of the Church of St. Augustine, Hagley Road. The church was completed and consecrated on the 12th of September, 1868, and cost £9,000. A tower and spire were subsequently added, at a cost of £4,000.

The next effort of the Church Extension Society was on behalf of the population of the new district which had arisen in the neighbourhood of Vauxhall. The grounds of Duddeston Hall (once the residence of Samuel Galton) had been cut up into streets for building purposes, and the hall itself was secured as a school building in connection with the proposed church of St. Anne, which was consecrated October 22nd, 1869.

Interior of the Church of St. Alban the Martyr. From a photograph. by A. J. Leeson, Esq.

The seed was planted in 1865 of a successful missionary effort on behalf of a spiritually destitute neighbourhood, which was without either ‘church, dissenting chapel, mission rooms, school, endowment, grant, or any other spiritual provision for the inhabitants,’ [Vaughton’s Hole: Twenty-five years in it, by the Rev. J. S. Pollock, 1890, p. 4]—the district being that which was being rapidly built over an exhausted clay-pit known as ‘Vaughan’s Hole,’ lying about half-way between St. Martin’s and Highgate. On the 28th of June in that year the Rev. James S. Pollock commenced his ministry in a temporary building dedicated to St. Alban the Martyr, from whence has grown the noble church of the same name, which is one of the finest, architecturally, in the town. The early history of St. Alban’s was characterised by a series of disturbances which hampered the progress of the church. From the ritualistic character of its services it became the mark for attacks from various quarters, and much difficulty was experienced in raising even a more substantial temporary church (the first being little better than a barn); but this was ultimately accomplished, and a neat brick church was erected and opened on the 7 th of March, 1871, which provided accommodation for 480 worshippers. Its cost, including all fittings, did not exceed £1,500. By the help of several generous donors the present Church of St. Alban was erected in 1879-81, from designs by J. L. Pearson, and consecrated May 3rd, 1881. This fine church is of cathedral scale, and is in the style thirteenth century. Externally it is built of brick but is lined with stone, and is vaulted throughout in the same material, the central vault rising to a height of fifty feet. The clustered shafts forming the pillars at the junction of the choir and transept, and the fine series of apsidal arches which run behind the altar, give to the interior a fine cathedral-like appearance. The cost of erection amounted to £18,000.

Works of the [Anglican] Church Extension Society

Returning to our record of the work of the Church Extension Society we have to note the erection of a new church in Great Colmore Street, near the Horse-fair, in 1868. This was St. Asaph’s, a modern Gothic building of red brick with stone dressings, which was consecrated December 8th, 1868. One month later another church of a similar character was opened in the wretched district lying between the Horsefair and Deritend, that of St. Gabriel, in Pickford Street. The interior of this church is enriched with sculpture by the late John Roddis; the capitals of the pillars are adorned with carvings of flowers, fruits, birds, etc., and there are heads of the twelve apostles, St. Gabriel and St. Michael, and a number of angelic figures round the chancel. The cost of these enrichments was defrayed by a special donation.

St. Cuthbert’s, Heath Street, an outgrowth from All Saints’, was erected in 1872. This is like many of the smaller churches of later years, built of brick with stone dressings, in the early decorated style. It was consecrated March 19th, 1872.

St. Saviours’s, Hockley, was erected in 1874. and is also a gothic building of brick and stone/ This was an outgrowth of St. Mattias, and ws consecrated on the 1st of May, 1874. It has a handsome pulpit of bath stone, and a font of Caen stone, both of them the gift of the late Mr. Peter Hollins, sculptor.

A new district was formed out of the parish of St. John’s, Ladywood, in 1876, where a new church had been built in 1875. This was St. Margaret’s, Ledsam Street, a handsome church in the twelfth century style, which was consecrated on the 2nd of October in the last-named year.

