Extract from C.J.G. Hudson's booklet about Acocks Green, 1966
THE PARISH CHURCH
In 1864 a Mr. J.C. Dixon organised a number of meetings of local Church of England people to discuss the possibility of having a church of their own in Acocks Green. There were by then over a thousand inhabitants, and their parish church at Yardley was two and a half miles away.
A site was offered by the Yardley Charity Trustees, and Mr. John Field Swinburn (who lived in Sherbourne Road, and later at Stone Hall, now part of Acocks Green School) provided an endowment of £1,000. The Church authorities gave their blessing to the project, and it was decided to go ahead.
A Birmingham Architect, J.G. Bland, of Temple Street, was asked to prepare plans. The original design was for a church on the Basilican plan, consisting of a wide nave with narrower aisles, separated from it by columns; transepts projecting only slightly beyond the aisles; an apsidal-ended sanctuary, and a vestry and chapel. Also included was a tower and belfry with a broach-spire at the Southwest corner.
It was decided to erect the building by stages as money became available, and the foundation: stone of the nave was laid on the 13th October, 1864, by Mrs Swinburn. In 1866 the nave and aisles as far as the beginning of the transepts were completed, and at 11 am on Wednesday October 17th they were consecrated by Dr. Philpott, Bishop of Worcester and morning service followed. In 1867 an Order in Council dated 26th October assigned to the Church a district called "The District Chapelry of St. Mary the Virgin, Acocks Green", which extended to about 660 acres.
Eleven years later the congregation had so increased that further accommodation was needed; and money being available or promised, the nave was extended to include the two transept arches and the chancel arch, although work on the chancel itself was not begun. The extension was dedicated in 1882, again by the Bishop of Worcester.
The next addition to the Church was in 1891, when Mrs J.F. Swinburn gave money for a clergy vestry and an organ chamber. These were designed by J.A. Chatwin & Son of Birmingham. Unfortunately, Mrs Swinburn died before the work was completed in 1892.
The building of the chancel commenced two years later, again to new designs by J.A. Chatwin & Son, who arranged for a square ended chancel instead of the semi-octagonal sanctuary of the original design. When this was completed the appearance of the church from the outside was much as it is today. The North and South transepts, and the tower and spire are still wanting to fulfil the original plan.
When you enter the church, stand under the west window and look down the nave towards the altar. You will notice that the end columns nearest the chancel are wider than the others, and have flattened sides. Imagine a wall right across the church at this point. That was the extent of the first stage. The two larger nave arches beyond were intended to open on the transepts. These have never been completed and the temporary walls with their lancet windows still remain.
If you can imagine the chancel arch bricked in, it will give you some idea of the church in its second stage. The altar would have been just in front of the present chancel steps with the choir seated facing the two transept arches.
Although the extent of the church now is the same as it was some seventy years ago when the chancel had been completed, it differs considerably in appearance. On the 10th December 1940 the building was badly damaged by a bomb which exploded to the South of the chancel entrance. The roof was blown off, and the windows were blown out, the floor and furnishings badly damaged. For nine years services were conducted in the North aisle which was temporarily repaired and partitioned off. The church did not come into full use again until the 8th October 1949, when the renovated building was hallowed by Dr. E.W. Barnes, Bishop of Birmingham.
The force of the bomb explosion is shown by the damage to the pillar nearest the chancel in the South aisle. The pillar opposite (across the nave) is also pitted with fragments. Luckily the reredos and the altar escaped damage, but most of the rest of the interior fittings and furnishing were destroyed; the beautiful East window designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and made in William Morris's workshops at Merton Abbey was badly damaged; and our thanks must go to the late Vicar - the Rev. P.J. Kelly who carefully gathered up all the fragments so that it could be replaced.
The general appearance of the church has improved in one respect - it is now very much lighter inside. The old stained glass windows had cut off much of the daylight. Also, when the church was rebuilt, the clerestory windows (originally small cinquefoils), were replaced by large, double lancets, and the additional light obtained accentuates the height of the nave and the chancel arch.
THE EAST WINDOW was erected in 1895 in memory of the first vicar- the Rev. F.T. Swinburn, by his wife and son. The central figures are our Lord on the Cross (which has blossomed into the tree of life) - St. John and the Virgin Mary. Above the crown of thorns is the inscription I.N.R.I. - Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum. Beneath the cross is the inscription in Latin "So God loved the world". The two Angels of the Resurrection are also represented bearing scrolls with Latin inscriptions, one being St. John III. 14, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up"; and the other from the First Epistle of St. John III. 14, "Herein perceive we the love of God, because he laid down His life for us". The lowest part of the window shows the four creatures described in Ezekiel, which may represent the four evangelists.
