Monuments in St Bartholomew’s Wednesbury, Birmingham

Wednesbury Parish Church has about 25 or so monuments, with three from the 17th Century, including a great tomb chest with carved statues and a ‘kneeler’ monument, a couple from the 18th Century, one of which is a characteristic obelisk monument, and a goodly number of 19th Century plaques, showing variations on the Classical tablet, and a few Gothic ones. Among the 19th Century collection are several by William and Peter Hollins, Birmingham’s most notable tomb sculptors, including with figure carving and a bust. There are two monuments from the early 20th Century, characteristic of their period. Thus in this one church we get a little potted history of Church monuments of the Birmingham area.

17th Century monuments:

18th Century monuments:

Works by the sculptors William and Peter Hollins:

Monuments to Edward Crowther, Mary Addison and Samuel Addison, the work of Peter Hollins.

As we move to the 19th Century, we start with the work of Birmingham’s most illustrious monumental mason and sculptor family, that of William and Peter Hollins. William Hollins (1763-1843), the father, was a significant architect of Birmingham, though his known works do not seem to have survived, and was also a sculptor and monumental mason whose work may be found across the Birmingham conurbation (see this page). His son, Peter Hollins (1800-1886), was an extremely gifted sculptor whose work is far more widespread. There are several examples of their work in St Bartholomew’s:

Bust of Isaac Clarkson, by Peter Hollins.

Other 19th Century monuments:

After 1900:

View of interior of St Bartholomew's, Wednesbury.

A few words on the Church itself. It is of medieval origin, the earliest parts of the fabric dating from perhaps the 13th Century, including a couple of windows and the lower parts of some of the walls, and a rebuilding of the 15th or early 16th Century. However, ruthless modernisation in the early and later 19th Century, and again in the 20th Century, mean that the Church does not have a medieval feel inside, but more of a bright late Victorian church. So it is mainly the older monuments which declare the building’s history. The architect Basil Champneys was asked to make suggestions on refurbishment and enlargement in the 1880s, and his proposals formed the basis of later work: this included the wholesale movement, stone by stone, of the multi-sided apse, which dated from the 15th/16th Century, some distance eastwards to allow enlargement of the main accommodation. That work exposed the tombs of Richard Jennyns (d.1521) and John Comberford (d.1559), which may have been reinterred. The apse has been well decorated in a unified scheme involving stone panelling, painting and gilding, bright stained glass windows, and an alabaster altarpiece with sculpture. This latter includes a triptych arrangement with a central scene of Christ breaking bread with two saints, really rather High Church in feel, and two groups of three standing saints to the sides – St Bartholomew is the one with the flaying knife, indicating the manner of his martyrdom. Most interestingly, the front of the table below has painted and mosaic decoration, comprising five standing figures: in the centre, Christ flanked by two angels, with St Peter on one side panel, and another on the other side with a dragon in a cup, which indicates poison, thus St John the Evangelist (who also features among the small statues). The figures are painted on stone, in pieces as if stained glass, with mother of pearl haloes, and the blue sky behind and the outer edgings of the figures in mosaic. The ground for the central panel is delicately painted in a Burne-Jones style, rather otherworldly and most effective. Excellent work of the 1880s or a bit later.

Altar of St Bartholomew's Church, and details.

Also worthy of mention are the Jacobite pulpit, the ancient wooden lectern and a 16th or 17th Century chest, and the later woodwork and alabaster stone tracery. Two large, grey panels record the various bequests and gifts to the Church, ‘copied from decayed wood tablets dated about 1808’, and other panels record the restorations and additions in the early 19th Century and later. But other details abound, including a charming little St George and the Dragon, pictured here, 1880s at a guess. (If you like St George statues, there is a whole page of them here.) And there is good stained glass (see example at top of page), mostly by C. E. Kempe, including a pagan 'Woden window'.

The Church is not usually open outside of services, and as with most churches, it is important to get in touch before making a special visit. With thanks to the Vicar, Tim Vasby-Burnie, for a tour and information, and permission to include photos from inside the Church; the Church uses the website of the Lichfield diocese, at http://www.lichfield.anglican.org/

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St Leonard's Church, Bilston // St Peter's Collegiate Church, Wolverhampton // St John in the Square, Wolverhampton

Wolverhampton sculpture // Birmingham sculpture // Sculpture in some towns in England // Introduction to church monuments

William Hollins // Peter Hollins // Sculpture pages

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