Castle Bromwich

St Mary & St Margaret

Castle Bromwich was mentioned as a chapel of Aston in 1165 and may date from the building of the Norman castle here. With a 3-mile journey to Aston at a time when there were no bridges, crossing the Rea and Tame was impossible in winter. 

St Mary & St Margaret's Church website

The church's own website is - http://www.stmaryandstmargaret.co.uk/

See also A Church near You - http://www.achurchnearyou.com/castle-bromwich-st-mary-st-margaret/.

 

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

 

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Above: Ordnance Survey map 1897. Image courtesy of the Mapseeker website - http://www.mapseeker.co.uk/ - use permitted for non-commercial purposes.

Much of the information below is freely adapted from the history of the church by William Dargue with David Adams 2004 on the church's own website - http://www.stmaryandstmargaret.co.uk/history/.

Castle Bromwich Manor

Castle Bromwich is a now suburb in the Borough of Solihull Metropolitan District. It lies just beyond the eastern boundary of the City of Birmingham and is some 6 miles from the city centre. Until the 1930s the manor of Castle Bromwich stretched from Stechford almost to Water Orton, lying on the higher ground between the valleys of the Rivers Cole and Tame.

 

From the Norman Conquest this was a sub-manor of Aston under the overlordship of Dudley. It was held initially by a follower of Ansculf of Picquiny, himself a lieutenant of William the Conqueror. Sometime during the next century the family acquired the surname de Bromwich. The manor passed by marriage to the Ferrers family of Chartley c1345 and again by marriage to the Devereux family one of whom eventually became the Earl of Essex. It was Sir Edward Devereux who built Castle Bromwich Hall on the present site in 1599. 

Coats of Arms of Devereux and Bridgeman
Coats of Arms of Devereux and Bridgeman

Sir Orlando Bridgeman bought the manor in 1657 for his son, Sir John Bridgeman I whose own son, Sir John Bridgeman II inherited in 1710. I was he who subsequently extended and improved the hall.

 

Henry Bridgeman was created Baron Bradford by George III in 1794 and his son, Orlando was created the Earl of Bradford also by George III in 1815. The seventh earl, Richard Bridgeman is the current lord of the manor. The Bridgeman arms in the present church bear the Red Hand of Ulster indicating the origin of this order of the baronetcy in 1611 when James I was raising money for his military campaigns in ireland.

 

Castle Bromwich Chapel

The importance to this church of the succession of lords of the manor is that, until 1878 this was not a parish church, but the private chapel of the manorial lords. It is likely that the original Norman chapel was built for one of the de Bromwich family.

 

The church first appears in documentary evidence of 1165, in a charter recording the granting of Castle Bromwich by the manorial overlords, the de Paynel family to Tickford Priory.

 

Another document of 1175 mentions a Norman chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary at Castle Bromwich. Wido de Bramewic is recorded as lord of the manor in 1168, and Alan de Bromwych in 1185. There is a further reference in a document by William of Berwood in 1301 where, as part of a land transfer, the recipient is required to

'sustain annually a wax light and torch burning before the altar of the Blessed Virgin in the Chapel of Wodybromwig all the year when other wax lights and torches are lighted in the said Chapel.'


This drawing by Beighton before 1731 shows the church before the brick encasement was complete. The intention was clearly to leave the stone chancel as it was. This is almost certainly the original Norman chapel. In the event both chancel and nave were encased in brick. However, some of the this early stone church must survive within the present building. 

Conjectural view of the Norman chapel based on Beighton's drawing above.
Conjectural view of the Norman chapel based on Beighton's drawing above.

 

Built in local sandstone perhaps in the mid-12th century, the chapel would have been roughly the size of the present chancel. Evidence of the original stonework still survives.

 

Outside the church the 18th-century building at ground level has a run of decorative sandstone above a brick foundation.

 

At the east end, however, there is no brick - the foundations of the chancel are made entirely of stone. These are very likely to be the original Norman foundations. 

