As part of our Tercentenary activities we are exploring and sharing the cathedral’s 300 year history. One activity is archive and family history research.
We’re currently gathering groups of interested volunteers. No previous archive or research experience necessary just an innate curiosity about the past! Already a volunteer from the congregation, Gill, has uncovered some fascinating history connected with the memorial of a Sobieska Brookshaw – blog coming soon! Robin, a guide from the Coffin Works, has created a record of monuments in the cathedral along with their maker and date. He is now concentrating on the life of Edward Thomason, a successful Birmingham manufacturer, whose impressive memorial is in the cathedral too. In addition there will be oral history recording to capture the cathedral’s more recent events and memories.
We are fortunate that the cathedral has a rich archive of material housed at the Library of Birmingham. It is made up of original building accounts, parish registers, as well as a range of note books, minutes of meetings, photographs and even the original deeds. The material is able to tell us much about the life of St Philip’s – the church that became a cathedral, as well as much about the life of Birmingham – the town that became a city. To date it has been used by historians and people interested in their family histories, but has not been fully mapped and catalogued. By looking more closely at this material and supplementing with other sources such as local newspapers we hope to be able to find out more. We’ve learnt that the cathedral was attacked by a suffragette in May 1914, that John Baskerville (a Birmingham printer and atheist) was a church warden in the 18th century and that the first baby baptised at St Philips on 7 Oct 1715 was named Philip!
This semester, second year history students from the University of Birmingham have carried out research using the cathedral archives. They’ve studied various aspects such as the cathedral in wartime and the cathedral’s civic role. They have had a tour of the cathedral, written essays and are doing a group presentation.
Central to this work is our partnership with the library. In a series of ongoing workshops the archive staff have been sharing their expertise and helping us access and understand the material. They have advised us on collecting current material to keep the archive alive and relevant.
Another intriguing aspect of the cathedral’s hidden history is the churchyard. Amazingly, there are thought to have been over 60,000 people buried here! Burials ceased in the mid 19th Century and a small number of stones remain. A research project “In Loving Memory” will uncover the stories behind these stones. Among the people recorded are artists, gun makers, visitors, manufacturers, even a fish curer. A headstone near the entrance records the death of Nanette Stocker ‘The Smallest woman in the Kingdom’.
There is such enjoyment in undertaking these research projects that I am inclined to subscribe to a view by historian David McCullough “To me, history ought to be a source of pleasure. It isn’t just part of our civic responsibility. To me, it’s an enlargement of the experience of being alive, just the way literature or art or music is.”
If you’d like to join our journey of discovery please get in touch.
‘Like a taste of heaven’: was the comment of a man who happened to call in during the 24 hours of prayer, at Birmingham Cathedral, Sat 24 – Sun 25 Jan. He stayed in the cathedral for several hours, deeply moved by the prayer led by Christians of different backgrounds and traditions, united in a common faith in Jesus Christ.
The idea was simple: to start our special tercentenary year with a great wave of prayer and to invite local churches to join in. Birmingham is home to an incredibly rich Christian expression and we invited people to come and lead prayers for an hour in their own tradition.
We were overwhelmed by the love and care with which people responded. Prayers were offered with silence, or with great and joyful noise; we sang Taizé chants and prayed the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary; we formed a prayer tunnel to surround one another in prayer and took part in inter-active prayer stations; teenagers prayed through the night in the comfort of onesies and just as we were flagging, at 8.00am the Salvation Army turned up with a nine-piece brass band!
Thank you to everyone who took part and made this possible. Special thanks to the World Prayer Centre and Birmingham Ecumenical Network, to Laurence Sharman and Revd Colin Marsh. This was a unique, powerful and profound experience. In accepting our invitation, you have blessed us with your presence and your prayer. We have grown closer in unity and love in Christ. Our hope is that our city, nation and world will continue to be blessed by these prayers and the generous service of so many amazing Christians.
Catherine Ogle, Janet Chapman, Nigel Hand.
