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Stonnall History Group

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The First Vicar of Stonnall

This is a photograph of Rev James Downes BA, the first Vicar of Stonnall. He served from 1845 until his death in 1893 at the age of 89. This image came to light when his great-great granddaughter, Rosemary Graves, visited the church in Stonnall a couple of weeks ago. She has since sent on this photo and a family tree. Biographical information about Rev Downes is shown in this website. Please select this link to view it.

The Pavement Tells A Curious Story

Today 30/08/2013, Graham Black and I excavated the pavement and we found that it was improvised out of gravestones that had been laid side by side. We could tell from their size that they appear to have been all for infants.

The markings are curious in that only the initials of the infant's name are inscribed, together with a year in most, but not all cases. A few show more than one set of initials, indicating the burial of siblings in the same grave. Where there are multiple initials, there are usually multiple years. The years range from 1840 to 1908. There are no other markings and we have not yet found a stone with a full name on it.

When the pavement was improvised, all the stones were laid face down so that they could not be read.

These gravestones raise a few questions. Why only the initials? Why were they removed from their original locations in the graveyard? Why and when did somebody decide to make a pavement out of them? Who decided to do that?

Comments on this item
Gordon Mycock
I do not have answers to this mystery but would very much like to hear some,however I recall in about early 1950\'s some discussion on the difficulty of mowing the grass around the graves,(very few motorised mowers in those days)and that some head stones had fallen over or were in the way, could this have something to do with the removal,I guess that this would be the decision of the PCC and I wonder do any minutes of these meetings survive.
Des Burton
Deaths from disease, perhaps? Are there a lot of similar dates on the stones?
Julian Ward-Davies
There doesn\'t seem to be any pattern in the dates that would otherwise indicate an epidemic in a particular year. What is really puzzling is this: there are other infant graves in the churchyard where the full name is inscribed, whereas these stones only bear a set of initials - and it is only these stones that were selected to create the pavement. I think the \'initials only\' inscriptions can be explained like this: skilled masons would have been needed to inscribe the stones and they would have charged by the character, in all likelihood. The stones show all the signs of having been budget jobs. Could they have been paid for a by a charity? And is it possible that their status was regarded as diminished for that reason? And is that the reason why they were selected for their somewhat undignified use as a pavement?
Sherry Lunn
Hi I was told they were stones laid at the foot of the grave ?
Julian Ward-Davies
Yes, that is a good point. We need to do a bit more research on this.
Des Burton
They certainly seem to be footstones. I checked a couple which have two sets of initials: one has MMS 1855 and WS 1855 - this turns out to be Mary Maria Smart and her husband William Smart. The other has EN and JN - this is Elizabeth Newbold and John Newbold. Both graves are in Area B, ie the area of the churchyard where Julian found the footstones. I expect someone with patience and time could similarly match all of them up with their graves and put them back in their original positions. (Sorry, I only took a couple of photos when I was there last Saturday). Hope this solves the mystery.
Tithe Map Yields Some More Secrets

This is a detail from the 1830s Tithe Map of the Parish of Shenstone, showing property B30, St Peter's Chapel of Ease, Stonnall. It is notable that the map survey was completed some years before the sandstone chancel was added to the brick structure of the church. However, there are also one or two other noticeable differences.

This graphic shows there were two entrances to the churchyard: one was located where the entrance to the steps is now situated, but the course from there was quite different from what it is now, in that it curved towards the church door. This would seem to indicate that the steps did not exist when the map was surveyed.

Another big difference is that the map indicates that the other entrance to the churchyard was directly in front of the church.

There is also no sign of a path from where the present-day main entrance is located, which indicates that the gateway of today did not exist then either.

What can account for these differences?

When the church was built, Thornes Hall was still standing, but a few years later it was demolished, making a huge quantity of reclaimable bricks available. We know that some were used for the boundary wall of the Old Vicarage and some were used to build the school house and school room. It now seems that some were used to build the steps and main gateway in the churchyard.

But why would the church authorities close the entrance that was directly in front of the church? It may be because the bank was just a little too steep for horse-drawn vehicles such as hearses and thus a decision was made to re-locate the entrance to its present situation for the sake of easier access.

Comments on this item
Jean Mills
I wonder, what is the curved line on the opposite side of the road? Could the road have been a winding track with the church at the roadside?
Julian Ward-Davies
In fact, that feature was part of a gravel pit Jean.
Jean Mills
The book "Discovering Stonnall" from the Lynn and Stonnall Conservation and Historical Society has a description from 1829 stating that "There was one footpath and one carriage road and two gates...".
Forgotten Church Pavement Found

A completely forgotten pavement has been found in the yard at St Peter's Church while hedge clippings were being removed. It begins with two steps up the bank to the right of the gate and then runs alongside the south hedge for about 15 yards or so. The steps and pavement can be seen partially exposed in this photo.

