St. Michael’s church, Lichfield – from the parish magazines 1889-1892

I have recently come across a bound copy of the church magazines from 1889 to 1892. In this article I will share some items of interest that I found there – some that will describe situations that will be very familiar to the current congregation and some that are rather strange in modern terms.

The vicar for those years was the Rev. Cyril Hubbard, an old Etonian who the census tells us lived at the Rectory in Mount Pleasant with his wife, two children and four servants (!), and had been Rector since 1886. He seems to have been the driving force behind the magazine and wrote an article each month – a mix of devotional and news material. He was particularly concerned to increase the number of communicants, but also to repair and restore the tower and the chancel which were in a poor state of repair – more of this below. As ever, there were financial issues, and not infrequent requests for subscriptions to projects and for increased weekly offerings.  In the November 1892 magazine he both announced that he was leaving the parish and also named his successor who had been appointed by the Bishop of Lichfield – Rev Otho Steele from Hanley. He was to leave early in 1893, and Rev Steel took up the post very soon afterwards. It doesn’t happen like that these days!

Rev. Cyril Hubbard

The magazine was a simple four- page affair – essentially a folded A4 sheet. There is an indication that these magazines were the first that were wholly church produced – a more generic ”Banner of Faith” magazine having been used beforehand. The front page was standard and gave details of the services and other activities. On a Sunday there were four or five services – a weekly Holy Communion at 8.00am (some things never change); Mattins at 10.45; a monthly Holy Communion at 12.00; an afternoon service at 3.00, that on various Sundays of the month included a Children’s service, baptisms, or churchings; and Evensong at 6.30.

There were also services on Wednesday evenings at 7.30 in church, and on Tuesday evenings at 7.30 in St. John’s St., and in Streethay. It is not clear where the latter were held – presumably in hired rooms?  Sunday Schools were held in the School at 9.30 and 2.30, and also in St John’s St. and occasionally Streethay at 2.30. There were a number of regular Monday meetings – a Clothing Club at the School from 12.00 to 1.00, three Mothers meetings at the Rectory, City Mill, and Birmingham Road Barracks at 2.00, and a Band of Hope Meeting (a young person’s temperance society) at 6.00 in the School. On Saints’ days there was a service of Mattins at 9.00. The Rev Hubbard and his congregation were not idle!

In addition to all the above there were occasional lectures, bible studies, concerts and so on. Of particular interest were the Smoking Concerts for men, where the entrance fee was 2d, for which they received 1d worth of tobacco and the rest being spent on the hired room and heating. Newspapers and board games were provided, and those who came entertained each other with song and rhymes (in a fog of tobacco smoke one assumes). The annual Vestry meeting took pace just after Easter, for the election of Churchwardens and presentation of their accounts; and the election of sidesmen for the parish and for the surrounding hamlets – Streethay, Fulfen, Tamhorn, Freeford, Statfold and Fisherwick. Sidesmen had a more representative role in that period than their current role as being welcomers into church. The churchwardens accounts for 1890 show a total income of £204 with £70 from St. Michael’s Trust, £52 from the offertory and £45 from burial and other fees; and an expenditure of £165 with £37 being spent on the organist and choir, £51 on the Sexton’s wages; £25 on the heating and cleaning; and £18 on “making a new carriage road to the church door”. There were special collections for charities such as “Waifs and Strays”, CMS, the clothing club et.c of £32 in total.

At the start of the period covered by the magazines, both the tower and the chancel were in a poor state of repair and it had become inadvisable to ring the bells except when strictly necessary. The tower had suffered from severe settlement problems, and by late 1889 there was a wide crack in the south wall that ran the entire height of the tower and part of the spire, and the western buttresses were also in a poor state. There were also problems with the north wall, and parapets. An appeal was launched to meet the £250 required for the work, which was successfully completed by September 1891.

The chancel had been extensively modified in the 1840s, when the roof was lowered, the walls plastered, a vaulted roof added, and all the windows (including the large east window) replaced by narrow lancet windows- in an effort to restore it to some (fictional) early English style. By 1889 it was in a very poor state of repair and work clearly needed doing. Rev. Hubbard largely financed this from his own resources.  The plaster was removed, a new oak ceiling added, and the east window restored to its past (and current) form. At that point there was not enough money to install stained glass, which was eventually incorporated a decade later. To the right of the altar a credence niche was created in the wall for the communion vessels. It was decorated with tiles found in a vault to the north of the altar that was entered by stairs beneath it – these tiles can still be seen.  The choir were moved into the chancel, a move which gave the Rev. Hubbard some anxiety as to whether they were too remote from the congregation to properly lead the singing, and he pleaded for the congregation to join in the singing psalms and hymns. The clergy reading desk was also moved into the chancel, which gave similar concerns, although it seems that the (unamplified of course) voice of Rev. Hubbard could still be heard.

The new Girl’s school was opened with a great fanfare in July 1889 – effectively the completion of the school in the form that many older residents of the parish will have known it. The new building was the part of the school next to Church Street and connected with the 1858 building with the tower to the south of it. At the opening, children’s games were played and after a short service of dedication the building was handed over by the Hon Alfred Percy Allsop, who had served on the school management committee for a number of years and had paid for the new building. The enthusiasm was somewhat damped within a few days by the sudden departure of the much-respected schoolmaster, Mr Lasseter, following the death of his wife and his own ill health. A former pupil teacher was drafted in to keep the school running while a new master was appointed. The school accounts for 1889 show an income of £479 with a government grant of £217, school pence (from families) of £130 and voluntary contributions of £53; and an expenditure of £493, with £404 spent on teachers’ salaries. There were 107 boys on the register, 92 girls and 60 infants (who were presumably also boys and girls).

At that time most of the burials in the churchyard were in the now overgrown area next to what we call the new churchyard, and these are recorded month by month in the magazine, in much the same way as now. A couple of articles also give details of the avenue that runs up to the church from the north gate. Mr Henry C Malden, in describing his research in the parish registers, informs us that the avenue was set with elm trees on February 26th 1750 – on a “windy Tuesday”. In 1890, many of these were in poor condition and had, according to Mr Walden, felt the effects of many windy Tuesdays and seen their best days, and it was decided to replace every other one by quick growing lime trees. Of crab apples there is not a mention. Mr Malden ends his article with the words.

“Sooner or later, my readers, like them, will have seen their best days, and have their names added to the long list of those whose last home is in the old churchyard on the hill.”

And that seems a good place for me to stop as well!

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