A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.
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Stirchley church, not recorded until 1238, (fn. 1) had been built, as architectural evidence shows, by the 12th century. It is possible that, like those of Great Dawley, Malinslee, and Priorslee, the church was originally a chapel of ease in Shifnal parish. (fn. 2) The living was a rectory from 1238, or earlier, (fn. 3) until 1975 when it was abolished and Stirchley became part of the new parish of Central Telford. (fn. 4)
Wenlock priory had obtained the patronage by 1238 when Osbert, lord of Stirchley, released all his interest in the advowson to the prior. (fn. 5) The priory owned the advowson until the Dissolution, although the Crown exercised the priory's patronage, presumably until its denization in 1395. (fn. 6) In 1520 and 1535 the priory conveyed turns to others. Robert Brooke of Madeley presented in 1554 (fn. 7) but the patronage had reverted to the Crown by 1565. (fn. 8) In 1569 it was leased for 21 years to Francis Barneham, a London alderman. (fn. 9) Sir Rowland Hayward bought the advowson from London speculators in 1582 and sold it again to Richard Halywell of Stirchley in 1585. George Halywell sold it to Richard Dod and Roger Banes in 1613 and Banes conveyed his moiety to Dod in 1622. (fn. 10) Francis Gibbons and George Browne presented in 1623 but whether as patrons in full right or as purchasers of a turn is not known. (fn. 11) By 1655 the advowson had passed to Muriel, daughter of Francis Watson of Church Aston, later wife of Robert Leicester. (fn. 12) The Leicesters sold it in 1669 to Rosamund Revell (d. 1690) of Shifnal, (fn. 13) in whose family it remained until the late 19th century. In 1687 she leased it to William Banks, of Dawley, for the life of John Revell (d. 1729). (fn. 14) On John's death it was divided between his daughters Sarah (d. 1757), wife of Robert Moreton, and Anne (d. 1746), wife of Revell Phillips. In the later 18th century a turn (exercised 1792) was conveyed to others, (fn. 15) but both moieties eventually descended to Anne's grandson, Revell Phillips (d. 1816). (fn. 16) His sons Revell and Hugo Moreton Phillips held the advowson in 1827 (fn. 17) and their brother Andrew was a patron in 1876. (fn. 18) By 1878 it had passed to the Jones family of Wombourne (Staffs.). (fn. 19) J. W. Jones presented between 1879 and 1917 (fn. 20) and Mrs. Ellen Dinsdale of Illinois, who had an interest in the advowson from 1891 or earlier, (fn. 21) presented in 1930 (fn. 22) and sold the patronage in 1933 to the Church Association Trust (from 1951 the Church Society Trust), with whom it remained until 1975. (fn. 23) On the creation of Central Telford parish in that year the trust was included in the patronage board of the new parish. (fn. 24)
The annual value of the living was placed at £2 13s. 4d. in 1291, (fn. 25) at £5 in 1380, (fn. 26) and at £6 5s. 8d. net in 1535. (fn. 27) It was said to be worth £26 in 1639, (fn. 28) £30 in 1705, (fn. 29) and c. £50 in 1772. (fn. 30) In the 18th century the rector received all tithes in kind except those of calves and milk, for which an ancient modus was paid. (fn. 31) The tithes were commuted in 1839 to an annual rent charge of £200. (fn. 32) The living had 45½ a. of glebe, a large endowment in relation to the size of the parish. (fn. 33) From 1766 to 1812 the glebe was let to the tenant of Stirchley Hall farm (fn. 34) but in the mid 19th century all but a few acres were farmed by H. M. Phillips during his long incumbency. (fn. 35) In 1862 the rector exchanged 11 a. of glebe scattered in small parcels for an 8-a. field near the church, (fn. 36) and in 1920 all the glebe, except the rectory and adjacent yards, was sold to the owner of Stirchley Hall. (fn. 37)
The rectory and its farm buildings lay immediately south of St. James's churchyard. The house was rebuilt in 1783 because the earlier parsonage, recorded from 1612 and described in 1698 as a two-bay house with a separate kitchen, had fallen out of repair. (fn. 38) By 1817 the condition of the new parsonage had deteriorated and the rector was granted leave to live elsewhere. (fn. 39) It was enlarged during the 1830s (fn. 40) and modernized in 1894; (fn. 41) the farm buildings were rebuilt c. 1878. (fn. 42) The house was sold c. 1961. (fn. 43)
Among the medieval rectors were two men with local connexions: Walter Perton (1309-49), (fn. 44) a member of the family that held an estate in the parish in the late 13th century, (fn. 45) and Philip of Harley (1362-9), (fn. 46) who from c. 1344 was steward to Wenlock priory, the patron. (fn. 47) In the later 14th century the living changed hands frequently (fn. 48) but Richard Withgys (1416-74) (fn. 49) was the first of five rectors between the 15th and 19th centuries to hold the living for more than 40 years. (fn. 50) An ample glebe and small parish may have made the living attractive. George Arden (c. 1655-1715), the longest serving rector and a graduate, (fn. 51) was described as 'an ordinary man; no preacher'. (fn. 52) He conformed in 1662 (fn. 53) and lived in Stirchley until his death. In 1655 it was suggested that the parish could be united with Dawley (fn. 54) and an unofficial union had begun by 1655 when Arden occured as incumbent of Dawley. Thereafter until 1831 the two parishes, both in the patronage of the Revell family and their descendants, were often served by the same priests. (fn. 55)
