Ancient Parish of ASTON

Historic county: Warwickshire

Ss Peter & Paul

Until the 19th century Aston was an extensive parish comprising a number of townships. The Domesday Book mentions a priest here in 1086, though the church may have been an Anglo-Saxon minster long before that. Except for the tower, the church was rebuilt by J A Chatwin between 1879 and 1890.

 

Ss Peter & Paul Church website

The church's own website is to be found at The Church of England in Aston & Nechells - http://www.astonnechellscofe.org.uk/ / http://www.astonnechellscofe.org.uk/history_aston.

See also A Church near You - http://www.achurchnearyou.com/aston-st-peter-st-paul/.

 

You might also be interested in A History of Birmingham Places & Placenames . . . from A to Y - Aston - http://billdargue.jimdo.com/placenames-gazetteer-a-to-y/places-a/aston/.

 

Press function key F5 to refresh the map.

 

Above: Archibold Fullarton’s map of Birmingham 1866.

Image courtesy of the Mapseeker website - http://www.mapseeker.co.uk/ - use permitted for non-commercial purposes.

 

The Manor and Parish of Aston

Aston was an extensive parish and a manor of some local importance before the Norman Conquest. At Domesday it was one of the more valuable manors in the Birmingham area. In 1086 Birmingham manor was valued at 20 shillings for tax purposes while Aston was valued at 100 shillings. Aston included a number of townships and what were later the sub-manors of Bordesley, Castle Bromwich, Duddeston, Erdington, Little Bromwich (Ward End), Minworth, Saltley, Water Orton and Witton. The manor and the parish were co-terminous. 

 

The original manor house stood between Serpentine Road and Charles Road close to the River Tame, though the river's course here now is not the same as it was then. William Hutton described the site:

 

One hundred yards north of the church, in a perfect swamp, stood the hall; probably erected by Godmund [the Saxon lord of the manor at Domesday], or his family: the situation shews the extreme of bad taste - one would think, he endeavoured to lay his house under the water. The trenches are obliterated by the floods, so as to render the place unobserved by the stranger: it is difficult to chuse a worse, except he had put his house under the earth. I believe there never was more than one house erected on the spot, and that was one too much.

William Hutton 1783 An History of Birmingham

 

This may well have been the original Anglo-Saxon site settled as early as the 8th century. The moated hall was out of use by 1367, but the site was not finally built over until the 19th century.

 

The manorial mill, which is also mentioned in the Domesday Book, stood nearby on the Tame near Electric Avenue, though here too the course of the river has been changed. And close by was the parish church.  

Aston Parish Church

Aston Church c1851
Aston Church c1851

Image from James Cornish 1851 Birmingham Illustrated: Cornish's Strangers' Guide through Birmingham - http://openlibrary.org/books/OL24227352M/Birmingham_illustrated.

Advowson

The advowson is the right to present an individual as the vicar or rector of a church to the bishop. There may be financial benefits to this right and certainly it is a means of exerting influence and preference. Advowsons may be given or sold or split and their descent is rarely straightforward. 

For information about the complicated disputes and descent of the advowson of Aston see

British History Online - http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22975.

 

Early History of Aston Church

A priest is mentioned as one of the inhabitants of the manor of Aston in the Domesday Book 1086, and it is reasonable to assume that a church existed here at that time.

 

It is also conjectured that Aston may have been an Anglo-Saxon minster church, though there is no direct evidence to prove this. Certainly in the Middle Ages Aston was an extensive parish and a manor listed in the Domesday Book as of considerably more value than Birmingham, the former being listed as worth 100 shillings while the latter was worth only 20 shillings.

 

In his History of the Parish Church of Aston-juxta-Birmingham Alfred Davidson wrote in 1860 that a course of red sandstone in the north wall of the church may have belonged to a church of the Norman period.  The Norman building was very likely rebuilt in the 13th century. This remnant was presumably destroyed when the nave and chancel were rebuilt in the late 19th century. 

The oldest object in the church is probably a fragment of a medieval stone preaching cross. Dating from the 12th century with a carved depiction of Crucifixion, it stood until 1854 on the Lichfield Road at Aston Cross. It was then brought into the church to prevent it deteriorating further. 

 

Above: Aston Church before 1880

Image from R K Dent 1880 Old & New Birmingham: A History of the Town and its People out of copyright available online at Open Libraryhttp://openlibrary.org/books/OL20580356M/Old_and_New_Birmingham_A_History_of_the_Town_and_Its_People / 

http://www.archive.org/stream/oldandnewbirmin00dentgoog#page/n49/mode/1up.

 

The Middle Ages

The chancel in 1858 - image from Graham Knight's Old Birmingham Prints Facebook page.
The chancel in 1858 - image from Graham Knight's Old Birmingham Prints Facebook page.

The bulk of the church before the 19th-century rebuilding was probably built in the 13th century. The drawing above of c1880 shows the three-light east window of the chancel with its intersecting tracery to have been of 13th-century geometric style. Also visible on the east wall of the nave above the low-pitched 18th-century roof is an older chancel arch, presumably also dating from the 13th century.

