Message in a bottle

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ST. John’s Church, Walsall Wood, as seen on Bing! Maps. This view really shows the smaller church encased in late Victorian, then modern extensions. A small church trapped in a big one.

Local history has proven to be a more complex thing than I ever imagined when I started this blog – back then, I foolishly believed that different people had different memories, but generally coincided enough so that a diligent researcher might be able to form a cogent impression of things.

It’s turned out that I was wrong – very wrong. Local history is not just the collection of disparate facts, memories and opinions. It’s often coming up against buried snippets of information that unlock new vistas; countering accepted views from formerly trusted sources, or indeed, countering many tens of years worth of societal smoothing.

One of the best excavators of this kind of thing I’ve ever come across is Peter “pedro’ Cutler, a chap not averse to running the gauntlet of ‘accepted’ history and positing his own research – which I’m always proud and grateful to host here on the blog.

Peter sent me the following article a few weeks ago, and I think you’ll find it fascinating. I certainly did. My huge thanks to the man for another fine contribution.

This is an interesting one that man just ruffle a few feathers. What links the parish churches of Stonnall, Walsall Wood and Ogley Hay? Read on.

While you’re about it, consider also the drawing of Walsall Wood Church below. It was built in 1836, and the view there would be broadly looking north from the high street.

Later, the Victorians would expand the church massively, but this small one is still visible in the structure. Look also at the picture of Stonnall Church – St. Peter’s – built around 1822-23. The similarities are astounding. Do we know the original architects concerned? A cursory search threw up nothing.

Comments welcome,as ever. Either on the article, or to BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers

Peter wrote:

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Drawing of Walsall Wood St. John’s before late Victorian expansion by unknown artist, and taken from ‘Memories of Old Walsall Wood’ by Bill Mayo and John Sale.

Message in a Bottle…one thing leads to another.

In the December 1992 edition of the Gazette there is an old photograph showing what is termed as ‘The Brownhills Tragedy’, and after reading I realised that the Tragedy had been discussed in the Blog article ‘Documenting a tragedy’.

This article is an example of how the BrowhillsBob’s Blog allows us to correct some of the mistakes that have been made in local history, often by collaboration between readers. In this case it was an incorrect name involved in the incident. The Gazette story shows the detective work used by Brian, and of course the great part played by our beloved Reg ‘Aerreg’ Fullelove.

There is extensive coverage of the sad case, the inquest, and the burial at Stonnall, in the Lichfield Mercury.

The mention of burial at Stonnall reminded me of a similar tragedy concerning a man who killed his wife and then committed suicide, back in 1879. In the press it was called the ‘Lynn Lane Tragedy’, as they lived in a cottage at Birchley Hill. They were both buried at Stonnall, but the husband was interred beside other suicides, and did not receive the full burial Service. The service was performed by the Rev. J Downes.

The name Downes rang a bell, and wondering if the suicide section of the churchyard at Stonnall could still be seen, I popped over to the site for the Stonnall History Group to check if there was anything relating to the topic. One of the things I noticed made me smile, it was another detective work on an old photograph. But here it was much more forensic, and laid out more like an academic report!


St. Peter’s, Stonnall. Remarkably similar to the drawing of Walsall Wood; however, there is difference in the crenelations atop the tower. Image by bobnienhuis and posted on Panoramio.

Any road up, there was an article on the Rev J Downes, who in 1840 was instituted as Perpetual Curate of Stonnall. It was transcribed from St Peter’s Parish Magazine of March 1984.

In the Stonnall Parish Magazine article it refers to information found in A History of Walsall Wood, by Arnold Merrett. I believe this is actually a history of The Parish Church of Walsall Wood, which can be found in this article – but you can download the book itself in PDF for here.

Along with another publication to celebrate the 150th Aniversary of the consecration of St James, we can see the extensive involvement of the Rev. J Downes in the Ogley Hay and Walsall Wood areas.

It can be seen that he was around Wallsall Wood before the Church was built, with involvement in the Sunday Scools. Also that he had much to do with the building of St James at Ogley Hay.

Strangely I found the idea that the Rev Downes rode from Burton to Walsall Wood a little doubtful, it is more likely that it was the other way round!

‘…The Governors of Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall had caused to be built a schoolroom in Walsall Wood, to which in 1829, James Smart had been appointed Master. Sunday services were held in this schoolroom and we are told that Revd James Downes travelled from Burton-on-Trent to conduct these services in the early 1830s. At this date, James Downes would have been 26 or 27 years old and a journey from Burton to Walsall Wood would have been taken on horseback or by pony and trap…’

The Rev J Downes BA (New Inn Hall, Oxford), was ordained Deacon in 1836, and ordained priest by the Bishop of Lichfield in 1837. The Rev Owen was officiating curate for Walsall Wood and presented with a gift when he left in May of 1834. Also the Lichfield Mercury, May 1829

“National and Sunday school opened at the hamlet of Walsall Wood, and a sermon preached every Sunday by a clergyman of the Establishment of Walsall….in July two sermons preached for the benefit of the schools at St Peter at Walsall as the school room was not considered big enough for the event..”

In Press there are more detailed accounts of the ceremonies and a few new revelations. Building commenced after the laying of the foundation stone (St James) on the 22nd August 1850 by Viscount Lewisham, MP for South Staffordshire. The Rev Downes presented his lordship with a silver trowel with an inscription to begin the glorious work!

‘His Lordship proceeded to lay the stone with the accustomed formalities, Mr GT Robinson reading the inscription on a slate tablet; and also a copy of the parchment which had been enclosed in a bottle, and which was deposited in a cavity beneath the stone.’

It had been decided to build a Parsonage and in May 1856 the foundation stone was laid by Master Charles Downes, the son of Rev Downes. He was presented with an elegant trowel for the purpose..

‘there is a deficiency in the sum required for the erection of the house, which we trust will be speedily supplied.’

Now in the 150th anniversary publication it says that this trowel was also silver. Maybe if they had given less away the Church could have been built sooner!

Pedro, Open University, Reading Gas Meters.


There’s that drawing again…

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3 Responses to Message in a bottle

  1. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    Excellent..Pedro at his best!
    many thanks and kind regards

  2. Graeme Fisher says:

    As always, good honest research, Cheers Pedro!

  3. Pingback: A monumental mystery! | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

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