The Development of the Early Church at Old Swinford

It is almost certain that a church building has been standing on the same site in the village of Old Swinford for at least a thousand years.

Situated adjacent to a Saxon track which led from Amblecote via Red Hill and Church Road to Pedmore, Hagley and Clent, the church was close to the medieval village centre of Old Swinford, with its stream running nearby. Although no part of the original stone building survives today, when the old church was demolished in early Victorian times, one arch was reputed to have been of great antiquity, being either Saxon or early Norman.

The pre-Victorian church covered much the same floor area as its modern counterpart, the nave being shorter in length, but wider. In 1696 a new south aisle was added, jointly paid for by Thomas and Robert Foley, together with the attorney Samuel Hunt. The south-east corner of this aisle was rebuilt in 1826, at the same time providing a new upper gallery for the use of the Sunday School children. The roof on the southern side of the church was further repaired in 1828, the old sloping roof probably being replaced by a flat roof at this time.

The old church became increasingly costly to maintain, but a proposal in 1840 to rebuild the church completely was strongly opposed by the local inhabitants until it was pointed out to them that none of the cost would need to be paid out of the church rates!

The church spire was found to be in a dangerous condition as early as 1810 and was rebuilt at that time at the enormous cost of £443. It was repaired many times more before finally being removed in 1982.

The clock for the tower was supplied by a Mr Fodsham in 1868, costing £353: a sum supplied by donations from some 160 people. It was repaired and illuminated to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of King George V. In 1973 a new electric powered motion was supplied by John Smith and Sons of Derby. The clock strikes on the hour and on the half hour.

Description of the Present Church

The nave of St Mary’s dates from 1843. It was designed by Mr S Ebbells and built in decorated style by Messrs. Griffiths at a cost of £4500.

The windows were paid for by Mr William Hunt, a local solicitor. His memorial can be found high on the south wall of the chancel. He died after a fall from his horse, some six months before the official opening of the nave in October 1843.

The building is constructed from a local sandstone which has tended to crumble very badly over the years. Originally there were galleries on the north and west sides of the church, as well as at the west end, but the side galleries were removed in the 1950s. The box pews and their doors are contemporary with the nave. Before 1898 the altar rail and communion table were in a small recess at the east end.

Thanks largely to the zeal and energy of the Rev’d. Alfred Bell Timbrell, the chancel, vestry and south chapel were added to the church in 1898 at a cost of £3769, by Messrs. Collins and Godfrey of Tewkesbury to a design by J Chatwin of Birmingham.

The large east window, measuring 14 feet wide by eighteen feet high was donated by Mrs Edward Webb, wife of the founder of a local seed business. In the apex are three figures representing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Below are a number of figures standing for the Christian Virtues. In the larger lights on the second tier can be seen St Andrew, St Stephen,and St Peter, and on the left-hand side St John, St Alban and St Paul. The central panel shows Christ in Glory. In the lowest tier the three lights on the left show the presentation of Christ to the Magi, and the three on the right show Christ with doctors in the temple. The central panel shows Our Lady with the Infant Christ.

The east window of the south chapel bears witness to the work of the Rev’d. Timbrell, who died in December 1898. The two windows on the south wall of the south chapel are memorials to an iron master, Mr James Evers Swindell of Old Swinford Castle, who died in 1910 and to the memory of Robert Henry Grazebrook who was lost in action with his ship HMS Cressy in September 1914.

The organ

In the chancel can be seen the fine three-manual organ built in 1901 by Messrs. Norman and Beard of Norwich, but enlarged in 1939 and electrified in 1975. This replaced an older two-manual organ built by James Nicholson of Worcester in the 1840s and situated in the west gallery. The present organ was completely overhauled by Trevor Tipple in 1995, with new ranges of pipes being added.

Earlier still, an organ was inaugurated at the west end of the church in March 1810, at which a recital was given by a Mr Simms. The Simms family served the church as organists for much of the nineteenth century and were succeeded by Mr Hedley Glanville Satchell, who held the post for fifty years until 1922. He was followed by Mr Donald Frederick Lambert, who occupied the seat for another forty-seven years to 1969. Since then we have seen the admirable service over a period of nineteen years each of Mr Harry Wellings Mr Richard Hall and Mr Robin Walker.. Our present organist Mr James Bradley has been in post since 2019.