 

The south aisle east window was altered in 1790, the mullions removed and a classical-style round arch inserted. However, the former 13th-century pointed arch can be seen blocked in above the newer window.

 

A member of the Warwickshire Archaeological Society visiting the church in 1857 described it as 'an interesting structure of the late Decorated period'.

 

The oldest part of the present church building is a 14th-century ogee-headed niche, probably part of a stone piscina set in the south wall of the south aisle. Its original setting may have been the Lady Chapel of the old church building.

All that now remains of the church shown above is the impressive and very substantial tower with its tall elegant spire. As with many churches the four-stage tower of Aston dates from the 15th century.

 

It was presumably built with its octagonal spire at that date for the spire is known to have been rebuilt in 1776 by John Cheshire. The spire is topped by a ball and weather-cock.

 

Cheshire rebuilt a number of spires across the Midlands, including spires at Hinckley, Leicester and Shrewsbury, as well as that of St Martin’s-in-the-Bull Ring in 1781.

 

Monuments

Also replaced in the 19th-century rebuilding were a number of funerary monuments from the Middle Ages onwards. They are notable for their quantity, quality and range. None are in their original position. In general, memorials to the Holte family of Aston Hall are to be found in the north aisle, the Erdington Chapel was built to house the monuments of that family, while others are situated in the south aisle and under the tower.

 

The monuments include:

An alabaster effigy of a knight c1360 and, on the same altar tomb, the sandstone effigy of a lady c1490. These seem to have been placed together during the 16th century on an amalgamation of the two original tomb chests. The knight is probably Sir Ralph de Arden, born c1285 at Peddimore and later living at Park Hall, Castle Bromwich. He was the maternal great-great-great-great-great-grandfather of William Shakespeare. The Arden family were substantial Warwickshire landowners. The lady is likely to be Elizabeth nee Clodshale, the wife of Robert Arden also of Park Hall.

 

 

Images above and below: Drawings by Wenceslaus Hollar in William Dudgdale 1656 'Antiquities of Warwickshire' on the University of Toronto website - Wenceslaus Hollar Digital Collection. See http://link.library.utoronto.ca/hollar/.

 

 

Effigies of Thomas de Erdington d1434 and his wife Anne or Joan nee Harcourt d1417 set on a chest tomb with carved shields and angels; probably of c1460. Sir Thomas is shown in full armour and formerly wore a collar bearing the Lancastrian insignia of the red rose presented to him by King Henry V. This was removed by his son when Edward IV of the House of York came to power in 1461.

Another similar effigy, probably to Sir William Harcourt died c1482 on a chest tomb with carved angels. He is depicted wearing the Yorkist collar awarded to him by Edward IV.

 

The Erdington Chapel in 1656
The Erdington Chapel in 1656

 

A number of the Holte family are also commemorated here, including William Holte d1518 and his wife Joan. Some of the Holte memorials now in the north aisle are of poorer quality and were probably carved by a local mason copying other tombs. There is a memorial with weeping putti to Sir Thomas Holte 1571-1654, the builder of Aston Hall, one set in a recess with Corinthian columns to Edward Holte d1593 and wife Dorothy, both depicted in Elizabethan dress, a sarcophagus on lion feet to Sir Lister Holte, by Westmacott 1794. and a Baroque memorial, a portrait medallion with mourner, to Sir Charles Holte 1722-1782, the last of the line.

 

Sir Edward Devereux d1622, the builder of the first Castle Bromwich Hall and his wife Katherine d.1627 are commemorated here on an altar tomb, in black marble and alabaster under a pediment carried on Corinthian columns, with Sir Walter Devereux d 1632, five sons and four daughters. Here too a monument to Sir John Bridgeman I of Castle Bromwich Hall d1710 by James Gibbs. 

 

 

Above: Tomb of Edward Devereux (in its original setting) drawn by A E Everitt

in S C Hall 1858 The Baronial Halls and Ancient Picturesque Edifices of England,

out of copyright, on the Internet Archive - http://www.archive.org/stream/baronialhallsanc01halluoft#page/n6/mode/1up.

 

The Present Building

The present church, built in brownish-grey sandstone, dates from 1879-1890 and was designed, outside and in, by Julius Alfred Chatwin, Birmingham's foremost church architect at the time. It was a church builot large to accommodate a congregation of 900. It is now a Grade II* Listed building.

 

Chatwin demolished and rebuilt the church in stages between 1879 and 1890. 

 

The construction of the chancel and Erdington Chapel was anonymously funded by John Feeney, the owner of the Birmingham Post; Feeney was buried at the church, and is commemorated with a memorial by George Frampton. The chancel and south chapel were completed by 1883, and the nave was finished in 1889. The final elements, including the south porch, were completed in 1908, the year after Chatwin's death. The building incorporates items from the earlier church, including some 19th-century stained glass and a medieval piscine. The south chapel was created as the Erdington Chapel to house monuments to that family. A wide range of monuments from the old church was also resited in the new building.