Comments on this item
Julian Ward-Davies
Gordon and I went to have a close look today 28/08/13. The pavement, for the most part, appears to be made up of gravestones that have been laid end to end (and face downwards) so as to create a path. This would account for the lack of visible gravestones in that part of the churchyard.
Barrie Swain
I was told by emma and ernie burton who lived at 57 main street all of there lives the childrens grave stones had been removed from a small childs grave yard in the quarry between the church the blue brick house maybe some old map will confirm this. Regards Barrie Swain manor house
Julian Ward-Davies
That is interesting because I have have heard a similar story recently, that unbaptized infants were buried somewhere near the gate and steps. However, all the stones in the pavement are footstones and not specifically for children.
The Next Group Social Meeting

The next social event will be on September 21, 2013. The first (and optional) part will be to meet at the church car park at 11.30am followed by a walk to the Grove Hill tree. The second will be to meet at the Old SWan at 12 noon for historic photos and chat. (Pictured: the Old Swan as it appeared in the early 1970s, photographed by John Webb.)

Comments on this item
Julian Ward-Davies
The date co-incides with the Friends of St Peter coffee morning at the church, which starts at 10.30am, so feel free to turn up a bit earlier if you like.
Birthday Boy

August 5th, 2013 is Alan Ramsell's 78th birthday. I am sure that everyone will wish him a very Happy Birthday. And if you have not already done so, now would be a good time to read Stonnall in the Old Days, which he authored jointly with his wife Pamela.

Comments on this item
Gordon Mycock
A very happy birthday Alan.
Julian Ward-Davies
Happy Birthday Alan.
Leader of the Pack

Many people don't realise that Stonnall once had its own motorcycle racing champion. And here he is - none other than our very own Gordon Mycock leading from the front, some time in the 1950s.

Comments on this item
Gordon Mycock
This scrambles event was at Brereton in about 1953 and I was riding my 350cc BSA Gold Star. This was the start of the race which I went on to win.
Julian Ward-Davies
Gordon is being somewhat modest. He was for a time the Amateur Motorcycle Association Champion, which was no mean feat because he was competing against works riders from BSA, AJS, Royal Enfield, etc, etc.
Forthcoming Article - The Story of Thornes

This is an extract from the Church of England Tithe Map of about 1830. It is orientated so as to display as much detail as possible in a 600 pixel width graphic: left is south and right is north in this case.

To the left, we see the church before it was extended to the east and when it was set in its original-sized churchyard

Next to that, there were three properies: nearest the road, the house and room of the National School. Behind that, there was a sand pit still operating as it had done since before the school premises were built. Behind that, there was an area described as a plantation. The cherry trees at the edge of the present-day churchyard at the boundary of the former plantation might give us an idea of what was being grown there in the early 1830s.

Further down the road and on the same side, we see the house and barns of Thornes Hall Farm. The house was noticeably smaller in those days than it is now. We note that the sandstone barn, presently at the roadside, did not exist in the early 1830s. We note also that there is a dotted line representing a footroad passing through the yard of the farm, as it still does.

On the opposite side of the road and immediately to the left of the properies where there are shaded-in buildings, we see the dotted line of the footroad that still exists at the present time. To the right of that, there are two conjoined buildings, one a stables and the other a cottage. The house Greenfields currently occupies this location, but there is evidence that the grounds of the cottage and stables were used as an orchard for many years after the buildings were demolished.

It is quite possible that the stables and cottage, along with Thornes Hall Farm once comprised a single property with Thornes Hall, in the next enclosure to the right. This was once the largest mansion in Stonnall. More Hearth Tax was due from it than any other house in the village.

Next to the Thornes Hall plot, there were two empty enclosures, the first of which would be the site of the Old Vicarage in 1834 and the second would be the site of Ormside House in about 1900.

Between the Ormside plot and the next, which was the mediæval Pear Tree Cottage (sometimes known as Rose Cottage), we see a broken line that is coloured in with mauve crayon. The dotted line denotes a now-lost footroad between Thornes and Main Street. The crayon mark denotes the boundary between Upper and Lower Stonnall. Thus, most of Thornes was considered to be in Lower Stonnall. Note how the mauve mark extends down Thornes Hall Lane (now Church Road).

The last property marked is Thornes Farm, which was owned by the Brown family and which continued in their possession until the late 1950s. Most of the other enclosures in Thornes belonged to the Lord of the Manor, William Leigh of Little Aston Hall. However, the Browns had a longstanding association with Thornes over a span of many centuries. All this will be discussed in a forthcoming article The Story of Thornes.

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