Memorials inside the church

Around the walls of the Nave are some interesting memorials, some from the old church. They commemorate benefactors and illustrate the heritage of the old parish. The darkened Baker monument by the north door commemorates two clergymen: John and Joseph, and a tablet to Joseph Pitman who had a leather business in nineteenth century Stourbridge.

Dating from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries on the wall of the north aisle are memorials to the locally prominent Hill family of Amblecote (who endowed Christ Church, The Lye) and to the life of Lodvick Verelst (1668-1704), eldest son of Dutch  artist Harman Verlest and his wife Cicilia. Also commemorated here is the family of John Wheeler, industrial agent of Wollaston Hall and his fifteen children.

Underfoot in front of the chancel steps are memorials to the Foley family who amassed a fortune from their iron products during the Civil War – Robert became ironmaster to the navy in 1660, whilst his brother Thomas generously endowed Old Swinford Hospital in 1667.

Further interesting memorials can be found in the chancel and south chapel. High above the organ loft are guilded memorials to Robert Foley (d. 1702), his mother, the Hon. Anne Foley (d. 1717) and to one of her other sons Rev’d. Phillip Foley Esq.

On the south wall of the south chapel between the two windows can be seen a large monument and bust dedicated to the much-respected industrialist, James Foster of Stourton Court, who died in 1853. Above this is the unusual hatchment which accompanied the funeral procession in 1983 of local jeweller and Heraldry expert, Gus Peplow. There are also marble memorials to two early Rectors: 
Dr George Wigan (d. 1776) and Dr Simon Ford (d. 1699).

The south chapel also honours the memory of those who died in war, amongst them Felix Baxter, born barely one hundred yards away from the church. He was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1916. His father was a churchwarden here.

Between the south chapel and the chancel is a memorial to a family who served the church for seventy years as parish clerks: Edward Chance (1875-1916) and his son Albert (1916-1945).

Further along the south aisle are memorials to Daniel Clarke, landlord of the Talbot Inn in Stourbridge from 1696; the Hickman family (memorial pictured on this page), who made a fortune in clay and bricks; banker Thomas Rogers of The Hill, Amblecote who fathered five daughters none of whom married, and a son Samuel, a noteable poet.

Rectors at St Mary’s

Many of the past Rectors of Old Swinford have been extremely influential personalities in their own right and the Rectory has been home to some colourful characters including Charles Henry Craufurd (right) who caused a major scandal in 1867 by marrying his cook!

Simon Ford D.D.
Devon-born Dr Simon Ford was a descendent of the founder of Wadham College and an acquaintance of many of the distinguished men of his day, including Sir Christopher Wren. In later life he became chaplain to the King and the Lord Mayor of London. Old Swinford was his last living, which he accepted in 1676, due to ill-health and when aged 57. He finally died at the age of 80!
Ford was a great scholar and fiery preacher. Many of his sermons were published nationally, especially those preached at times of great state occasions. One sermon, famous in its day, concerned the judgement of God on a Kingswinford man, John Duncalfe, who had first denied stealing a bible and predicted that his hands would rot if the accusation were true. Whereupon his hands and feet actually did begin to rot away, and this strange happening was witnessed by hundreds of people before he died in June 1677 after eventually confessing his sin.

William Halifax D.D.
Ford was succeeded in 1699 by Dr William Halifax, a Lincolnshire man who came to Old Swinford from Aleppo, where he had been chaplain to the British merchants in Syria. He was a scholar and Fellow of Corpus Christi Colleg, Oxford. He collected coins and manuscripts. Like many Rectors of his time, he was a pluralist and was buried at his other church, St Michael’s, Salwarpe in 1722.

George Wigan D.D.
Dr George Wigan was then appointed to the Old Swinford living and held it for 54 years! He was also a learned man, having been a Fellow of Christ Church and Principal of New Inn Hall, Oxford.

