St. Mary's Church, Handsworth
St. Mary's Church, Handsworth, also known as Handsworth Old Church, is an Anglican
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

 church in Handsworth
Handsworth, West Midlands
Handsworth is an inner city area of Birmingham in the West Midlands, England. The Local Government Act 1894 divided the ancient Staffordshire parish of Handsworth into two urban districts: Handsworth and Perry Barr. Handsworth was annexed to the county borough of Birmingham in Warwickshire in 1911...

, Birmingham
Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands of England. It is the most populous British city outside the capital London, with a population of 1,036,900 , and lies at the heart of the West Midlands conurbation, the second most populous urban area in the United Kingdom with a...

, England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

. Its ten-acre (4 hectare) grounds are contiguous with Handsworth Park
Handsworth Park
Handsworth Park is a park in the Handsworth area of Birmingham, England. It lies 10 minutes by bus from the centre of Birmingham and comprises 63 acres of landscaped grass slopes, including a large boating lake and a smaller pond fed by the Farcroft and Grove Brooks, flower beds, mature trees and...

 and it is just off the Birmingham Outer Circle
Birmingham Outer Circle
The Birmingham Outer Circle is a roughly circular, 27 mile bus route in Birmingham, England . It mainly follows the city's outer ring road, the A4040 with some small deviations to serve some rail stations and shopping areas. Buses on the Outer Circle are numbered 11C on the clockwise journey and...

 and south of a cutting housing the site of the former Handsworth Wood railway station
Handsworth Wood railway station
Handsworth Wood railway station was a railway station in Handsworth Wood, Birmingham, England, on the London and North Western Railway's rail link between the Chase Line and the West Coast Main Line. The station operated between 1896 and 1941, and like neighbouring station Soho Road, closed during...

. It is noteworthy as the resting place of famous progenitors of the industrial age, and has been described as "the cathedral of the Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...



Despite the strong Industrial Revolution profile, St. Mary's parish register
Parish register
A parish register is a handwritten volume, normally kept in a parish church or deposited within a county record office or alternative archive repository, in which details of baptisms, marriages and burials are recorded.-History:...

 deposited at Birmingham Central Library
Birmingham Central Library
Birmingham Central Library is the main public library in Birmingham, England, and the largest non-national library in Europe. It is managed by Birmingham City Council...

 commences in 1558, and the first stone church building was erected on the site around 1160. It was a small and austere Norman
Norman architecture
About|Romanesque architecture, primarily English|other buildings in Normandy|Architecture of Normandy.File:Durham Cathedral. Nave by James Valentine c.1890.jpg|thumb|200px|The nave of Durham Cathedral demonstrates the characteristic round arched style, though use of shallow pointed arches above the...

 structure, occupying about half of the present south aisle. The church's few surviving Norman features can be seen at the lower stages of the sandstone tower at the original church's east end.
In its long history, St. Mary's has undergone successive and opinionated reconstruction, especially in 1820 and 1870. As a Staffordshire
Staffordshire is a landlocked county in the West Midlands region of England. For Eurostat purposes, the county is a NUTS 3 region and is one of four counties or unitary districts that comprise the "Shropshire and Staffordshire" NUTS 2 region. Part of the National Forest lies within its borders...

 country church placed at the convergence of several cross country tracks, St. Mary's became a significant part of the largest industrial city in Britain.
In his 1851 History, Gazetteer and Directory of Staffordshire, William White records:

Handsworth Church, St Mary, is picturesquely situated on the Walsall road, about two miles (3 km) NNW of Birmingham. It is an ancient structure, partly rebuilt and enlarged in 1820, and has a tower with six bells
Church bell
A church bell is a bell which is rung in a church either to signify the hour or the time for worshippers to go to church, perhaps to attend a wedding, funeral, or other service...

, which like the other remaining parts of the ancient fabric, is in the decorated style of the time of Edward III
Edward III of England
Edward III was King of England from 1327 until his death and is noted for his military success. Restoring royal authority after the disastrous reign of his father, Edward II, Edward III went on to transform the Kingdom of England into one of the most formidable military powers in Europe...

. In the chancel are two recumbent effigies
An effigy is a representation of a person, especially in the form of sculpture or some other three-dimensional form.The term is usually associated with full-length figures of a deceased person depicted in stone or wood on church monuments. These most often lie supine with hands together in prayer,...

 of members of the Wyrley family, and an ancient piscena. On the south side, a neat groined chapel
A chapel is a building used by Christians as a place of fellowship and worship. It may be part of a larger structure or complex, such as a church, college, hospital, palace, prison or funeral home, located on board a military or commercial ship, or it may be an entirely free-standing building,...

 has been raised over the vault of the late celebrated engineer, James Watt, Esq, of whom there is in the chapel a beautiful white marble statue, by Chantrey
Francis Legatt Chantrey
Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey was an English sculptor of the Georgian era. He left the Chantrey Bequest or Chantrey Fund for the purchase of works of art for the nation, which was available from 1878 after the death of his widow.-Life:Francis Leggatt Chantrey was born at Norton near Sheffield ,...

