Acocks Green Methodist church, section one
A church's story: 130 years of Methodism in Acocks Green, by Margaret P. Bryan, 1986
Margaret P. Bryan's excellent book on the history of Acocks Green Methodist church is sadly no longer available in print. Margaret delved deeply into original records to create a fascinating and revealing account of this major and influential institution in Acocks Green. We have undertaken some minor editing with permission. The content remains her intellectual property.
These pages are affectionately dedicated to the late Les and Mary Smith, who did so much both for the Society and the Methodist church.
To call the following narrative a history of Acocks Green Methodist church is both inaccurate and presumptuous. What the writer hopes to do is to set the record straight on some matters relating to the church history and wherever possible to go back to the original sources when recounting some of the church's story. 'Original sources' for the most part mean the old minute books of Quarterly, Leaders and Trustees meetings which are now kept in the Local Studies Department of Birmingham Central Reference Library. An attempt has been made to add some local colour and detail by quoting from time to time from the writings of local historians. A bibliography appears at the end of the narrative.
Distance in time leads to a more objective view of the challenges faced and overcome by the Methodist society, the closer one comes to the present the more difficult it is to record the facts and assess the personalities of those involved.
To any future reader of this record I hope that it affords them some interest, perhaps pleasure and possible amusement in a few places.
"Methodists as they are term'd"
Birmingham has had a long tradition of nonconformity. With the restoration of Charles II to the throne after the rule of Cromwell and the Commonwealth, the king did not in general adopt a policy of punitive reprisals against his father's enemies, but Birmingham was an exception. To all appeals for a charter and Parliamentary representation for this fast growing town he turned a deaf ear and it was not until 1832 that the people of Birmingham were at last enfranchised and it was 1838 before the town got its charter of incorporation. In 1662 the Act of Uniformity restored to their pulpits many of the clergy evicted by Cromwell for support of Charles I. In turn, many of the clergy appointed during the Commonwealth period lost their pulpits and became known as 'Nonconformists' or 'Dissenters'. Next, the Five Mile Act prohibited nonconforming priests from coming within five miles of any corporate town. Hence Birmingham, because it was denied a corporation, became a place of refuge to priests driven from their livings because of their consciences. In 1672 the Declaration of Indulgence gave nonconformists the right to worship publicly in chapels of their own. A 17th century writer wrote of Birmingham at that time "Dissenters and Quakers and heretics of all sorts were welcomed".
John Wesley first mentions Birmingham in his Journal of March, 1738. He had stopped in the town for a meal and so preoccupied was he that he did not have a word of greeting for the waiter who attended him. On resuming his journey Wesley was caught in a hailstorm and he felt that God had sent a just rebuke for his surliness. Four years later there is the first reported mention of Methodism in the 'Birmingham Gazette' of May l0th, 1742. Although unnamed on this occasion an ordained clergyman is described as "one of the Methodists (as they are term'd)". On Whit Sunday, 1743, Charles Wesley preached in the streets of Birmingham for the first time and on Sunday, 25th June, of the same year he founded a Methodist society in Birmingham with 13 members. In the October following John Wesley followed his brother, Charles, to Birmingham and preached to what he described in his Journal as a "small and attentive" congregation.
Methodism began to take a firm hold in Birmingham and in 1748 the first Methodist preaching house was established in Steelhouse Lane. In 1751 John Wesley preached in the town with a roof over his head for the first time and the Steelhouse Lane meeting house was not large enough to contain all who had come to listen. He records "0 how the scene is changed here! Formerly when I preached at Birmingham the stones flew on every side. If any disturbances were made now, the disturbers would be in more danger than the preacher." He spoke too soon. The same year the Birmingham Gazette for October 26th reported:
"On Monday night last an attempt was made on the Methodist Meeting in this town by some young thoughtless Persons, who took from thence the Pulpit and many of the Seats, and made a Bonfire of them; but by the good management of the constables and some of the principal inhabitants in that neighbourhood, they were in the morning dispersed."
Despite sporadic harassment by the mob the Methodist society became stronger numerically and the need to find a larger meeting house became a matter of urgency. The unusual solution was to purchase an old playhouse just off Moor Street and John Wesley returned to the town on March 21st, 1764, to preach at the opening service. "Happy would it be if all the play houses in the kingdom were converted to so good a use" he declared. A ballad writer of the time, John Freeth, was moved to compose "On a PlayHouse being turned into a Methodist Meeting House":
"I sing not of battles, nor sing of the State,
But a strange metamorphose that happen'd of late,
Which if the comedians of London should hear,
Who knows - it may put the whole body in fear.
Where dancing and tumbling have many times been,
And plays of all kinds by large audiences seen,
These wicked diversions are not to be more,
Poor Shakespeare is buffeted out of the Door.
Behold where the sons of good humour appear'd,
The scenes are thrown down and a pulpit is rear'd,
The boxes on each side converted to pews,
And the pit all around naught but gravity shews.
The music's sweet sound which enliven'd the mind,
Is turn'd into that of a different kind,
No comic burletta or French rigadoon,
But all join together and chant a psalm tune.
When told that famed W-l-y appeared on the stage
The grave ones began to reflect on the age,
But those in the secret approv'd of the case,
For 'twas done to drive Satan away from the place."
