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

The Act of 1772

The Act reveals that Dorothy and Mary Weaman had to combine not only with the Lench Estate but with sixteen other small landowners to make a piece of land big enough for St Mary’s chapel, burial ground and roads. The Colmore chapel was named as St Paul’s chapel with Charles Colmore providing three acres and a plot 12 yards wide, rather than the 20 yards of the earlier statement, by 50 yards deep for the residence of the minister and other land for roads. In addition, Mary Weaman would subscribe £1200 and Charles Colmore £1000,(there is no mention at all of £200) and all on condition that “they and their heirs for ever shall be invested with the right of nomination and presentation of the respective ministers” (with no mention of Colmore donating the right of presentation). All of this had the consent of Brownlow, the Lord Bishop of the Diocese, William Tennant Esq., the patron of the parish church of St Martin, and William Chase, the rector of St Martin’s. The Committee ought to have been pleased to see the consent of Mr Tennant. The three acres of Colmore land was from “the said land called Harpur’s Hills”, subsequently known as Harper’s Hill and mentioned on maps until quite recently. The Act also laid down that there should be “a road way or street 20 yards wide to the new laid out street, Great Charles Street, in a straight line”. This was at first known as Church Street, being an extension of the Church Street off Colmore Row. A plan of Birmingham dated 1825 21 shows that it had become Ludgate Hill. There is no talk of kneelings in the Act, or of sittings, but of pews. The pews were vested in the minister and could be rented by any person who was an inhabitant of Birmingham. The pews were to be numbered and the renters were to hold the pews “without molestation” and they were forbidden to re-let them for larger sums. The rent per pew per annum was to be settled at a general meeting of the trustees to be held for that purpose within one month after the consecration. Thereafter it could be altered every three years. The total rent from all the pews was to provide income for the minister and was to be a maximum of £200 per annum and a minimum of £165 (This had been raised from £150). Out of the rental income the minister was to pay the officiating Clerk £15 per annum. If the £200 was exceeded the Bishop could fine the minister £5. Those contributing most had priority in the allocation of pews, the allocations being determined by ballot. Thereafter their rights could be passed on to their heirs and assigns. If the rent was unpaid for two months the rights were lost and the holder could be sued. Similarly, anyone who did not pay the amount they had subscribed, i.e. had promised, could be fined. A number of trustees were named in the Act. The Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry was the principal trustee, the Town being part of this diocese at the time. There are then the Earls, headed by the Earl of Dartmouth, previously referred to, two Lords, seven Knights, some of them local landowners, including Sir Charles Holte, Sir Thomas Gooch and Sir William Bagot and a number of gentlemen. Perhaps the presence of the nobility as trustees was required by the Church and by the necessity of getting the Bill through the House of Lords, for there is no evidence that they played any further part in the building of the chapels. In addition, “all and every other person and persons who shall at any time hereafter, subscribe or contribute the sum of £30 or upwards towards building and furnishing the said new intended chapels, or either of them” would qualify as a trustee. One change from the Bill is that the qualification of having to subscribe £20 was now raised to £30, and a new clause stated that if the number of trustees fell below 20 they could elect anyone who had subscribed at least £10. The vaults were vested in the trustees and any nine of them could “grant sell or dispose of such vaults, as well before as after consecration to such persons who shall be willing to purchase the same for burial places”. Fees for burials in the vaults or chapel yard were double the fees usually paid for burial at the church of St Martin’s, out of which the minister had to pay the rector of St Martin’s his accustomed fees. Whatever sums of money were raised by the trustees in selling vaults had to be put to the “ornamenting and beautifying” of the chapels. The trustees had also to build the two parsonages for the ministers. Some details of services were also determined in the Act, probably standard in the Canons of the Church of England at the time. There was to be a sermon in the morning and evening every Sunday and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper at Christmas, Easter, Whitsunday, and the 4th Sunday in the month, after Divine Service in the morning. The minister had to read prayers on all holy days and every Wednesday and Friday. Every Easter Tuesday the Ministers had to meet with the inhabitants to elect four Church Wardens, (two for each chapel), two proposed by the Ministers and two by the inhabitants. The Churchwardens could not be Quakers. There is also in the Act a Seven Year rule. It is stipulated that “if the Chapel shall not be erected or shall be begun to be erected but not sufficiently finished for Divine Service and consecration within the space of seven years from the time of passing this act”   then the trustees, or any nine of them, had to convey back the land to the person entitled to it, sell all materials and pay back Mary Weaman and Charles Colmore or their heirs what they had donated and anything left over could be paid to subscribers pro rata. The Act is often described in the literature as a private Act brought by Mary Weaman and Charles Colmore. In fact it is a private Act brought, and paid for, by the people of Birmingham. The trustees were instructed, in the Act, to meet at the Swan Inn on or before June 30th 1772.

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