This is the story of St. Michael and All Angels Church, Tettenhall as it was before the devastating fire on the night of the 2nd February, 1950 when the building was badly damaged. All that remained intact was the 14th century tower with its peal of eight bells, and the Victorian porch. The church was rebuilt in modern Gothic style, and consecrated on April 16th 1955.

A modern view of the church from July 2010.

This article was serialised in the September, October, and November 1906 editions of the Wolverhampton Journal. The photographs were taken by the author James P. Jones, who was known for his book "A History of the Parish of Tettenhall, in the County of Stafford" published in 1894 by Simpkin & Marshall, of London.

Bev Parker

Tettenhall Church from its picturesque situation, quite as much as from the beauty of the building itself, possesses great attractions for visitors to the pretty village. Of its origin we know scarcely anything, but that a Church existed here in early Saxon times is proved by a grant to the Dean and Canons of Tettenhall by King Edgar, sometime between A.D. 959-975.

This early Saxon Church would be simple in form and construction, and would consist mainly of a chancel and nave, with a low square tower of two stages, the upper one containing only one bell. It is probable there existed both side aisles, and two smaller chancels, for a Collegiate Church, with a Dean and five Prebendaries, even in those early clays of Christian worship, would require a larger building than is indicated by the above description.

Tettenhall Church before restoration (1878).

The masonry of this early Church would be of the rudest description, being simply rough wattle and rubble, the windows would be merely slits in the walls, splayed either way, a ready means of affording the maximum of light, with the minimum of interruption and aggression from outside. The building would naturally be strongly built, as in those lawless days when might was right, it would have to serve both as church, and a place of refuge and defence, against attack.

History and tradition afford no clue to the founders of this midland church. There is nothing to suggest who was the first apostle to preach the gospel to the then pagan Saxons, and whose single bell, calling over the waste marshes of the Smestow Valley, hastened the lagging feet of converts to the shrine of St. Michael.

The Domesday Book, A.D. 1086, contains the first recorded notice of Tettenhall Church. It describes the possessions of the church at that date, as returned by the Commissioners, and states that Sampson, a chaplain of King William 1., was appointed Dean of Tettenhall, and also of St. Peter's, Wolverhampton.

Tettenhall Church after restoration (1883).

It then appears again in the return known as the “Taxatio Ecclesiastica Pope Nicholai IV.,” which granted to Edward I. towards the expenses of a crusade, for six years, the tenths of all ecclesiastical beneficies which had hitherto been paid to Rome. King Edward, probably to ensure his getting the full value of these tenths, and perhaps with a view to learn the actual value of the Church in England, caused a valuation roll to be drawn up, which was completed in A.D. 1291. In this return the yearly value of the church is given as £29.6s.8d., and the tenth thereof as £2.18s.8d.; four of the Prebends are put down in a lump sum for £6.13s.4d.; while Pendeford Prebend is reported as owning land at Tresull (Trysull) of the annual value of 10s. The record shows also, that among its other possessions, the Church of Tettenhall owned a Grange at Oaken, worth10s. annually, and another Grange at Trescott, worth £1 annually. From these figures it will be seen that the wealth of the Collegiate Church of Tettenhall in A.D. 1291 was very considerable.

Tettenhall Church (east end) before restoration.

From this period until the “Valor Ecclesiasticus" of Henry VIII., the value of the Church is only occasionally referred to in local inquiries. In A.D. 1377, an Inquiry into the possessions of a former landowner in Tettenhall, brought to light the endowment of Tettenhall Church.

A later Inquisition, temp Henry IV., A.D. 1399-1413, on the estates of one Thomas de Normanton, states as follows:

They (the jury) say that Edgar, late King of England, gave and conceded to the Dean and Canons of the Free Chapel of Tetunhal (Tettenhall) 100 acres of land, and 10 marks annual rent to help the Church there, (viz., Tettenhall) for their own use, and the use of their successors for ever, etc.

I have translated this from the old contracted Latin of the Rolls, as this grant is undoubtedly the endowment giving Tettenhall Church its title of a "Royal Free Chapel." Unfortunately, researches at the Record Office have failed to produce the Inquisition above mentioned, but that it existed, is proved by the fact that it appears in the large folio "Calendar of Inquisitio ad quod damnum," officially published in 1803.

