Willenhall History Society

A history of St Giles Church

 

A brief history of St Giles Church

St Giles Church is the earliest institution surviving in Willenhall.

Until 1846 the Church was described as a Chapel of Ease to the mother church at St. Peter, Wolverhampton . In other words it was provided for the population of Willenhall to attend without having to undertake the trip to Wolverhampton every Sunday.

The first parson of Willenhall whose name has survived in the records is Thomas de Trollesbury, who is mentioned in the Calendar of Patent Rolls in 1297. The recorded history of Willenhall's oldest church goes back over 700 years.

The medieval church was probably a half timbered structure and survived until the middle of the eighteenth century, when the ravages of time and decay made its replacement necessary.

A variety of parsons and curates served Willenhall through the years. George Riddio was in conflict with the inhabitants of Willenhall over his income from estates at Willenhall and was accused of being a man of evil life. John Carter, a local man who was born at Brewood, was at Willenhall from 1674 to 1720 and was described as a man "of very peaceable deportment and Authodox principles - he never married". Edward Holbrooke, who succeeded him, had taught Dr. Samuel Johnson at Lichfield Grammar School .

 

 

The Reverend Titus Neve was responsible for the rebuilding of the church which was in a ruinous condition. The last sermon was preached on April 10th 1748 but the replacement church was not completed for two years and, following the custom of the times in industrial areas, was a very utilitarian building.

The most infamous vicar to have held the position was Rev. William Moreton, from 1788 to 1834, who was renowned for his foul language and drunkenness and who caused the church life of the town to sink to its lowest ebb. It was during this time that the non conformist chapels started to become more popular.

The Rev G.H. Fisher, who succeeded him, after a fiercely contested election, went a long way to recover the lost power and prestige of the Established Church in Willenhall until his death in 1894.

 

 

The present church, of a much more attractive design, was commenced in 1867.

Here follows a description of the new Church taken from the account of the consecration:

"The new church is in the Gothic style of the fourteenth century, commonly known as the decorated, and stands partly upon the foundations of the former building, measures one hundred and five feet in length, internally, and consists of nave with north and south aisles, chancel, double transept on the north side; vestry on the south side of the chancel, and a tower through which is the principal entrance at the west end of the north aisle. The height of the tower is about 100 feet, and of the nave to the apex of the roof about 45 feet from the ground. The walls are faced externally with red sandstone from Codsall; and the roofs are covered with grey and red tiles. the ridges being surmounted by an ornamental cresting. Internally the columns, arches, and window dressings are of stone from Codsall, Hollington and Bath , and the roof timbers are of deal stained but not varnished. The sittings are all of oak, the greater part being new, and the remainder made from the oak pews taken from the old church. The chancel floor is laid with encaustic tiles, from Mr. Thom's works at Broseley. The nave is divided from north and south aisles, of considerable width, by symmetrical stone pillars, overarched by a fine-pointed roof

The east window, which has five lights, is filled with stained glass. The lower part of the window is divided into ten compartments, each beautifully illustrating some special incident in connection with the passion. death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The upper part contains the symbol of majesty surrounded by seraphs. In the tracery are episodes in the life of Giles, the patron saint of the church, and to the right and left is a Latin cross. Along the bottom of the window is the following inscription "In testimony to the large share borne by Mary Gough, her husband Ralph Dickenson Gough, inserts this window, A.D. 1867".

The windows on the south side of the chancel contain representations of the armorial bearings of the Duke of Sutherland and the Earl of Lichfield .

In 1897 a south chancel aisle and south transept were added in memory of the Rev. G. H. Fisher for sixty years Vicar of the Parish. To commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V the bells were recast and rehung and two additional bells added. The two extra bells being given as a memorial to the late Mr. and Mrs. Henry Vaughan. Before the bells were sent away for recasting a rubbing was taken of the ornamentation and lettering around the old bells and from the evidence obtained there is little doubt that they were the work of John Rudhall of Gloucester, one of the celebrated bell-founders of the eighteenth century, and, with his father before him, responsible for many Midland peals.

In the 1940s, during the incumbency of the Rev. S. B. Ashley, an oak screen between the north transept and the choir vestry was added and two new stained glass windows installed.

In the twentieth century there were also several notable vicars. Rev. W.E. Rosedale was the son of the first vicar of Holy Trinity Church , Short Heath, and succeeded in getting the election of Willenhall clergy abolished. Rev. A. M. Pratt was killed on active service in France during the First World War. Rev. Robert L. Hodson went on to become Suffragan Bishop of Shrewsbury .

The church continues to serve the people of Willenhall and will continue to do so into the third millennium of Christianity.

Rev G.H. Fisher

 

 

Adapted from Norman Tildesley's work by John Shercliff