Thomas Philip Foley
Thomas Foley was Rector from 1797 to 1835. He was a reather eccentric man. In his youth he was renowned for being the best-dressed undergraduate at Cambridge. It was in the 1790s that he met the prophetess Joanna Southcott in London. He became her most important supporter and for a few months in the summer of 1803 she came to live at St Mary’s Rectory. It was here that her famous sealed box (containing the predictions that she made each year on 31 December) was deposited between June 1825 and Foley’s death in 1835.
Foley is reputed to have kept his white horse ready saddled in the rectory stables, so that he might ride to the New Jerusalem once the Divine Shiloh (Messiah) had been born to Joanna. She believed herself to be with child when at the age of 64 her body began to swell in the spring of 1814, but alas it was a phantom pregnancy. She died the following January.

Charles Henry Craufurd
For a period of forty years following the dpearture of T.P. Foley, the living was held by the Rev’d Charles Henry Craufurd, the son of the gallant Major General Robert Craufurd of Peninsular War fame (nicknamed ‘Blackjack’ and killed at the capture of Rodrigo). Craufurds sermons were full of pungent wit. In 1865 he deliberately defied the Archbishop of Canterbury, as well as his own diocesan bishop, when he refused to have a day of humiliation in the parish.
Two years later he caused a sensation when he married his pious but socially inferior cook, Mary. She was 27 years old at the time. On 29 March 1867 he delivered a sermon in defence of his marriage. It is said that the church was packed to overflowing an hour before the service began. He told his congregation that he preferred the company of a lady who dropped her aitches to that of a ‘mushroom nobility’. The so-called scandal was reported in the national newspapers of the day.

A plaque on the west wall of the church lists the following Rectors and Patrons of Old Swinford:

Robert de Norwyco1285Bernard de Bruys
Robert of Dunclent1331 
John of Willeshampsted1332 
Philip Lee1386Hugh Burnel de Holgot and Weoley
John Hulle1386 
Nicholas Aston1401Hugh Burnel
John Burton1426Johanna de BeauchampLady de Bergavenny
John Hunt1480 
Roger Tyrehere1483 
Thomas Pereson1483Dean and Chapter of Windsor
Richard Kynges1515Anna Seyntleger and Margaret Boleyn
John Mungie  
Richard Hall1557Winefred Jerveys
John Laugherne1560John Seyntleger
Richard Mauncell1573John Lyttleton
Richard Hottofte1602Muriel Lyttleton and Elizabeth I
William Harewell M.A.1641John Hope and Job Best
Jervis Bryan  (ejected in 1662)1648 
Robert Peirson1664 
Edward Eccleston1673Thomas Foley of Witley
Simon Ford D.D.1676Thomas Foley of Witley
William Halifax D.D.1699Thomas Foley of Witley
George Wigan D.D.1722Thomas 1st Lord Foley
Robert Foley M.A.1777Thomas 2nd Lord Foley
Thomas Philip Foley M.A.1797Thomas 4th Lord Foley
Charles Henry Craufurd M.A.1835The Earl of Dudley
Henry Downing M.A.1876The Earl of Dudley
Charles Samuel Wordsworth1878The Earl of Dudley
Alfred Bell Timbrell M.A.(Hon. Canon of Worcester)1892The Earl of Dudley
Ithel George Owen M.A.(Hon. Canon of Worcester)1899The Earl of Dudley
Herbert Henry Williams M.A.(Hon. Canon of Worcester)1922The Bishop of Worcester
Arthur Vincent Hurley M.A.  C.B.E.(Hon. Canon of Worcester, Canon Emeritus of Salisbury, Archdeacon of Dudley)1948The Bishop of Worcester
Henry Lewis Davies M.A.(Hon. Canon of Worcester)1965The Bishop of Worcester
David Owain Bell M.A.(Hon. Canon of Worcester)1985The Bishop of Worcester
Greville Shelly Cross(Hon. Canon of Worcester)1998The Crown

Prominent Old Swinford Families

Many families have been prominent in the life of the parish over the centuries.

They include Ernest Stevens who donated,  amongst other things, the wonderful Mary Stevens Park (gates pictured here) to the people of Stourbridge, in memory of his wife, and also industrialists such as Foster Rastrick and Co. who built the world famous ‘Stourbridge Lion’ (right) – the first steam engine to run on rails in the USA.