Next in importance in the record of the church's history is the great known survey of Henry VIII., as the "Valor Ecclesiasticus," A.D. 1535.

After obtaining possession of all the property of the church in England, and proclaiming himself its head, and defender, King Henry sold the temporal and spiritua1 rights of these dissolved religious houses, to the highest bidder.

Walter Wrottesley, Esq., as the largest landowner in the parish of Tettenhall, was practically compelled to purchase, in order to preclude the interposition of strangers, who would have levied tithes upon the whole of his estates.

The Crown exacted the full value of the property, for Walter Wrottesley paid about twenty two years purchase for it, which was much above the value of freehold land at that date.

By this purchase the whole of the spiritual and temporal rights of Tettenhall Collegiate Church passed to the Wrottesley family, who still retain them.

Tettenhall Church (east end) after restoration.

Tettenhall Church tower (1894).

There is little doubt that the present building occupies the site of the earlier edifices from which it has been evolved. For apart from other considerations, the situation is one that would readily commend itself to these early Christians as being the most central and sheltered position in the village community which had settled at Tettenhall.

Traces of the older buildings have been found at various times during alteration to the Church, and Shaw, in his History of Staffordshire, published in 1798, mentions that portions of the old college buildings were still visible to the east of the church.

The oldest fragment of any previous church is to be found in the angle formed by the tower and west wall of the main entrance, it is a rudely carved slab, decorated on both sides and probably formed the head of a window, or smaller opening in the interior walls of the church. From the character of the ornament I believe it to be a remnant of the old Saxon church, and worthy of better preservation than its present situation affords.

Of the present building, the east end is the most ancient, being early XIII. Century. A contrast between its present appearance, and as it appeared after the enlargement in 1825, is interesting. This enlargement and extension of the church in 1825, was rendered necessary by the growth of the population in the village, and to make room for the additional south aisle as shown in the photograph, the whole of the old XIV. Century south aisle, and the beautiful porch, with its scriptorium over, was pulled down, and replaced by a hideous imitation Gothic building, covered with cheap plaster, while the south chancel, known as the Pendeford Chapel, was covered with a low penthouse roof.
When the Church was restored in 1883, these ugly excrescences were removed and the present new south aisle and porch of early English architecture was erected.

As will be seen from a comparison of the two photographs of the east end of the church, the gable end of the chancel, and the Pendeford Chapel have both been lowered to their ancient pitch, as indicated by the mason marks, and the east end of the church has gained in dignity and impressiveness externally.

The chancel, looking west.

The interior of the church in 1844.

The north aisle externally, with the exception of the new doorway, giving entrance to the Wrottesley Chapel, as now restored, is practically the same as when the original XIV. Century builders finished it, excepting that originally there was a doorway, now filled by a window, in direct line with the porch.

Owing to a great landslip, rather more than 150 years ago, this old doorway had to be closed up. The tower is of the same date, and has undergone little alteration, but the crocketed pinnacles which originally terminated its four corners have been destroyed.

The visitor to Tettenhall Church, entering by the south porch, is at once impressed by the suggested vastness of the building. The lofty nave with its beautiful clerestory windows, the massive octagonal piers supporting the nave, and the vista of arcades of slender columns and arches looking eastwards, give the observer more the impression of a cathedral than a village church; while the dim religious light filtering through the many coloured windows increases the feeling of space and mystery.

At either end of the nave you see the "responds," which mark the extent of the old Norman nave of the church; the pillars between are of a later date, probably erected at the same period as the building of the North Aisle, about A.D. 1350.

The transition arch leading from the chancel to the Wrottesley Chapel is of earlier date, and exhibits some curious features, it was probably brought from another portion of the church at some earlier restoration, as the appearance of the stonework suggests that it has been inserted in the wall after building.

The beautiful east window, with its curious arcade of slender columns and decorated lancet heads, is a pure example of early English work, probable date about A.D. 1207. It is one of the most remarkable windows of this period, and is almost unique.