In 1786 another chapel for Methodists in Birmingham was opened in Bradford Street and in 1789 John Wesley returned again to the town to open a new chapel in Coleshill Street, later known as Belmont Row, and this was the chapel which gave its name to the circuit in which Acocks Green church was situated until the circuit's name was changed to Elmdon in 1958. Belmont Row chapel waxed and then waned over the next 130 years. In 1851 it was reported that the chapel provided sittings for 1,005, but the secession of the Wesleyan Reformers in 1849 is said to have caused two thirds of the congregation to leave the chapel.
The first church
The first mention of Acocks Green Wesleyan Methodist society is dated June, 1856, and is contained in the Local Preachers Minute Book of the Birmingham East Circuit. Against the question "Are there any new places to be opened?" is the answer "Acocks Green to have two preaching appointments to attempt an entrance by open air services until a room be obtained."
It had been four years previous, in 1852, that an important link between Acocks Green and Birmingham had been formed by the opening of a station at Acocks Green on the Birmingham and Oxford Junction railway. At that time it was the first station on the up line from Snow Hill, Birmingham, which in turn had been opened in the earlier part of the year. Business men, working and earning their living in the smoke and grime of the town, were quick to seize the opportunity of buying land and erecting houses in what was then the small village of Acocks Green. Easy travel by the new railway made this possible. At that time, Acocks Green, by a quirk of ecclesiastical history, was situated in the parish of Yardley in the county of Worcestershire.
Some time in the 1850s a Mr and Mrs John Flavell came to live in a house called "Ivyleigh" in Shirley Road. The house has now lost its name but gained a number, 49. In 1859 a Mr and Mrs Harcourt also came to reside in Acocks Green, and these two families of Wesleyan Methodists formed the nucleus of a society in the village. It was in Mr and Mrs Flavell’s house that the first indoor Methodist service was conducted in Acocks Green and the first sermon preached by a Mr William Lee. He was a local preacher and a builder by trade and he lived at Aston Road North, Birmingham. Thirteen years later, Mr Lee’s name would again be associated with the Acocks Green society.
Four days after Christmas, on December 29th, 1862, a group of men met in the vestry of Bradford Street Wesleyan Methodist chapel. They were members of the Belmont Row Vestry Quarterly Meeting, the executive committee of the Birmingham East (second) circuit. The circuit steward, Mr Henry Taylor, a member at Belmont Row, had an important statement to make and the secretary later wrote in the minute book: "This meeting hears with pleasure the offer of Mr H. Taylor and a committee of gentlemen to build a place for preaching at Acocks Green and pledges itself to accept the same when built for the use of the Methodist Society." Mr Taylor lost no time in negotiating with a certain Mr Thomas Herrivel Bott for a site for a chapel not far from the Flavells’ house. Mr Bott had leased a large plot of land, named in the Yardley 1847 Tithe Map as ‘Foot Row Piece’, from the Trustees of one Benjamin Cook. This land bordered Shirley Road on its eastern side opposite Dog (or Dogge) Lane, later to become Hazelwood Road. At the time of leasing it consisted of fields with only a hedge dividing two of them. Later Mr Bott was to construct a road with houses on either side and bequeath his name to it in the form of Bottville Road. It was only in the early part of the 20th century that a middle ‘e’ was inserted into the road name. Mr Bott was determined that the proposed housing development would not lower the tone of the existing neighbourhood. He stipulated in the building leases: "Not to build any brasshouse, glasshouse, laboratory, tallow chandlery, melting house, steam or fire engine or any other building or erection which might be deemed a nuisance without written consent…"
The negotiations between Mr Bott and Mr Taylor progressed favourably and on 9th April, 1863, they signed a building lease for the erection of a chapel. Losing no time, the next day, April 10th, an agreement was drawn up between Henry Taylor and six other gentlemen who agreed to take an underlease of the chapel "situate at Acocks Green Yardley in the county of Worcestershire for the purpose of erecting a Chapel thereon to be used for Divine Worship by Members of the Religious Community called Wesleyan Methodists…" Henry Taylor was to bear the entire cost of the building and was to pay a yearly ground rent to Thomas Bott of £7 11s 2d. In turn, the six gentlemen agreed to rent the chapel for the sum of £7 11s 2d and in addition "such annual sum by way of rent as shall amount to Four pounds per cent per annum upon the monies which shall be expended by the said Henry Taylor…in the erection of the said Chapel…such two amounts together to form the yearly rent…" the agreement further stated that the trustees agreed to purchase the chapel within ten years, at a sum to be specified, equal to the whole cost incurred by Henry Taylor. (The entire cost to Taylor in building the chapel was later stated to be £800).
It is interesting to note the names and occupations of the parties to this agreement as they reflect in miniature the trades in which Birmingham excelled. Henry Taylor himself was a glass and lead merchant who lived on the Stratford road in Sparkbrook. The other men were John Darlaston, gunlock and gun implement manufacturer of Aston Road; Henry Yates, edge tool maker of Well Head House, Perry Barr; Joseph Wilmere, glass toy maker; John Flavell, gun polisher of Acocks Green; Samuel Grice, engineer, and James Knight, timber merchant of Thomas Street, Aston.