THE REREDOS was installed in June 1903, the north wing given by the Rev. J.A. Balleine and Mrs. Balleine, and the south wing by Dr. and Mrs. Cordley-Bradford. The central figure is that of our Lord, with one hand uplifted in blessing, and the other holding the book of life. On either side are the archangels - Michael and Gabriel on the left, and Raphael and Uriel on the right. St. Michael is shown striking the dragon; St. Gabriel - the angel of the Annunciation - holds the lily of purity; St. Raphael, who is the patron saint of travellers and of medicine, is dressed as a pilgrim and holds a fish in one hand; St. Uriel, whose name signifies the light of God, bears his emblem, the sun, in his hands.
THE ALTAR-PIECE which with the reredos is the work of Bridgman of Lichfield, was erected in 1898 by Mrs. F.T. Swinburn and her son, in memory of her parents. It contains on either side an angel bearing a shield on which are the symbols of the passion, while the figures of the four evangelists stand on top of the columns.
THE ALTAR is of Oak, carved with vine branches and ears of corn, with intervening arches. The panels are in memory of Cecil Michael Kelly, son of the late vicar.
The Chancel is furnished with stalls for the clergy and choir. These, with the screens and altar rails were given in memory of Dr. Cordley-Bradford, who was churchwarden for twenty-four years. The carvings on the capitals of the arches opening into the vestry and the organ chamber are again by Bridgman of Lichfield. They represent angels bearing scrolls of music, instruments, and the crown of martyrdom of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. The organ, built by Nicholson of Worcester and dedicated in 1893 by the Bishop of Coventry, replaced a much smaller instrument by Banfield of Birmingham, which was installed when the church was first built. It was originally on the opposite side of the chancel. It was badly damaged during the war, and when the church was rebuilt, owing to lack of money it was only partially restored. However, in 1963, through the generosity of a member of the church who gave £1,000 towards the costs, the instrument was overhauled and the Great Organ added in memory of the Rev. P. J. Kelly.
The nave is separated from the aisles by five bays on either side, the walls supported by stone pillars and arches. The walls themselves are of red brick with a blue-brick pattern, but this is now hidden by paint.
The original pulpit of Caen stone stood on the opposite side of the chancel arch. It was circular and elaborately carved, supported on a stone pillar surrounded by free-standing marble columns. It was entered by stone steps from the chancel. There was no sounding board. The present pulpit of oak (given in memory of Alderman Bailey Cox by his widow) is built into the respond of the south transept arch.
The brass eagle lectern destroyed during the war is replaced by a wooden one which now stands by the pillar of the north transept arch.
The west window, also destroyed during the war, showed our Lord in the Temple receiving instruction from the Doctors, also the Centurian who built the synagogue. Six tablets can be seen beneath the clerestory windows on the south side. On them are the names of six of the first officers of the church. Dr. Swinburn had stained glass inserted in the original cinquefoil windows above the plates to commemorate their work. Unfortunately these are illegible from the ground.
The font previously stood near the south door. A circular bow, supported by a central pillar and four outer shafts, it was the gift of Mrs. Henry Jutson. The font cover was given in memory of Hannah Mary Walker.
The south aisle, now used as a chapel, had a door in the east wall leading to the choir vestry. In rebuilding this was blocked up and the space behind, originally intended for a memorial chapel, was used to house the organ pipes. In the centre of the aisle wall is the memorial to those who were killed in the two world wars.
The north aisle contains a memorial window to the Rev. P. J. Kelly, vicar of St. Mary's from 1931 to 1953. Remains of the original stained glass windows can be seen in the roundels and one of the trefoils in the tracery.
THE NORTH PORCH has over the entrance a bas-relief of the Patron Saint, representing the Annunciation. The sides of the porch once had open arcades, but these were afterwards filled in to shut out the wind and rain.
There are very few memorial tablets in the Church. Most of the memorials consist of gifts of furnishings and fittings, many of which have been mentioned above. Besides those are the following:
Under the west window is an alabaster tablet to the memory of John Field Swinburn, one of the men to whose initiative the parish owes its existence.
There are bronze plaques to Ernest L. Hirsch and to Fanny Eliza Adams (on each side of the north porch), and to John Collingwood Onions (by the south door).
The altar Crucifix and candlesticks were given in memory of Sydney and Eric Rolston Jones.
An image of Our Lady was given in memory of Frank and Kathleen Williams.
The aumbry in the South Aisle is in memory of Florence Elizabeth Burton.
The sedilia and piscina on the north wall of the sanctuary are in memory of the second vicar and his wife. The sedilia and credence on the south wall are in memory of Margaret Lunn, and of the wife of the first vicar.
The retable is a memorial to William George Postans and his wife Susanna, father and mother of Mrs. J.F. Swinburn.
The vestry door and screen are in memory of William Samuel West.
The sanctuary candlesticks were given in memory of Dorothy Perkins.
