Church History

Christ Church  Gentleshaw

Gentleshaw Church is unique, quite different from any other.  This is mostly a result of the different periods and styles of architecture used each time it was altered or extended.

Gentleshaw’s new church was officially opened by the then Bishop of Lichfield, Rt Rev Samuel Butler, on the 28th August 1937.

The original small red brick building was built to serve as a Chapel-of-Ease to the Parish of Longdon, and for many years was served by a curate from that parish. It consisted of Nave, short Transepts to the north and south of the Aisle, and a small Belfry on the gable end, above the West Porch, thus making the building roughly cruciform in plan.

This little church, attended by the villagers of Gentleshaw and the adjacent village of Cannock Wood, together with the residents and staff of the Beaudesert estate, originally had seating for about one hundred and twenty people, twenty of those seats being in the upper gallery at the west end of the church. This gallery, the front of which once contained a clock from which vicars timed their sermons, was supported by four ornate iron posts and is still in use today.

In the late 1850’s the present “embattled” tower was added and contains the bell which hung in the old belfry.

The Rev. Edward Carte, originally from Ireland, became Gentleshaw’s first vicar after serving for many years as its curate. He conducted the first baptism at the new church on 17th September 1837 (a George Raybould) and the first marriage service was held on 19th September 1840 between William Harvey and Ann James.  According to old parish registers the first burial was that of 14month old Jane Woolly (no date given).

Upon the death of Rev Carte the Rev John Walton became the second vicar in 1871. He was a benevolent man from Yorkshire and he gave generously to the miners during the great strike of 1874. Sadly he died in 1875 after only 4 years in post and is buried in the churchyard.

Another vicar who is buried in the churchyard is Rev Walton’s successor the Rev John Baptiste Andrews, vicar for 9 years. He died on St Andrew’s Day 1884 and is buried by the East window together with his son, who died in 1877, at the age of 14 years

In 1877 the church was extended and minor restoration carried out to the interior. The additions consisted of a small vestry and a five sided apsidal chancel to the East end containing three stained glass windows, the centre one depicting a design of The Lamb holding a shepherd’s crook. The total cost of this work was £426. The vicarage opposite the church was built in 1878 at a cost of £1,700 (this being a gift from the Marquis of Anglesey, and also included two acres of Glebe land.)

The next vicar, who had previously been a curate in Wales, was appointed from Menai Bridge to the living of Gentleshaw in 1884 by Lord Henry Paget, son of the “Waterloo” Marquis. He was the Rev James Gillart M.A. and he remained in the parish for 28 years.

In 1901 the vicar, being a Welshman and naturally musical, suggested the addition of a larger chancel to the church, to give the splendid choir of that day a better opportunity to display their vocal talents.

Plans were made for a new Chancel, Vicar’s Vestry, Choir Vestry, Organ Chamber and an extension to the Nave. It was found that this would cost the sum of £2,643.13s.0p. This money was raised by voluntary subscriptions of patrons and parishioners and the debt was paid in less than 4 years.

Before the work began a number of graves were moved back towards “Church Cottage” and footpaths were also redirected to make way for the new chancel.

The building work was carried out by Mr Thomas Mason of Hednesford under the supervision of architects Messrs Joyce and Sandy of Stafford.  The walls were built in “Leicester Heather” brick with stone facing and joints with a roof of red tiles. Inside the roof is supported with two pillars and seven arches of “Penkridge” stone. The barrel-vaulted roof of the Chancel and the first bay of the Nave are clad in pitch pine and are supported by massive principals of oak. The Prayer Desks, Choir Stalls and the seating in the nave we made of beautifully grained pitch pine whilst the Pulpit was made of oak with a base and steps of “Penkridge” stone.

The beautifully carved oak Lectern, in the shape of an eagle, was a gift from Mr J Reid-Walker of Chestall in commemoration of the Coronation of King Edward VII.  The organ, which had originally been presented to the church by the Marquis of Anglesey, was entirely overhauled and rebuilt by Nicholson and Lord of Walsall. It was resited in the new Chancel within a pitch-pine case designed and made by the builders.

It is evident that this work was but a preliminary step to a larger scheme which was to continue west and replace the old work. In fact, an aisle arcade was begun, and can be seen above the two stone pillars either side of the nave.

 

      

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

The work was finished in 1903 and the church was full to over-flowing for the re-opening and Dedication Ceremony.  Together with residents from Gentleshaw and Cannock Wood the service was attended by many visitors from the surrounding area.

The procession from the west door to the Chancel was led by the Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Rev Augustus Legge, accompanied by local clergy the Rev’s C Frossard (Hammerwich) W A Webb (Alrewas)  E Druce (Longdon) R Weston (Burntwood)  W Quibell (Hednesford) J Gilbert (Rawnsley) W Fuller (St Chad’s  Lichfield) and Rev J Gillart (Vicar of Gentleshaw).

