Believed to have been a good man…

To my shame, I have been sitting on this article for a while now – Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler fist sent it to me at the end of July, and getting it into an article just hasn’t been possible, for which I wholeheartedly apologise.

However, this is a fine article about St. Anne’s in Chasetown, a church of which I am very fond, with a fine working class history, and a cemetery that is extraordinarily beautiful in spring.

I thank Peter for this – yet another of his very high quality articles where he questions formally accepted history. It is a pleasure and an honour to be able to publish work of this quality.

As ever, comments and mail welcome, either at the foot of the post or to BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.

Peter wrote:

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Pedro passed St. Anne’s, Chasetown, in the winter of 2005. Image from his Panoramio gallery.

The Forgotten Reverend of Chasetown: Rev. G Poole (1806-1889)

I passed the Church of St Anne in November 2005, in the week that Chasetown were to play Oldham in the FA Cup. My late mucker and I had a cup of tea and a sandwich in the churchyard opposite, as the snow started to fall. On the night, after a curry and a couple of pints, I looked up bit of the history of the Church. Interesting, some claim it to be the first church in England to have electric lighting!

Our own David Evans recently sent me a pamphlet from 1992 at which time the Rural Dean of Lichfield had been galvanised into action, and a ‘short guide to the history of the Church St. Anne Chasetown’ was commissioned. This in itself is an excellent pamphlet giving great detail concerning church and its benefactor John Robinson McClean, but there is no mention of the Reverend George Poole the Vicar of Burntwood.

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The Reverend George Poole, who seems to be (and looked) a thoroughly nice man. Image supplied by Peter Cutler, unsure of original source.

I first came across the Rev. George Poole in the Blog article ‘Union and Chapel’ where the Rev. addressed an estimated 10,000 people at the annual gathering of miners at Five Ways in August 1872, and his remarks generated a few comments. I later found that many credit George with the naming of Chasetown, and in 1890 his niece wrote a biography ‘Found Ready’. [1]

The Rev. George became Vicar of Burntwood in around 1851, coming from Saltley parish in Birmingham; Burntwood parish numbered around 800 and his juristiction extended into the next parish of Hammerwich, and also the area which is now known as Chasetown…

The village of Burntwood is situated 3 miles from Lichfield, on the edge of Cannock Chase, a fresh breeze blowing across. In those days fern and heather strayed to the very parsonage gates, and the way over the common was wild and beautiful. An adder might be seen retreating through the brushwood, while the lark soared in the sunshine above. Blue sky and fleecy clouds reflected in the clearest mirrors of the little pools fringed with moss and sundew. The undulating ground in the distance was purple with heath blossom, and in spring yellow gorse spread its glory around…

The growing needs of a parish where the population had so quickly increased was keenly felt. Nearly two miles from the vicarage, in the midst of the colliery district, was a Carpenter’s workshop belonging to the Cannock Chase Colliery. This was readily granted for Sunday evening services. After the morning and afternoon services at Burntwood, Mr Poole, with willing feet, would set off for his long walk over the common…

Houses now covered that part of the Chase instead of heather, and Mr and Mrs Poole said Chasetown would be a more appropriate name. the word was passed from one to another until it became current (1890). By the liberality of JR McClean, Esq., a large and handsome church was added to the school-room, with the hope that Mr. Poole would long minister there…[1]

Well, this is where, back in 1865, things get a bit political. But first the question be as to just who built the Church of St. Anne? To my mind there is no doubt that it was McClean, who was managing director of the Cannock Chase Colliery Company. He also had the lease for the South Staffs Railway and of course was the main man in the South Staffs Water Company.

So why do many sources state that it was the Colliery Company that built the Church?

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The old church at Hammerwich: again supplied by Peter Cutler. Original source unknown.

In the pamphlet we see that the Church was named after the wife of JR McClean, the first vicar was Rev. Donald Stuart McClean, nephew of the founder, and the first baptism was that of the grand daughter of JR. The Church architect was Edward Adams who designed many of the Cannock Chase Colliery Company properties, and also worked for McClean as a station designer on the South Staffs Railway.

So what happened with George? Well just before the Church was about to open, in April of 1865 he wrote…

The new Church will most likely open in May. I wish, as soon as the matter can be wisely arranged, to resign that part of the parish, and confine my efforts to Burntwood. Time is quickly passing away, and I must soon leave the vineyard to others, and I would like my successors to find traces of my having once laboured in it.

And further in September just before the opening on the 14th…

…and the Bishop in early Spring told me, if I pleased, without any formal licence, to hold services in it; but some objected, and I did not care to press the matter, as we all feared, if once opened, the consecration and formation of the district might be delayed… [1]

George, although very anti-Catholic, seems to have had sympathy for non-conformists. While walking towards the Chase a friend asked about a wretched little building. He told him that it was the Primitive Methodist Chapel and that he wished they had better. He had given them something towards one. He also was a leading advocate of the Church Missionary Society.

Earlier in 1863 a church had been opened by the Bishop in Biddulph Moor. In his address he said that the spread of non-conformism was due to the Church’s lack of attention to the poor, and it could be said that at least someone was looking after their needs. But now was the time to bring these people back into the fold.

George, I believe a good man who sincerely believed in what he preached, went on to look after his flock in Burntwood until a couple of years before his death in Hammmerwich in 1889. I believe that his bust resides in the church at Burntwood.

And of John Robinson McClean much has been written such as this by the CCMHS

The people of Brownhills can only be thankful he chose to spend his life developing the Industries and so the prosperity of the area.

He was truly a great man.

When the London and North Western took over the South Staffs Railway, John Robinson McClean recieved 100 grand for the years left on the lease.

[1]. Found Ready: Memorials of the Rev George Poole by Sarah Mason 1890

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The new, current church at Hammerwich: again supplied by Peter Cutler. Source unknown.

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8 Responses to Believed to have been a good man…

  1. morturn says:

    I do love this church, designed by Edward Adams, an engineer who also designed the original Lichfield Station; https://flic.kr/p/e1zHdu Walsall Station, St Marys grammar school and of course not forgetting Sandfields pumping station; https://flic.kr/p/e1u38e

    Although not an Architect, Adams work was in my opinion Architecture parlante; architecture that explains its own function or identity.

  2. Pedro says:

    I should have pointed out that George, as others in his family, were very good artists.

    These pictures appear in the book by the Rev Poole’s niece and are sketches made by the man himself.

    • icelily says:

      Thank you so much for this wonderful information about Rev George. As part of a local history project, I’ve been researching his 2 brothers, William and James, who both lived and worked successfully as artists in Sheffield. It is quite evident that all 3 of them were particularly kindly and much-loved men. Can you point me towards the book that you mention by his niece?

      • Pedro says:

        The book title is shown below. At first when looking for this book the only one I could find was in the reference section of Lichfield Library. By chance a copy came up on Amazon for 2 pound! So maybe there may be others out there.

        When I get time I will have a look at what is mentioned about the brothers.

        Found Ready: Memorials of the Rev George Poole by Sarah Mason 1890

        All the Best Pedro

        • icelily says:

          Thank you so much. I guess it’s possible – but rather unlikely – that there’ll be a copy in Sheffield Local Studies Library. Worth a look anyway. Was hoping there might be on-line access (as some old books are) but not to worry. I’ll check out Amazon as well – you never know!

  3. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    belatedly..huge thanks to Pedro and to your goodself…….super research and article
    kind regards
    David

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