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

Preparing the Bill to put to Parliament

The first the public at large knew about new chapels was an announcement in Aris’s Gazette, the principal newspaper of the day, on October 14th 1771, which read:- “The Inhabitants of the Town are desired to meet at the Chamber over the Old Cross, Tomorrow, at Ten o’clock in the Forenoon, at the Tolling of a bell, to consider of an Application to Parliament for Building a Church”.  The Old Cross, built in 1702, was the earliest building in the Town used for public meetings that is known. The upper room, or chamber, added in 1703, was designed as a meeting place for the Birmingham manorial courts. It stood in the High Street near the Bull Ring and was demolished in 1784. The Minute Book reveals that 91 people attended the meeting in the Old Cross Chamber with Thomas Faulconbridge in the Chair.(Faulconbridge, a merchant in Great Charles Street, was a churchwarden at St Martin’s in 1768 and was one of 50 commissioners appointed under the Improvement Act of 1769 17 to implement the Act’s recommendations. He was to chair their meetings more than anyone else for many years. Almost half of the so called Street Commissioners, in fact 22 of them, attended this first meeting). Nine resolutions were passed, the first being “That application be made to Parliament in the existing sessions for an Act to build one or two churches and that a subscription be immediately opened to raise money for that purpose”. There followed a resolution confirming the subscription. The 91 names of those attending is given and a resolution is passed that they “be appointed a committee and any seven of them be a sufficient number to do business”. We learn that Thomas Harold, Thomas Faulconbridge, Daniel Winwood, Thomas Salt (a churchwarden at St Martin’s at the time) and Richard Conquest are to wait on the bishop for “his approbation” and on Mr Tennant, the patron of St Martin’s “for his approval”. Thomas Meredith, an Attorney at Law in Temple Street, is appointed solicitor for the Act, the time, date and place of the next meeting is determined and, fortunately for us, it is resolved that “a minute book… be kept”. We know, from later documents, that Daniel Winwood was a toymaker and Richard Conquest and Thomas Salt were merchants. One well known figure at the meeting was Dr Ash, M.D. of Temple Row, the founder of the General Hospital. According to Langford a Church Extension Society was formed at the meeting but there is no mention of that in the minutes. Some twelve people at the meeting, including Daniel Winwood and Richard Conquest, were later to become trustees of St Paul’s chapel. At the next meeting at the Chamber a week later the committee reported that they had met Mr Tennant, the patron of St Martin’s, to solicit his concurrence with the plans but found that “he claims and expects the perpetual advowson on any church or churches built in the parish of St Martin”. A good description of the nature of an advowson has been given by Grant 18, and included the following:- The advowson was a technical term in the Church of England to cover the twin rights of (i) nominating and presenting a potential minister to the bishop for his approval and (ii) of being entitled to the income of the parish. The owner of the advowson was also the patron of the church. An advowson was an asset that could be traded on an open market. It could be purchased by a man or a woman, a layman or a priest, or by a collegiate body such as a Dean and Chapter of a cathedral. The owner could be a Christian or a non-Christian and did not have to live in the area. Where a clergyman owned an advowson he was his own patron and he could ask the bishop to induct him. The advowson owner did not own the freehold of any of the parish’s assets but was entitled to the income from those assets, and was responsible for the smooth running of the parish, including the upkeep of the fabric of the minister’s house and of the chancel of the church.

The owner could also sell the right of presentation.