In all the suburban districts outgrowth churches have been built. At Aston, St. Silas’s was built in the Lozells district in 1853-4, and St. Paul’s, in the same district, in 1877-8. St. Mary’s, Aston Brook, a pretty specimen of Gothic brickwork, was built on land given for the purpose by J. Y. Robins, Esq., in 1863. Recently a fine tower has been added to this church. St. James’s, which is at present partially of iron, with a chancel of brick and stone was also built, nearer to the parish church, in 1889-90. At Spark-brook, Christ Church was built in 1866-7, partly through the munificence of Mr. Sampson S. Lloyd. It is one of the most elegant churches in any of the suburbs. At Small Heath a new church (All Saints’) was built as a memorial to the late Mr. Oldknow, vicar of Holy Trinity, in 1883, and an offshoot from St. Andrew’s has been formed from which St. Oswald’s, a new church just completed, has arisen. From St. Clement’s, Nechells, a district chapelry has been formed, and St. Catherine’s Church, in Scholefield Street, erected in 1878. In the neighbourhood of Summerfield Park a third church bearing the name of Christ Church has been built as a memorial of the late Rev. George Lea, of Edgbaston.

Left: Aston Parish Church as it was. Right: Aston Parish Church as rebuilt, 1789-1883.

Most of the old parish churches in the suburbs have been restored within recent years. Aston Parish Church has been entirely rebuilt, as ‘the old church which had been built to accommodate the rural population of a large country parish was quite insufficient for the growing needs of a populous town. It was accordingly determined not only to restore the old building, but to erect a much larger and more imposing structure, which should preserve the architectural features of the ancient church and restore them to some of the beauty of which they had been deprived by the alterations at the close of the eighteenth century.”[The Rev. W. Eliot, M.A.: The Parish Church of Aston-Juxta-Birmingham, p. 12]. The work of rebuilding was commenced in 1879, and the whole church has now been rebuilt with the exception of a portion of the north aisle. The rebuilding of the south aisle has just been completed. The whole of the work has been done under the supervision of, and from designs by, Mr. J. A. Chatwin.

Interior of Aston Parish Church as restored.

The old chancel has been restored as a south chantry, the old monuments of the Arden, Erdington and Devereux families being carefully restored therein. This is now known as the ‘Erdington Chapel,’ and has been enriched with sculpture, as has also the choir of the church, at the cost of an anonymous donor by whom the cost of rebuilding these portions of the church has been borne. A fine reredos, the central group of which represents the Ascension of Our Lord, has recently been placed in the church. We give views of the exterior of the church both before and after its restoration, also one of the interior as it now appears. It need scarcely be added that the fine old tower and spire still remain, although the upper courses of the latter have been rebuilt, and the appearance of the spire greatly improved.

Handsworth Parish Church has also been completely restored and partly rebuilt under the direction of Mr. Chatwin, at a cost of about ^8,000. One of the most interesting features of this church is the Watt Chapel, in which, in addition to Chantrey’s noble statue of Watt, there are memorials of Boulton, Murdock, and Eginton.

Handsworth Parish Church.

Harborne Parish Church had been largely rebuilt at the close of the last century, according to the taste of the times. That it should have so continued through the period of the revival of church architecture would have been a reproach to the parish. Accordingly it was reconstructed in accordance with modern ideas in 1866 at a cost of ,£3,500. The windows in the apse were filled with stained glass in 1874, as a memorial of David Cox, the famous landscape painter, who is buried in the churchyard.

Harborne Parish Church.

Nonconformist Churches

Turning now to the Nonconformist churches, we have to record a period of prosperity and extension on all sides equal to that experienced during the same period by the Established Church.

The chief events in the history of Unitarianism in Birmingham during this period have been associated with the removal of the ancient landmarks and the erection of newer and more ornate edifices by both the Old and the New Meeting Churches. In 1861, the situation of the New Meeting House having become inconvenient, the building was sold to the Roman Catholics, and a new church erected nearer to Edgbaston, where the principal members of the congregation lived. This was the Church of the Messiah, a pleasing example of geometrical Gothic, which is built on strong and massive arches over the Birmingham and Worcester Canal, in Broad Street. This circumstance led one of the wits of the day to pen an epigram as follows:

“St. Peter’s world-wide diocese Rests on the power of the keys; Our church, a trifle heterodox,
Will rest upon ‘a power of locks. [This epigram appeared in the Town Crier, a local satirical periodical, during the building of the church.]

The front of the church faces Broad Street, and is enriched with a fine five-light traceried window, surmounted by a gable. The entrance is under a triple arch supported on granite columns; and at the southeast angle of the front is a graceful tower and spire rising to a height of 150 feet. The building was erected from designs by J. J. Bateman, at a cost of over £15,000; the first stone was laid August nth, i860, and the church was opened on New Year’s Day, 1862. The Priestley memorial and the tablet to the memory of the Rev. John Kentish were both removed from the Meeting House and re-erected in the new church.