Arden's successors in the 18th century were almost all graduates with local connexions: William Banks (1715-58), born in Dawley, was presented by his father; (fn. 56) John Rogers (1775-92), one of the family of the Home (in Wentnor) and son of a rector of Myndtown, held Stirchley in plurality with Shifnal; (fn. 57) and Roger Clayton (1792-1827), of the Wroxeter family, had been curate of Stirchley during his predecessor's incumbency. (fn. 58) During the late 18th and early 19th century one service was held at Stirchley each Sunday, alternating mornings and evenings with Dawley. Part of the duty was regularly done by curates. (fn. 59) Communion was received four times a year by 10-20 parishioners. (fn. 60) Hugo Moreton Phillips (1827-77), a member of the Shifnal family and joint owner of the advowson, (fn. 61) was a genial and popular rector. (fn. 62) Later incumbencies were short and included those of three elderly men. (fn. 63) The frequency of services increased during the 19th century, two full services being held each Sunday by 1843 (fn. 64) and communion being celebrated at least once a month by the end of the century. A Wednesday evening service was also held from 1894 to 1908. (fn. 65) A choir accompanied by a bass viol led the singing in 1827; a harmonium bought in 1865 was replaced by an organ in 1919. (fn. 66)
Doubt over Stirchley's future independence had arisen by 1949 when the parish meeting resolved that, if independent status could not be maintained, the parish should be annexed to Shifnal. (fn. 67) In that year J. W. M. Finney, vicar of Shifnal, was instituted as rector and until 1972 Stirchley fell within the care of the vicars of Shifnal. Presentation was suspended on Finney's death in 1959, his successor being licensed as priest-in-charge. (fn. 68) During Finney's incumbency Stirchley was served by a succession of curates, who lived in the rectory. (fn. 69) Between 1972 and the creation of Central Telford parish in 1975 the parish was served by a priest-in-charge, who lived in the new Brookside housing estate. (fn. 70)
The ancient parish church of ST. JAMES (fn. 71) has a stone chancel and a brick nave with north aisle and west tower. (fn. 72) The later 12th-century chancel arch, of three carved orders, is set in the filling of a larger arch. The latter and the surviving original windows in the chancel walls are also of the mid to late 12th century. Old masonry, similar to that of the chancel, on the inner face of the nave and tower walls may also be 12th-century. A new window was put into the south wall of the chancel in the 14th century but the church was not enlarged in the later medieval period.
About 1740 (fn. 73) the nave was cased and remodelled in red brick with dressings of sandstone and given a new roof above a flat plaster ceiling. The tower was similarly treated and was heightened by one stage; the bell frame is dated 1748. About that time the nave was refitted, with box pews and a new pulpit and reading desk. Early in the 19th century the lower of the two original east windows was replaced by one of larger size. It was in turn replaced later in the century by a small one similar to the original chancel windows. In 1838 Thomas, William, and Beriah Botfield provided c. 120 new sittings by constructing a north aisle incorporating a gallery for their workmen; (fn. 74) the gallery extended into the nave, cutting into, and partly obscuring, the chancel arch. The nave ceiling, which had become unsafe, was removed in 1877, (fn. 75) and in 1919 the front of the gallery was set back into the aisle. (fn. 76) In 1979, during a general restoration, the plaster was removed from the east wall of the nave, and some small areas of later medieval wall painting were there exposed.
The fittings included a 17th-century communion table; three bells, of c. 1410, 1594, and 1664; (fn. 77) and an Elizabethan chalice. (fn. 78) The registers begin in 1658 and are complete. (fn. 79)
On the creation of Central Telford parish in 1975 St. James's church became redundant, (fn. 80) and it was sold in 1978 to Telford development corporation, (fn. 81) which restored it in 1979-80 for use as a museum. Thereafter the increased population in the area of the former parish of Stirchley was served by a team vicar responsible for the Stirchley district of Central Telford parish. The vicar officiated both at the Methodist-owned Brookside pastoral centre and at the new church of ALL SAINTS in Stirchley district centre. (fn. 82) All Saints is a flat-roofed brick building with adjacent rooms for social use. From the sanctuary four concrete posts rise through the roof to form an open 'spire' in which a three-dimensional cross is suspended. The building was licensed for worship in 1975. (fn. 83) In 1976 it was agreed that the building should be shared by the Anglican and Roman Catholic congregations in Stirchley. (fn. 84) By 1981 occasional joint services were held and the church acted as a community centre as well as a place of worship. (fn. 85)