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

The building of St Mary’s Chapel

The committee, or rather those of them who had subscribed a minimum of £30, either in total for the two chapels, or for one of them, met on June 30th 1772 at the Swan Inn, now as trustees. Their first action was to have the Act read to them. Although everything had gone in their favour there was still some concern about Mr Tennant. There was the possibility that he would apply to Parliament for an Act to make St Bartholomew a distinct parish, rather than the district of a chapel of ease. If it was successful it might affect the district of St Mary’s, and they were seeking some way of countering it. In addition the rector of St Phillip’s had been mentioned as someone whose fees may be affected, so there was work to do with the bishop and the two rectors to resolve this issue. Meanwhile Mr Meredith was to write, probably as a matter of courtesy, to the various noblemen and gentlemen who had been appointed trustees requesting the honour of their attendance. Taylor and Lloyds, the first bank in Birmingham, was appointed treasurer to the trustees. At this stage there are changes in the names of the prominent characters. Daniel Winwood had chaired a number of committee meetings but John Turner, ( a street commissioner, who was also active at St Martin’s) generally takes the chair for this period. A John Turner has been identified as a partner with Samuel Hammond and John Dickinson in a firm of buttonmakers in Birmingham in the late 18th century, which eventually became Hammond Turner. (Samuel Hammond, describing himself as a buttonmaker, became a trustee for the building of St Paul’s) John Cottrell, (who had served as a highways supervisor) a plater, became the collector of the subscriptions. By the end of July the trustees decided to move on the building of St Mary’s chapel, so it must be assumed that they had subscriptions of at least £3000 for that chapel so far. As usual, the public were informed through the Gazette. On August 2nd there appeared:- “All and every person and persons who hath or have subscribed any Sum or Sums of Money towards erecting, finishing, and completing one of the said Chapels, …..upon the land of Mary Weaman, and in the said Act distinguished by the name of the Chapel of St Mary, are required to pay into the Hands of Mr John Cottrell, of Walmer Lane, in Birmingham aforesaid, the Collector appointed by the said Trustees, on or before the second day of February next, after the rate of 25l. Per cent. in respect of all and every their respective Subscriptions. By order of the said Trustees          John Meredith, Clerk. N.B.As Great numbers of Persons who have not yet subscribed to this laudable Undertaking, promised they would subscribe a soon as the Act was obtained; the Trustees again take the Liberty to request their Assistance, to which End subscription Books will be left open at S. Aris’s, Printer, and Mr Meredith’s, Attorney, in Birmingham aforesaid; and it is hoped that the Subscriptions will be so liberal as to enable the Trustees to set about and accomplish both the said chapels with Expedition.” As the bricks and stone required must have constituted the biggest item of cost they immediately set about trying to reduce it, first by seeing if there was clay on the Weaman land and evidently there was not, and second, by applying to the Committee of the Navigation to bring in the stone, by canal, Toll free. At the fifth meeting of the trustees on November 4th they agreed a short specification for the chapel. It was to be “vaulted round the inside…and to be an octagon…to be gallery’d, covered with slate, and a tower, brick, stone covering, 1000 sittings, 22ins each. Wainscoated with oak, whole estimated at between £3000 and £4000”. There was a strong belief at that time that the octagon shape was better for preaching. A subsequent advertisement invited architects and builders to submit their plans, elevations and estimates in a sealed envelope to John Cottrell. Their requirements for the design had now softened to the point that an octagon, or any other form, would be considered, and the breadth of the seats was now 35 inches, the middle aisle 8 feet wide and the outside aisles 4 feet wide, and there was no mention of the target price. In February 1773 the trustees met to discuss an octagon plan submitted by Joseph Pickford of Derby, generally regarded as one of Derbyshire’s finest architects. He was a friend of John Whitehurst of Derby, a member of the Lunar Society, through whom he became acquainted with a number of midland intellectuals. It is thought that it was through them that he met some of his most important clients. The trustees agreed with Pickford’s octagonal design and with his payment plan which was as follows:-“Mr Joseph Pickford purposes to execute the chapel agreeable to the plan and estimates delivered in and receiving his money in the times and manner as under mentioned viz., £1000 in September next, £1000 in February 1774, £866-16-6 in May’74, and £800 when the work is completed and £400 left in the hands of the trustees for 6 months after the business is done”. Including the contingency of £400, the total at £4066 was just over the top of the range of £3000-£4000 set by the trustees. If they had reached the £3000 necessary before they could start the build, then this total must have been seen as achievable. The trustees put one condition on Pickford, that the trustees would only bind themselves to pay their respective proportions of the money, and not each of them to bind themselves to the total. In effect this would mean that if any trustee defaulted on his share, the remaining trustees would not pick it up. Pickford agreed and the deal was done. The trustees had each subscribed at least £30 to become a trustee, and together would be responsible for the difference between the total amount raised and the total cost, including the cost of the house for the minister, if it were greater. Henry Kempson had been involved in staking out the churchyard and his calculations were used for the levelling of the ground in the churchyard. On one occasion Pickford’s men had been used to raise the ground around the foundation, and in a nice touch the trustees gave the men 5 guineas “as a treat”. In another resolution the trustees had agreed “That a closet be made in the side of the vestry for depositing anything necessary”. On April 1st 1773 Dorothy Weaman, a contributor of some land, had laid the first brick. In September the trustees decided to have the ceiling“ornamented” as designed by Pickford, at a further cost of £150. The price of vaults was set at 12 guineas each and later reduced to £10 and every “corps” buried in a vault incurred an additional charge of 2 guineas, over and above the normal fees. By May 1774 the raising of money had become a concern and so Friday May 6th was set as the day when “four companies” were to canvas the Town for new subscriptions. In July the trustees decided that the time was right for consecration, so John Cottrell was to solicit the Revd Parsons, the then rector of St Martin’s, to write to the bishop inviting him to consecrate the chapel on August 24th, St Bartholomew’s day. Money must have been tight as they found it necessary to write to Mary Weaman in a fairly severe tone to remind her that the trustees expected her to pay £300 (probably the last call of 25%) as it became due.

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