The Perrott family dominated the life in Wollaston in the 15th and 16th centuries, before later moving to Fairfield.

The Milwards of Wollescote Hall were another of the parish’s ancient families, rising from yeoman status in the early 16th century to become leading gentry and attorneys two centuries later, when the male line died out. During the Civil War their home was used by Prince Rupert as a headquarters, but after the Restoration, the King rewarded John Milward with the gift of a plantation on St Kitts.

A major force in 16th century Lye were the Addenbrooke family, their wealth created from a series of iron-producing mills which were driven by the then raging River Stour. A later descendent, John Addenbrooke, gave his name to the famous hospital in Cambridge.

Tyzack and Henzey
In the early 17th century, many foreign-sounding names began to appear in the church registers, belonging to immigrant glassworkers from Lorraine, who found the coal and clay seams in Amblecote, Lye and Stambermill wer ideally suited to their trade. The main families were the Tyzacks and the Henzeys, their female descendents intermarrying with many of the local gentry.

The most noteable Old Swinford family in the 17th century were the Foleys, who rose from small yeoman nailers to become immensely wealthy ironmasters with vast estates in the counties of Worcester, Hereford and Stafford. The founder of their fortunes, Richard Foley (1580-1657) is reputed to have cunningly supplied his ironwares to both sides in the Civil War. His son, Thomas (1617-1677) handsomely endowed Old Swinford Hospital, opened as a school for some sixty sons of the industrious poor in 1667 (it still flourishes today). Thomas’s brother, Robert (1624-1676) married the daughter of Dudley, Lord North, and was appointed Ironmaster to the Navy in 1660. Both he and his son, Robert (d.1701) were buried in Old Swinford Church.

Another family with 17th century origins in the Parish were the Hickmans. They were originally employers in the local wool trade (the name Gigmill in Norton is a reminder of its presence in the area). When the trade diminished locally in importance between 1650 and 1750, the Hickman’s acquired large amounts of land in the parish. The good quality clay under this land enabled them to take a prominent part in the brickmaking industry, centered in Lye and Stambermill. Last in the male line was Captain Richard Hickman (1792-1855), a well-known local character who lived in the Tudor Old Swinford Castle close to the church.

Rufford and Foster
Leading families in local industry in the 19th century included the Ruffords and the Fosters. Francis Rufford owned claypits and a major firebrick works at Stambermill, employing in excess of 1000 people in 1840. Many of the employees were female, who could often be seen shovelling heavy weights and softening clay with their bare feet. The family were also connected with a Stourbridge bank named Rufford Wragge and Griffiths. The bank suffered a spectacular collapse in 1851, ruining many local people in the process.

James Foster controlled some ten local ironworks, including John Bradley and Co. (founded in 1800). Another of his concerns, Foster Rastrick and Co., manufactured some famous local early steam engines, including the ‘Stourbridge Lion’ and the ‘Agenoria’. When he died in April 1853, he was so greatly respected by his workforce that one thousand of them marched four abreast to his funeral in Old Swinford Church.

Twentieth century Old Swinford benefited greatly from the philanthropy of Mr Ernest Stevens (1867-1957), whose wealth was created in  enamelled holloware (typical examples being dustbins, buckets and baths). After the death of his wife Mary in 1925, he made a series of gifts for the use of local people. These included Mary Stevens Park and Studley Court at The Heath, Wollesctoe Hall with its surrounding parkland and White Hall, which for many years served as a maternity home.
Ernest Stevens is buried in St Mary’s churchyard.

Stained Glass

St Mary’s, Old Swinford

The Windows

The stained glass in the church reveals an immediate contrast between the evangelical early Victorian nave of 1843 and the Gothic revival late Victorian chancel of 1898. In the relatively unadorned nave the emphasis is on the pulpit and the ‘Word’. The glass is plain and colour is limited to the window heads. In the two chancel windows powerful imagery and strong colours abound everywhere. The Lady Chapel contains three early twentieth century windows in a style similar to that of the chancel.

