home : what's new : services : weekly notices : team : contact : alpha : parish : groups : audio sermons : church family : reaching out  :  history : links : Marriage : new building : rotas : mission action plan
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   
 

Church History

 

 

click here for further pictures of the outside of our beautiful church

                  Organ removal February 2010                  views from & of the bell tower        Click here for interior pictures of the church 1991        Click here for interior pictures of the church 2005

Introduction
The name 'Aldridge' comes from a Saxon word, 'Alrewic' which means 'the Alder Village', an appropriate name for a small settlement in the Midland forest area. Apart from the name we know nothing about the Saxon village. In 1086, the Doomsday commissioners recorded a small population here - five villeins or farmers, one border or smallholder and a serf. They made no mention of either priest or church. The first documentary references to the church come from the 13th century and it is clear that the parish church with a subsidiary chapel at Great Barr had been built before 1257.

The Exterior

Apart from the tower, all exterior walls were added or rebuilt between the years 1841 and 1853. In the footings of these walls are masses of Silurian limestone. The foundations of the tower also include limestone and there are large patches of this stone in its north, south and east walls. This may well be re-used material from the earliest building. Apart from limestone at Rushall, good building stone is not available in the immediate vicinity of Aldridge. Sandstone is not so durable as limestone and its use would have involved much more cartage but it is far easier to work and from the 14th century at least, sandstone was preferred to limestone. The tower was built in the 14th century and all of its main west wall is of sandstone including the good, though heavily restored, western doorway of that date. The roof-line of the church suggests a very short nave with a long chancel - not an uncommon feature in 13th century churches elsewhere.

          
                      
 
The Church in the 13th and 14th centuries
Inside the church, differences in roof construction also show where the short nave ended and the long chancel began; no chancel arch divided the one from the other. Instead there was probably a wooden screen across the width of the nave - again not an uncommon 13th century feature. The length of the chancel also suggests that there may have been a second screen dividing off the sanctuary, echoed in later years by a change in floor level. At first there were no aisles, for the original north aisle wall was built across earlier burials showing that the graveyard was in use before the aisle was built.
The first 13th century church was a long, narrow building, probably in limestone, and its outline is shown on plan I. The priest's door on the south side of the chancel persisted until the 19th century and can be seen in
the drawing of c.1800 that is reproduced from Shaw's History and Antiquities of Staffordshire. One of the unusual features of the church is that the north and south arcades are different from each other and that both arcades contain pillars of different dates and arches of varying widths.  It is these peculiarities, together with details recorded last century by Rev. J. Finch Smith during the alterations, that allow us today to recognise the different building phases as shown on plans III to IV.

                                  

The first addition was a side chapel, on the north of the chancel probably for a chantry and entered by two arches. The central pillar between those arches is today the second pillar from the east in the north arcade, the most easterly pillar being a Victorian copy of the earlier one. Soon after the addition of the chapel, it was extended westwards to form the north aisle. This was not so wide as the north aisle today and the wall included lancet windows and an Early English door though when these were seen last century their exact position was not recorded. The new arches of the arcade were slightly wider than the two earlier arches. Last century when the aisle was widened, it was also extended eastwards by one bay, that was when the Victorian pillar, copying the first pillar, was added (plan VII). The south aisle was built about the same time that the tower was added. The south arcade was of but one pillar and two arches. The pillar is still the most western pillar in the arcade. The other two pillars are of plastered brick, built in 1841 when the aisle was extended eastwards.    

The Church in the l8th and l9th centuries (Plans V to VII)
We do not know very much about the  church in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries but there does not appear to have been any major change in the plan of the church. Plans drawn last century, when so many alterations were made, together with Rev. Finch Smith's descriptions give a very vivid picture of the church as it must have been in the 18th and early 19th centuries.  As plan V shows, the floor of the church was covered with box pews, round which people sat facing in all directions. A three decker pulpit stood at the point where the old long chancel had met the short nave. The pews were privately owned and there was very little accommodation for the poor. The tower arch was blocked so that the ground floor could be used as a vestry. A wooden gallery was erected across the blocked arch and the village girls were accommodated on benches below the gallery. Another gallery for boys was over the north aisle. Having no clerestory the church must have been dark though dormer windows set in the roof let in some light. The bells, (recast 1738 and again in 1935) were rung from the first floor of the tower and the churchwardens accounts record ale bought for the ringers on special occasions.
                                
           
The bread-box, still attached to the west wall, was stocked each Sunday with six penny loaves to be given after the service to the poor -provided they had stayed for the sermon which not everyone regarded as part of the service. There was no organ, and the singing was probably led by the parish clerk from the lowest stage of the three-decker pulpit though at the beginning of the 19th century the churchwardens paid for the boys and girls to be taught to sing. The walls were plastered and painted with texts said to be in the Elizabethan style. Between 1841 and 1853 all this was altered. The rectors, first the Rev. H. Harding and then Rev. J. Finch Smith virtually rebuilt the church, added the north vestry and changed the seating to much as it is today. Soon an organ was added, stained glass windows were subscribed and a surpliced choir introduced. The old small slender font was replaced by the more elaborate, larger one and the lectern was given. Apart from the addition of more stained glass the interior of the church has remained almost unchanged in appearance for the last hundred years, though now, in 1975 the new south vestry has been added.

The Effigies
The church contains two medieval effigies. That at the east end of the south aisle, is of Sir Robert de Stapleton, a contentious warlike man (not a crusader despite the crossed legs) who fought against Llewellyn and the Welsh in 1282 and against Wallace and the Scots in 1301. His arms, a fork-tailed lion rampant can still be seen on his shield. He was lord of the Manor of Great Barr and Aldridge though he obtained the Manor in somewhat dubious circumstances.
 
   
The other effigy, in the south wall of the chancel, is of a 14th century priest. It was once thought to be Nicholas de Alrewych but he died in the 13th century. It is more likely to be Roger de Elyngton who founded the chantry of B. Peter in Aldridge church in the 14th century, but the identification is far from certain.   See also:Local Heritage - Landmarks  
                    The South West view of St. Mary's Church, Aldridge, before 1800.

The old Rectory is shown at the rear of the church, on the east side
Re-ordering
In 1991 a major re-ordering of the interior of the church was undertaken. The congregational pews were removed, to be replaced by chairs, and a new floor and carpet were fitted. New heating and lighting systems were also installed. In 1995 the re-ordering was completed with the removal of the choir stalls and the introduction of free-standing furniture in the chancel. 
Click here for interior pictures of the church 1991       Click here for interior pictures of the church 2005
     

 

            The interior of Aldridge Parish Church showing the old pews before they    were removed in 1991. Also at the far end the Jacobean-style pulpit.

                                       The Chancel - Aldridge Parish Church 2005  
     

List of former Rectors from 1305 here


 
     

Monuments & Windows click for larger image

   

Parish Records for Aldridge
Historic records of St Mary the Virgin, Aldridge have been deposited at Staffordshire Record Office, where they are available for
consultation by the public.  These contain a fair cross-section of the material that one would expect to find for a parish dating from
 the mediaeval period, and include the parish registers of baptisms 1574-1970, marriages 1574-1994 and burials 1574-1934.
Administrative records for St Thomas, Aldridge, 1966-1994 have also been deposited at Staffordshire Record Office,
but these do not include parish registers. 
Catalogues of these records are available in "Gateway to the Past" (
http://www.archives.staffordshire.gov.uk) - the online catalogue
of the Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service.  The Archive Service's website (
http://www.staffordshire.gov.uk/archives) provides further information on planning a visit to the office to consult records, should you wish to do so.

Click here for more interior pictures of the church 2005