Ancient Parish of HARBORNE
Historic county: Staffordshire
St Peter's Church is certainly of Anglo-Saxon foundation and was very likely a minster church. The 14th-century tower is the earliest surviving part of the building, which was rebuilt in a neo-classical style in 1820 and rebuilt again in gothic style in 1867.
St Peter's Church website
The church's own website is at - http://www.stpeterharborne.co.uk/.
See also A Church near You - http://www.achurchnearyou.com/harborne-st-peter/.
You might also be interested in A History of Birmingham Places & Placenames . . . from A to Y - Harborne - http://billdargue.jimdo.com/placenames-gazetteer-a-to-y/places-h/harborne/.
Press function key F5 to refresh the map.
Map from “The Royal Atlas of England and Wales” by J.G.Bartholomew for George Newnes Ltd 1898. Image courtesy of the Mapseeker website - http://www.mapseeker.co.uk/ - use permitted for non-commecial purposes.
An Anglo-Saxon Minster?
The foundation of St Peter's, Harborne is probably Anglo-Saxon. It was possibly a minster church at the centre of a large land unit which could have included Smethwick, Handsworth, West Bromwich and the Barrs, and perhaps even the large parish of Aston which stretched east from Birmingham as far as Water Orton.
However, the church here is not documented until the early 13th century. Evidence of its earlier status comes to light from the fact that Edgbaston church, although independent by the end of the Middle Ages, was still described as a curacy of Harborne at that time. And in the 13th century Handsworth church continued to owe a pension of 2 marks to Harborne.
Harborne Parish Church
There was almost certainly a church building here from early times. However, the first known image of the church dates from 1806. This pictures a 14th-century building, though only the lower part of the tower now remains from that period. Of uncertain date is a stone unearthed during work on the church in the mid-1980s. It may be part of a medieval preaching cross and now stands in the church hall garden.
The upper part of the 14th-century tower was either built or rebuilt in the 15th century and the large west window of the ringing chamber dates from this time. The photograph (left) shows the south face of the tower.
There may well have been further rebuilding during the 15th century, but all evidence of this appears to have been lost.
Rebuilding took place again in the 18th century, the east wall being rebuilt in neo-classical style. This may date from 1777, this being the known date of the weathercock.
Image above by Oosoom, reusable from Wikipedia under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Harborne_St_Peter_PANOR.jpg - http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en.
Harborne Church north elevation showing the 14th-century windows - Image from Thomas Dugdale 1835 'England & Wales Delineated' Volume II - See the Internet Achive - http://www.archive.org/details/englanddelineate02dugduoft.
1827 'Neat and commodious'
In 1827 major rebuilding took place in order to increase the number of seats by extending the church on the south side. By this time the nave was taken up with rented box pews appropriated by the wealthy, many of them having made their fortunes in booming industrial Birmingham just four miles away. During the 1827 enlargement, the south side of the church was radically altered. Neo-classical round-headed windows were inserted and the church was praised as'neat and commodious.' Both nave and chancel were filled with new box pews facing the pulpit, which was half-way down the south aisle, and there were galleries around three sides, a typical arrangement of the time. Accommodation was made for 260 free sittings at this time.
In 1884 The Harborne Magazine wrote scathingly of ‘a very remarkable family pew that was perched upon four pillars’ at Harborne twenty-five years before; ‘the tank’ was ‘exceedingly well-adapted to humour any person who might have a desire to be conspicuous.’
1867 A Complete Rebuild
Fashions changed and Yeoville Thomason, who had built St John the Baptist in early English style on Harborne High Street in 1858, was chosen to rebuild St Peter's again, but this time in gothic style.
And so in 1867 the neo-classical largely brick-built church was transformed back into a building in 14th-century style built of red sandstone. As the medieval tradition was interpreted, the chancel was extended and floor raised, the pulpit was placed north-east of the chancel arch and benches replaced the box pews. The galleries, a very ungothic device, were nonetheless retained in the transepts to accommodate the expanding congregation. There are north and south aisles and transepts.
(Shortly afterwards Thomason won the competition to design Birmingham Council House in a far from gothic style.)
Apparently, Yeoville Thomason had intended to retain the north wall, seemingly an original part of the 14th-century church. However, during rebuilding it was discovered that the wall was in poor condition and had to be rebuilt.
There are several mural monuments to members of the Green and Price families dating from 1771. In the tower are two boards recording the charities of the Rev William Jephcote, minister 1715, and Mrs Elizabeth Ball of Castle Bromwich 1765.
In the churchyard is the grave of the painter David Cox d1859, and a Winged Wheel in memory of Freda Strawbridge aged 17 who died in a motorbike accident in 1936.
The present eight bells were brought here in 1962 from the Bishop Ryder Memorial Church in Gem Street (now the Aston University site) which was then being demolished. They had been cast by William Blews & Sons in 1869, the first ring of eight ever cast in the town, and recast to their present fine tuning by Taylor's of Loughborough in 1923. The original 1691 tenor bell has been retained as a chiming bell for services.
A history of the church is on the church website - http://www.stpeterharborne.co.uk/default.aspx?id=6040 as is information about the bells - http://www.stpeterharborne.co.uk/default.aspx?id=6037.
See Church Bells of Warwickshire by Mike Chester - http://www.warksbells.co.uk/.
Hear the bells on YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoDrc9ws4Lk.
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/1219775.
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.
Thanks to the Parish Administrators, Maggie Davies and Jo Werrin, who arranged access to the church for me. Arrangements for visits can be made via the contacts page on the church website. (See above.)
William Dargue 19.04.2011