A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.
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There were medieval chapels at Great Dawley and Malinslee and perhaps at Little Dawley. Only the first, which had come to be considered a parish church by the 16th century, was recorded in documentary sources. New churches were built at Malinslee and Little Dawley to cater for the rapid population growth of the early 19th century, and the ancient parish was consequently divided into three ecclesiastical districts in the 1840s. In 1975 the three parishes were combined with Stirchley and Lawley to form the new parish of Central Telford.
Architectural evidence and reference to a priest of Dawley in 1186-7 suggest that there was a chapel at Great Dawley before the end of the 12th century. The lords of Great Dawley manor presented to the living as to a parish church in the mid 13th century, but the advowson of Dawley 'chapel' was confirmed by them to Walter of Dunstanville, patron of the mother church of Shifnal, in 1256. (fn. 1) Thereafter until the 16th century it was considered to be a chapel in Shifnal parish (fn. 2) and, as such, was appropriated to Battlefield college in 1410. (fn. 3) The connexion with Shifnal ceased after 1563 when the rectory and church of Dawley were leased from the Crown. (fn. 4) The living was a curacy, from 1792 called perpetual, (fn. 5) until it became a vicarage in 1866. (fn. 6)
After the dissolution of Battlefield college in 1548 Dawley was a royal donative. (fn. 7) The rectory was acquired by John Watson (d. 1606) and thereafter the impropriator seems to have been responsible for providing a minister. (fn. 8) In 1655 William Pierrepont and Sir John Corbet, both staunch Parliamentarians, (fn. 9) were named as patrons, (fn. 10) the rectory having been sequestrated. (fn. 11) After the Restoration patronage was again exercised by the impropriators, who also held the advowson of Stirchley. From 1715 curates were normally licensed to the cure but there was no formal presentation and institution until the living became a vicarage. (fn. 12) In 1878 Andrew Phillips conveyed the advowson of Dawley to the bishop of Lichfield, (fn. 13) who held it until the living was absorbed into Central Telford parish in 1975. (fn. 14)
The living was a poor one until augmented in the late 18th and early 19th century. In 1639 the impropriator paid the curate a stipend of 20 marks (£13 6s. 8d.) (fn. 15) and by the early 18th century the curate was said to have c. £12 yearly, (fn. 16) made up of a modus of £6 6s. 8d. for tithes in Malinslee, a payment of £4 10s. from the impropriator in lieu of the tithe of hay in Great and Little Dawley, and small tithes valued at c. £1. (fn. 17) The impropriator John Revell (d. 1729) left the curate an additional £5 yearly, charged on land at Hadley. (fn. 18) In 1756 the living was further augmented by Rebecca Walthall's legacy towards obtaining Queen Anne's Bounty. (fn. 19) By 1832 the living was worth £154 16s. 8d., of which £104 came from interest on augmentations from Queen Anne's Bounty and parliamentary grants made between 1779 and 1825. (fn. 20) Further augmentations between 1837 and 1878 (fn. 21) increased the living's gross annual value to £302 in 1903. (fn. 22)
The great tithes, a tithe barn on the south side of the churchyard, (fn. 23) and c. 25 a. of glebe scattered in Great Dawley township belonged to the impropriator. (fn. 24) So did the parsonage to the east of the churchyard, which was described in 1851 as an old timber-framed building fit for demolition. (fn. 25) There was no curate's residence until 1838 when a house was built at Brandlee. (fn. 26)
The names of two mid 13th-century incumbents are known. One of them, Peter of Radnor, archdeacon of Salop, was said to have been parson until his death c. 1279. (fn. 27) The late 16th and early 17th century was marked by short incumbencies, (fn. 28) often those of young men who left for more lucrative livings. (fn. 29) Complaints of laxity were made against Thomas Patmore, recorded as curate 1635-9. (fn. 30) The living was temporarily made more attractive in 1647 when Francis Watson, the impropriator, gave the church an annuity of £56 in settlement of his fine for delinquency. (fn. 31) From c. 1665 Dawley was generally served by the rectors of Stirchley, (fn. 32) who often employed assistant curates at Dawley. Robert Bromhall, an elderly man, was licensed as deacon there in 1697 and also served Wombridge. (fn. 33) Edward Fosbrooke, recorded as curate 1730-63, (fn. 34) was rector of Stirchley 1758-75. John Rogers, curate 1772 (or earlier) to 1792, also held Shifnal and Stirchley livings. He employed an assistant curate, who lived at Stirchley and did duty there and at Dawley. In 1772 there was one Sunday service, with additional prayers in Lent and on some holy days, and communion, taken by 20-30, four times a year. (fn. 35) Dawley was held with Stirchley until 1832.