And inside the church in the north wall of the chancel where an aumbry was built in the 18th century, a wall of sandstone blocks can be seen behind the Georgian oak panelling. Beighton's drawing (above) shows the chancel to have been made entirely of stone.

 

The chancel (left) has stone footings, the nave (right) has brick.
The chancel (left) has stone footings, the nave (right) has brick.

A Timber-framed Church

The church was greatly extended during the early 15th century as a large timber-framed building probably by one of the Devereux family.

 

The trees used were of great dimensions; the posts holding up the roof are some 23 feet tall and 20 inches square. They must have been some hundreds of years old when they were felled. Carpenters' marks on the east side of the roof timbers suggest that the framework was laid out on the ground facing away from the chancel and then raised up to meet it.


The posts stand on stone bases and the floor appears to have been paved with stone. Inside the church the timber would have been as visible as on the outside; there would have been no ceiling and the roof beams were visible from the floor.

 

There would have been no seating for the congregation; and the main part of the service would have taken place in the chancel, behind a wooden rood screen, out of sight of the congregation.

 

The church door may have been at the west end roughly where the font is now, with a door near the altar in the south wall of the chancel for the priest to enter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

C E Bateman's conjectural drawings of the medieval church based on the timber framework which still survives within the existing church building

 

Encased in Brick

By 1731 it had been rebuilt in brick as a neo-classical church in English Renaissance style by Sir John Bridgeman II. (The present Lord Bradford, family name Bridgeman, is still the patron of the living.) The architect is believed to have been Thomas White of Worcester, a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren.

 

This church is a rare survival in Birmingham. Even more unusual is that the new church was built around the medieval timber-frame which is still in place. The massive oak roof, over five centuries old, can still be seen today. It is believed to be the only example in the country of a timber-framed church encased in brick and has Grade I Listing.

 

The Medieval Church Rediscovered

Over the years the existence of the stone chapel and the medieval timber church was forgotten. 

 

However, there lived at the end of the 19th century there lived in Rectory Lane in Castle Bromwich one C E Bateman, an architect of national stature and one very interested in buildings of the past.

 

His suspicions had been aroused when he examined the dimensions of the church. For a church built in the 18th-century as this apparently is, the chancel was very large. 18th-century Anglicanism stressed the importance of listening to the words of scripture as opposed to the ceremony of the mass. Contemporary neo-classical churches, if they had a chancel at all, often had a small added apse, rather than a large chancel where the full ceremony of the Eucharist could take place.

 

Bateman’s curiosity led him to remove part of the wooden dado panelling in the chancel. Revealed behind the woodwork was a wall of stone. Bateman described in 1893 as having seen on this wall the evidence of painted plasterwork, anathema to the 18th-century mind and a sure clue to the church’s medieval origin.

 

That this was the earlier stone chapel seems to be confirmed by Henry Beighton’s contemporary drawing of the rebuilt Castle Bromwich Hall, gardens and church. Here the nave of the church is shown built entirely of brick, while the chancel remains in stone. It seems likely that this was indeed the Norman chancel, which was finally encased within the 18th-century brick. Neo-classical architecture demanded consistency, not the organic growth of the medieval period.

 

The date of this stone building is uncertain, though it is considerably older than the timber-framed church which was added at the west end in the 15th-century. It could be 12th-century or earlier and may be described as being of Norman origin.

Charles Bateman, noticed that the columns of the nave did not align with the window piers. The arches between the columns of the nave also had a more shallow curve than was usual for a neo-classical building.

 

 

So, on a day in 1893 the architect clambered through the small trapdoor above the main south door. When he shone his oil light into the roof space, Bateman was amazed to find a great medieval roof here rather than the less substantial Georgian one he had expected. He was the first person to have seen it since 1731.

 

I directed my attention to the roof; here I found far more than I expected, and the key to the solution of the whole matter: an old roof and clerestory. 