Work started immediately on the chapel construction and on May 18th, 1863, Mrs Henry Taylor was invited to lay the foundation stone. The ceremonial trowel which she used was afterwards presented to her. This trowel came back into the possession of the Acocks Green church at Eastertide, 1934. A letter accompanying its return states that it had come into the possession of a Mr Alfred Jones of 110 Olton Boulevard East, Acocks Green, and he felt that it should be returned to the minister and officials of the church. Unfortunately, Mr Jones did not elaborate in how it came into his keeping, but it is possible that he was a relative of the Taylor family. The trowel is 12" in length with an electro-plated blade and a bone handle. It is an early example of this process of electro-plating as although the process had been used since the 1840s it was not used on cutlery or flat ware until 1860. The blade is edged with an outer frieze of vines and at the base, near where it joins the handle are the words ‘I am the Vine – Ye are the branches’. The main inscription reads: "Presented to Mrs Taylor on occasion of laying the Foundation Stone of the Wesleyan Chapel, Acocks Green, May 18th, 1863".
Very little is known about the design of this first chapel. What is known comes from the directions given by the architects to the builders of the present church in 1882. This church was built alongside the first and alterations had to be made to the 1863 chapel to accommodate the second. The chapel had a cast iron framed window in the back wall facing Shirley Road and there were similar, smaller windows along the buttressed side nearest to Botteville Road. It consisted of one large room and entry was made by way of a porch on the Botteville Road side. Inside there were twenty four wooden pews, each ten foot long and probably arranged so that they provided a centre gangway. The preacher stood at a central rostrum behind the communion rail. Both the rostrum and the communion rail were later re-used in the second church. It was decreed that of the seats for letting "not fewer than eighteen inches and not more than twenty inches be allowed, free seats eighteen inches, children fifteen inches." If we estimate that each ten-foot pew could accommodate six adults it shows that when full the chapel could accommodate about 144 adults.
Either by accident or design, and if it was the latter Henry Taylor was very far sighted, the chapel was built towards the western side of the plot with plenty of open ground left on the eastern or Botteville road side. Perhaps Mr Taylor saw that the growing village of Acocks Green would call for extra premises to be built at a later sate to house the larger congregations which could be expected. The chapel was finished within five months, and on Sunday, October 18th, 1863, the first services were led by a Mr Austin of 86, Brearly Street.
The Stewards’ Book, which covered the years 1863 to 1873, showed sittings let in this original chapel, stated that in the quarter ending December, 1863, there was an income of £3 11s 6d from forty-two sittings let at a cost ranging from 1/- to 2/6d per quarter. From its very beginning over a quarter of the chapel seating was let to regular worshippers. The collection from the first Anniversary Sermon in 1864 amounted to £7 14s 10½d and at the end of the same year the balance sheet showed a surplus of £29 13s 8½d.
In 1867 the former Birmingham East circuit was divided into two. Belmont Row, Bradford St., Small Heath, Lord St., Acocks Green, Bloomsbury, Coleshill and Castle Bromwich formed the one circuit whilst Newtown Row, Lichfield Rd., Nechells Green, Curdworth, Water Orton, Whitacre, Bodymore Heath and Sutton formed the second. From that date until October, 1858, Belmont Row chapel gave its name to this circuit. After that date the name was changed to the Elmdon circuit when two more churches, Bordesley Green and Washwood Heath, were added to the already enlarged circuit.
To return to the late 1860s, there is very little documentation extant relating to Acocks Green chapel. There are some miscellaneous bills for items and services - £5 for gas lamp fittings, 1/3d to the chimney sweep, £3 to Mrs Keen, chapel keeper, and 5/- for cleaning chapel walks. In 1868 the sum of £1 11s 2d was paid out in respect of toll gate charges. It is known that at an earlier date there were toll gates at the junction of Stratford and Warwick Roads by the mermaid Inn in Sparkbrook and another tollgate opposite the Dolphin Inn in Acocks Green.
On 30th September, 1867, Mr Henry Taylor announced to the Quarterly Meeting that he had decided to step down from the position of senior circuit steward. A year later, on September 28th, 1868, the Quarterly Meeting resolved: "That the Rev. H. Paagham (sic), having retired for a year on account of partial ill health and come to reside at Acocks Green, this meeting accords to him and his family a hearty welcome into this circuit and trusts that his health will soon be restored and that his labours at Acocks Green and other parts of the circuit as God may give him strength will be very successful and that our Acocks Green friends may be encouraged in their praiseworthy efforts to promote the work of God."
Eighteen months later, on 28th March, 1870, the Quarterly Meeting secretary wrote in the minute book: "Moved, That sanction be given for the purchase of the Acocks Green Chapel", so starting a move to fulfil the spirit of the 1863 agreement. However, nothing immediately came of this resolution and for the next two years Mr Flavell, who was Acocks Green church treasurer, continued to pay rent for the church.
