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A history of the parish church to 1973

St Peter's, Stonnall

Rev T J Ward-Davies MA BSc AFIMA

Transcribed from a souvenir edition of St Peter's Parish Magazine of 1973

Village history in brief
Stonnall, a village 5 miles NE of Walsall and 4 miles S of Lichfield was, in the 12th century, called Stanhale or Stonhala. As hale is a form of heath or meadow-land, Stonnall may mean originally stony meadows.

The great road from London to Chester and Holyhead passed through this village. In earlier days, the Chester coach drawn by six or sometimes eight horses stopped at the village, taking six days to reach London. It travelled from dawn to dusk, the passengers sleeping at inns in Whitchurch, Stonnall, Coventry, Northampton and Dunstable.

The original appearance of St Peter's Church.
Source: The William Salt Library

The posting house at Stonnall was the Welsh Harp, but this has been private property for many years. By the time our church was built only the Liverpool Mail passed through Stonnall, because the improvement in roads elsewhere and the growing townships away from the Chester Road caused less traffic on this route.

The new church planned
In December 1821, the Vicar of Shenstone, the Rev James Hargreaves M A and his churchwardens drew up a petition in their endeavour to build a Chapel of Ease at Stonnall for the 700 inhabitants of the Parish of Shenstone who lived in the hamlets of Little Aston, Upper and Lower Stonnall, Lynn, Thornes, Hilton and the Bosses at distances from 2 to 5 miles from the Parish Church, and presented it to the Committee for the promoting the Enlargement and Building of Churches and Chapels for assistance and support. This Committee was most impressed and promised £200 on completion of the building.

One of the earliest known photographs of the church, dated 1895.
Source: Lichfield Records Office

William Tennant Esq, of Little Aston Hall and Lord of the Manor of Shenstone gave one acre of land and £100 for the project and Sir Robert Peel Bart £80. In a very short time over £620 was donated. In April 1822, the following advertisement appeared in the Lichfield & Birmingham papers and on handbills distributed in the neighbouring parishes:-

To Builders, Carpenters, Bricklayers etc, to all persons who are willing to contract for the building of a Chapel of Ease at Stonnall in the Parish of Shenstone in the County of Stafford are desired to apply forthwith to Mr Mellor at Little Aston Hall in the same Parish where a plan is to be seen and all particulars may be known.

The building and its consecration
On 29th April a Mr Yeomans, a builder from Fazeley, was commissioned to build the Chapel for the sum of £790. Its walls were to be 10 feet high (this was altered to 20 feet before the project commenced) and the floor space 50 feet by 30 feet 6 inches. The building was completed by November 22nd l822, and Monday 21st January 1823 was selected as the Day of Consecration, but owing to the illness of James, the Lord Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, the consecration was postponed to the 23rd, when the Lord Bishop of Chester acted as substitute.

Reverend Downes, the first Vicar of Stonnall, photographed in about 1870.

The total cost of building the Chapel of Ease was £986.7s, including £32 for the bell, £2 for the font, £4.4s. paid for musical instruments, and l5s.6d. paid to 'Singers at the Consecration'. On August 6th 1827 an organ was purchased for the sum of £18.5s.6d.

Reverend Hutchinson, the second Vicar of Stonnall, photographed in 1895.
Source: Lichfield Record Office

It is possible that this chapel was built on the site of a Chapel of Ease for Thornes Hall which occupied a site near the present Vicarage.

There was no resident clergy in Stonnall until 1841 when the Rev James Downes BA was appointed perpetual curate, but on December 23rd 1845 Stonnall was made an Ecclesiastical District separating its connection with the Shenstone Parish Church.

The parish magazine edition of March 1930.
Source: Gordon Mycock

Modifications and restoration
In 1842 the church was enlarged by the addition of a chancel and vestry, built of stone and costing £lOOO. The cost of this was borne by William Leigh Esq, of Little Aston Hall, which was formerly in the district, assisted by grants from the Incorporated Society of London and the Lichfield Church Extension Society.

In 1895 the church was restored and the following alterations were effected:-

The old-fashioned high pews were replaced by pitch-pine benches, the brick floor of the nave was taken up and replaced by one of wooden blocks laid on concrete, the new floor being lower than the old one. A step was placed at the entrance to the Church. An organ chamber was constructed on the south side of the chancel and the organ removed there from its former place in the gallery. The low slated roof, with the flat ceiling of the nave was removed, and in its place an open timber roof of pitch-pine covered with tiles and ceiled between the rafters, was erected, brick buttresses being built on the outside to support the roof. The entire cost of the main roof and buttresses was defrayed by Dr. Cooke and a brass plate was placed by him in the chancel, bearing the following inscription:-

To the glory of God. The roof of this church together with the buttresses was erected in 1895 by William Harry Cooke M.D. J.P. of Aldridge and Stonnall, in memory of his eldest son, George Harry Smith Cooke, who died on February 14th 1887, aged 27 and was interred on February 19th in the family vault at Wordsley in the parish of Kingswinford in this county.

Further restoration and renovation
The years 1959 - 1970 have been a period of continuous restoration and renovation. The stone exterior of the chancel had eroded badly und the most difficult task of renovating the sandstone and sealing its surface took much time and money; new roofs to the chancel and clergy vestry became an immediate necesity. The replastering of the interior and its complete redecorating was undertaken by Mr Alfred Seedhouse, who defrayed all expense.

Rev T J Ward-Davies in 1957..

New oak doors were set up in the west doorway, the heating and lighting systems were completely overhauled and modernised, sliding doors were set up at the entrance to the nave, the font was repaired and decorated, the baptistry floor was retiled, a Hammond electric organ with double manual and foot pedals was installed in 1963 and it is hoped to incorporate an electronic bell system very soon.

The church in the 21st century.
© Julian Ward-Davies

During this period the churchyard has not been neglected. Indeed, when work of renovation began on it seven years ago, its condition was heart-breaking. However a team of our own men, led by Mr G Tomlinson, have accomplished the Impossible, so we thought earlier, and about 95% of the churchyard is in excellent order.

Garnet Burton at Lower Farm.

Last year (1972), Mr Garnet Burton, who was for many years Vicar's Warden here, bought two parcels of land and gave them to the Lichfield Diocesan Trust, one parcel for use as a car-park and the other as an extension to the churchyard. He has also defrayed the cost of tarmacing the paths. Mr G Williams has ploughed the churchyard extension and seeded the area with grass. Mr A Seedhouse has recently laid a forecourt to the church with York stone, erected a brass alter rail and renewed the stonework of the sanctuary steps without charge.

To all who have helped in this arduous task of renovation, sincere thanks are due.

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© Rev T J Ward-Davies 1973

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