The Building of St Paul’s Church, Birmingham in the 1770s

The Communion Plate

A set of Communion Plate belonging to St Paul’s has been on display in the Assay Office Museum since 1987 after years in bank vaults or under the beds of incumbents. For many years the origin of the silver had been a mystery, but a press cutting in the Birmingham Post in June 1979 37, of the 100 years ago, 200 years ago variety, solved the mystery. The cutting quoted an announcement in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette of June 1779 as follows:- “Birmingham….The Lord Bishop of the Diocese has appointed Wednesday next for the Congregation of St Paul’s Chapel in the Town. The Rev. Mr. Archdeacon Fotheringham is to preach the Confederation Sermon, after which a collection will be made to enable the Trustees to purchase a Service of Plate”. As Archdeacon of Coventry, this is the same Archdeacon Fotheringham who witnessed the signing of the Consecration document, but just what the Confederation Sermon was is unknown. If the collection had been successful the trustees could have ordered some plate soon after. The Hallmark date of 1780, which is what the plate has, establishes with reasonable certainty that it was the trustees who bought the plate. The maker was the well known and highly reputable London silversmith firm of Hester Bateman. We know from the Minute Book that the trustees of St Mary’s resolved to buy Communion Plate from Boulton and Fothergill. This plate, hallmarked 1774, also found its way to the Assay Office. This then begs the question of why the St Paul trustees did not buy from Boulton and Fothergill in 1779. A probable answer is that the silver business of Boulton and Fothergill had been losing money and, according to Quickenden, the partners dramatically reduced production after they reached their highest production figure in 1776-7. As it happens, St Bartholomew’s also purchased in 1774 a set of Communion plate from Boulton and Fothergill, from a gift by a Mrs Mary Carles of Birmingham. This silver is in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. So all three chapels of ease to St Martin’s had similar Communion Plate and they are well worth viewing. The two sets in the Assay Office Museum are displayed almost side by side and the contrasting styles of Hester Bateman and Boulton and Fothergill can be readily appreciated. Pieces from St Bartholomew’s were exhibited at the 2009 Boulton Exhibition in Birmingham.

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