St James the Less
Converted from a private house, St James opened as a church in 1791 to serve as a focal point for the new high-status housing estate of Ashted.
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Above: James Drake’s map of Birmingham 1825. Image courtesy of the Mapseeker website - http://www.mapseeker.co.uk/ - use permitted for non-commercial purposes.
St James' Church appears on the 1890 Ordnance Survey map available at British History Online - http://www.british-history.ac.uk/mapsheet.aspx?compid=55193&sheetid=10098&ox=4146&oy=216&zm=1&czm=1&x=574&y=65.
You might be interested in - A History of Birmingham Places & Placenames . . . from A to Y - Ashted - http://billdargue.jimdo.com/placenames-gazetteer-a-to-y/places-a/ashted/.
The Church of St James the Less Ashted
The church of St James was set up in the converted country house of Dr John Ash. Ash was one of the prime movers in the establishment of Birmingham General Hospital which opened in 1779 one of the first honorary physicians. He was also one of the first Streets Commissioners of the town and a Governor of King Edward’s Grammar School.
In 1771 Ash had leased from Sir Lister Holte some 10 hectares of land less than in Duddeston which was then open country only a mile from the town centre. There he had a large classically-styled house built.
Dr Ash was never to live in the house, however, as he succumbed to depression and in 1785 left Birmingham for London. His estate plus a further 20ha was bought by a Birmingham attorney, John Brooke, Under Sheriff of Warwickshire and secretary to the King Edward’s Foundation. The estate, named Ashted after the famous doctor, was laid out in a grid pattern with the church as a focal point.
The estate was initially aimed at Birmingham's new entrepreneurs. Having made their fortunes in the booming industrial town, they were now keen to move away from its smoky centre into the neighbouring countryside. Ashted was well situated. It overlooked the Vauxhall pleasure gardens at Duddeston Hall where they sloped down into the picturesque Rea valley, and it was advertised for its healthy rural location. Brooke converted Ash's house into the classically-styled church of St James the Less; an Anglican church was an essential element of any prestigious estate.
The chapel opened in 1791 and was consecrated in 1810. It was, in effect, a private chapel owned by a Brooke with all expenses, including the minister’s salary being paid by the seatholders. Until 1830 none of the seats was free. In that year, however, seating arrangements were altered to provide 150 free seats for the poorer inhabitants of the increasingly heavily populated district. The building was enlarged only five years later making another 850 free seats available, and number of mission rooms were also opened in the area. In 1853 a parish was formed out of the parish of Aston and grants made by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to endow the living.
This planned estate was a speculative venture. However, Ashted was downwind of the industrial city and with the development of industry after 1799 with the cutting of the Digbeth Branch of the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal and its junction with the Warwick & Birmingham Canal the new district failed to live up to its initial high-status potential.
Brooke's project gained him nothing financially. He had borrowed much of the money for his project and subsequently lost most his fortune, dying in 1802 long before the estate was fully developed. He is commemorated by an elaborate memorial in Aston Church.
The church of St James the Less no longer stands. It was almost completely destroyed by German bombs during World War 2 and remained in ruins until 1956 when it was demolished.
However, a number of the gravestones have been preserved and laid flat in an area of public open space at the top of Barrack Street.
Photograph above courtesy of David Fisher from his blog, Brummages.. (or What Is It Like Now?) - http://brummages.blogspot.com/2007_09_01_archive.html. Requests to reuse his copyright image must be made to David Fisher.
Acknowledgement - See British History Online - Victoria County History of Warwick Volume 7 The City of Birmingham ed. W B Stevens 1964 - http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22975.
See David Fisher's photographs of the remaining gravestones on his blog, Brummages.. (or What Is It Like Now?) - http://brummages.blogspot.com/2007_09_01_archive.html.
William Dargue 21.03.2011