 

There even remained some infilling, laths with white plaster, which showed where the original end wall of the old church had been. At the east end above the chancel arch there was a length of moulding underneath the truss indicating where had hung the rood, a life-size crucifix. There was evidence of paintwork, traces of the pictures, which would have shown scenes of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Behind the 18th-century plaster above the neo-classical arches some old clerestory window frames still survived.   

There was evidence of paintwork, traces of the pictures, which would have shown scenes of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Behind the 18th-century plaster above the neo-classical arches some old clerestory window frames still survived.   

 

Bateman later removed the decorative surround of a column in the south aisle and found that the supports holding up the roof were those put in place 600 years earlier. That post can still be seen.

 

And on further investigation Bateman found that much of the timber used in the tower was of medieval origin, recycled from the old church. 

 

 

Whatever was the appearance of the interior and the actual and exact external treatment of the old Church and its timbering, windows, and doors, there could not have failed to be a most charming effect of colour. The silvery lines of the old oak, the mottle surface of the plaster and moss-covered roof against the dark belt of yew trees, and blue sky beyond lighted up by the rays of the setting sun, throwing long and dark shadows across the perspective, would have made a picture to gladden the heart of anyone who loves the quiet simplicity of English country architecture.

 

C E Bateman in Transactions of the Birmingham and Midland Institute Archaeological Society Volume 19 1894 ‘Castle Bromwich Church’

 

An English Renaissance Church

Castle Bromwich Church was rebuilt in a neo-classical English Renaissance style from 1726 to 1731. The architect is believed to have been Thomas White of Worcester who encased the earlier building in brick and plaster. 

It is thought that the tower was built first in 1725 some 7 metres away from the existing timber church. This was then joined to the church thus extending the nave to the west. The chancel was the last to be encased. The church is built in brick, with stone dressings, the bricks almost certainly made of local clay. 

 

Inside the church the north and south aisles are accessed from the nave through a colonnade of Doric plastered columns inside which are the medieval oak timbers some 23 feet in height and still supporting the massive medieval roof.

 

Most of the furniture is contemporary with the rebuilding and made of probably local oak. This is one of only a few Birmingham churches to retain its high box pews, albeit the doors have been removed and reused in places as wall panelling. The three-decker pulpit is still in place, as are the private pews for the Bridgeman family.

 

The classical-style font of 1731 is of Italian marble. The sanctuary floor is of Belgian black and Sicilian white marble with the steps of Kilkenny fossil marble, laid out in chequerboard pattern.

 

The excellent wrought-iron altar rail of 1743 and that of the chapel at the Bridgeman family seat at Weston-under-Lizard are the only ones in the country to show the royal arms of George II in this position.

 

The sweet chestnut and variegated sycamore trees surrounding our church were planted at this time.

 

Chestnut and sycamore were fashionable imports from continental Europe. Yew is a traditional tree in English churchyards though these probably date from this time as a yew hedge is also to be found in the gardens of the hall backing onto the church grounds.

In 1815 the organ and choir loft were added at the rear of the church with access gained to the balcony from the tower staircase. The graveyard was laid out c1810. Prior to this parishioners had to walk to Aston church to be buried. The chapel ceased to be the hall’s private chapel in 1878 when it became a parish church, although Lord Bradford (family name Bridgeman) remains the patron. There is some good Victorian stained glass which takes the medieval tradition as its inspiration. The Ten Commandments were removed from behind the altar to the north and south walls of the chancel and replaced by Bateman with the alabaster figure of Christ in Glory in 1902.

An Unusual Survival in Birmingham

This neo-classical church is also a remarkable survival in Birmingham. Although others in this style were built in the 18th century, only St Philip’s, now Birmingham Cathedral, St Paul’s in the Jewellery Quarter and the Church of the Ascension in Hall Green still stand.

 

Even more remarkable is the fact that this church survived the successive restorations of the 19th century. Many gothic churches at this time were given a classical facelift. Yardley church had high pews and galleries installed, the pointed gothic windows at Aston were replaced with classical round-headed ones, and a triple-decker pulpit was placed in the centre aisle of St Martin’s-in-the-Bull Ring completely blocking access to the chancel and altar.