By the late 18th century the increased population had far outgrown the capacity of the old church: it was noted in 1799 that many parishioners went to church at Wellington or Madeley. (fn. 36) In 1805 St. Leonard's, a new church with 795 sittings, was built on the borders of Malinslee and Great Dawley townships, a site more convenient than that of the old church for the growing industrial population of Old Park, Dawley Bank, and Dawley Green. The old church was closed except for burials, and the intention was that St. Leonard's would thenceforth be the sole parish church. (fn. 37) Pressure from some parishioners for the reopening of the old church was felt by 1810 (fn. 38) and services were resumed there c. 1818, St. Leonard's becoming merely a chapel of ease until it was assigned a district chapelry in 1843. (fn. 39) Assistant curates, who lived in the parish, were employed in the 1820s and 1830s, and the number of Sunday services at Great Dawley increased from one in 1824 to two in the 1830s, and three in 1843. Communion was given seven times a year by 1832. (fn. 40)
After the separation of Malinslee chapelry in 1843 and Little Dawley parish in 1844 (fn. 41) the old church was rebuilt, and the new church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, served the central built-up area of Great Dawley township. (fn. 42) On Census Sunday 1851 morning service there was attended by 160 adults, that in the afternoon by 80, and evening service by 370. (fn. 43)
In 1872, during the incumbency of R. C. Wanstall (1870-88), an Evangelical who was concerned to reach his parish's large labouring population, (fn. 44) a small brick mission chapel was opened at Hinkshay. (fn. 45) It closed c. 1969 (fn. 46) and the building was used in 1980 as a social club for the adjacent Ever-Ready factory.
The ancient parish church, whose dedication has not been traced, (fn. 47) stood a little south-east of the church of the HOLY TRINITY, which replaced it. Only the 12th-century font and several 18th-century monumental inscriptions survive from the former building. (fn. 48) The old church (fn. 49) was a small stone building consisting of chancel, nave with south porch, and west tower. Nave and chancel were probably 12th-century. In the early 14th century a doorway and window were inserted into the south wall of the chancel. The tower was added, and windows inserted in the south wall of the nave, in the late 14th and 15th century. In 1716 five new bells were acquired, (fn. 50) and a west gallery was inserted in 1720, perhaps when the brick porch was added. The church suffered badly from mining subsidence in the late 18th and early 19th century, and massive brick buttresses were built to support it after 1786 and before 1824, probably in 1819 when the church was repaired after being reopened. (fn. 51) In 1826 the parish meeting rejected the possibility of replacing the church by a new building on a site that would be free from subsidence. (fn. 52) A new south gallery was built and a small vestry added in 1838.
Holy Trinity church, designed by Harvey Eginton of Worcester, (fn. 53) replaced the old church in 1845. (fn. 54) It is of sandstone, in the Perpendicular style, and consists of a chancel with north vestry, aisled nave with west gallery, west tower, and south porch, which was converted into a baptistery in 1883. (fn. 55)
Among the fittings, most of which were moved to St. Leonard's c. 1805 but later returned to Great Dawley, (fn. 56) were the bells, a medieval silver paten remodelled c. 1582, and a chalice of 1746. (fn. 57)
The registers begin in 1666 and are complete, except for baptisms 1840-2 and burials 1835-42, which were entered in volumes later used by St. Leonard's church, Malinslee. (fn. 58)
The churchyard, confined on the south and east by the roads to Little Dawley and Dawley Green, had become crowded with graves by 1824, despite the provision of extra land for burials at St. Leonard's church in 1805. (fn. 59) The consecrated area was extended by a total of over 2 a. in 1834, (fn. 60) c. 1843, (fn. 61) 1890, (fn. 62) 1940, (fn. 63) and 1954. (fn. 64)
Malinslee had a separate chapel in the 12th century and was then presumably in Shifnal parish, (fn. 65) but Malinslee was subsequently considered part of Dawley parish and was served by the incumbents of Dawley until St. Leonard's, built in 1805, was allotted a district chapelry in 1843. The medieval chapel, an isolated building a little east of Spout House, (fn. 66) was a small sandstone structure c. 15 metres long, consisting of chancel and nave divided by a stone screen; it has been dated to c. 1150. (fn. 67) In 1909 the ruin was bought by Edward Parry, vicar of Malinslee, who proposed to restore it as a place of worship to designs by W. A. Webb. (fn. 68) The scheme came to nothing and the chapel was taken down to make way for Telford town centre, and the stones stored, by Telford development corporation in 1971. (fn. 69)
In 1805 the church of ST. LEONARD was built on the south-west edge of Malinslee township by I. H. Browne, owner of Malinslee, and Thomas Gisborne, with money left for charitable purposes by Browne's great-grandfather Isaac Hawkins. (fn. 70) Although intended to replace Dawley old church, St. Leonard's remained a chapel of ease until 1843 when it was assigned a district chapelry covering Malinslee township and Dawley Bank. (fn. 71) The benefice was in the gift of the vicar of Dawley Magna. The living was abolished in 1975 when Malinslee became part of the new parish of Central Telford. (fn. 72)