. Among the numerous mural monuments in the church is one in memory of the late Matthew Boulton, Esq, of Soho
Soho, Birmingham
Soho is an area in north west Birmingham, approximately 2 miles from the City Centre on the A41, which until 1911 formed part of Handsworth District. Soho is also a ward within the council constituency of Ladywood...

. The rectory
A rectory is the residence, or former residence, of a rector, most often a Christian cleric, but in some cases an academic rector or other person with that title...

 is in the patronage of the Rev John Peel, DD, and the Rev George William Murray, MA, is the incumbent.

Handsworth parish was transferred from Staffordshire to Warwickshire
Warwickshire is a landlocked non-metropolitan county in the West Midlands region of England. The county town is Warwick, although the largest town is Nuneaton. The county is famous for being the birthplace of William Shakespeare...

 in 1911. The rectory to which White refers was demolished in the 1890s to make way for the large pond of Handsworth Park
Handsworth Park
Handsworth Park is a park in the Handsworth area of Birmingham, England. It lies 10 minutes by bus from the centre of Birmingham and comprises 63 acres of landscaped grass slopes, including a large boating lake and a smaller pond fed by the Farcroft and Grove Brooks, flower beds, mature trees and...

 and at the start of the 21st century it is more accurate to describe St. Mary's as situated on Hamstead Road in the Victorian suburb of Handsworth, in the Birmingham electoral ward of Lozells and East Handsworth
Lozells and East Handsworth
Lozells and East Handsworth is a ward in Birmingham, England, created at the June 2004 elections. It is within the formal district of Perry Barr.The ward covers the areas of Handsworth, Lozells and Handsworth Park.-Politics:...

; and, since 1974, the West Midlands county
West Midlands (county)
The West Midlands is a metropolitan county in western central England with a 2009 estimated population of 2,638,700. It came into existence as a metropolitan county in 1974 after the passage of the Local Government Act 1972, formed from parts of Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire. The...


Plans to end the neglect of the Churchyard

In 2006, and indeed for over 25 years, St. Mary's churchyard has bordered on utter dereliction. It is a closed graveyard, with the apparently empty spaces to the south of the graveyard harbouring the final resting places of numerous paupers whose names are recorded in the Church Register but whose remains were interred without coffins or visible memorials, beyond the unevenness of the overgrown ground above them. The condition of the churchyard-—as a place that feels unsafe to some, whose memorials have become inaccessible to many, their inscriptions overgrown with ivy, headstones broken, unstable or unreachable through the surrounding undergrowth—-is recognised as a reproach to all who know the place. Even so, to those who enter the lime avenues long being kept clear of encroaching undergrowth, this wilderness contains mystery and beauty as well as melancholy. It is intended that planned improvements in the accessibility and appearance of the graveyard will be ones that restore it to respect in Handsworth, without lessening its serenity or its qualities as a haven for wildlife next to Handsworth Park. It is intended it should become a safer place, a more attractive place and a place of education for visitors of all ages. To this end there has been a marked increase in voluntary work in the graveyard while local community leaders have voted neighbourhood renewal funds that they hope will be matched by other regional agencies to implement a plan drawn up by the City Council's Landscape Practice Group to end years of neglect and bring about a rejuvenation similar to the great improvements they have funded in the neighbouring park between 2000 and 2006.

St. Mary's present incumbent is the Rev. Brian A. Hall who, among his many roles in the local community, became, in March 2006, the chairman of a new group called "The Friends of St. Mary's Churchyard" (Handsworth Rectory, 288 Hamstead Road, Birmingham B20 2RB) which aims among more detailed goals 'to be a focus for future hopes for the integrity of St Mary’s Churchyard as a special place' — special not only for the respect accorded to the dead which ought to apply to all graveyards, but because of the association of this church and its grounds with the founding fathers of the industrial age, and more recently with two important figures in the development of football. William McGregor, Director of Aston Villa F.C.
Aston Villa F.C.
Aston Villa Football Club is an English professional association football club based in Witton, Birmingham. The club was founded in 1874 and have played at their current home ground, Villa Park, since 1897. Aston Villa were founder members of The Football League in 1888. They were also founder...

, who organised the founding meeting of the Football League on 22 March 1888 and George Ramsay, whose headstone reads "Founder of Aston Villa".

Boulton, Watt & Murdoch memorials

James Watt
James Watt
James Watt, FRS, FRSE was a Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer whose improvements to the Newcomen steam engine were fundamental to the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution in both his native Great Britain and the rest of the world.While working as an instrument maker at the...

 lived in Handsworth and is chiefly remembered as the inventor of the separate condenser, the greatest single improvement ever made to the steam engine. In 1774, Matthew Boulton
Matthew Boulton
Matthew Boulton, FRS was an English manufacturer and business partner of Scottish engineer James Watt. In the final quarter of the 18th century the partnership installed hundreds of Boulton & Watt steam engines, which were a great advance on the state of the art, making possible the...

 applied his engineering talent to realising Watt's idea. It was to follow that Boulton and Watt became one of the most famous partnerships in industrial history. William Murdoch
William Murdoch
William Murdoch was a Scottish engineer and long-term inventor.Murdoch was employed by the firm of Boulton and Watt and worked for them in Cornwall, as a steam engine erector for ten years, spending most of the rest of his life in Birmingham, England.He was the inventor of the oscillating steam...