In 1882, a scheme was set on foot for the extension of New Street Railway Station, and among other properties scheduled for removal to make way for the additional buildings was the chapel and burial ground which stood on the site of the first meeting house ever erected in Birmingham. Accordingly the Old Meeting House and burial ground were sold to the London and North Western Railway Company, the remains of the dead were transferred to a separate piece of ground in the Borough Cemetery at Witton, and a new church was erected for the congregation in the Bristol Road, and opened in October, 1885. This was built from designs by Mr. J. Cossins, and is a beautiful example of the Gothic of the Transition period. It is built of Hampstead stone, relieved with Hollington stone, and consists of a nave, fifty feet long, with side aisles and transepts, and a chancel for the choir. The church is enriched with much beautiful carving by Bridgman, of Lichfield.

The earlier years of the second half-century witnessed the dawn of a better taste in architecture and aesthetics among dissenters, and one of the earliest evidences of this, in Birmingham, at any rate, was the erection of VVycliffe Chapel by the Baptists, in Bristol Road. This beautiful place of worship was built at the cost of Mr. Middlemore, and was designed by Mr. Cranston. It is in the Gothic of the fourteenth century, the front gable being pierced by a large traceried window, and the side window's are each in a separate gable. At the corner of the frontage is a handsome towrer and a richly crocketted spire. In the tympanum of the arched entrance is a statuette of Wycliffe. The first stone was laid by Mr. Middlemore, November 8th, 1859, and the chapel was opened in 1861.

Carr’s Lane Chapel.

One of the most notable characteristics of nonconformity in Birmingham during this period has been the gradual desertion of the town chapels owing to the exodus of their principal supporters to the various suburbs. “Gradually the old members died, and their sons and daughters went to live in the suburbs, and so Cannon Street, which was the flourishing mother-church of the Particular Baptists, dwindled in numbers. Fortunately the site of it was required by the Corporation of Birmingham [as part of the area of the Improvement Scheme], and it was sold for £60,000. . . . The purchase money was, under a scheme sanctioned by the Court of Chancery, expended in aid of several Baptist chapels in the town and suburbs” [G. J. Johnson: Ecclesiastical Notices, in the Handbook of Birmingham prepared for the Members of the British Association, 1886, pp. 105-6].

Just before the close of this chapel, however, large congregations were attracted to it by the preaching of the Rev. Arthur Mursell, who had recently accepted the pastorate of the church. For some time the ejected congregation assembled at the Masonic Hall, but subsequently they found a permanent home in Mount Zion Chapel, Graham Street, the congregation of which had in like manner migrated to the suburbs of Edgbaston and Hands worth.

The larger portion of the old Graham Street congregation erected a beautiful church in the Hagley Road, partly out of a portion of the Cannon Street purchase-money. This place of worship, which is a fine example of modern Gothic, the most characteristic feature of which is a central lantern tower of graceful proportions, was built from designs by Cubitt, and opened May 24th, 1882.

Church of the Redeemer, Hagley Road.

The portion of the old Mount Zion Church residing in the neighbourhood of Handsworth built a handsome Gothic church in Hamstead Road in that suburb, from designs by Mr. J. P. Osborne. It cost £7,500, and was opened March 1st, 1883.

Handsome chapels have also been built by the Baptist denomination in most of the suburbs, and smaller places of worship in various parts of the town, which it is not necessary to particularise here.

The Independents, or Congregationalists

The Independents, or Congregationalists, unlike the Baptists, have not lost ground in the centre of the town to any great extent. Carr’s Gane Chapel has practically been rebuilt during this period, a new front having been built to it in 1871 and the interior largely reconstructed at a later date. This latter step was rendered necessary owing to the strain on the old roof, from the great width of the span. A new roof was therefore constructed over the middle portion of the chapel, supported on iron pillars and arches, with trellised spandrils, while the sides are treated as aisles with separate roofs.

Some years before the death of the Rev. John Angell James, the Rev. R. W. Dale was admitted as co-pastor, and after the death of the venerable minister (which took place on the ist of October, 1859) Mr. Dale was chosen as his successor, and has had charge of this church ever since, adding new lustre to the fame of the mother-church of Congregationalism in Birmingham by his ability, both by his preaching and scholarship, and he has taken a prominent position in the public life of the town. Like his predecessor he has written many books, which are highly esteemed by thoughtful men of every sect and church.