Nave windows

The long Gothic style windows contain plain glass except at the top. Thin glass panels are held in metal frames as befits a church in an iron producing area. The apex of each window contains brightly coloured glass featuring symbols of Christ and the Eucharist, notably the Lamb, the paten and the chalice. The large rose window in the west wall above the gallery is also filled with coloured glass and is spectacular on a sunny afternoon. A special fund was set up in 1843 to pay for the glass and William Hunt, the church secretary, organised the appeal. Tragically, he fell to his death from his horse a few months before the restoration was complete and a memorial to him can be seen high up on the south chancel wall.

Chancel East Window

The large east window representing Christ in Majesty and the Heavenly City dominates the church. It was dedicated in 1902 as a memorial to Margaret Webb whose family had founded the well known firm of seed merchants at Wordsley, now at Wychbold and Hagley. They also owned the White House and Red House glassworks at Wordsley and lived at Studley Court, the site of the old Heath glassworks, now Mary Stevens park. The window, produced by Clayton and Bell, the eminent London glass firm, is an impressive, though somewhat static, display of a great array of Christian figures. Every inch of this splendid window is covered with details of figures, towers, drapery, and symbols. At the apex is the Trinity represented by angels holding scrolls, beneath which are fourteen Christian Virtues. The central panels portray Christ the King flanked by St. John and St. Peter, St. Andrew and St. Paul, and St. Stephen and St. Alban. The banner of St. George has been laid at the feet of Christ. The lower panels emphasize the figure of St. Mary, who is standing in a garden of lilies holding the Infant Jesus. She is flanked by a panel on each side showing the Three Kings presenting gifts and Jesus teaching in the Temple.

Chancel north side

The musical tradition of the church is commemorated by this window of St. Cecilia. It was given in 1905 in memory of Emily Wright, wife of Edward Wright, the owner of a Black Country firm of gas boiler makers, who lived nearby at Hillville in Glasshouse Hill. A whole host of angelic figures with a variety of instruments can be seen around the central figure of the saint in a joyful portrayal of music.

Chancel south side

Several small panels from the nave of 1843 were re-used in this stone partition between the chancel and the chapel. They were probably set in the east window and moved when the chancel was enlarged in 1898. The heraldry represents the Lytteltons of Hagley, former patrons of the church, Bishop Pepys who consecrated the new building in 1843 and the Revd. Charles Craufurd, the Rector of the same year. Alfred Timbrell’s arms were added later.

Lady Chapel east window

This three light window commemorates the Revd. Alfred Timbrell who died in 1898. He was the popular Rector of Old Swinford, who was responsible for the grand rebuilding of the chancel. He died suddenly just after its dedication and in 1924 this fine window was erected to commemorate him, together with his mother and sister. It portrays three angels in the apex and four scenes of the Resurrection. The small panels at the base show Christ in the Garden with Mary Magdalene, Christ on the road to Emmaus with Cleopas and his friend and Christ’s reconciliation with Peter culminating in his instruction to ‘Feed my sheep’. The main scene is the house at Emmaus when Christ broke the bread for the meal and reveals the moment when Cleopas and his friend suddenly realise that they were in the presence of the risen Christ. Their arms and their body position indicate quite strikingly the shock of that wonderful moment.

Lady Chapel south side

This window was given in memory of James Evers-Swindells, the local ironmaster, who died in 1910. He lived at ‘The Castle’, the timber-framed house close to the church. It was the work of James Willis and portrays the Risen Christ with St. Thomas and other apostles. Christ is pointing to his pierced side and Thomas on his knees is responding with, ‘My Lord and My God’.

Lady Chapel south side

The Grazebrook window is a dramatic representation of Christ stilling the waves. It was produced by the William Morris workshop in 1916 as a war memorial to Engineer Commander Robert Grazebrook of the eminent glass family. He had lived in the parish and an early appointment had been on the royal yacht, Victoria and Albert, where he had become quite a favourite with Queen Alexandra. By 1914 he was third officer of the pre-Dreadnought battleship, H.M.S. Cressy, which went to sea on the declaration of war. He went down in September 1914 when the Cressy and two other battleships were torpedoed off the Dutch coast on the same day. When the window was assembled, it was found to be too short. A new panel, mainly featuring grass, was inserted at the bottom but the opportunity was taken to include small images of both the Cressy and Robert Grazebrook. The flags in the apex represent Britain’s allies in 1914 and include Serbiaand Japan.