, another engineer, perfected gas lighting and gave the world the high-pressure steam engine, and became a partner of Boulton and Watt.

All three are remembered by monuments
Church monument
A church monument is an architectural or sculptural memorial to a dead person or persons, located within a Christian church. It can take various forms, from a simple wall tablet to a large and elaborate structure which may include an effigy of the deceased person and other figures of familial or...

 in the core of the church. On the north wall of the sanctuary
A sanctuary is any place of safety. They may be categorized into human and non-human .- Religious sanctuary :A religious sanctuary can be a sacred place , or a consecrated area of a church or temple around its tabernacle or altar.- Sanctuary as a sacred place :#Sanctuary as a sacred place:#:In...

 is a marble bust of Matthew Boulton, set in a circular opening above two putti
A putto is a figure of an infant often depicted as a young male. Putti are defined as chubby, winged or wingless, male child figure in nude. Putti are distinct from cherubim, but some English-speakers confuse them with each other, except that in the plural, "the Cherubim" refers to the biblical...

, one holding an engraving of the Soho Manufactory
Soho Manufactory
The Soho Manufactory was an early factory which pioneered mass production on the assembly line principle, in Soho, Smethwick, England, during the Industrial Revolution.-Beginnings:...

. This was commissioned by Boulton's son, from the sculptor John Flaxman
John Flaxman
John Flaxman was an English sculptor and draughtsman.-Early life:He was born in York. His father was also named John, after an ancestor who, according to family tradition, had fought for Parliament at the Battle of Naseby, and afterwards settled as a carrier or farmer in Buckinghamshire...

. On the wall opposite, below a pointed arch, is a stone bust of William Murdoch, spelled with a 'ck' — different from his own spelling. James Watt was buried in the grounds of St. Mary's, but expansion of the church placed his tomb inside the church. To the south of the sanctuary, in an austere and serene space built especially for it — The James Watt Memorial Chapel — is a marble statue of Watt by Francis Legatt Chantrey
Francis Legatt Chantrey
Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey was an English sculptor of the Georgian era. He left the Chantrey Bequest or Chantrey Fund for the purchase of works of art for the nation, which was available from 1878 after the death of his widow.-Life:Francis Leggatt Chantrey was born at Norton near Sheffield ,...

, who regarded his statue of Watt as his favourite.

Genealogical records

Under the aegis of the Birmingham & Midland Society for Genealogy & Heraldry (BMSGH), who sought it from the Handsworth Historical Society and the congregation of the church, a working group of the Handsworth Historical Society, chaired by Roy Lancelott, worked between March 1980 and March 1984 to create a record of every monument in St. Mary's churchyard. This record comprises six volumes, in bound A4, with yellow covers, numbered from I to VI, titled 'Monumental Inscriptions, St Mary's Church Handsworth Birmingham'. Photocopies of this record, which contains sketches of various headstones and detailed maps showing their position in the graveyard, have been deposited with the BMSGH Library (Fiche number 11054), Margaret Street, Birmingham, The Society of Genealogists
Society of Genealogists
The Society of Genealogists is a UK-based educational charity, founded in 1911 to "promote, encourage and foster the study, science and knowledge of genealogy". The Society's Library is the largest specialist genealogical library outside North America. Membership is open to any adult who agrees to...

, London, The Local Studies Department of Birmingham Central Library
Birmingham Central Library
Birmingham Central Library is the main public library in Birmingham, England, and the largest non-national library in Europe. It is managed by Birmingham City Council...

, and Stafford County Record Office. Brian Hall observes this piece of research has "brought to light once again the fascinating social history of this side of the emerging City of Birmingham during the Victorian and Edwardian period."

Nowadays, less than a handful of monuments are visited by relatives of those interred, and three simple headstones tended annually by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is an intergovernmental organisation of six independent member states whose principal function is to mark, record and maintain the graves, and places of commemoration, of Commonwealth of Nations military service members who died in the two World Wars...


Musical Connections

Webster Booth
Webster Booth
Leslie Webster Booth , better known by his stage name, Webster Booth, was a British tenor. He is largely remembered today as the duettist partner of Anne Ziegler, but he was also one of the finest British tenors of his generation and was a distinguished oratorio soloist.He was a chorister at...

, largely remembered today as the duettist partner of Anne Ziegler
Anne Ziegler
Anne Ziegler was an English singer, known for her light operatic duets with her husband Webster Booth. The pair were known as the "Sweethearts in Song" and were among the most famous and popular British musical acts of the 1940s.-Life and career:She was born Irené Frances Eastwood in the Sefton...

, joined his two older brothers in the choir of St. Mary's. Was considered to be one of the finest British tenors of his generation.

External links

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