In 1855-6, a handsome Congregational Church was built in Francis Road, Edgbaston, to commemorate the fiftieth year of the Rev. J. A. James’s ministry in Birmingham. The first stone was laid by Mr. James on the nth of September, 1855. Like Wycliffe Chapel, this was one of the early departures from the old dissenting order of architecture, and it greatly displeased Mr. James that a ‘churchy’ style was chosen for this memorial of his jubilee. The building was designed by Mr. Yeoville Thomason, in the geometrical decorated style, and cost upwards of £5,000. The principal entrance is under a fine tower surmounted by a spire, the whole structure rising to a height of 170 feet.

A spacious chapel for this denomination was erected at the Ixjzells end of Wheeler Street, in place of the smaller chapel previously referred to, in 1863-4. It was undertaken during the pastorate of Mr. Feaston, and largely owing to his exertions, and is estimated to accommodate 1,200 persons. It is in the Italian style, oval in shape, with a bold arched entrance.

As in the case of Mount Zion Chapel, the congregation of its vis-a-vis neighbour, Highbury Chapel, Graham Street, migrated from that quarter in 1879, a new congregation of the same denomination gathering in the old place of worship under the pastorate of the Rev. Charles Leach. The new “Highbury,” as it may be termed, is in Soho Hill, and is a handsome church in the Ix>mbardic style, erected from the designs of Mr. J. H. Fleming. It cost £15,000, and was opened July 16th, 1879.

The Congregationalists have in later years built handsome places of worship in all the suburbs.

We have recorded in a former chapter the establishment of a college for the training of ministers for the Congregationalists at Spring Hill. Towards 1850 a fund was started for the erection of a more commodious building for this institution, and in 1854 the erection of the new college building was begun, on a fine healthy site, comprising twenty-two acres of land, on Moseley Common. The architect of the building was Mr. Joseph James, of London, and the style chosen was that of the early part of the fifteenth century. The college was opened on the 24th of June, 1857, and flourished in this building until about 1882, when the institution was removed to Oxford, where a handsome college building has been erected, which bears the name of its founders—Mansfield College.

Wesleyean Methodists and Other Methodist Congregations

About the close of the half-century the Wesleyan Methodist denomination received the severest shock it has ever sustained. There were at this period several fiery spirits in the denomination who were bent upon the reform of the Methodist system in various ways, and issued a number of “ Fly Sheets ” animadverting in strong language on some of the abuses which they deemed to exist in the denomination. Official Methodism, however, was at that time in favour of stifling free criticism, and the leaders of the agitation -three ministers named Dunn, Everitt, and Griffith, were expelled from the Wesleyan Methodist society. The moral atmosphere of Birmingham was favourable to free criticism, and in consequence the movement of the reformers was felt here, perhaps, more strongly than elsewhere. A large secession from the parent society of Methodism followed the new leaders, and a ‘ cause’ was established in Birmingham by the ‘‘Wesleyan Reform Association,” in Bath Street. Later on a small chapel was built in Rocky Lane, which has been succeeded by a larger and more handsome place of worship, and the Bath Street Chapel becoming worn-out, the old Baptist Chapel in Bond Street was secured, a more modern front being erected in place of the original facade of the building. Latterly a handsome modern church has been erected by the new Methodist body (which at a very early date altered its original name to that of the United Methodist Free Churches,) in Gravelly Hill, as a memorial of the late Councillor M. J. Hart. This place of worship, which is adorned with a handsome spire, was erected from designs by Mr. Ewen Harper.

The influence of this secession retarded the progress of the old Methodist society for many years, and during the following quarter of a century little was done in chapel building, compared with the preceding quarter. In 1854 the cause which had been established in Bell Barn Road was removed to Bristol Road, where a larger chapel was erected. In like manner a new and handsome Gothic chapel was built in St. Martin Street, Islington, from designs by Mr. J. H. Chamberlain, at a cost of nearly £8,000, in place of the older chapel in the same street.