There was much abuse of the advowson system in the 18th century when some people bought a number of advowsons, took the income from their lands, arranged for the Holy Sacrament the requisite three times a year, but otherwise neglected the parishes. Clearly, Mr Tennant thought that being patron of St Martin’s entitled him to the patronage of any chapels of ease in the parish. The response of the committee to Mr Tennant’s claim was to pass a resolution that the Bill should contain a clause allowing them to sell the advowsons and to apply the money to the building of the chapels. They were not going to give the advowsons away, but were prepared to sell them. They also resolved that the committee should divide into six “companies” for different parts of the town to raise money, that Thomas Salt be Treasurer and that Mr Meredith should try to get hold of some similar Acts for building new churches or chapels, so that they could see what they needed to do. The committee acted swiftly to solicit help for their petition. Messrs Meredith and Winwood were to apply to Lord Dartmouth for his advice and opinion and to request his assistance in Parliament, if necessary. William Legge, the Earl of Dartmouth, whose estate was at Sandwell, just five miles from Birmingham, was at that time a member of the Privy Council and was to be Secretary of State for the Colonies and President of the Board of Trade from 1772-75. In addition they were hoping that Lord Beauchamp and other noblemen and gentlemen would accompany them on a visit to the bishop.  Mr Meredith meanwhile was to write to George White, Clerk at the House of Commons, asking his opinion on “the business”. The minutes for December 3rd show that £251 had so far been collected for the expenses of the Bill and that Daniel Winwood and others were to visit a Mrs Weaman “to know her sentiment respecting an offer which has been reported at this meeting in favour of the scheme”. Two weeks later there is real progress when it is reported that “Miss Weaman offers £1200 and 2½acres in consideration of which she expects to be invested with the Perpetual Advowson”. ( The manuscript referred to earlier 8 shows a Dorothy Weaman as wife of Thomas in 1745. Another manuscript in the City Archives, this time dated 1775 19, relates to a lease by Dorothy Weaman of Sutton Coldfield, widow, and Mary Weaman, spinster. If this is the same Dorothy, then Dorothy and Mary cannot be sisters, but could be sisters-in-law. They could also be mother and daughter). It was Mary making the offer and she would become patron of the church built on land both she, and Dorothy, donated. It was to be named St Mary’s chapel. The offer seems to meet the objectives of the committee and flies in the face of William Tennant’s claim. The committee still needed land, and money, for the second chapel, and a resolution was passed that they would “Write to people with land adjoining the Town to tell them of the Scheme and Miss Weaman’s offer”. Lobbying continued and at the first meeting in the New Year, on January 7th 1772, Mr Faulconbridge is in the chair and he reports the he had “been in London and had taken an opportunity of consulting the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of the Diocese and Lord Beauchamp and told them of the opposition threatened by Mr Tennant. All wished success and promised to support. The Archbishop wanted to know if the fees of St Martin would be diminished, told not so- said he saw no pretence for an opposition on the part of Mr Tennant. The Bishop thought the necessity of the Case would preponderate over any opposition Mr T could make”. This had to be very good news for the Committee, reinforced when it was reported that Mr White had written from the House of Commons giving encouragement, and that the arrangement with Miss Weaman had been revised and accepted. But they were not letting up as an instruction was given to “tell Miss Weaman and elicit her contribution to obtaining the act”, i.e. a contribution to the cost of getting the Act itself. On February 11th it was decided to forward the petition to Mr Skipwith, the Member for “this county” with a request that it be presented to the House of Commons, which it was on February 18th 1772. This was reported to the trustees meeting on February 25th, with Daniel Winwood in he Chair,as was the fact that the Lenches Trust had given ⅓rd of an acre to help make the burial ground (for St Mary’s) “more commodious”. Furthermore they had enquired of Charles Colmore what he might give and Mr Holloway (who was probably the equivalent of estate manager or land agent for Colmore in Birmingham) reported that he had been in London (to see Colmore) and the answer was “3 acres in the Hill Piece, 20 yds wide and 50 yards deep for a house, £200 in money and the Presentation for the lives of the first incumbent and his own, and the Perpetual Advowson for his heirs”. As against the £1200 being donated by Mary Weaman, Charles Colmore was offering to the committee £200 and the right of presentation to the bishop of an incumbent they would select. This right would last for Colmore’s lifetime, during which he would retain the advowson, i.e. remain patron, which he would succeed to after the consecration. (The arrangement guaranteed a perpetual curacy for the first incumbent.) Thus both Mary Weaman and Charles Colmore would be retaining the perpetual advowson. Although there was just £200 in money,the committee resolved to accept Colmore’s offer for the second chapel. They set up separate subscription books immediately for the Weaman and Colmore chapels, and ruled that when the collection of the subscriptions started it was to be in instalments of 25%. Within days it was decided that four of the committee would determine the boundaries for each chapel of ease. Mr Winwood was to join Mr Saul and Mr Kempson and another to stake out the land for both. This is the first reported involvement of Mr Kempson, the land surveyor. They did not yet have the Act, as was clear in the minutes of March 4th when it was resolved that “£3000 be subscribed to each church before the buildings are begun, if the act be obtained” and that “Faulconbridge, Winwood and Meredith were to attend Parliament on the business”.  