To this same period must be assigned the north and south chancel arcade of arches, which are very rich in decorative carving. A careful inspection of these beautiful pillars will show that these old workers did not slavishly copy each other, but infused into their work a considerable variety of design. In the angle formed by the pillars of the east window and south chancel arcade will be seen an early English piscina, in good preservation: the top ornament was added at the restoration in 1883.

The view looking across the nave gives a good impression of the massive yet simple grandeur of the nave, and affords a glimpse of the monuments in the Wrottesley Chapel. The beautiful carved oak screen which shuts off the Wrottesley Chapel from the main body of the church is of richly decorated perpendicular work. Unfortunately, at the last restoration of the church, much of the beauty of this screen was ruined by careless handling. Originally it had a groined canopy roof, which projected some distance over the screen proper, the spandrils of which sprang from the tops of the pillars supporting it and formed an interlaced pattern of beautiful design, terminating in the richly carved cornice above. A careful inspection of the ornament of this screen will show that no two pieces of ornament are alike.

The transition arch in the Wrottesley Chapel.

Looking north eastwards across the nave.

In the Wrottesley Chapel are preserved some interesting monuments to the Wrottesley family. The oldest is an alabaster slate, with a portrait of a man in armour and his wife, drawn in black lines, at their feet sixteen children. It is to the memory of Richard Wrottesley and his wife, and is dated 1417.

There is also a fine altar-tomb, with effigies of John Wrottesley, Esq., and Elizabeth his wife, dated 1580, and other interesting memorials of more modern date.

The armorial shields showing the descent of the Wrottesley family are most interesting; as is also the armorial window in this Chapel. The six hatchments fitted in this window are formed of old armorial glass, removed from Wrottesley Hall many years ago.

The view of the nave looking west gives a good impression of the lofty tower arch and the great west window. This window was filled with stained glass in 1860, and was the gift of the Ward family in memory of their parents.

In the foreground of the picture will be seen the ancient choir stalls. King Henry III. granted six oaks from his forest to provide stalls for the Canons of Tettenhall, and it is quite probable, judging from the style and design of the carvings, that the present stalls, or at least a portion of them, were made at this period. The work on the "arms" of the stalls is contemporary with the period. Under the seats are some very good examples of "miserere" carvings.

The triple lancet window in the Fowler Chancel is one of the purest examples existing, and is of XII. Century date.

The view of the nave, dated 1842, shows the church as it was after the enlargement made in 1825, when the walls and ceilings were plastered and white washed. In 1860 attempts were made at restoring the church, and the disfiguring whitewash was removed from the walls of the tower, and the great west window restored to its original proportions; but it remained for the restorers of 1883 to complete the careful work of renovation which has resulted in the present beautiful interior.

The curious memorial brass of the Rev. Thomas Beeston, late Curate of this church, has undergone some strange vicissitudes for, erected in 1652, it was used again in 1694 to serve as a memorial to "Hannah Wollaston, of the Hollese, Prescott.”

What induced Hannah Wollaston's husband to purloin this brass and use it as a memorial for his wife's grave, I have no means of finding out, but the fact remains that he did so. The brass was reported by the Rev. S. Shaw, on his visit to the church in 1797, as being "now lost." It was discovered again during the restoration of the church in 1883, and is now affixed to the east respond of the nave, near the lectern, where the two inscriptions can be clearly seen.

The Cresswell Monument.

I shall have occasion to refer again to the Beeston inscription, as I have good reason to believe that it is the work of a forgotten artist in metal and stone, whose other work in Tettenhall will be described and illustrated in the concluding portion of this history.

An ancient lintel stone.

Tettenhall Farm, Upper Green.

In the small window on the south side of the Fowler Chancel is preserved all that is left of the ancient stained glass which filled nearly the whole of the windows of the church, but was destroyed by zealous fanatics during the Puritan revival. In the centre can be seen the head of a priest, while underneath is an inscription as follows:
       Orate pro anima Henrici Suthwyke, pbd. Bobynhull.

"Pray for the soul of Henry Southwick, Prebendary of Bobynhull, or Barnhurst."