In the 1830s the income of the assistant curate who served St. Leonard's was c. £105, of which £50 came from pew rents and £55 from the subscriptions of the major landowners and industrialists. (fn. 73) After becoming a separate benefice the living was augmented by grants from Queen Anne's Bounty in 1845-6 and 1855 (fn. 74) and other grants in 1867 and 1879. (fn. 75) By 1884 those augmentations produced £243 16s. 10d. yearly, while pew rents and fees were worth only £15. (fn. 76) In 1897 and 1903 the annual income was further increased by c. £25 by the purchase of a glebe cottage and c. 2½ a. of land. (fn. 77) The cottage was sold in 1961. (fn. 78)
St. Leonard's served as the parish church from 1805, but the old church was reopened c. 1818 and St. Leonard's became a chapel of ease for the northern parts of the parish. In 1824 there was one Sunday service at St. Leonard's. By 1829 most of the duty was done by an assistant curate who lived at Dawley Green and there were two services with sermons each Sunday. Communion services increased from five a year in 1824 to seven in the 1830s. (fn. 81) After Malinslee became a separate benefice the church's activity increased. The new parish's population was large and scattered and the vicars of Malinslee frequently employed curates in the late 19th and early 20th century. (fn. 82) In 1851 a mission room in a building at Old Park was licensed. (fn. 83) It may have been the forerunner of Malinslee Institute, built 1859, (fn. 84) in which weekday services were held in the 1880s. (fn. 85) The Institute was converted into an infant school in 1898. (fn. 86) A second mission room, on the south side of the churchyard, was built in 1883 as a result of a mission to combat drunkenness in the Dawley Bank area, led by the Revd. Gilbert James of Burton-upon-Trent in 1882. The room later served as a church hall until it was demolished in 1974. (fn. 87) The parish's longest-serving vicar was Edward Parry (1895-1935), a forceful character who influenced many aspects of parish life. In the 1890s he was the moving force behind the foundation of Malinslee Institute infant school and in the 1920s attempted the reclamation of pit mounds for playing fields and gardens and built several houses using unemployed labour. (fn. 88)
St. Leonard's church is an octagonal building of local sandstone with a west tower. (fn. 89) It closely resembles Thomas Telford's Madeley church (1794) in design (fn. 90) and was built in 1805 by John Simpson, who did much local work for Telford; (fn. 91) it is not, however, certain whether Telford was directly involved in scaling down his Madeley design for Malinslee. (fn. 92) Internally the church was galleried and originally had nearly 800 sittings. An extra 200 seats were provided by extending the galleries in the 1830s. (fn. 93) and further internal modifications were made in 1901. (fn. 94) In 1975-6 a major internal reorganization took place to enable the church to be used for social purposes; a kitchen and lavatories were provided and the galleries made into separate rooms by the erection of glass screens. (fn. 95)
Bells, plate, and registers were removed from Dawley old church to St. Leonard's but were returned when the old church reopened c. 1818. William Botfield gave a new set of plate to St. Leonard's in 1833 (fn. 96) and four bells in 1839; (fn. 97) the latter were replaced by a set of six bells in 1887. (fn. 98) The registers, which begin in 1835, are complete. They contain baptisms and burials for the whole of Dawley parish until 1843. (fn. 99)
An early 18th-century tradition that there was formerly a chapel at Little Dawley, (fn. 100) and mention of a house there called the 'old chapel' in 1631, (fn. 101) suggest that there was an early chapel in the township. It may have been a medieval stone building demolished in 1911, (fn. 102) which was then known as the 'old manor house'. (fn. 103) In 1844 Little Dawley township and the Horsehay area were constituted a separate parish, (fn. 104) and the church of ST. LUKE was built at Doseley next year. (fn. 105) The living, in the gift of the Crown and the bishop of Lichfield alternately, was endowed with £150 a year by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners on its creation. (fn. 106) It was augmented four times between 1889 and 1913. (fn. 107) A parsonage was built north-west of the church in 1845 and enlarged in 1899; (fn. 108) it was sold in 1974. (fn. 109)
St. Luke's was designed by R. Griffiths of Broseley. (fn. 110) It is of red and pale grey brick with sandstone dressings and consists of apsidal sanctuary with north vestry, nave with south porch of timber and brick, and a western bell turret of stone, containing one bell. Architectural details are Norman in style. (fn. 111) A Sunday school was built between the church and vicarage in 1912; a timber lych-gate to the churchyard was built in 1920; and the graveyard was extended north-east of the church in 1932. (fn. 112) The registers begin in 1845 and are complete. (fn. 113) On the creation of Central Telford parish in 1975 St. Luke's was made redundant; it was sold in 1980.
Patronage of the three Dawley livings was suspended when they fell vacant in 1964-5 (fn. 114) and in 1975 they were combined with Lawley and Stirchley to form the new parish of Central Telford, served by a team ministry. The right to present the team rector was vested in a patronage board, which presented every first, second, and fourth turn, the Crown presenting at the third turn. (fn. 115) The three 19th-century vicarages in Dawley were replaced by a rectory, containing a small meeting room, at the new Hollinswood housing estate in 1976, (fn. 116) and by new vicarages at Chiltern Gardens, Dawley, c. 1977, and adjacent to St. Leonard's church, Malinslee, in 1980. (fn. 117) The parish was divided into four pastoral districts, centred on churches at Dawley (Holy Trinity), Stirchley (All Saints), town centre (St. Leonard), and Lawley (St. John). Each member of the team ministry, consisting of the rector and three vicars, was responsible for a district. (fn. 118)