On April 3rd, 1872, a new agreement was drawn up between Mr Henry Taylor and seven other gentlemen for letting the chapel for twenty years at a rent of £23 6s 4d. This time the others were John Roberts, metal broker of Acocks Green; Thomas H Curtis, miller and corn dealer, baker of Acocks Green; Charles Savage, gilder, Acocks Green; Frederick James Burrows, occupation not stated, of Acocks Green; John Richards, farmer, no residence stated; and that same Mr William Lee, builder, of Aston Road North, who had preached the first sermon at the house service in 1859. The agreement not only referred to: "the said chapel buildings and premises...situate at the corner of Botteville Road an Shirley Road..." but also refers to "…all the school room building and premises now in course of erection on the said land…"It went on to stipulate that the tenants must "paint, paper, Whitewash and Colour the said Chapel and premises when where and as often as shall be reasonably necessary..." Lastly, the agreement stated that if so desired the gentlemen could purchase from Mr Henry Taylor all the chapel premises on payment of a sum of £374 5s 0d and for the property to be vested with proper Trustees for "use of the said Religious Community of Wesleyan Methodists."
In the Acocks Green Society Stewards book there is an entry for 1872 showing the cost of the new schoolroom erected that year as amounting to £155 19s 10d. The money for building the additional school premises was raised by means of a bazaar, a lecture, school anniversary, and donations and collections made by certain gentlemen. Mr William Lee, the builder, had erected this extension and his charge had been £132 2s 6d, but an error made by the architect in measurement had added a further £11 17s 6d on to the total cost. Possibly as conscience money Mr. Smith, the architect, had subscribed four guineas towards the building appeal.
Study of the 25" to 1 mile map of 1886 suggests that the minister’s present vestry and two small rooms to the Shirley Road side of it, now a W.C. and a boiler room, were originally part of these 1872 extensions. The present stewards’ vestry was constructed during the 1927 church alterations.
This building extension probably necessitated some rearrangement of the layout of the chapel for there is a receipt, dated 3rd December, 1873, from one Thomas Price for the alteration of seats and fixing of the harmonium at a total cost of £3 10s 11½d.
On 30th June, 1874, Henry Taylor repossessed all the chapel and schoolroom premises on token payment of one shilling on his part to the seven gentlemen who were party to the agreement two years earlier. The next month, on 24th July, 1874, Henry Taylor assigned all the chapel premises to members of the first chapel trust for Acocks Green on payment of £412 10s 0d. On the same day the deeds of Acocks Green chapel were sent from the Wesleyan Chapel Committee to the Rev. Floyd, superintendent of the Belmont Row circuit. An earlier history of the church erroneously stated that Henry Taylor had built the church and had given it to the Trust on token payment of one shilling, completely turning around the true facts.
On 29th March, 1875, there was the first mention of Acocks Green chapel in the Wesleyan Chapel trust schedule book showing that its total income was £23 2s 4d (2/- less than the yearly rent which it had been paying). An important footnote to this entry reads: "Acocks Green. This chapel was built by Mr Henry Taylor in 1863 and rented to Leasees. It is now settled on the Model Deed."
The events of the first twelve years of the chapel's existence have been gone into in some detail to show that the erstwhile assumption that the first school chapel was erected in 1868 is wrong. Local historians all quote 1868 as being the year in which the first Wesleyan chapel in Acocks Green was built. So does the Victoria County History of Warwickshire, Vol. VII. This book attributes its source of information to an article written in 1927 by the then minister of Acocks Green, the Rev.. G.B. Robson, entitled "The Story of Our Church." The Rev. Robson does give 1868 as the date for the first building but the present writer feels that there is a very good case for saying that this date is a misprint for 1863, the '3' being printed as an '8'. There is plenty of evidence (already quoted) taken from minute and account books to support the assertion that the first church was built in 1863 and none whatsoever for the date 1868. Local historians quoting either from the Rev. Robson's article or the County History have perpetuated this mistake.
A potential legal bombshell came in a letter dated 6th November, 1875, from the Wesleyan Chapel Committee to the Rev. Floyd stating that it had been found that all leases to Acocks Green chapel were void, not having been executed in the presence of two witnesses and because the instruments declaring the trusts were not enrolled in Chancery within the stipulated six months of execution. Correspondence on this legal conundrum dragged on for a year when the Wesleyan Chapel Committee in Manchester wrote again to Rev. Floyd stating that the "Committee have decided not to insist on the Trustees securing new leases providing Mr Taylor will make a new assignment of the land, chapel and premises to Trustees". Everyone must have breathed a sigh of relief when on 27th February, 1877, Mr. Taylor enacted a properly witnessed assignment to the Trustees which was promptly enrolled in Chancery. Later the same year, on 25th June, 1877, the Quarterly Meeting was informed "that the debt on the chapel at Acocks Green had been entirely extinguished."
The present church to 1927
Within four years of the debt being paid off on the church the 1881 March Quarterly Meeting resolved: "That permission be given by this meeting to the Trustees of the Acocks Green Chapel to expend a sum not exceeding £1200 in building a new chapel." Three months later this sum was raised to £1700 to include the capitalised ground rent.
