We’ve not been doing enough local history here lately, and I’m rectifying that forthwith a remarkable article from David Evans, whose research into what could well have been the first place of worship in Brownhills is stunning.
I thank David for this, and also a whole bunch of local and not so local collaborators, Sir Gerald of Reece, Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler, Andy ‘Captain Wyrley’ Dennis and Keith Arblaster, amongst many others. Once more it’s a pleasure and an honour to be able to feature material of such a high quality on the blog.
Please, if you have anything to add – you’re welcome: either by commenting here, or mailing me – BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.
David Evans wrote:
A Game of Cat and Mouse
Some while ago, when researching the Walsall Wood Ebenezer Primitive Methodist Church opening I was made very welcome in the Local history Centre in Walsall, and there I set about trawling through the index of the vast archives. One simple reference caught my eye, and this has led to a long, protracted game of cat and mouse.
The index showed that the minute book for the Lichfield Primitive Methodist Circuit for the mid 1800s was to be found in Lichfield Record Office. Walsall Wood Primitive Methodist Church, the first chapel, dated back to 1865 or thereabouts, so it would be useful to see this valuable record.
The Circuit Minute book is a small, thick tome and, unlike the Minute Book for Ebenezer, and is full of beautiful, clear pen and ink handwritten minutes. Reading through these minutes I noticed a reference to a chapel in ‘Catshill’… in later years, a reference to ‘Mr Green, dealing with the affairs for Brownhills’ and later still, a reference to ‘Brownhills’ chapel – and no more reference to ‘Catshill’.
So, had the chapel changed its name, or had the Catshill chapel closed?
Catshill is an area in modern day Brownhills, more or less around the junction of High Street and Ogley Road. But Catshill seems to have been its own discrete community, and seems to pre-date Brownhills as the settled town it has been for the last 150 years.
I turned to Gerald Reece’s wonderful history book, ‘Brownhills. A walk into History’ for help. Sure enough, his book does include his own pencil copies of old maps and plans of this area, Catshill, from as far back as 1797, where Catshill is shown, and much further away a ‘Brownhill’. Here I pay tribute to dear Gerald, for his book is the fruit of many years’ work where he sat in libraries and made hand-drawn pencil copies of documents, way before the time of the internet.
Sadly, no chapel is apparent – at least, not at first sight. More of this later. But a ‘Gospel Bank’ is named, opposite the Warreners Arms former pub in High Street, and set away from the road a little.
I contacted another researcher par excellence, Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler, and asked if there were any other ‘Gospel Banks’ or was the name used here only. He could find no other Gospel Bank mentioned in newspaper archives but suggested it may be a phrase from antiquity.
I consulted another local historian of note, Bill Mayo. Did he know of a ‘Gospel Bank’ near the Warreners? I described where I thought it may have been. Bill remembered that there had been a blacksmith’s forge there (1900s) Was there any significance in this? I do not know.
A phone call and discussion with Gerald followed after a while. I love conversing with Gerald. He is full of measured enthusiasm and often makes a simple point which clarifies, bless him. There had been a chapel, somewhere along the Ogley Road. It had been sold.
I turned to another friend for help. Andy Dennis has a fine academic perception, thoroughness and skill. Within a few hours he sent me his measured response. Perhaps the arrival of the railway through Brownhills, mid 1850s, brought commercial growth at the other end of the village, as well as an increase in population: two reasons for the need to move and build a larger chapel elsewhere, in the growing and developing Brownhills.
He also sent me some intriguing newspaper cuttings. In 1864 the former Catshill chapel was put up for sale, and the advertisement suggested the possibility of converting the former chapel into houses.
So, what did this first chapel look like?
Gerald had suggested that at the time it was common for the Minister to live by the chapel. The press cutting certainly hints that may have been the case at Catshill. So I turned to a website, My Primitive Methodists, to learn that the Reverand Bourne (one of the two founders of Primitive Methodism) had built his first chapel near Stoke on Trent, I believe, as a row of houses so that if the movement failed, it could be easily re-used. As far as I am aware, no image remains of that little chapel at Catshill, but…
Is it possible to accurately locate the first Catshill chapel?
Gerald Reece’s map does show something, so small I could not make it out..in a triangular piece of land, along Ogley Road.
Andy Dennis, with his expert eye, located this piece of land at the junction of Ogley Road and Valley View. I took a close-up photo of that part of Gerald’s map. ‘Chapel’!
Andy Dennis of the wonderful Andrew’s Kindred blog helped with the above map segments identifying the probably location of the chapel off Ogley Road. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland. Click for larger versions.