Of particular interest is the detail of what Colmore proposed giving. He offered £200 in money, compared with £1200 by Mary Weaman, but he was giving the right of presentation to the committee for his lifetime and that of the first incumbent, and he was to remain patron with his heirs succeeding him. Presumably it was thought that this arrangement would equate to the Weaman offer. As explained, it was not illegal to dispose of the right of presentation. The first indication of the magnitude of the sums of money to be raised for building a chapel comes in the figure of £3000 for the amount to be subscribed before building started. It was time for the committee to lay its plans before the inhabitants, and this happened on March 2nd 1772 when a statement appeared in Aris’s Gazette. It began with the reasons for the plan:-  “The great Want of Public Places of Divine worship in this Town, having induced Numbers of the Inhabitants to take into Consideration the Expediency of building one or more additional Churches, several public meetings have been held for that Purpose; when it has been unanimously resolved that at least two additional Churches were wanted for the Accommodation of the Inhabitants, the present not being capable of containing One Tenth Part of those professing the Doctrine of the Church of England: To take off so great a Reproach from Civil Society, and remove even the Appearance of Contempt for Holy Religion it was determined, if possible, to obtain so pious and valuable an acquisition, and to that End Application was made to the Several Proprietors of Land contiguous to the Town requesting Land for so good a Purpose”. It was explained that Miss Weaman and Charles Colmore had not only agreed to give the necessary land, but had subscribed liberally towards the cost, although no figures were given. It was intended to build one chapel near to Catherine Street (now Whittall Street) on the Weaman Estate, and the other near New Hall, which was the former home of the Colmore family. Money had to be raised to prepare and submit the application to Parliament, and they had a plan ready to put in the application. The plan proposed, inter alia,  “ That separate Subscriptions be opened to raise Money for building the Churches, with Houses for the Residence of the officiating Clergymen; such Subscriptions to be paid by Four equal instalments, giving six Months’ public Notice of the Days of Payment That the Gentlemen in the Neighbourhood and every Subscriber of Twenty Pounds be appointed Trustees for the Conduct and Direction of the Business. That the Salary to each Officiating Clergyman be fixed by Parliament, at not more than Two Hundred Pounds, nor less than One Hundred and Fifty Pounds, per Annum, to arise from the Kneelings. That the rents of the Kneelings between the two extremes be fixed by the Trustees. That no Diminution be made in the Fees of the Incumbents of St Martin’s; on the contrary, that they receive their full fees for all Offices performed at the new Intended Churches. That certain Districts be marked out for the Officiating Clergymen, to have the cure of Souls, visit the Sick, and do the necessary Duties; but that such Districts be not deemed separate Parishes, or be subject to separate Assessments, but the Buildings to be kept in Repair by the General Levy of the Town That two Wardens be appointed to each of the Churches, who shall take a proportionable part of the Town in collecting the Levy. That the Pews and Kneelings be disposed of to the Subscribers by Ballot, according to their respective Subscriptions, with such other Clauses and Regulations as are usual, or as Parliament may think proper to adopt. That separate Deeds of Subscription will be handed about, so that every individual will make which Church he chooses the object, no Persuasions being intended to be used; but they hope, and have no Doubt, that the Necessity of the Case will plead for itself, and that every Individual will cheerfully contribute his Quota, influenced only by a Desire to promote so pious and necessary a Work”. The proposed ground rules had been set down; there would be separate subscriptions for the two chapels, and the rent from sittings, called kneelings here, not sales of the freehold, would provide the salary of the incumbent, with a minimum and maximum set by Parliament. The method of allocating kneelings would be by ballot of the subscribers, according to how much they subscribed. Presumably those who gave most would get more kneelings, probably near the front. Districts would be established for each church and the buildings would be kept in repair by a General Levy in the appropriate District of the town and would be collected by the churchwardens, an enviable arrangement! St Martin’s would get the full fees for any office performed in the church, or more accurately, the rector of St Martin’s would get the fees, to compensate for any loss of income to him. The committee also seem at pains to point out that they had acted fairly and even-handedly in their approaches to landowners. The system for raising the money was that subscription books would be placed in various places in the Town, and if you were interested in donating you wrote your name in it with the amount you were proposing to give. It was said to be a binding obligation. In time a notice would appear in the newspaper and elsewhere informing people that the first call was being made, and 25% of the amount to be subscribed was then due in six months time. Eventually a second call would be made with another six months notice and so on, an arrangement that could be attractive today. The bill had been presented to the House of Commons by Mr Skipwith on February 18th 1772 and according to Langford 14, Aris’s Gazette reported on March 30th that “Last Tuesday a Bill was ordered to be brought into Parliament for one or more Churches in this Town”. On May 18th the Gazette was able to state that “On Friday last the Committee of the House of Commons went through the Bill for the Building of two Churches in the Town. Mr Tenant has given up opposition upon Consideration of the Town’s not opposing a Bill which he intends petitioning Parliament for next sessions, in order to make St Bartholomew’s Chapel a Parish Church”. Mr Tennant had lost his claim for the patronage of the new chapels, but he still intended petitioning for an act to make to make St Bartholomew’s a parish church. According to Langford, the Gazette reported that “On May 22nd the bill was read a second time in the House of Lords, through which it passed in the same month and received the royal assent”. To date, the best estimate of the date of the Act is from this statement, viz., between May 22nd and May 31st. It was on October 15th 1771 that the first public meeting had been held, and it was on March 2nd 1772 that the statement to the public had been made and subscriptions asked for to send a bill to Parliament. Just under three months later the Act 20 had been passed, some seven months from the meeting at the Old Cross. The last minuted meeting of the committee was on March 13th, still at the Chamber of the Old Cross. They passed a resolution “That as soon as the Bill is settled by Counsel and printed a printed copy be obtained and sent down for the approbation of the Gentlemen in the Town”. They also agreed to adjourn, without a date being set, to the Swan Inn, but this time certain of them would be meeting as trustees of the Act.

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