 

And then in the second half of the 19th century they were (with the neo-classical exceptions noted earlier) more or less radically restored to the gothic style. Yardley, for instance, was cleared of its internal classical furniture. The galleries were demolished, a traditional pulpit was installed, the font was removed from the chancel to its present place by the entrance door and the high box pews replaced with bench seats. Aston, Handsworth, Harborne and St Martin’s-in-the-Bull Ring were almost entirely rebuilt to their present medieval gothic appearance.

 

Unusually, Castle Bromwich church was not restored. This is probably due to the fact that the Bridgeman family married into land and money at Weston-under-Lizard and moved the family seat there. Castle Bromwich was subsequently used as a residence for sons and dowagers, or rented out as a source of income. In the same way that the Hall gardens remained unlandscaped when all around were being Capability-Browned, this church was left in its, by then, unfashionable Georgian style – and so it remains.

 

The Bells

By 1716 there were three bells. Local architect Charles Bateman believed that additional strengthening in the supports of the second and third trusses of the roof at the west end showed where the belfry must have stood. However, examination of the first and second trusses show that they are not linked by a ridge beam, suggesting that the belfry may have between these two trusses flush with the west wall on the end of church. It may be that a small bellcote, holding a single bell, stood at the very end of the medieval church. This would probably have been built when the timber nave was added to the small Norman chapel c1400.

 

These were recast in 1717 and an additional two added by Joseph Smith of Edgbaston. This was probably at the instigation of Sir John Bridgeman II who inherited the lordship in 1710. Smith may have cast here on site, or as he was reasonably local, at his own foundry near the White Swan at Westbourne Road near Harborne. Smith is also known to have cast bells for Handsworth, Northfield and Sheldon churches.

 

There is evidence in the Churchwardens’ Accounts (now in Warwick County Record Office) of the payment for the new bells in 1717.

Payd Joseph Smith for casting the bells £12 16s. 0d.

 

Another interesting entry for accounts paid that same year shows.

Payd Richard ? for 14,000 of brick making £2 16s. 0d.

Payd 5 Tunnes of Coles

and 15 hundredweight of straw 6d.

Payd for 14,000 of brick making 10s. 10d.

 

Were the bricks, coal and straw required for the casting process? This author is unqualified to say. If not what could have been built with 14 000 bricks at this date?

 

To add to the mystery . . . while it is known that there were three bells by 1716, a belfry in either position would certainly not have room enough for more than a single bell.

 

Three bells were recast in 1716 and two more added. It is not known where these extra two bells could have been hung.

 

The building contract of 1724 states that the builder, Thomas Clear alias Smith should

‘pull or take down the old Steeple now standing upon the said Chappell’

and rehang the bells in the new tower.

 

This suggests that something rather larger than a bellcote was in place for the bells. A steeple rises to a point, unlike the present tower. This steeple may have been built when the Devereux family consolidated their connection with the manor in 1572. 

The 4th bell ready to be rung
The 4th bell ready to be rung

 

Although there is no documentary or archaeological evidence for a steeple at the west end of the old timber-framed church, the bells must have been hung somewhere.

 

To celebrate the wedding of the future King George V a sixth bell, a new tenor was added in 1893 inscribed: DEO LAUS – Praise God!

 

All six bells were recast in 1952, the last work undertaken by the now defunct but celebrated bellfounders Gillett & Johnstone of Croydon. These bells are especially noted for their fine tone.

 

Weblinks

Acknowledgement - See British History Online - Victoria County History of Warwick Volume 4 Hemlingford Hundred ed. L F Salzman 1947 - http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42653.

 

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

 

and Castle Bromwich Graveyardhttp://castlebromwichgraveyard.co.uk/.

 

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

Historic England website - https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1075951.

William Dargue 17.03.2011