The reasons for this exciting new proposal were not hard to find. Between 1871 and 1881 the population of Acocks Green almost doubled, from 1,492 to 2,796. It was fast becoming a very desirable place in which to live and in the words of one local historian it was a "middle class Edgbaston".. A Public Hall, erected at a cost of about £3000 was opened on December 20th, 1878, with its principal room measuring 74’ x 30’, where select dances were held, together with concerts, oratorios and elocution recitals. "Quadrille parties were by arrangement and lessons provided in drawing, painting, violin and cello". Eminent speakers at lectures included the Earl of Dunraven and Sir Richard Temple. Large houses had been erected in Sherbourne Road just south of the railway station and on the Warwick Road opposite St Mary’s church. Flint Green Road was being developed and villas were being erected in Broad Road and Summer Road and more substantial houses in Arden Road, hitherto called Quality Lane. The west side of Victoria Road was also being developed, as was one side of Station Road. Despite this rapid growth Acocks Green was still a village and something of its nature can be gained from an article in the "Acocks Green, Olton and Solihull Journal" of 1912, but giving reminiscences of the place some 30 years earlier:
"30 years ago Acocks Green was but a small hamlet. At that time there were no houses on the left hand side of Station Road and only 5 in Yardley Road, which was but a country lane with irregular grass bordered footpaths and high hedges on either side. Arden Road was then known as Quality Lane, Westley Road as Well Lane and Hazelwood Road as Dog Lane. The village of Acocks Green, now so thickly covered with shops, then only had eight. The services of one postman at that time were amply sufficient for the requirements of the district. The late Mr Tom Harris carried out the combined duties of postmaster and librarian, in addition to carrying on a business as a newsagent and grocer."
In June, 1881, the Acocks Green Trustees at their meeting decided to accept plans for the new church submitted by Messrs Loxton and Newman, architects of Wednesbury. A month later Mr. C. Newman, one of the firm’s partners, was instructed to advertise for tenders for the building. In December of the same year the trustees resolved that the tender from Messrs Vardy and Winter amounting to £1230 10s 0d be accepted. This sum included as an optional extra a church spire at a sum of £67 10s 0d.
In the meantime, the Trustees had completed a form of application to the Wesleyan Chapel Committee for permission to erect a chapel. Under the section on the form headed 'necessity of the Case' the Trustees stated that the present chapel was too small to accommodate all who wished to attend. There were 40 society members and 120 regular hearers in a school chapel built to accommodate 120 plus an unspecified number of school children. The nearest Wesleyan chapel to that at Acocks Green was the one at Coventry Road, 3½ miles distant. "The site was situated in a village population of 2500 with a middle class population. All the present buildings would be retained and used as a Sunday school". The style of the proposed new chapel was described as 'modified Gothic' and would measure sixty-three feet by forty feet. The proposed number of sittings within the new building would be 320, comprising 270 for letting and 50 free seats. To pay for the chapel the Trustees hoped that a public appeal would raise £200, £530 was already promised in subscriptions with further annual subscriptions of £250 and that the Chapel Committee itself would grant £250, bringing the total to a neat £1230, just 10s. short of the accepted tender. Annual income and expenditure was estimated to be £90 which would include a surplus of £21 18s 0d. How near these figures quoted came to a realistic appraisal of the financial situation and how much was owed to the anxiety of the Trustees to present a good case is a matter for conjecture. Nevertheless, the Chapel Committee gave official sanction to erect a chapel at a cost of £1458 on 16th March, 1882.
The Acocks Green Trustees had decided a month earlier on a list of names of people who would be invited to lay memorial stones. They were Alderman Avery, the then Mayor of Birmingham, Miss Taylor of Knowle, and Messrs. R. Tangye and S. Jeavons. The Revs. J.H. James and J.W. Macdonald were to be requested to take part in the ceremony. The stone laying was first scheduled to take place on Tuesday, April 4th, but this was later altered to Monday, 1st May, 1882.
On March 25th there came disturbing news that one of the two bondsmen, or sureties, offered by the builders, a Mr Wootten of Park Street, had refused to sign the bond. The Trustees very properly resolved that the contractors should be required to provide another bondsman and that work should be suspended until a name was forthcoming. This was done.
After a very stormy weekend, when gale damage had left a trail of destruction across the country, May 1st, 1882, dawned tranquil if not sunny. The earlier plans by the Trustees for the ceremony had fallen through for reasons not stated. On Wednesday, May 3rd, 'Aris's Gazette', the forerunner of the 'Birmingham Post' gave this report:
"New Wesleyan Chapel, Acocks Green
The memorial stones of a new Wesleyan chapel were laid at Acocks Green on Monday afternoon. The chapel will occupy a prominent position adjoining the schools, now used as the chapel, and will be situated at the corner of Shirley Road and Bottville Road. The building is estimated to cost £1,300 and will seat 330 people. £900 has already been promised towards the cost. The memorial stones were laid by Mrs Hornby, Mrs Price, Mrs Gettings and Mrs. Mellor and after the ceremony the Rev. Dr. J.H. James delivered an address.
The following gentlemen were also present - Revs. R. Jones, J. Bainton, J. Hearnshaw, J.R. Berry, J. Hornby, E.J. Banham and G.E. Catting. The smaller stones were laid by ten ladies and gentlemen. A tea was afterwards provided in the schoolroom. to which over one hundred people sat down. In the evening a public meeting was held in the Public Hall, the Rev. J.R. Berry presiding. The Revs. A. Butler, R. Newton Young and Thomas Hill and Mr. J.D. Mullins took part in the proceedings as well as the Rev. gentlemen present in the afternoon."
The initialled stones can still be seen on the front wall of the church facing Shirley Road. It is thought that they stand for the following people:
J.L. Miss J. Letts.
E.D.W. Miss Effie Ward.
G.E.M. Miss G.E. Mellor.
.H.H. Miss H. Hornby.
C.J.M. Miss C.J. Mellor.
