History of St Matthew's Church

The following history of St Matthews has been taken from a brief history book 'A Centenary Celebration - St Matthew's Church 1883 - 1983 by John Walters - Priest in Charge:

Little is recorded about St.Matthew's Church prior to Harlaston being constituted and Ecclesiastical Parish in 1845. Before this Harlaston was a Chapelry to Clifton Parish. The date of origin of the Church is not known. It is suggested in Kelly's Staffordshire Directory for 1924 (though not in the 1904 edition) that it is Saxon and dates back to the 9th century.

The Rev. Henry Norris, in his History of Haselour Hall in 1894, writes that St. Matthew's may have originally been a domestic chapel attached to the estate of the Vernons but that it almost certain that it became a Parochial Chapel in its very early days. He also suggests that it was referred to as 'Clifton cum Capella' in the King's Book of 1535.

The Church is built of red brick in Norman and early English styles, consisting of a Nave, South Porch and Norman Tower with three bells and a clock.

The register in the Church dates back to 1693, but it is thought likely that an earlier one does exist.

The first Rector for Harlaston Parish was Reverend Richard Rowland Bloxham, M.A., and he was, of course, the first occupant of the Rectory.

It is apparent from Vestry Minutes dating from 1851 that one of the first priorities of the Rector and members of the Committee was the restoration of the church.  Reports were obtained from a Surveyor and from William Slater, Architect of Regent Street, London.  These showed that there were settlements in the old walls to such an extent as to render any mere repairs impracticable; the roof and timbers of the Tower were severely decayed and the old Gothic arch leading from the tower to the church was in a ruinous state.  It was recommended that a new tower of simple design and proportion should be erected.  The Architect estimated the cost at £280 (approx. £38,000 in 2018), not including a spire which he suggested should be added later.



 

At the first recorded meeting of the Vestry on 9th December 1851 it was resolved to carry out the work and to borrow a sum not exceeding £250.

In a letter to the Reverend Bloxham of 10th April 1852, H.J. Pye, Esq., Patron of Clifton Hall, suggested that it may be wise to confine attention at that time to repairs which were absolutely necessary in the belief that it might be possible at some future period to rebuild the Church without asking rate-payers to change their rates.

The windows were obviously receiving consideration and over the next few months it is recorded that it was agreed to allow three obituary windows and an East window of stained glass to be put in by Rev, R. R. Bloxham, W. Webb, Esq., and Thos. Flavell, Esq. It will be seen on the section on windows that the East window was later moved to make way for another one.




                 St Matthews Church circa 1900
             

At a meeting on 12th December 1861 an offer was revealed from Mrs Webb of £200 (approx. £23,000 in 2018)  for a new roof if there was a new tower. At the same meeting offers totalling £350 (approx. £40,000 in 2018) were received for the rebuilding of the tower, etc. In 1862 Mr. Webb promised to take sole responsibility of the building of the tower.

As a matter of interest, in the meantime, in 1856 the Vestry Meeting considered the alteration of the pews for the purpose of erecting an organ, but decided against it. However, an organ was installed in 1867.

An interesting footnote to the Minutes of the meeting in April 1858 read:- "N.B - Mr. Hellaby, on part of the Parish, refused to accept the Finger Organ which I have put in the Church. "signed.... R.R. Bloxham

It is believed that from around 1870 the health of Rev. Bloxham deteriorated and in 1875 her relinquished his post. From 1875 the Rev. J.B. Swann was Priest in Charge until 18th May 1877 when he was inducted as Rector.


The
View of the church from "the Building Yard", Harlaston.

















Although, strangely, there is no mention of it in the Minutes, the restoration took place in 1882/1883.  The drawings, specifications and conditions of contract were prepared by Mr Christian of 8 Whitehall Place, London and were signed by all parties on 13th June 1882.

A brief summary of the work carried out is as follows:-

General repairs and improvements of the Nave, Chancel and Tower and including the Roof. Work on the Organ Chamber and Vestry.  Erection of new Porch on the South side. New wood and paved floors. New Chancel, seating and provision of a new Pulpit, Desk, Lectern, Communion Rail and Vestry Screen. New seating in Nave and Tower.

The work up to and including the erection of a porch was completed by Christmas 1882 according to a written note in Rev. Swann's hand, so presumably the remainder of the work was carried over to 1883. This would account for the Restoration Ceremony being as late as November 1883.

The total cost of the restoration, including all Professional Fees, etc., was £1,429/5/5d (approx. £168,755 in 2018).

The Church was re-opened on 13th November 1883 by the Bishop of Lichfield

The Diocesan Church Calendar for 1883/84 gives the following information:-

Rector                              Rev John B Swann
Church Warden               John Kendrick
Patron                              Mrs E.S. Swann








The Bells

There are three bells in the Tower of St. Matthew's.  They are contained in a three bell, wooden from which is thought to have been installed at the restoration.  Further history is contained here.

The Organ

The first organ officially installed was a small one, one manual Pipe Organ in a case bought second hand in about 1867 at a cost of £57.5s.10d (£6,000 in 2018).



The organ was rebuilt in 1946 when another manual and more stops were added and it was electrified at a cost of £475 (£19,000 in 2018).  It is dedicated to the memory of the men and women who gave their lives in the Service of their Country in 1939 - 1945.  In 1964 further additions and improvements were made and it was generally overhauled.

Windows

The many beautiful windows in the Church have been changed over the years details of these changes can been seen here.

Benefactions or Bequeathments

St Matthew's Church has been very fortunate to receive many benefactions and bequeathments - the details are contained here.


Weddings

Throughout its long history beautiful weddings have been held and photos of some of them can be viewed by clicking here.

Sunday School

In January 1979 Dr Martin Airey and his wife, Eve, started the Sunday school which they held each Sunday morning , except the first Sunday in each month, at their home in Manor Lane.  They started with twelve members and reached twenty four by 1983