Some time ago, I went to a meeting where the Dean of Birmingham Cathedral, the Very Revd Catherine Ogle, gave a very interesting presentation about the proposed 2015 celebrations at the cathedral and asked people with family connections with the cathedral to contact her. I remembered, from some family history research that I had done, that my grandfather on my mother’s side had been born in Birmingham and that his family had connections with St Philip’s Church before it became the cathedral.
Print of the cathedral published by Richard Davies
My great great great grandfather, Samuel Willis was born around 1780 and was probably baptised at St Philips on 29th December 1780. He became a button maker and lived in Colmore Row with premises in Livery Street. His wife’s name was Maria and they married around 1809. They had two daughters: Maria Jane (my great great grandmother) and Louisa Susanna, baptised in 1811 and 1812 respectively at St Philips. Samuel’s wife, Maria, died March 3rd 1840. Samuel moved to a house on the Bristol Road and then to the Hagley Road where the 1851 census lists him living with his daughter Louisa, 3 granddaughters, and two servants. Samuel died July 31st 1853. He suffered from chronic illness towards the end of his life and his death certificate lists diabetes (21 years), paralysis (10 years) and erysipelas (16 days). Samuel and Maria are commemorated in St Philip’s churchyard together with two grandchildren who died in infancy but the stone (lying horizontally near the statue of Bishop Gore) is now badly corroded.
Maria Jane Willis married Richard Davies at St Philip’s on July 25th 1848. Richard was a bookseller and printer and lived close by (40 Temple Row). It was his second marriage. We have a print of St Philip’s published by Richard (see above). Richard and Maria had two children: Emily Jane (my great grandmother) born 1849 and Willis Richard born 1854. The family moved to 266 Monument Lane, Edgbaston (which still exists). Richard also suffered from chronic illness and his death certificate lists chronic bronchitis (15 years) and cerebral softening (5 years). Richard died in on 18th October 1869 aged 57. Maria Jane lived to 1887 but was taken ill suddenly at teatime on 1st May of that year and died the next day aged 76. She is commemorated on a stone in St Phillip’s churchyard next to her parents’ gravestone.
Family album: top Maria and Richard Davies, bottom George and Emily Jane Smith
My great grandmother, Emily Jane Davies married George John Elmore Smith in 1875. She was an accomplished artist and, at one time, gave lessons at the Grand Hotel, Colmore Row. My grandfather, Raymond Francis Elmore Smith, was born at the Monument Road house on 16th December 1879. Although he later moved to London, he would still refer to St Philip’s as “the Parish Church”.