St Mary and St Margaret Church

A Church Within A Church

Bateman Investigates
The secret of the encased church was forgotten for nearly 300 years until a local architect, 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 curved than was usual for a neo-classical building.

Text Box: Architect Charles E Bateman 1863-1947 is buried near the gate in the churchyard. His account is to be found in the 1894 Transactions of the Birmingham and Midland Institute Archaeological Society, Volume 19 ‘Castle Bromwich Church.’

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.

More Evidence
Bateman’s drawing of the medieval trusses of the west end of church. These 500-year-old timbers can still be seen inside the roof space. 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. On further investigation Bateman found that much of the timber used in the tower was of medieval origin, recycled from the old church.

Bateman’s curiosity led him to remove some of the wooden panelling in the chancel. Here a stone wall was revealed with evidence of painted plasterwork. Bateman was convinced that here were the remains of the original Norman chapel which dated from the early 12th century.

Charles Bateman and his father, also an architect, lived in Rectory Lane at Birnam and Millbrick, which they themselves designed and had built. They are buried in the family grave near the gate in the churchyard.

Access into the roof space may now be gained from the bellringing chamber; a doorway and stair were built c1990. At the tower end of the roof space evidence suggests that the tower was indeed built first and that the rest of the church was subsequently built on to it. The tower was not built directly onto the old timber-framed church but some distance from it. This would allow the heavy brick tower to settle before further building took place.

Bateman’s 1893 drawing shows how the original posts still support the medieval roof. The aisles were rebuilt along the earlier lines but with a higher roof. Here Bateman shows how the clerestory windows were plastered over in 1726 and incorporated into the wall above the aisles. Bateman crawled along the roof space above the aisle ceiling and found some of the medieval clerestory windows frames still in place. Some medieval stained glass survives, displayed near the Foden Room door.

Eighteenth-Century Timber
Less substantial than the medieval timber, the horizontal beams from the 1726-1731 rebuilding can be seen here. Timber, plentiful here in the Forest of Arden during the Middle Ages, was scarce by the eighteenth century. These later beams rest in holes crudely hammered out of the tower wall.

It seems that the tower had a stair well, but did not originally have the existing enclosed spiral staircase. On ascending the staircase from the bellringing chamber it can clearly be seen where a newer wall was built to enclose the stairs. These are 18th-century bricks. A good deal of old timber was used in the construction of the floors and of the staircase. This would be wood left over after the encasing of the timber-framed church in brick, which suggests that the spiral staircase was put in during the 1726-1731 rebuilding.

Did the church look like this in 1724, until the whole was rebuilt 1726-1730? The tower would have stood some 7 metres away from the back of the old church.

Prior to this, it may have been that the bells were rung from the ground floor, as they are in many church towers. The tower may have been ascended by ladder flat against the wall, another feature seen in many towers.

By creating a ringing chamber on the second floor, the church gained extra accommodation in the form of the present sacristy on the ground floor, and what is now the landing, which gives access to the organ choir balcony on the first floor.

A Living Church
A living church is not a museum but continually subject to alterations and additions. Since the 18th century this has been the case at Castle Bromwich. 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 with the alabaster figure of Christ in Glory in 1902.

St Margaret’s Chapel
Memorials to the dead of the two world wars are to be seen in St Margaret’s Chapel, the wooden memorial of the Second World War was designed by Charles Bateman. The pew doors have been removed and used as panelling at the back of the church and in the sacristy.

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. Our bells are especially noted for their fine tone. The weight, tuning and inscriptions of the recast bells are recorded in the ringing chamber:

Treble F 4cwt-1qr-14st
Inscribed - Iohn Thornton: Thomas Sadler: Trustees 1717. Allen Stephen Foden Verger since 1908. Recast 1952 Gillett & Johnston Croydon.

2 Eb 4-2-16
Inscribed - Iohn Banner: Roland Brawbridge: Trustees 1717. Thomas Marshall Steere Churchwardens 1946-1951. Recast 1952 Gillett & Johnston Croydon.

3 Db 5-0-0
Inscribed - William Sadler: Isaac Sadler: 1717. Clifford John Shaw Churchwarden since 1951. Recast by Charles Carr Smethwick 1893. Recast 1952 Gillett & Johnston Croydon.

4 C 5-3-12
Inscribed - Iohannes Brooke: S:T:B: Iohn Chattock Chappell Warden 1717. Kenneth James Greene Churchwarden since 1952. Recast 1952 Gillett & Johnston Croydon

5 Bb 7-2-16
Inscribed - Sr John Bridgeman: Baronet 1717. George Ernest Tomlinson Churchwarden 1949-1952. Recast 1952 Gillett & Johnston Croydon.

Tenor Ab 10-3-14
Inscribed - I celebrate the Wedding Day of George of York and Princess May. Deo Laus . 18AD93. Henry Nicoll Forbes Rector since 1921. Founded by Charles Carr Smethwick. Recast 1952 Gillett & Johnston Croydon.

Weathervanes stood on top of the stone urns at the four corners of the tower before 1947; these were replaced after the recasting of the bells in 1952 by four of the old bell clappers.

During Canon Brooke’s time the predominantly blue Victorian glass which filled all of the windows was replaced with clear glass to let in more light. A little remains in the tower.

In the 1960s the Foden Room was built to give much-needed additional accommodation at a time when the local area was being rapidly developed for housing and the congregation increasing.

Some box pews were removed c1980 to give added space in the Lady Chapel.

The PCC and congregation ran a successful campaign to raise funds to create a large community room on the south lawn. The Foden room was demolished in 2012 and the Community Hall opened in January 2013. 

The church congregation and generous contributing charities have spent tens of thousands of pounds over the past twenty years to maintain this ancient building for future generations, most recently in 2003 to protect the south elevation.

Prior to emparishment in 1827, Castle Bromwich was administered as a chapel-of-ease of Aston Parish Church. Subsequently there have been rectors of Castle Bromwich:
  • Edwin Kempson (curate) 1827-1879
  • Ernest R O Bridgeman 1879-1883
  • Arthur Phillimore 1883-1888
  • Richard Rigden 1888-1892
  • Charles Barrington Walters 1892-1897
  • Ernest G Harker 1897-1911
  • E M Bickersteth 1911-1915
  • Herbert E Malleson 1915-1921
  • Henry N Forbes 1921-1959
  • William E Brooke 1959-1978
  • David J White 1979-1983
  • Christopher J Boyle 1983-2001
  • Michael Sears 2001-2007
  • Gavin A Douglas, O.B.E. 2008-2016
Outstanding Merit
St Mary’s & St Margaret’s Church, Castle Bromwich is protected by law as a Grade 1 Listed Building. This denotes that it is a building of nationally outstanding merit. It is a Norman church and a medieval church within a Georgian church, something very special, and something that must surely be preserved for another thousand years.