This Henry Southwick was Prebendary of the Barnhurst 1530, when the Collegiate Church of Tettenhall was dissolved. The portrait is of the same period, and probably a good likeness of him.

The ancient stone font has been restored (1842), but has some curiously carved panels of Gothic design. Of ancient monuments in the Church, beyond those already mentioned in the Wrottesley Chapel, there are very few; but the fine mural memorial in the chancel to the memory of Joan Cresswell, of the Barnhurst, is worthy of inspection. It has an inscription in black letter, and is dated 1590.

On the wall of the tower is still preserved the memorial brass, with its quaint rhyming epitaph to the memory of William Wollaston, of Trescott. It has no date; but from evidences I have of the Wollaston family it cannot be later than A.D. 1560. Above it, will be seen the Fryer monument, in memory of Richard Fryer, first M.P. for Wolverhampton.

A monumental brass (front).

The rear of the monumental brass.

This old brass was reported as lost in Shaw's History of Staffordshire, 1797, but it was discovered under the floor during the restoration of the church in 1882, and when cleaned was found to have an inscription on both sides. What induced John Wollaston to appropriate the brass of the old curate, and use it as a memorial to his own wife, is beyond me.

The Church is exceptionally rich in stained glass, all of which, with the exception of the great west window and the heraldic window in the Wrottesley Chapel, has been added since the restoration of the Church in 1883, and in every case bears the name of the donors.

In the vestry of the church can be seen a curiously carved stone slab, which I shall describe more fully in the concluding part.

Ancient Tympana

In all villages with any claim to antiquity, there will occasionally he found vestiges of ancient tympana or "lintel plates." The practice of fixing a stone over the entrance doorway of houses, bearing the initials of the owner and the date of the building, sometimes the bare initials, but oftener with curious symbolical carvings, and in the cases of churches, with the figure of the patron saint in a niche, dates from a very early period.

It can be traced back to the elaborately carved symbols which ornament many a richly decorated church doorway of Norman origin, when these artists in stone were content to write their messages in symbolic pictures, so that “he who runs may read," portraying in curved line and graceful scroll the mysteries they would not perhaps dare not speak of openly. The practice of this art as applied to dwelling houses does not appear to date earlier than the beginning of the 16th century, and was of a rude character; yet the examples here shown, crude as they are, exhibit a remarkable knowledge of Biblical history, combined with originality of design.

The first example was discovered under the floor of Tettenhall Church during the restoration of that building in 1882, and is now preserved in the vestry of the church; it is dated 1686. This is one of the most curious lintel stones I have ever met with. Within an elaborately carved border is a rude carving of a man and woman, while in the centre is a perfect "crux ansata," or "Tau Cross," between representations of a palm, and the "sacred lotus" or lily of the Egyptians. Unlike most other examples I have seen, this bears no initial letters, but simply records the message its original designer intended it to convey. It would be interesting to trace the cutter of this ancient stone with its mystic symbolism, for we have here a curious mixture of Christian and pagan worship, so remarkable as to suggest it is the work of a learned and travelled brother of one of those great communities who preserved inviolate the mysteries of their order, handed down by tradition, and of rites and ceremonies they dare not reveal.

Another example, equally interesting, and certainly the work of the same artist, is to be seen on the gable wall of the farmhouse on the Upper Green. It bears the same date, 1686, and has the initial letters I.I.H. It is divided into eight panels, within a decorated border; the first panel has a palm leaf between the “crux ansata” and the Egyptian lotus, then the initials, and the date follow. In the lower half are two representations of a fig tree, with what appears to be a wheel cross; and a point, within three concentric circles. I have failed to trace an owner of this house whose initials correspond to those on the stone.

Another example, of the same period, but less interesting, is over the doorway of "Gorsty Hayes Manor House", it is a plain recessed oval, with scrolls at the sides, bearing the initials W.S., and dated 1683.

In some instances, more particularly in the case of those entitled to bear arms, a shield bearing the arms of the owner was placed over the entrance porch of the house: as in the case of the old Wightwick Manor House. While on houses of more imposing design, such as Wrottesley Hall, Chillington Hall, etc., the armorial bearings of the family filled the pediment in the centre of the main front of the building.

