Opened in 1853 as a traditional Victorian Gothic church, St Paul's initially served the growing and prosperous middle-class suburb of Balsall Heath. Over a hundred years later a small congregation struggled to maintain this large building and the decision was taken to build an innovative new church centre in partnership with the United Reform Church.
Balsall Heath Church Centre website
This church works in partnership with St Mary & St Ambrose, Edgbaston and the two churches share a website - http://www.balsallheathandedgbaston.org.uk/.
Balsall Heath United Reform Church website is at - http://www.aberabode.freeserve.co.uk/.
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Balsall Heath 1866
Left: Archibold Fullarton's 1866 map of Birmingham showing St Paul's Church. Balsall Heath east of the Birmingham & Gloucester Railway was far from fully developed.
The shaded line at the top of the map is the Birmingham boundary; Balsall Heath was part of Kings Norton until 1891 when the residents voted to amalgamate with Birmingham.
Map from the Mapseeker website, use permitted for non-commercial purposes.
St Paul's Church also can be found on the Ordnance Survey map of 1890 on British History Online.
Housing development began in Balsall Heath from 1829 when Balsall Heath Road was cut, but did not really take off until around the middle of the century. Even in 1850 the district was still set primarily in countryside with open views across the fields from the Moseley Road across the Rea Valley. Thomas Anderton, writing of that time described the area:
Where Gooch Street now crosses the Rea, I remember there was a footbridge, and beyond that the river was a pretty, purling, sylvan stream, with bushes and rushes growing on its green banks. A field walk past an old farm house led on to Moseley Hall, which was looked upon as being quite away in the country.
Thomas Anderton 1900 A Tale of One City: The New Birmingham
This was a well-to-do district at that time and was home to a number of wealthy residents. In 1850 a number of gentlemen met to discuss the possibility of erecting a church for the new district. Balsall Heath was part of the parish of Kings Norton, although St Mary’s, Moseley was the nearest church at just over a mile distant. But distance was not the issue. Irrespective of the spiritual needs, no self-respecting new housing estate could be without a church of its own. It provided a focal point for the district and a meeting place for the influential people of the area. The foundation stone was laid 17 May 1852 and the church opened on the same date twelve months later. The church cost £5500 to build of which £300 had been granted by the Church Commissioners. There were seats for a congregation of 1300 of which 465 were free. The first vicar Rev William Bradshaw Benison.
St Paul’s was a brick building designed by James Lyndon Pedley of Birmingham and comprised a chancel, nave, aisles, chapel, baptistery, and large embattled western tower. A parish was assigned out of that of St Nicolas', King's Norton. The population of Balsall Heath continued to grow and the church was enlarged in 1856.
In the records of Worcester Cathedral is a note from Rev Benison dated 1864. He explained to the Bishop that he would be unable to attend the meeting regarding the restoration of the cathedral although he was no doubt that it stood in need of restoration, ‘it being contemplated to enlarge my own Church at considerable cost.’ Rev Benison could therefore not offer more than £3.3.0. Indeed four years later, St Paul’s was again enlarged.
By the late 1970s the building was in need of repair and the falling congregation was unable to maintain such a large building.
In 1980 the church moved to the purpose-built Church Centre at the corner of Edward Road and Mary Street which was opened by Hugh Montefiore, Bishop of Birmingham. The Moseley Road buildings were demolished and the site is now occupied by a small factory unit.
Among the items brought from the old building was the church bell which was hung in an outdoor steel campanile. A stained glass window was also brought which depicts St Paul standing on the tram lines in the middle of the Moseley road by the swimming baths and library.
The new building is a shared venture with the Church of Christ United Reform Church and comprises a flexible shared space while retaining the facility to split the main hall into separate worship spaces. There is day care centre for the elderly with offices and a kitchen. Adjacent to the complex is sheltered accommodation run by the Moseley & District Churches Housing Association.
Photographs of the old St Paul's and its demolition can be seen on the Digital Balsall Heath website - http://www.search.digitalbalsallheath.org.uk. Search for St Paul's Church.
Photographs of the building of the Church Centre can be found on the website of Balsall Heath United Reform Church - http://www.aberabode.freeserve.co.uk/construction/construction.html
A drawing of St Paul's in 1935 is to be found on E W Green's website dedicated to the work of his father, William Albert Green - Historic Buildings in Art - http://www.ewgreen.org.uk/pack-b/fullpage-b/birmingham-6.htm
and there are some images of the church on the Birmingham Forum - http://www.birminghamforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=3759.55.