St. Michael on Greenhill, Lichfield – a history. Part 3. St. Michael’s in the nineteenth century (1800-1900)

The nineteenth century was a period of considerable development for the area of Greenhill around St. Michael’s church. By the time of the Tithe Apportionment in 1847 the situation shown in the Snape Map in Part 2 had changed markedly with many more houses and commercial properties in the Greenhill area, stretching up Rotten Row on both sides and filling the Deans Croft area to the west of the church. Housing was also much denser along Church St. and the Lichfield Union Workhouse had been built. There was much more housing in the St John’s area, extending most of the way to the canal wharf. The Ordnance Survey map of 1882 below again shows significant change, the major one being the appearance of the South Staffordshire Railway line between Burton and Walsall, that cut through fields south of the churchyard. There can be seen to be further housing developments around Greenhill and Gresley Row, and also along Trent Valley Road. St Michael’s School is now shown, and the Rectory, in Mount Pleasant, can also be seen.

The 1882 Ordnance Survey Map

But while the core of the parish underwent major development, the more far flung parts of the parish gradually separated and formed their own entities. There were two basic reasons for this – either continuing squabbles about the levying of church rates, or the more straightforward need to provide pastoral support for rapidly growing areas of the parish. Christchurch Burntwood was built in 1820 and the area became a separate parish in 1845. Haselour became extra-parochial after a court case of 1832. Hammerwich refused to pay church rate after 1842 and became an independent parish in 1854.  St John’s Wall was built in 1843, and the area became a separate parish in 1845. Christ Church in Leamonsley was consecrated in 1847, and a parish was formed in 1848. Statfold was a separate parish by 1848. Thus, by the mid-nineteenth century, the parish was much reduced in size from its original state and comprised the area around Greenhill and St John’s to the east and south of Lichfield, together with the townships of Streethay, Fulfen, Freeford and Fisherwick. The last three were eventually to be split from St Michael’s in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and were all joined to adjacent parishes.

By the late 1830s, it was clear that much work was needed on St. Michael’s itself and a scheme was developed to make it conform to what was, at the time, taken to be the most appropriate gothic form. This involved considerable destruction of much of the medieval fabric and can best be described as an act of ecclesiastical vandalism. Most of the changes were in the chancel area. This was lowered to its present height and the walls plastered and the windows rebuilt to the required lancet form, and the east window converted into three narrow lancet windows. An ornate ceiling was constructed beneath the roof. All in all, these changes amounted to large scale ecclesiastical vandalism, and most of these were wisely undone in the late nineteenth century. But much that was original was unfortunately destroyed and lost. Pictures of the church before and after the Restoration are shown below.

The church before and after the chancel rebuilding

The 1851 religious census gives us our first definite glimpse of the nature of the worship at St. Michael’s with morning and evening services recorded, with 150 attending the former and 270 the latter, with 85 children at both. However, it is not till Preacher’s Books started to be compiled in the late 1860s that the nature of these services can be described in more detail. In 1868 there were morning and afternoon services with sermons up to the start of June, with an evening service during the summer. At least two of the three services would have been morning and evening prayer. Holy Communion was celebrated at the morning service monthly and on major festivals. There were around 30 to 40 communicants. There are some indications in the Preacher’s books that the afternoon services were thereafter used to meet a variety of different needs – confirmation classes, baptisms and so on. By the mid-1870s there were two or three early morning communions each month and at festivals, generally with a small number of communicants. By 1898 the regular weekly service timetable was quite extensive.

In terms of clergy, the nineteenth century saw the transition from Perpetual Curates to Rectors. The first of the nineteenth century Perpetual Curates was Edward Remington, the third of the Remington family to hold the post, from 1805 to 183. In 1825 he took on John Louis Petit, who was to become a notable landscape artist and architectural critic, as a curate, and he served at St Michael’s for three years, officiating at baptisms, weddings and funerals and also no doubt the main Sunday services. He left in 1828 to take up a post in Essex.  The next Curate was Thomas Gnossall Parr, who held that post at St. Michael’s from 1828 to Remington’s death in 1831. He was then appointed Perpetual Curate, a post he held for 37 years before becoming the first Rector in 1868, one year before his death. Parr was followed by three further Rectors – James Sergeantson, Cyril Hubberd and Otho Steele. The statistics of baptisms, marriages and funerals can be obtained from the parish registers. The number of baptisms, marriages and funerals conducted by the clergy was eye-watering, the largest number being the 1866 baptisms, the 780 weddings and the 3168 funerals conducted by the Thomas Parr. The baptism, marriage and burial registers also give a great deal of information concerning the nature of the parish and its population in the nineteenth century and allow a detailed picture of Greenhill society to be painted. Also the historical sources allow the lives of a number of prominent church members to be told in some detail – John Louis Petit mentioned above and William Durrad, Lichfield’s first station master for example.