Clergy of Birmingham Cathedral
I will start with my maternal Great Great Grandparents William Bennett married Mary Ann Allcock – they went through a wedding service (by Banns) on 18th April 1830 at St.Martins, which was witnessed and recorded in their book of Marriages. However, written across this record is “NOT MARRIED”! I do not know the reason. Then, 3 months later on 11th July 1830 a wedding, again by Banns, is conducted at St.Philip’s, with different witnesses, but all is well !! How intriguing!
In 1841, the Bennett family: William, Mary Ann and children, Charles (aged 14), William (11), James (9), Samuel (7), Lucy (5) was absent on the Census but was born 19th November 1836, and Edwin (aged 2), are recorded as living in Nova Scotia Street. William’s occupation is a Hoop Harrier (part of the barrel making trade). He worked near to and perhaps supplied barrels to the George & Dragon in Nova Scotia Street. William’s trade is described as barrel hoop maker, hoop harrier, hook shaver and cooper. This shows the variety of different roles within one trade and the ability to progress through the ranks.
Nova Scotia Street was in the parish of St Philip’s so all the children were baptised here.
Charles (aged 3) and William (aged 1) were baptised together on 19th May 1828.
Their cousin, Susanna (aged 9) daughter of John & Clary Bennett was also baptised on this date. What a wonderful family occasion this may have been!
James (aged 10 months) was baptised on 28th December 1831 and Samuel (aged 11) two years later.
Sadly, a further child Edwin (no.1) born in 1835, died only 8 months old and church records show a burial on 28th January 1836.
By the Census of 1851 the family has moved to 22 Fox Street (still in the Parish of St. Philip’s) and they have had even more children! Now we come to Edwin (no.2)…I have received a Birth Certificate from Birmingham Registry Office for Edwin born 11th February 1839 at George & Dragon Yard, Nova Scotia Street. However, I have been unable to trace a baptism for this Edwin, but there is a baptism for Edwin Henry Bennett, birth date 6th January 1839, parents William Bennett and Mary Ann baptised on 24th February 1840 at St.Philip’s….are they one and the same? I do not know at present, but trying to obtain a Birth Certificate for this child to confirm parentage and occupation of father. Younger children Sarah born 17th November 1841 and Walter born 3rd July 1844, were baptised together on 29th July 1844 at St.Philip’s.
The reason for my particular interest in Edwin, is that he is my Great Grandfather!
By 1861 shows William has died and his widow Mary Ann now calls herself Ann, is living with 3 of her children in a back-to-back house in Buck Street. The children are all working, Edwin (Brass Caster and French Polisher), Sarah (French Polisher) and Walter (German French Polisher). Again this gives a glimpse of the town of a 1000 trades and shows that women are very much part of the industrial progress in Birmingham.
The connections and the illustrations of Birmingham life continue with records of the childrens’ marriages (predominantly at St. Philip’s)
reverts to stating his occupation as a Hoop Maker, with Sarah’s father a Caster. Marriage date 17th September 1866 at St.Philips
It would seem that William Bennett (Snr) is still working in the barrel making trade, forming the metal bands around the barrels when his children marry at St.Philips. However, when they marry elsewhere he elevates his occupation to that of Cooper.
Grantham Munton Yorke was born in 1803. The son of an admiral, he entered service in 1826 choosing the army over the navy and retired in 1833 after a relatively short military career, holding the rank of lieutenant.
After taking holy orders he worked in Limerick and Lincoln before arriving in Birmingham, as Rector of St. Philip’s, in 1844. He soon became concerned with the number of poor children in the parish and in 1846, after ascertaining that none of the existing schools in the area would take them, opened a ‘ragged school’ in a disused workshop in Lichfield Street. Such schools derived their name from the state of the children’s clothing and Yorke ensured a good attendance by providing a midday meal as well as later teaching the three R’s.
Within a year it had been renamed St. Philip’s Industrial School and by 1850 it had moved to a purpose built institution in Gem Street. The land had been donated by the governors of King Edward’s Free Grammar School and would remain the school’s home until it relocated to Harborne in 1903.
Yorke’s efforts to improve conditions for the town’s children extended well beyond Gem Street and by 1850 he was also the chairman of the Blue Coat School’s management committee. His philanthropic work was also applied to criminal children and he was involved with the management of Saltley Reformatory when it opened in 1853. Gem Street, itself, received criminal children from 1868 onwards.