As the years passed by and the lost ground was regained, the Wesleyan Methodists entered upon a period of activity and prosperity such as they had probably never experienced before in Birmingham. They built handsome chapels in all the outskirts, at Summer Hill, Aston Villa, Lichfield Road (Aston), Moseley Road, Coventry Road, Birchfields, Sandon Road, and in all the more remote suburbs. From the four circuits which existed in 1850, Birmingham Methodism has increased to six circuits, [Besides Smethwick, which is reckoned a seventh Birmingham circuit] which are arranged as follows:

First Circuit (Moseley Road), comprising the chapels in Moseley Road, King’s Heath, and Knutsford Street.

Second Circuit (Belmont Row): Belmont Row, Lord Street, and Coventry Road.

Third Circuit (Aston Park): Nechells Park Road, Lichfield Road (Aston), Erdington and Sutton Coldfield.

Fourth Circuit (Wesley): Constitution Hill, (“Wesley Chapel,”) Summer Hill (Icknield Street), New John Street West, Aston Villa, (George Street, Lozells), and Nineveh.

Fifth Circuit (Islington): St. Martin’s Street (Islington), Stirling Road, and Sandon Road.

Sixth Circuit (Bristol Road): Bristol Road, Harborne, and Selly Oak.

It will be noticed that several of the older chapels are omitted from the above enumeration. The mother chapel of Birmingham Methodism, in Cherry Street, was removed under the Improvement Scheme, and in place thereof a fine block was erected in Corporation Street, comprising a small chapel to seat three hundred persons, a large hall, capable of accommodating eleven hundred persons, school-rooms, class-rooms, and other premises, with two shops on the street frontage. The completion of these premises synchronised with the commencement of what has been called ‘ the Forward Movement ’ in Methodism, and the flowing tide which had already manifested its existence in London and Manchester was soon found sufficient to throng the large ‘Central Hair with worshippers on Sunday evenings, the small ‘morning chapel’ being found also requisite to accommodate the overflow congregations for whom no room could be found in the hall. Recently it has been found necessary to engage the large Lecture Theatre of the Midland Institute as an auxiliary mission hall for Sunday evening services. This wonderfully successful mission has been conducted from the commencement by the Rev. F. Luke Wiseman, B.A., assisted latterly by the Rev. J. T. Gurney.

The success of the Central Mission led to the setting apart of two of the older town chapels for the same purpose, those in Newtown Row and Bradford Street, and these, with the Central Mission, have been focussed into a sort of mission circuit, under the control of the Birmingham Wesleyan Mission Committee.

Wesleyan College Handsworth.

The Wesleyan Methodist Conference was held in Birmingham in 1865, and again in 1879. Shortly after the latter gathering a college was built at Hands-worth for the training of Wesleyan ministers, being the fourth institution of a similar character in connection with Methodism in England. The first stone was laid June 6th, 1880. It is a commodious building in the Gothic style of the fourteenth century, and contains accommodation for seventy students, with a handsome dining hall, library, lecture hall, and class-rooms, and from the centre, over the principal entrance, rises an embattled tower 75 feet high. The college is pleasantly situated within its own grounds, which are eighteen acres in extent, in which are also detached residences for two tutors.

The Primitive Methodists and the Methodist New Connection have made comparatively little progress in Birmingham in later years. The former have now chapels in Gooch Street, Lord Street, Spark brook, Nechells, Garrison Lane, and Whitmore Street, and the latter, besides the chapel in Unett Street mentioned in a foregoing chapter, have only several small chapels, in Moseley Street, Priestley Road, and at Ladywood.

The Swedenborgians, Irving's Catholic Apostolic Church, Quakers

The aesthetic revival which transformed so many of the dissenting places of worship in Birmingham, reached the Swedenborgian or ‘ New Church, and on the 16th of June, 1875, the foundation stone of a new church, to be erected in Wretham Road, Handsworth, in place of the old Summer Lane chapel, was laid by Mrs. Henry Wilkinson. The new building, which was designed by Mr. Thomas Naden, was completed and opened on November 22nd, 1876. It has a handsome stone front, with tower and spire, and is in the decorated Gothic style, enriched with carving and stained glass. One of the most notable adornments of the building is a reredos of marble, being a sculptured representation of Leonardo La Vinci’s “Last Supper,” executed by John Roddis, of Aston.