He said the following:
I think I might be able to put an, albeit speculative, slant on this from an Andrew’s Kindred perspective. 2x great grandfather Henry Dennis lived at Catshill from about 1852. His son, at least was a leading light in Park View. I wonder if the apparently reported conditions at Catshill had something to do with setting up Park View? Maybe it was just that the Deakins and Shinglers were on the Watling Street and found a place there? Or was it that Buckley and Dennis both came from NW Leicestershire? Or was it just that they were all miners who converged in Brownhills? Maybe there was a falling out? What about the role of women in the Wesleyan movement? This is something for to be developed when we get a chance.
There is some speculation about the origins of Catshill, which seems pretty ancient, but there seems to be no precise evidence.
Anyway, on the 1882 OS map the same triangular plot is shown as, probably residential development, which you refer to in your article. See attached.
You can see the same boundary on the 1901-1903 map. Where there are two years the first is when surveyed, the second in when published.
Boundaries tend to persist and you can still see that kink in the southern boundary on Google Earth!
Was the chapel sold off and converted?
Well, there number of dwellings does increase. In the 1841 census, 9 dwellings, (Staffs-Shenstone-Lichfield-district 19 using William Littley as focus name): 1851, now 15 dwellings, 1861 also 19 dwellings. Does the 1871 census show an increase in people and no increase in the number of dwellings? Interestingly in 1841 the principal occupation was ‘Miner’. Where were the coalmines in 1841?
Turning again to My Primitive Methodists I found this amazing article…
The Primitive Methodist magazine for February 1857 contains an account by John Lawley of the opening of Brownhills Mount Zion Primitive Methodist chapel. Brownhills possessed “some of the richest coal and iron mines in the kingdom”.
A small society was formed by Richard Ward around 1837 and a small chapel built. Over time a bigger chapel was needed and a plot of land 300 yards square was bought at 62s per yard from Mr Arblaster, an independent church member sympathetic to the cause. The building was undertaken by Mr Croft of Walsall and the foundation stone was laid on August 26th 1856 by JW Round with a sermon preached by J Lawley.
By October “the walls were raised and the roof on without the least accident having occurred”. Building did not take long in those days! A tea meeting was held in the chapel on October 6th; the Trustees anticipated 600 attending. In fact there were 750 “and some went unsupplied”.
The opening took place on November 16th and 23rd. Sermons were preached by WE Saunders of Tunstall and H Wheeler of Ludlow.
The completed building was 36′ x 30′ and 26′ from floor to ceiling. It had “a good orchestra behind the pulpit” and was intended to have a gallery in the future. The cost was £420 and of that £212 had been raised. Donors included “the ex-mayor of Walsall” and Mr Harrison.
The Brownhills Bob blog tells us that the chapel was replaced in 1895 by a further building in the High street. It was closed in 1964. In 2013, Kwik-fit accupied the site. Thee are pictures on the Brownhills Bob blog.
This helps to confirm that there had been a small Primitive Methodist Community, which we can now locate in Catshill from 1837, that it’s chapel was smaller than 36 x 30 x 26, and that land for the larger replacement, along the High Street Brownhills had been bought from a Mr. Arblaster.
So I asked a friend, a Mr. Keith Arblaster, who lives in Walsall Wood, if he knew how big the local (i.e. from Pelsall Road area and towards Bullings Heath) farm was that his ancestors had owned in the early 1800s .
It stretched right up to the High Street in Brownhills. Two ancestors, Tom and Charles, were the farmers.
(Keith had previously fully researched his family tree some years ago, with access to the Church of the Latter Day Saints vast records and other sources ).
So now we have a replacement for the Catshill Church. It was called Mount Zion, right from its opening in 1856, and was situated on the High Street.
What did the first Mount Zion, in High Street Brownhills, look like?
Quite recently Silver Street Methodist Church in Brownhills celebrated the 50th anniversary of their present-day building, which replaced the High Street Mount Zion chapel. In a commemorative chapel opening booklet from 1967 there is an article, written by Mr. AH Craddock who was a Mount Zion chapel elder, which recalled the original Mount Zion chapel in High Street Brownhills, and it
being identical to the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Paradise Lane, Pelsall before being enlarged in the 1890s.
Now, there is a photograph of the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Paradise Lane, Pelsall.
It, too, was demolished many years ago. Like many Primitive chapels, it was built to be functional. The downstairs was a Sunday Schoolroom, social meeting place and function room. A wooden staircase led to the upstairs chapel, and I remember that the small pulpit was obviously made for the (somewhat smaller) preachers of the day.
Oh yes, the chapel in Paradise Lane Pelsall, was near to Mouse Hill!
I would like to thank those kind gentlemen named in this article, and an anonymous friend, for their wonderful help.