St Michael, Boldmere
The Rector of Sutton Coldfield, Rev William Riland Bedford (1826–1905) was instrumental in setting up schools and churches in Sutton at a time when the town was expanding into the surrounding countryside. Much of this development was caused by the building of the Sutton Coldfield Branch Line from Birmingham New Street with stations opening at Chester Road, Wylde Green and Sutton in 1862. The line was extended to Lichfield in 1884 with stations at Blake Street and Four Oaks. Building was enabled by the parliamentary act enclosing the common in 1825. Land previously held in common was divided into private plots, which made building land more readily available. The Rector was able to pursue his ambitions for churches and schools by a Court of Chancery decision in 1825 to permit funds belonging to the Sutton Corporation to be used for educational and charitable purposes.
Riland Bedford’s method was to build a school room in one of the Sutton hamlets which would double as a church and to build the church at a later date. This he did first in the remoter areas of Sutton: Hill village, Little Sutton and at Walmley, with the church buildings following at St James, Hill in 1835 and at St John, Walmley in 1845. In the expanding south of his parish, he had a boys’ school built in Green Lanes in 1840, where church services were held, and a girls’ and infants’ school in Boldmere 1848 which was also used for church services. These were the predecessors of St Michael’s church.
However, there were problems with choosing a suitable site, with the architect, with the builder, with a less than proactive committee and, above all, with raising the money. But Riland Bedford was made of sterner stuff. He dealt with the problems almost single-handed and himself put up a third of the cost of the building. In 1856 the foundation stone was laid by the Countess of Bradford and the church was consecrated on St. Michael’s Day the following year by the Bishop of Worcester.
The church was built in 14th-century Decorated Gothic, a style much loved in the Victorian period and consisted of a nave, chancel and tower. However, as the district began to be built up, the need for more accommodation soon became pressing. In 1871 a north aisle was added, the project made easier because the original design had incorporated the possibility of expansion. On completion, the spire proved to be one foot higher than the architect’s design. The errant builder the put in a bill for an additional £30 for the work but refused by the building committee.
Further expansion took place in 1896 with renowned Birmingham architect J A Chatwin’s addition of a south aisle and vestries. A parish room was also built on Boldmere Road which is still very much in use.
In 1964, a fire destroyed practically all the church, except for the tower and the south aisle. The old south aisle facing Church Road was kept but the main body of the church was constructed in plain blue engineering brick. Internally, this has produced a practical, flexible space, but opinions differ as to the external appearance of the church.
In 1906 the church’s single bell was replaced with a peal of eight cast by Barwell’s of Great Hampton Street, Birmingham. One of the bellringers, Alfred Paddon Smith, later successfully rang two bells at the same time for a peal at Birmingham Cathedral lasting for over 3 hours. In 1950 he was elected Lord Mayor of Birmingham. Following the first ring of the bells at Boldmere the ringers were invited to a heavily laden table across the road at the house of Mr Appleby, the Mayor of Sutton Coldfield.
A band of experienced ringers must have been brought in from elsewhere for this inaugural peal lasting 2 hours 47 minutes. James Groves, the conductor was well known across the city for his prowess. They were impressed with the ‘go’ of the bells describing it as perfect, although they thought the sound of the bells in the ringing chamber was too loud. It is interesting that they thought the tone ‘full and rich’. In the 1890s Taylor’s of Loughborough had perfected scientific tuning, harmonising the notes and harmonics of a bell with the dominant note to produce an accurate melodious chord. They installed the first true harmonic ring in Birmingham at St Barnabas, Erdington 1904. Boldmere’s eight, however, were cast by Barwell’s in the old way giving a tonal quality that is 18th-19th century. In Birmingham most bells were recast during the 20th century with scientific tuning, leaving Boldmere bells a rare survival in the city.
St Nicholas’ Catholic Church
A Roman Catholic chapel was authorised to be built on Jockey Road in 1840. A small and simple building, it was designed by the architect A W N Pugin, who was at that time lecturer in Ecclesiastical Art and Architecture at the nearby St Mary’s College, New Oscott. The dedication was in honour of Nicholas Wiseman, Rector of Oscott College; he was later to become England’s first cardinal since the Reformation. The chapel was one of the first to be established in the Birmingham area subsequent to the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829. There was no resident priest at that time, the church being served by priests from New Oscott.
With only 50 seats the chapel soon proved too small for an expanding congregation. In 1929 a new church was built with a moveable sanitary screen to enable the building to double up as a school and parish hall. The third and present church building was opened in 1953; hanging in the porch is the bell from Pugin’s first chapel.