Yorke died in 1879 but his educational and reformatory work continues to this day through the Grantham Yorke Trust which supports young people born in the West Midlands.
On Armistice Day in 1918 at 11am Birmingham people stopped work and people acknowledged, in their own way, that the war was over. Large crowds gathered in the churchyard at Birmingham Cathedral as a service was being held at midday. So many people wanted to attend the service it had to be conducted three times. In this unique moment the cathedral was a natural space for reflection for so many. This week at 11am on 11th November, we paused again.
On 4 August this year, one hundred years after the outbreak of World War One, a special commemorative event was held at Birmingham Cathedral. There were art displays, readings, music and singing, as well as moments of silence and reflection. The bells were tolled on muffles and people were encouraged to leave messages expressing their thoughts and reflections. The event was attended by a huge range of people some who stayed all evening, some who popped in for five minutes to just to linger and think about the day and its significance.
The messages left range from thoughts on the cruelty of war and the bravery of those who played an active part to more specific events and personal stories. There is reference to the contribution of the scouts who supported the war effort particularly at home, assisting with tasks normally done by men fighting in France. There is mention of the Worcestershire regiment whose immense effort and bravery at Gheluvelt prevented a German breakthrough, the importance of the miners who risked their lives to keep home fires burning, and the Quaker community who objected to the war but provided aid and support in so many other ways.
Names of soldiers are on many of the cards commemorated by proud and loving family members. Two sets of brothers, both killed, are remembered, a war hero who fought at Mons in 1914 and lived to the age of 98, an Uncle Arthur, “a very private man” who never spoke of his experiences, Walter, an ANZAC, a survivor who fought at Galipolli, George who did not live to see his son, and a childhood friend who lost her loved one in France. People talk of precious items that help tell the story of their loved ones, a badge, a letter, a photo that was sent home.
The word “Thankyou” appears frequently as people reflect on the sacrifices made, there are hopes for peace and many comparisons are made with conflicts today. It was a moment for people to pause and a fitting tribute.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
My wife and I were one of the rare ones; we both worshipped in the parish of St. Philip’s and also lived within it. The Church of England today is a broad church and gone is the day when you would traditionally attend your local parish church because it was near by and the done thing. There is diversity, choice and ‘pick and mix’ and neither is a bad thing.
However we were fortunate. During the eight years of living in the city centre of Birmingham we lived only ten minutes away from the cathedral. This was no bad thing especially when finishing a shift in a pub late on a Saturday night. It made getting to church ‘on time’ on Sundays so much easier! Now for both of us, the fact that St. Philip’s is the cathedral church of Birmingham didn’t play a part as to why we worshipped there and got involved. Yes the architecture is nice and the stained glass exquisite but it’s the people that make the church. “Where two or three are gathered together there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Yet the décor does also add something ethereal.
When attending the cathedral Jaime and I felt at home. For us there was the ‘three W’s’: Worship, warmth and welcome. For us the beauty of Birmingham Cathedral is it’s ‘parish’ feel. It’s relational. It’s local, intimate and in my opinion easier to connect with others and the Lord, than in other more ancient and grandiose cathedrals. At its heart it is a church. A church that serves its people; in worship, prayer, reflection, support and action.
The cathedral is much more than just a place we went on Sundays. We were active in the life of it. I was even privileged to work there as a part-time Verger. We felt such a strong connection that Jaime and I even got married there. Both the support, nourishment and encouragement from the cathedral clergy and the congregation has been immense. It has been especially important in sustaining and nurturing me through my discernment to the priesthood.
Joe and Jaime’s wedding at the cathedral in 2011
Birmingham Cathedral has played such a huge part in both our lives, that we really can’t explain it and put it into words. This blog post doesn’t do the cathedral and what it has given us over the years justice. However if someone by reading this, is encouraged to come along and see what Birmingham Cathedral does and is, then that is a step in the right direction. And so now as my wife and I live in Cambridge (Jaime works in a bookshop and I am training for ordained ministry at Westcott House), we both know that we will always be a part of Birmingham Cathedral and importantly Birmingham Cathedral will always be a part of us.