S.L.M. Miss S.L. Mellor.
Sunday School M.A.B. Miss M.A. Bradbury (for Sunday School).
T.W.B. Mr. T.W. Blantern.
W.T.P. Mr. W.T. Price.
In September, 1913, the 'Belmont Row' Home Messenger Circuit Magazine' states that those people whose names appeared on the stones placed sums of money on them. It also gives a list of over ninety names of people who subscribed to the new church. This list appears at the end of this church story.
The 'Watchman' magazine, a forerunner of the 'Methodist Recorder', gives more information about the stone laying. There were four large stones and ten smaller ones. Those laying the large stones each gave £25, the others £5 and £173 was collected altogether at the ceremony. Of the ministers taking part the Rev. R. Newton Young was Secretary of Conference, Dr Butler was vicar of St. Margarets, 0lton, the Rev. R. Jones vicar of Hall Green and the Rev. J. Bainton was Minister of the Congregational church, Acocks Green. The writer is indebted to the Rev. William Leary, Connexional Archivist, for the information from the 'Watchman'.
As was the case with the first church the builders forged ahead. The architects described the style of the building as "Continental Gothic in red brick with a slated roof and with nave, aisle, entrance lobbies, tower and spire. The interior woodwork was of best red deal". The nave was sixty ft. by 22½ ft, the aisle fifty ft. by nine ft., the tower and spire were sixty-four ft. in height and the nave from floor to ceiling was thirty-two ft. in height. The interior was lighted by gas. The architects continue: "The building, taken as a whole, presents a cheerful appearance, combined with elegance of design and convenience of arrangement. The accommodation afforded is for 425 sittings." As stated earlier the pulpit and communion rail from the old chapel were incorporated into the new one with the pulpit again placed centrally. There was no choir transept as we know it at that time. Externally the dressings were of Bath stone. There is in existence a line drawing of the church which was used as a heading for a subscription appeal in 1881. It depicts the church jutting out from the building line of the original chapel towards Shirley Road and shows an entry by a side porch on the west side as well as the door beneath the spire on the east side, but the flying buttresses, now seen on the Botteville Road side, are absent.
It was not until November, 1982, when this present history was being compiled, that the date of the opening of the new chapel was found in an uncompleted schedule, dated 12th April, 1883. This stated that the chapel was opened on Tuesday, October 17th, 1882, a fact previously unknown. None of the Birmingham newspapers carried a story of the ceremony so presumably the Trustees did not consider it to be worthy of a mention. The Belmont Row circuit plan for the September-December quarter, 1882, made no mention either of the opening service or of special preachers. On October 18th, 1882, it was decided that those persons occupying pews for the longest period in the old chapel should have priority of choice in their order over seat lettings in the new chapel. Although open for worship the chapel was still not complete. Mr. C. Newman, the architect, was invited to the Trustees Meeting of April, 1883, to give a progress report. The minutes give the reason for the delay: "The architects be instructed to write to the Official Receiver appointed under the liquidation of Vardy and Winters, giving him notice that certain work is necessary and unless this is executed within seven days they will take the work out of the contractor's hands and deduct accordingly." Mr. Wootten's earlier refusal to act as a bondsman for the builders is explained - he had doubts about the builders' financial situation. In their anxiety to get work and stave off a cash flow crisis Vardy and Winters may have submitted an uneconomical tender in the hopes that interim payments as work progressed would save them from financial disaster.
Fortunately, by October 1883, the final monies to both the architects and builders were paid by the Trustees, partly with the help of an overdraft for £478 168 6d at Lloyds Bank. It is interesting to see the costs involved in erecting the chapel and the following is a summary by the architects, dated 1883.
£ s d
Preliminarys (sic) and excavator 20 15 9
Bricklayer 375 13 7
Mason 187 9 1
Slater 75 16 3
Carpenter and joiner 336 13 4
Ironmonger 37 0 0
Plasterer 55 8 10
Painter 46 0 8
Plumber and glazier 79 10 11
Surveyor's charges 33 10 0
TOTAL 1247 18 5
With payments for professional services the final bill came to £1447 17s 1d. The church was insured for £1300.
0n Wednesday, January 11th, 1893, an event occurred which could have put an end to the existence of the Wesleyan church in Acocks Green. The report in the 'Birmingham Daily Mail' for that same day explains:
"Fire at Acocks Green. A Church in Danger
Early this morning the Birmingham Fire Brigade was called upon to attend a fire at Acocks Green which, but for their intervention, might have assumed much larger proportions, as there was no other fire station within call. At five minutes to seven o'clock a telegram was received at the Central Offices from the police station at Acocks Green asking for immediate help to be sent to the Wesleyan Chapel at Acocks Green which was on fire. The superintendent with a steam engine and tender started within five minutes of the receipt of the telegram and reached Acocks Green within little more than half an hour. It was found that the smaller schoolroom was enveloped in flames, which were, however, confined almost entirely to that building. The church and schools consist of three buildings ranged side by side, the largest being the church, smallest an old schoolroom and the other, which was formerly the church also a school room. The fire had started in the smaller schoolroom and the church was therefore protected by an intervening building. After working for a little over an hour the brigade extinguished the fire, which had by that time destroyed one half of the schoolroom, the other portion having to some extent been saved by a dividing wall. The roof of the larger schoolroom was considerably damaged, but the interior of the building was not affected and the fire was entirely prevented from reaching the church. The building is insured and the loss will thus probably be fully covered. The minister is the Rev. H.G. Roberts."