The Birmingham branch of the church which arose out of the later ministration of the Rev. Edward Irving—which bore the name of the Catholic Apostolic Church—was first planted in Newhall Street, in a humble meeting-house of the old familiar pattern (the site of which is now covered by the Assay Office), but in 1876 they erected a handsome church, more in keeping with the ornate character of their ritual, in Summer Hill Terrace.

In 1856 the Quakers, or Friends, pulled down their ancient meeting-house, and built a more commodious edifice on its site. As befits the sect for whom it was built, it is plain and simple in style, but, with its pleasant turf-covered ground, it forms a pleasing oasis as seen from the arched gateway in Bull Street It was built from designs by Mr. T. Plevins, and opened January 25th, 1857.

Roman Catholicism

About 1850 the greatest convert the Roman Catholic Church had yet made, came to Birmingham, and established an Oratory of St. Philip Neri in premises which had formerly been used as a distillery in Alcester Street, and gathered around him several notable men, among them Father Faber and Austin Mills. “Their long black cloaks, the peculiar habit of the Order, were,” says Mr. Jaffray, “conspicuous objects in the streets, until the fulmination of an edict against them by the Government in 1852, incidental to the agitation on the Papal Agression movement” [Hints for a History of Birmingham]. In 1852 more suitable premises were erected for the Oratorians, in Hagley Road, and here the fathers of the Oratory took up their abode, with John Henry Newman at their head. Not a few men of mark found their way to the Birmingham Oratory, among them the late Ambrose St. John and Edward Caswell, whose hymns and translations have found their way into the hymnals of almost every denomination.

In connection with the Oratory, a chapel was built, and “ dedicated to Our Blessed Lady, under the title of her Immaculate Conception ” ; this place of worship was the resort of notable people of all classes and sects, who were attracted thither by the fame of the preacher. In 1879 Dr. Newman was created a cardinal by the present Pope, Leo XIII., and received the hat at the hands of the Pope himself, at Rome, on the 16th of May in the above-named year. Cardinal Newman lived to the age of eighty-nine, and died on the nth of August, 1890.

We have already mentioned that the Roman Catholics purchased the New Meeting House in Moor Street in 1862. It was thereupon fitted up as a Catholic Chapel, and received the name of St. Michael's.

In 1872 a new chapel was erected in place of what had hitherto been only a mortuary chapel, in the Catholic Cemetery of St. Joseph's, Nechells, previously served from St. Chad's. Two other Roman Catholic churches have also been erected—that of St. Catherine of Sienna, in the Horse Fair, which was consecrated September 28th, 1875, and St. Patrick, in the Dudley Road, opened in 1876.


During this period the Jews have taken up a better position than they had hitherto held in Birmingham. The building in Severn Street had become unworthy of its position as the chief synagogue of this ancient people in Birmingham, and a handsome building was commenced, in Singer’s Hill, on the 12th of April, 1855, and completed and consecrated on the 24th of September, 1856. It was erected from designs by Mr. Yeoville Thomason, and cost (with the adjoining school buildings) 0,000. The building is in the Byzantine style, and is 80 feet long and 63 feet wide; it is divided into nave and aisles by arcades of seven arches on each side, arranged in two orders; the sanctuary is semi-circular, and is entered from the main building under a bold arch supported on four columns.

A number of smaller sects have arisen in later days and have found a home in Birmingham. Among these may be mentioned the Christadelphians (who first appeared in this town in 1866), the Disciples of Christ, the Plymouth Brethren, and other similar denominations. As Birmingham has in its past history shown itself to be pre eminently the home of political freedom, so it has, since the unfortunate riots of 1791, been characterised by a large measure of freedom in religious matters. On all the great corporate bodies, Church and Dissent are fairly and fully represented. Churchmen and Dissenters, Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Christians, all take a fair share in the government of the city and its various institutions. What Charles Pye wrote in his notices of Birmingham in 1819 is equally true to-day : “In this town every individual worships his Maker in whatever way his inclination leads him, without the least notice being taken or remark made; if a person’s conduct is exemplary, or if he does not give way to any vicious propensities, no one will interrupt or interfere with him.”

Links to Related Material


Dent, Robert K. The Making of Birmingham: Being a History of the Rise & Growth of the Midland Metropolis. Birmingham: J. L. Allday, 1894. Birmingham: Hall and English, 1886. 520-40. HathiTrust online version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 6 October 2022.

Last modified 5 October 2022