 

This is a long building with the chancel and nave structurally undivided. The chancel has a three-sided apse with 14th-century-style traceried windows. The nave has a tall clerestory with traceried windows. Crenellations were built on to the nave and chancel to match those on the tower. Typically Chatwin included a wealth of medieval-style decoration such as gargoyles and grotesques to the building.

 

Inside the effect is of a long and high building dominated by the apsidal chancel at the east end. Both nave and chancel have a continuous hammer-beam roof, directly influenced by his work with AGN Pugin and Charles Barry on Westminster Hall. He used the same type of roof at St Martin’s-in-the-Bull Ring and elsewhere.

 

There is parquet flooring to the nave and aisles but mosaic floors in geometric designs in the chancel and Erdington chapel. In front of the tower arch is the font of 1881 with an elaborate cover designed by Chatwin.

 

The seven-bay nave arcades are formed from pointed arches carried on alternating round and octagonal piers, with shallow capitals with foliate carving. The decoration is more sumptuous at the east end. The hammer-beam roof has a wealth of carved timber angels, and punched decoration to the trusses. The elaborate two-bay chancel arcades have ogival arches, with rich embellishments including crocketing, cusping, angel figures and pinnacles. The apse has five fine stained glass windows by Hardman's, dating from 1885, and depicting the Adoration of the Lamb. The sanctuary is clad in marble, with rich carved and pierced decoration, incorporating canopied sedilia. The reredos has three similar marble canopies over a stone relief triptych. These and the other furnishings, including the pulpit, were all designed by Chatwin. Situated at the eastern end of the nave the pulpit was installed in 1885. It is of alabaster and marble with biblical scenes in relief and was originally integral with the low, pierced and carved chancel screen.

 

There is more stained glass of the mid- and late 19th century in the north and south aisles, the Erdington chapel, and the tower. An 18th-century window by Francis Eginton has been resited above the north door.

 

Most of the furniture dates from Chatwin's rebuilding. However, at the west end of the nave are four late-15th-century choir stalls with moulded cappings and moulded shaped elbows to the divisions, carved with human heads.

 

A glass and metal-framed meeting room was inserted into the north aisle during the later 20th century. A church centre was built in 1980, linked to the church via the north door. In 2009 a cruciform glass-covered baptismal pool was added to a dais in front of the chancel.

 

Aston Church Centre built 1980
Aston Church Centre built 1980

The Bells

Aston is, and always has been one of Birmingham’s prime bell ringing towers.

 

There were five bells at Aston in 1552 with an 18cwt tenor. These were recast in 1776 by Pack & Chapman of Whitechapel and augmented to an eight with a 20cwt tenor. These bells were well used, many notable performances being rung on them, including a of 15360 peal of Plain Bob Major on 1st October 1793 lasting 9 hours and 29 minutes. The Leicester and Nottingham Journal wrote, ‘This is considered to be the greatest performance that ever was done by one set of men’.

 

In 1814 two new trebles were added by Thomas Mears of Whitechapel and the cracked fourth and tenor were recast, the tenor now weighing 22cwt. Rehanging was carried out in 1868 and again in 1886. In 1935 the whole ring was recast with scientific tuning by Taylor’s of Loughborough and hung in a single level cast iron frame. The tenor of this fine ring of ten weighs 24cwt.

 

Information from Mike Chester’s Church Bells of Warwickshire - http://www.warksbells.co.uk/aston.htm. He credits the research as originating from Chris Pickford.

 

Henry Johnson

Between the church and Witton Lane is the tomb of bellringer Henry Johnson which was erected by 'the Ringers of England in grateful memory of Henry Johnson, to whose ability and perseverance the art of change-ringing is widely endebted.'

 

Johnson came from Lichfield to Birmingham as a youngster and learnt to ring the bells at Aston. He became an accomplished ringer, conductor and composer and was nationally known.

 

Such was Johnson's esteem that a celebration dinner held for his 80th birthday was attended by officials from societies all over the country as well as by the most prominent ringers.

 

As a result of this meeting of eminent ringers, the Central Council of Change Ringers was set up which still thrives. The Henry Johnson Memorial Dinner continues to be held annually in Birmingham. When Johnson died in 1890, his friend John Day said of him,

Whether as companion, friend, ringer, conductor, or composer it is doubtful whether the Exercise [ie. bellringing] will ever again meet with his equal.

 

Some Aston Weblinks

 

See also Church Bells of Warwickshire by Mike Chester - http://www.warksbells.co.uk/.

 

Rev William Eliot's 1889 'The Parish Church of Aston-Juxta-Birmingham' is available to read online or download at http://www.archive.org/stream/parishchurchast00eliogoog#page/n6/mode/2up .

 

This is a Grade II* listed building whose record can be found on the

Historic England website - https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1290008.

 

William Dargue 17.03.2011