Heaven help any building on fire nowadays if the services of the fire brigade depended on the despatch of a telegram. Perhaps there was Divine intervention all those years ago to prevent the fire spreading. Whether Divine inspiration prompted the Trustees to increase their church insurance is not recorded.
Early the next month the Trustees inspected new plans to replace the damaged school buildings at an estimated cost of £200 (but which later proved to be £419). The plan made provision for an extra class room, entrance, kitchen, extended basement and new dormer windows in the old roof. Not for the first time the Ladies Sewing meeting proposed to hold a Sale of Work to help meet this unexpected expense.
On May 10th, 1895, a special Trustees Meeting was called to consider buying the house next door to the church in Bottville Road. It was thought that for the first time Acocks Green chapel should have a manse for the minister. The following advertisement, taken from a local newspaper and dated May 14th, 1895, is stuck into the minute book:
"Messrs. Thomas & Bettridge will sell by auction at the Grand Hotel, Colmore Row, B'ham, at half past six o'clock in the evening:
Lot 3. A well built and comfortable Residence, known as 'Bradenshope', Bottville Road, Acocks Green, containing five bedrooms and box room (readily convertible into bathroom) three reception rooms, 2 pantries, kitchen, scullery and cellar, together with outbuildings and garden and let at a very inadequate rent of £32 p.a. Leasehold for a term having about 85 years remaining unexpired at ground rent of £4 8s 0d."
At this time the church had no projecting chancel and this house stood immediately adjacent to the back of the church. Only a narrow strip of land belonging to the garden of this house, separated the two. According to the 25" to the mile map of the area ‘Bradenshope’ was built on one plot of land with the adjacent plot in Bottville Road being an extension of its own garden. This fact was to be of considerable importance when the school buildings were erected in the early 1930s. A successful bid was made at the auction on 15th May, and the house was bought for the sum of £540. Just four months later the Rev. T.S. Gregory and his wife, took up residence. At the January, 1896 Quarterly Meeting it was announced that the Acocks Green manse had been furnished entirely through donations without any expense to the circuit.
There was to be a lull in building activity on the chapel site in Shirley Road until the twentieth century was two decades old. In the intervening years there were only minor adjustments to the interior. The story of the purchase of the 'Tin Tabernacle' in Westley Road, Acocks Green, will be told later.
A photograph of the church interior taken some time in the early 1920s shows quite a difference in the arrangement of fixtures and fittings to what it was to become from the late 1920s until the early 1970s. Looking towards the communion rail one sees the organ on the left hand side with the choir stalls next to it inside the communion rail and facing the congregation. In the early 1900s an oak pulpit had replaced the rostrum brought from the first church, although until 1920 it had been placed centrally, when it was then moved to the right. Further right again there is just a high blank wall dividing church from schoolroom. There is no choir transept. The entire wall behind the communion rail and altar is covered in ornate stencilling. Below the rose window are two large arched windows on either side of an alcove in which is written in letters about two feet high: "The Lord is in His Holy Temple". This Biblical phrase replaced an earlier one: "Rejoice in the Lord" which can be seen in an earlier photo taken some time before 1907. The coloured glass in the two arched windows was given by the Misses Mellor and later was amalgamated to form the large window in the choir transept.
Amalgamation of a different kind was in the air in the early 1920s. A special meeting of the Quarterly Meeting held in December, 1922, resolved: "That this meeting heartily approves of the proposals for Methodist Union and hopes it will be speedily accomplished." This resolution was very short lived because in the same month the ordinary Quarterly Meeting resolved: "The time is not opportune for organic union in view of the, seriously divided opinion in all three churches." Two years later another vote was taken at the Quarterly Meeting which resulted in a tied vote. Methodist union was finally achieved in 1932.
The Wesleyan Methodists in Acocks Green were expanding their church activities in the 1920s to cater both for the spiritual and temporal aspects of church life. Six fellowship meetings were held weekly for 'United Bible Study and Conversation on Christian Truth and Experience'. Class meetings, the Sunday School, the P.S.A., the Life Boys, the Women's Cheerful Hour, the Wesley Guild and the Social Club all played their part in the life of the church in that decade.
By 1922 the church fabric was beginning to show signs of decay. It was reported to the Trust that there was dry rot in the minister's vestry, the roof coping stones were peeling and the woodwork of windows abutting the roof was soft. More ominously the wall on the side over the schoolroom was leaning outwards and the roof timbers were rotting. Repairs to the roof were put in hand immediately and once again the ladies of the Sewing Meeting were asked to hold a bazaar to raise money because of the heavy calls upon the Trust. Three years later Messrs. Williams and Boddy, a local building firm, were called in to repair the spire which had been damaged in a gale.
In September, 1925, the Trustees had two motions before them: 1. To clean and redecorate the chapel and repair the organ. 2. To purchase a new and suitable site for a chapel and ultimately a schoolroom. They decided to take limited action on both motions - to obtain estimates for the first and to ask Birmingham Corporation for particulars of the sites to be allocated for places of worship in south Birmingham and their probable cost.
