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John Mellor Remembered

Julian Ward-Davies

July 2014

For a period in the early to mid-19th century, John Mellor (b 1786) was the bailiff and estate manager of the Manor of Shenstone. Based at Little Aston Hall, he served two lords of the manor, William Tennant and his successor, William Leigh. While employed in that office, he played a significant role in local history and especially that of the Church in Stonnall and Shenstone.

The New Chapel of Ease in Stonnall
In the early 19th century, with only one place of worship in the Parish of Shenstone, there was a need for additional capacity within striking distance of Little Aston, the two Stonnalls, Thornes and Lynn.

William Tennant Esq.

Thus, in the early 1820s, William Tennant donated the 1 acre of land that would accommodate the new St Peter's Chapel of Ease in Stonnall and £100 towards the cost of its construction. Sir Robert Peel of Tamhorn would contribute a further £80. Among the many others who gave smaller amounts, John Mellor contributed £5. Subscriptions towards the cost of the new chapel commenced in November 1821 and a total of £623/19s/0d (£623.95) was gathered by this means.

In the meantime, the following advertisement was placed in various newspapers and other publications:-

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.

St Peter's Chapel of Ease, Stonnall, shortly after its construction.

After the building contract was awarded to Mr Yeomans of Fazeley under the auspices of the lawyers, Hinckley's of Lichfield, Mr Mellor acted as overseer for the construction phase and the new chapel was completed and consecrated by 1823.

The first two chapel wardens were William Tennant and Samuel Clarke Adcock. By 1826, John Mellor had replaced Mr Tennant who, by that time, had probably moved back to London, his place of origin.

The National School
In 1820, plans were in place to construct a church school by the yet-to-be-built chapel. An indenture was drawn up to assign the enclosure of a nearby sandpit at the side of Thornes Hall Road (the original name of Church Road) for the construction of the school and its master's house.

The National School, Stonnall, from a drawing by Alan Heywood.

John Mellor appended his name to this contract as a witness. The school and house would be constructed eventually out of materials recovered from the demolition of the nearby Thornes Hall.

The Tithe Map of the Parish of Shenstone
At around this time, the Church of England decided that the collection of tithes as material goods was no longer practicable. As a result, the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 stipulated that a money-based system of payment should be established. Consequently, the production of accurate tithe maps of most parishes became a necessity. In the Parish of Shenstone, of which Stonnall was still a constituent part, this work was completed by the surveyor, Joseph Naden, in 1838.

In parallel with this task, a fair apportionment of rents needed to be devised in order to replace the ancient tithe system that had existed since Anglo-Saxon times. In the Parish of Shenstone, this work was entrusted to John Mellor and it is his handwriting that we see in the resulting document, the Book of Awards.

A window, dedicated to John Mellor's memory, on the south side of the the sanctuary at St Peter's Church.
In a letter, Rev Downes claimed that it was "too bright".
© Julian Ward-Davies

These two documents, the map and the book, provide us with a snapshot of the Parish of Shenstone as it emerged from the late mediæval period into the age of the Industrial Revolution. For this reason they are of monumental historical importance, providing us with invaluable data relating to land usage and the names of families, fields, roads and places.

In an edition of the the Wolverhampton Chronicle from August 21, 1839, John Mellor was acknowledged as the supervisor of the parish survey that had been completed the previous year. The newspaper article went on to mention that he had helped to raise the money to build a new master's house between Stonnall's new school and the village's church.

After all the expenses for the construction work had been paid out, there had been a surplus of 84 shillings (£4.20) and this was used to pay for a party for the schoolchildren of Shenstone and Stonnall. Adults were entertained in a tent that had been erected on the "adjacent hill", which was in all probability Grove Hill. They seemed to have utilised the grassy area on the hilltop that accommodated the grove of trees that was still in existence in those days. During the proceedings, a toast was proposed for "the health of Mr Mellor".

A New Parish and New Parish Churches
Within a few years, the chapel of ease in Stonnall would become a parish church in its own right, with Rev H J Greene as its first vicar. To supplement the new vicar's stipend, Mr Mellor saw fit to augment it with the annual rent from a local field, provided that two sermons were preached in Stonnall every Sunday - a condition with which the new vicar happily and, no doubt, gratefully complied.

Rev James Downes BA. Appointed originally as a curate, he would become eventually the second Vicar of Stonnall.

With a neighbouring new church and new parish, the parishioners of Shenstone were not to be outdone and their new place of worship was completed by 1853, replacing their mediæval and tumbledown parish church.

The old parish church of St John's, Shenstone.

Having become a churchwarden in Shenstone, there can be no doubt that John Mellor took a keen interest in this project and his name is commemorated on one of the foundation stones of St John's Church.

For many years John Mellor lived in a cottage on the corner of Forge Lane and Walsall Road, Little Aston. He died in 1870 aged 84 and is buried on the south side of the church in Stonnall.

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© Julian Ward-Davies BA Hons PGC 2014. Revised February 2019.

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