I’ve been given a rather excellent book this week, which, if there’s interest, I’ll share more of. It’s the ‘Visitations of the Archdeaconry of Stafford 1829-1841’ published by the Historical Manuscripts Commission and Her Majesty’s Stationary Office (HMSO). This copy was published in 1980, and bears the ISBN of 0 11 440066 0. The work is edited by David Robinson MA, Ph D.
What this rather dry sounding book documents is the visits of Archdeacon George Hodson to the churches in Staffordshire between 1829 and 1841. The cleric visited most of the churches in the Archdeaconry, and surveyed them for condition, contents, practice and management, and drew to attention any issues that needed attention.
What this is, then, is a detailed record of churches, their contents and running in the early Victorian period. It’s absolutely fascinating. Some are more detailed than others, naturally, and what the Archdeacon has to say about Walsall Wood is revealing, but brief:
Walsall Wood — consecrated in August 1837.
Neat plain building – brick, with small tower – 450 sittings — chieﬂy free. 23.8.1841 I was grieved to ﬁnd, on revisiting this Church, that external damp has already made sad ravages in this neat little Church and that the ceiling is already coming down at the West end of the body of the Church. I directed. (1) The roof to be thoroughly repaired and ceiling restored. (2) Water tables to the windows. (3) Spouts cleared out — herbage removed from walls — gravel or tiles etc laid round the walls. (4) The walls externally, stuccoed or otherwise secured against damp.
Clearly, shoddy construction isn’t a new phenomena.
Bear in mind that due to the early date of these inspections, there is no listing for St. James’s Brownhills (built in 1850) or Hammerwich, which was then a small chapel cum church, not to be replaced by the current, lovely building until 1874. The record for Shenstone records the previous church (the ruins currently visible in the churchyard), rather than the imposing one more familiar today, built in 1852.
The current church at Stonnall – St. Peter’s – was built in 1822 and was subject to a very detailed appraisal.
BENEFICE: Stonnal Chapel – in Shenstone parish – about three miles from the church. Nature: Perpetual Curacy. Patron: Vicar of Shenstone.
CHURCH: Plain, neat building, with pointed arches — area undivided — no Chancel. Number it will contain: 400 including 96 free sittings in the body of the Church and gallery. Roof: Oak covered with slate. Walls: Brick. Floor: Quarries — a pipe for warm air runs along the ﬂoor. Windows: In good order. Doors: Oak — front door needs re-painting. Pulpit and Desk: Oak — very neat, and neatly covered and cushioned. Books: Almost new. Seats: Deal unpainted – (painting ordered). Galleries: One for singers, and school children. Organ: A small one. Font: There is one. Chapels None. Vestry: There is one. Surplices: One. Linen: Provided. Plate: Similar to those in the Parish church — but plated. Chest for Papers: None. Iron Chest for Register: None — one ordered. Register: There is one. Porch: None. Vaults: —. Cleanliness: Duly attended to. Damp: No appearance of it, except a little on the ceiling. Dimensions: 50ft. by 30ft.
CHANCEL: There is no Chancel. Table: Neat and neatly covered Ornaments: THe ten commandments and belief; and an account of the appropriation of sittings, their number etc.
STEEPLE: Square brick tower. State of: Good. Bells: One. Clock: None.
CHURCHYARD: Fence: Brick wall, next the road, the rest a quick hedge- the whole in good state. Gates: Two- good. Drains: One, on the N. side ordered that a drain or surf, be made all round. Graves: None near the walls. Rubbish: None. Footpaths: One, and one carriage road. Cattle: None.
DIVINE SERVICE: On Sundays: Morning and Afternoon, alternately. On other Days: Ash Wednesday. Sacrament: Four times a year. Communicants: 30. Catechism: Taught in the Vestry.
INCUMBENT: Name and Residence: Revd James Hargreaves Jnr. If not resident: Lives with his Father [in the Vicarage]- 2½ miles off. What Duty he performs: All.
PARSONAGE: None. 1
INCOME: Gross Value: About £107. Surplice Fees: Very small- sum not specified. Easter Dues and smll Payments: None. Queen Anne’s Bounty: £2,020 granted, to be laid out in land. Terrier: None.
SCHOOLS: Endowed School: None. Subscription Day School: There has been one, given up for want of support; but about to be renewed. Sunday School: 50 or 60 children. Lancaster School: None.
POPULATION: 700 last Census.
MISCELLANEOUS: Monuments: None.
PARISH CLERK: George Holmes. Appointed by: The Vicar of Shenstone. Salary: £12 per annum.
CHURCHWARDENS: George Wright, and R Caddick.
ORDERS MADE: [‘Done except painting. Articles returned’. The pews to be painted. The doors repainted. Iron Chest for Register, provided. The Chapel being entirely new, no further orders needful within the building. Proper draining, externally, directed, as a means of preserving the Chapel, in good repair. (N .B.) A difficulty in doing repairs at the Chapel, from there being no legal provision for Church rates for the Chapelry. Reported by Rural dean in 1838 to be all good. ‘Qu? Pews painted? Ch. rates?’
Roof and flashings of Tower to be repaired.
 Eccles. Revs.: ‘none’.
I’m not sure how much interest this is of to other people – I find it absolutely fascinating, and haven’t been able to stop dipping into the book. If you’d like me to feature anything else, please do shout up.
As a snapshot of ecclesiastical life and management of the period, it’s fascinating.