Digression must be made here into the changing status of Acocks Green. By 1911 the Yardley Rural District Council was unable to cope with the demands made upon it for services for the rapidly expanding population. According to the local historian, John Morris Jones, in his history "Acocks Green and All Around" at the turn of the twentieth century the village "lacked most of the necessities of urban life - road surfaces, drains and lights, baths, pure water, refuse collection, hospitals, libraries, inter-district transport." The Yardley parishioners, most of whom worked in Birmingham, voted to become citizens of that city and this was accomplished in 1911. Not all were happy with the change and a letter in the "Acocks Green, Olton and Solihull Journal" dated May, 1911, reads:
"Sir, Rumours are afloat that the Tramway authorities are surveying the Acocks Green district with a view to introducing their octopus that is linking up suburban Birmingham. Surely to goodness with such an excellent train service and the improvements now in progress we can do without this peace disturber along our local roads. Already the situation of the present Council Schools is a nightmare to parents and what with irresponsible cyclists, the motorists and a prospect of tram cars these combined will about complete the death trap.
Signed: A Resident."
The First World War delayed the start of giving Acocks Green many of the amenities it required but in 1918 the South Birmingham Town Planning Scheme was published which contained proposals for the industrial, economic and housing development of the area. Existing roads were to be improved and new ones laid down with improved public transport systems. The biggest change to the social environment was the proposal to build large estates of municipal houses in the former parish of Yardley. This was done and between 1920 and 1939 over 17,000 council houses were erected, radically changing the social structure of the neighbourhood. Such a scheme today might be called a 'new town' development and would probably necessitate a public enquiry with calls to safeguard the existing character of the area. Acocks Green's transformation proceeded virtually unopposed in the 1920s and to the great credit of the church the Acocks Green Wesleyans enthusiastically set about meeting this challenge. Three thousand leaflets were printed advertising the church and giving an invitation to the residents of the new municipal estates being built in the Gospel Lane area and behind The Avenue, and many homes were visited by church members.
To return to 1925, a 'Site and Building Fund' was set up and the Trustees inspected several possible sites for a new church and Sunday School premises. Serious consideration was given to 'Oaklands', a house with extensive grounds, on the corner of Shirley and Victoria Roads, and to ground at the rear of the shops in Shirley Road in the 'village'. These proved unsuitable and so thoughts turned to renovating and extending the existing church buildings. Enquiries were made about purchasing the freeholds of the church site and adjoining manse, but the solicitors reported that the present freeholder would only consider a block sale which would consist of land extending from the chapel to ten houses in Botteville Road and to two in Victoria Road and to three in Shirley Road. This sale eventually did take place but not until 1932. At the Trustees Meeting on 15th January, 1927, it was resolved unanimously that "We adopt the amended plan submitted by Mr. J. Percival Bridgewater." Four Trustees, Messrs. W.J. Marshall, F.P. Ault, G.F. Morley and H. Hathaway, promised between them donations amounting to £650. An application was made also to the Wesleyan Chapel Committee in Manchester for a contribution towards the costs. On May 9th, 1927, the lowest of the seven tenders submitted, that by Messrs A.J. Teall and Son, for £5836 was accepted and at the same time a tender by Messrs P. Conacher & Co. for renovations to the organ at a cost of £1330 was also given approval by the Trustees. Unfortunately, only eleven days afterwards, Messrs Teall & Son had to withdraw their tender owing to what were described as "serious errors in arriving at their figures." Quickly the Trustees awarded the contract to the next lowest bidder, a Mr. W. Bishop, with instructions not to exceed the contract price of £6000 and stipulated that completion must be by November 30th of the same year. Negotiations for an overdraft of £5000 were completed successfully with the Acocks Green branch of Lloyds Bank and after a protest by the minister, the Rev. G.B. Robson, the Chapel Committee increased its early
The alterations involved incorporating the schoolroom premises (the first church) in such a way that a transept and a side aisle would be created; for the organ to be moved from its place on the left to the new transept, together with the choir stalls; for a projecting chancel to be constructed with three war memorial windows replacing the two former arched windows, and for plain glass to replace the coloured glass in the windows at the back of the church. In addition a large upper room was to be built over the porch entrance on the west side for Guild meetings with a stewards vestry below. The pulpit would replace the choir stalls on the left. When the building work was completed the exterior of the church became very much as it appears today in the mid-1980s.
The extensions were completed on time and on Saturday, December 3rd, 1927, the opening ceremony took place. The late Alan Fitton recorded: "The new entrance was opened by Miss Mellor and the service was conducted by the Rev. F.H. Benson, the Chairman of the District." In the evening the organ was opened by Mr. H. Hathaway and a recital was given by Mr, later Dr G.D. Cunningham, the City of Birmingham organist. The Opening Services were spread over the next three Sundays and taken in turn by the Rev. J. Hornabrook, a former President of Conference, the Rev. Samuel Marriott, minister of Acocks Green from 1910-1913, and the Rev., later Dr Howard of Handsworth College. Greetings were conveyed from the Rev. W. Hodson-Smith, President of Wesleyan Conference, the Rt. Rev. Dr. E.W. Barnes, Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt. Hon. Sir Austen Chamberlain, M.P., Sir Gilbert Barling, an eminent Birmingham surgeon, W.A. Cadbury, Esq., and several other M.P.'s from local constituencies.