The artist who carved the two lintels illustrated was also responsible for the production of some ancient grave stones in Tettenhall Churchyard, and for the memorial brass to the memory of the Rev. T. Beiston, Curate of Tettenhall in 1682. From this evidence it will be seen that this unknown and forgotten artist was equally skilled in working in stone and metal. The specimens of his work here illustrated show a marked progression in execution and design, the earlier attempts being crude, rudely cut figures, merely incised lines scratched on the surface, while the later examples exhibit a development of power and ability unequalled in his earlier work. Examples of his work are to be seen among the row of gravestones which border the walk on the south side of the church, and again on the north side, near the giant yew tree.

An ancient tombstone in the graveyard.

The Genesis of a Myth

“There are quaint stories told of several gravestones in different parts of the  County of Staffs.", Rev. G. S. Tyack.

Under the south wall of the church are some flat slabs, removed from the interior of the church at the restoration, which are undoubtedly memorials of former priests of the church. While others, forming the covers of ancient stone coffins are to be seen on the north side, near the walk under the yew tree. These all bear representations of the cross, in various simple and ornamental forms, clearly proving they are priestly memorials. The same applies to the timeworn effigy in the grass near the "Lime Tree Walk." In connection with this effigy tradition has created a story to account for its present mutilation. So long as I can remember there has always been a tradition in Tettenhall that this old gravestone is the effigy of a certain wicked woman, who from her persistence in spinning on Sundays, was punished by the loss of both arms and legs. This story has invested this particular stone with an interest and association for which there is absolutely no foundation. I have investigated every source of information likely to yield facts, but in vain, there are no records of such an awful punishment as the story describes, either in the parish records or in the local records of the district.

In "Lore and Legend of the English Church," page 98, the Rev. G. S. Tyack, B.A., gives the following version of the legend:

In Tettenhall Churchyard. Staffordshire, is a worn stone on which is carved a head and body without limbs. Here the local chroniclers relate, lies a woman who persisted in spinning on Sundays. Having been severely reproved by her neighbours, she promised to reform, and impiously wished that, if she broke her promise, her arms and legs might drop off. Old habits proved too strong for her, and one Sunday she turned again to her wheel and set it murmuring through the room, while she spun the twirling threads, when, lo! her horrible wish was fulfilled and she was in a moment reduced to helplessness.

Dr. Plot, who wrote a "History of Staffordshire," in 1686, and was ever on the look out for the marvellous in nature or history, makes no mention of the stone or the legend, but he does tell in all its gruesome detail, the horrible punishment which befell one John Duncalf, who was horn at Codsall in 1655. In this story the points of detail are exactly the same as those in the legend woven round this old stone, i.e. bad habits, invoking God's judgment, and the subsequent loss of both arms and legs. The only difference being that in the legend the old woman committed no worse a crime than spinning on Sundays, while John Duncalf committed most of the crimes against the Decalogue.

Shaw, in his History of Staffordshire, Vol. II. p 230, prints in full the history of this village reprobate, but makes no mention of the stone at Tettenhall. But be does state that in the churchyard at Tettenhall are some ancient monumental figures lying buried in the grass, which formerly were placed to the memory of some of the various members of the collegiate church.

The stones which Shaw saw when be visited the churchyard are still there, and a careful inspection of this particular one will prove that it is not the figure of a woman at all, but of a priest with hands folded across the breast and clad in priestly vestments. In the original photograph the arms are distinctly shown, while the carving round the head suggests the nimbus or symbol of his sacred office. From the style of dress and carving I am inclined to fix the date of this stone not later than the end of the XIV. Century. It bas been sadly mutilated by the careless feet of thousands who have been attracted to it by the legend of the old woman whose arms, dropped off, a story which has gained credence for many years, but for which there is absolutely no foundation in fact.

As the Rev. G. S. Tyack remarks, "All these stories illustrate the tendency of the rustic mind to explain everything about him 'somehow': let a stone be never so quaintly carved, or strangely placed, let it be the despair of antiquaries and its inscription be a standing puzzle to the scholar, yet the local folk will see no difficulty, but will have some legend readily to hand which will fully account for everything."

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