St Mary and St Margaret Church

A New Church

In 1657 Sir John Bridgeman I’s father, Orlando bought for him the hall, the manorial estates and with them the lordship. His son, Sir John Bridgeman II, succeeded in 1710. He extended the hall and rebuilt church, and he laid out the hall’s gardens in the style to which they have now been restored. The hall was much enlarged and rebuilt in brick, the newly fashionable material of the time, the bricks being made on site of local clay.

Our church, which now became de facto the family chapel, was also extended, paid for by Sir John. The new tower was built first in 1725; then the whole church rebuilt in brick to match the hall. The rebuilding took place from 1726 to 1731 as inscribed over the internal church doors:

This Chappell was begun to be rebuilt in the year of our Lord 1726 and finished in 1731.

Encased in Brick
However, unusually, instead of demolishing the old, the new church was built around the old timber-framed building and the original woodwork was encased in lath and plaster. Refacing was fairly common practice in the 18th century for old timbered houses. However, this is a unique survival, as far as is known, of an encased church.

The new church was built in English Renaissance, the neo-classical style. It is thought that the architect was William White of Worcester. It is certain that the hall and rebuilt church were made of local Castle Bromwich clay and the bricks fired close by.
Text Box: Henry Beighton’s drawing of the church in William Dugdale’s ‘Antiquities of Warwickshire’ 1730. The drawing was made in 1726 as the rebuilding was starting. The chancel was finally encased in brick, not in stone as shown here.

Original Posts Survive
The square wooden posts were tapered towards the top and plastered in classical proportion and style. Windows were arched in classical style. By removing some of the truss structure a flat ceiling was introduced, as was elaborate plasterwork which includes the Bridgeman arms. Pews with doors were added and in the chancel, private pews were made for the lord and his family. Sir J.B. Bart (ie. Sir John Bridgeman, Baronet) can be seen on the inside of the doors. There is a fine and rare triple-decker pulpit with an inlaid sounding board above. It has a seat for the clerk, a reading desk and high pulpit. The woodwork facing the front pews has good carving which also includes the Bridgeman arms.

The classical-style font of 1731 is of Italian marble. The sanctuary floor is of Belgian black and Sicilian white marble with the steps of Kilkenny fossil marble, laid out in chequerboard pattern. The excellent wrought-iron altar rail of 1743 and that of the chapel at the Bridgeman family seat at Weston-under-Lizard are the only ones in the country to show the royal arms of George II in this position.

The sweet chestnut and variegated sycamore trees surrounding our church were planted at this time. Chestnut and sycamore were fashionable imports from continental Europe. Yew is a traditional tree in English churchyards though ours probably date from this time.

Text Box: The Church of the Ascension, Hall Green built in 1703, has similarities with Castle Bromwich church.

Rare in Birmingham
This neo-classical church is also a remarkable survival in Birmingham. Although others in this style were built in the 18th century, only St Philip’s, now Birmingham Cathedral, St Paul’s in the Jewellery Quarter and the Church of the Ascension in Hall Green still stand.

Even more remarkable is the fact that this church survived the successive restorations of the 19th century. Many gothic churches at this time were given a classical facelift. Yardley church had high pews and galleries installed, the pointed gothic windows at Aston were replaced with classical round-headed ones, and a triple-decker pulpit was placed in the centre aisle of St Martin’s-in-the-Bull Ring completely blocking access to the chancel and altar. And then in the second half of the 19th century they were (with the neo-classical exceptions noted earlier) more or less radically restored to the gothic style. Yardley, for instance, was cleared of its internal classical furniture. The galleries were demolished, a traditional pulpit was installed, the font was removed from the chancel to its present place by the entrance door and the high box pews replaced with bench seats. Aston, Handsworth, Harborne and St Martin’s-in-the-Bull Ring were almost entirely rebuilt to their present medieval gothic appearance.

No Restoration
Unusually, Castle Bromwich church was not restored. This is probably due to the fact that the Bridgeman family married into land and money at Weston-under-Lizard and moved the family seat there. Castle Bromwich was subsequently used as a residence for sons and dowagers, or rented out as a source of income. In the same way that the Hall gardens remained unlandscaped when all around were being Capability-Browned, our church was left in its, by then, unfashionable Georgian style - and so it remains.

New Bells
The three medieval bells were recast in 1717 and an additional two added by Joseph Smith of Edgbaston. This was probably at the instigation of Sir John Bridgeman II who inherited the lordship in 1710. Smith may have cast here on site, or as he was reasonably local, at his own foundry near the White Swan at Westbourne Road near Harborne. Smith is also known to have cast bells for Handsworth, Northfield and Sheldon churches.

There is evidence in the Churchwardens’ Accounts (now in Warwick County Record Office) of the payment for the new bells in 1717:
  • Payd Joseph Smith for casting the bells £12 16s. 0d.
  • Another interesting entry for accounts paid that same year shows.
  • Payd Richard ? for 14,000 of brick making £2 16s. 0d.
  • Payd 5 Tunnes of Coles and 15 hundredweight of straw 6d.
  • Payd for 14,000 of brick making 10s. 10d.
Were the bricks, coal and straw required for the casting process? This author is unqualified to say. If not what could have been built with 14 000 bricks at this date?

Bells Inscribed

Whether there were inscriptions on the older bells is not known. There may not have been; St Giles Sheldon has a bell of 1350, the oldest in Birmingham, and it carries no inscription. The inscriptions on the bells of 1717 are as follows, and are reproduced on the present bells which were recast in 1952:
  • Treble Iohn Thornton: Thomas Sadler: Trustees 1717
  • 2 Iohn Banner: Roland Brawbridge: Trustees 1717
  • 3 William Sadler: Isaac Sadler: 1717
  • 4 Iohannes Brooke: S:T:B: Iohn Chattock: Chappell Warden 1717
  • Tenor Sir John Bridgeman: Baronet 1717