There is a brass plate in the chancel by the vestry opening, which records that on Sunday, September 10th 1939, a detachment of officers and other ranks of the 143rd and 145th Field Ambulance Brigade, Royal Medical Corps (T.A.) left a signed portrait of King George VI at St. Mary's for safe custody for the duration of the war. Unfortunately, it was destroyed when the church was bombed a year later.
THE CHURCH PLATE
St. Mary's is fortunate in having two very fine Chalices and Patens. The first, presented in 1890, is a reproduction of the well-known pre-Reformation Chalice of Bacton in Herefordshire. Of silver-gilt, it stands about 6ins. high. The bowl is nearly hemispherical, and is supported on a hexagonal stem, divided into two portions by the knop, which is formed by the projection from the angles of the stem of six short square arms, each terminating in a lion's mask, and having the intervening spaces filled up with Gothic tracery. The lower part of the stem rests on a curved hexagonal foot, united to it by Gothic mouldings, and the foot terminates in an upright basement moulding. At each angle of the foot is a small projecting ornament resembling an ornamental 'M' intended to indicate the name of the Virgin Mary. One of the six compartments of the foot is ornamented, as is usual in ancient Chalices, by a representation of the Crucifixion. The name of the donor of the Bacton Chalice is engraved on two of the compartments.
The Paten is 5ins. in diameter, with a narrow moulded edge, and a rim like an ordinary plate, within which is sunk a six-lobed depression corresponding to the hexagonal form of the foot of the Chalice. The face of the Saviour surrounded by a nimbus is engraved in the middle of thc depression.
These were presented to the church by Mrs. F.T. Swinburn.
The second Chalice and Paten were given by Mrs. Wheelock in 1906, in memory of her mother - Elizabeth Whielden. The Chalice of silver-gilt is 8 and a half inches high with a bowl 5 and one eighth ins. in diameter, and is in the style of the 12th century. It has a large circular base with pierced outer border and six sunk panels, surrounded by a broad band of filigree leaves and scrolls, enriched by 48 jewels set in gold. The knop is formed of a ba11 of rock crystal supported by a massive stem, and mounted by crossbands set with 36 jewels, filigree and four enamelled studs, representing the crown of thorns, the dove, the pelican, and the Agnus Dei. The stem above this knop leads to the plain bowl, with a richly jewelled outer-cup. The six panels on the base bear, in silver low-relief, the Virgin and Child, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and Christ in Glory, enamelled alternately in red, blue and green. The 108 jewels include sapphires, rubies, emeralds, pearls, almardines, jacinths and amethysts. The whole, though rich in detail, is very well designed and is the work of Barkentin and Krall of Regent Street.
The Paten is sunk in the centre, with the head of Christ engraved, and leaves between the eight divisions of the depression.
The church also posesses two more silver chalices. One given in memory of Emily Stroud and the other the gift of Mr. and Mrs. A.V. Spilsbury. There are also a ciborium and two wafer boxes, one given in memory of Norman D. Higgs. An alms dish was presented in 1882 by Miss Hodgkins of Malvern House, and the collection plates were given by the first vicar. These had belonged to his family for over a hundred years.
Among the many memorials in the Churchyard are three to former vicars - the Rev. F.T. Swinburn (the first vicar); the Rev. Llewellyn T. Dodd (the third) and the Rev. G.H. Harris (the sixth). There is also the grave of the Rev. Tilney Rising, who came as a locum in December 1910, and stayed on as curate until his sudden death in August 1912.
Another notable memorial is that to Shirley Fielding Palmer, F.R.C.S., who died on 12th October 1901. He was the founder (in 1852) of the Guild of St. Albans, the first religious guild founded in England after the Reformation.
One of the oldest tombstones stands right at the back of the church, facing the east window. The fading inscription records that it was erected "In affectionate remembrance of Mary Ann Wilhelm, an African, who died January 21st, 1868 aged 21 years".
In 1868 a site for the vicarage was conveyed by the Yardley Charity Trustees to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and building commenced the following year. The vicar took possession after his marriage in February 1871. His coat of arms can still be seen above the porch.
LIST OF INCUMBENTS
1867-1890 Frederick Thomas Swinburn, D.D.
1890-1907 James Alexander Balleine, M.A.
1907-1913 Llewellyn Theodore Dodd, M.A.
1913-1919 Percy Edward Lord, M.A.
1919-1925 Reginald William Dawson Stephenson, M.A.
1925-1931 George Herbert Harris, M.A.
1931-1953 Philip James Kelly, M.A.
1953- Charles Herbert Iball, B.A.
Update of incumbents 2010, courtesy of Revd Andrew Bullock
1953-1970 Charles Herbert Iball, B.A.
1970-1980 Albert John Tabraham, Dip. Th.
1981-1986 Christopher Jonathan Evans, A.K.C.
1986-2002 Richard Halliday Postill, B. Sc.
2003- Andrew Timothy Bullock, B. Th.