The choir all appeared in new cassocks and surplices and rendered their part in the service from the “new” choir stalls in the chancel, with Mr P Meachem at the organ.

In addition to the lectern already mentioned several other gifts were also presented at the time. These included an Altar of carved oak, a dossell of red “Utrecht” velvet with orphreys in green silk brocade, side hangings in shades of green and a frontal of embroidered red “Utrecht” velvet, all being combined gifts of the Vicar and Mrs Gillart, Miss J A Whittaker, Mr and Mrs Sugden and Mr E Gillart. A brass Cross was presented by Mrs Reid-Walker of Chestall whilst Mrs R S Williamson presented a richly embossed brass Almsdish. Mrs J Clark of Pinxton gave a brass Altar Desk, Miss Darling of Chestall House presented an embroidered pulpit desk frontal and from the vicar’s daughters two beautifully engraved flower vases.

The Rev Gillart was also Vicar of Farewell Church for thirteen years until he died in 1912. His wife Helen had died the previous year and they are buried at the church in Machynlleth, where their daughter Helen was organist for many years.

In 1913 the Rev John Arthur Evans DD., became Gentleshaw’s next vicar. He remained in the parish for six years before leaving for Essex in 1919.

In 1916 Lady Berkeley Paget of Longdon Hall presented to the church the exquisitely carved Reredos of “Hollington” stone. It has panels illustrating the Annunciation, the Crucifiction, and the Resurrection.  The Altar with oak side panelling, and the faldstool of carved oak which stood at the foot of the chancel steps, were also gifts of Lady Berkeley Paget and were presented in the same year.

The Roll of Honour, in the form of a marble tablet, has the names of nine men from the parish who were killed in the 1914-1918 war.

After the departure of the Rev Evans the Rev Harry Tracey became his successor. Before coming to Gentleshaw the Rev Tracey was a Colonel in the Army during Great War. Apparently he never wore clerical attire but is described as having been a great preacher. He was also described as a very emotional vicar and sometimes tears would stream down his cheeks to such an extent that he would have to interrupt his sermon. It is also stated that he traced his descent from the Tracey who assisted in the murder of Thomas A’Beckett in Canterbury Cathedral.

Following Rev Tracey’s departure the living of Gentleshaw passed to the Rev Harry Oliver Thomas, in 1922. Rev Thomas had been a Curate at Chadsmoor and remained at Gentleshaw for five and a half years then he went to Ettingshall near Bilston after which he obtained a royal appointment at Greenwich.

In 1927 the Rev Lancelot Huddleston Sharples became Gentleshaw’s eighth vicar. He came from Herne Bay and was previously at Neston (Cheshire), Birkenhead, Liverpool and Leeds. He had been ordained in 1914 at Ripon Cathedral.

Whilst he was at Gentleshaw much valuable work was accomplished in improvements to the church; firstly the interior was restored and a new roof fitted, the old one – it is said – nearly fell in.

Electric light was installed in 1932 replacing paraffin lamps which in turn had replaced candle lighting.   A water supply was laid on in 1934 and in 1935 a new piece of ground was obtained for use as a burial plot. This ¼ acre plot was bought from Mr J Lycett for the sum of £10.00.  In 1937 the hundred year old church was provided with a heating system which was installed at the cost of £71.4s. 0d.

All this work was done in the space of five years during which time with the assistance of Lord and Lady Anglesey, the Colonel and Mrs R S Williamson, the Cannock and Rugeley Colliery Co., and the people of the parish all the necessary funds were raised. The “new” roof alone cost in the region of £280.00.

The Colonel (mentioned above) was a manager at Cannock Wood Colliery and lived at “The Grange” in Hazel Slade (now a nursing home). He and his wife were always very generous to the church and together they are buried in the churchyard.

To commemorate the Centenary of Christ Church special services were held on Sunday 29 August 1937. Preachers were the Canon R L Hodson, Archdeacon of Stafford in the morning, the Rev Prebendary P Howard, rural Dean of Lichfield in the afternoon, and the Rt Rev Douglas Crick, Bishop of Stafford in the evening.

In the time of Rev Sharples many gifts were given to the church in the form of memorials and these include the following:-      

On the South side of the Chancel is a small stained glass window which depicts a nurse tending children. This was given by Isaac and Ellen Meachem in memory of their daughter Ellen Mary who died in 1940.  In the South Transept there is a four light stained glass window depicting the “Adoration of the Magi” which was given by Mary E Bradbury in memory of her husband Alfred J Bradbury in 1945.

The organ was further improved by the addition of seven new stops. These were given by Mr H R Richards whose vast musical knowledge greatly helped the choir.

In the East end of the Chancel is a large stained glass window of three lights representing the Ascension. This window is of unique colouring and was added in 1948 as a War Memorial.  Also in the Chancel is a brass tablet placed there in remembrance of those from the parish who fought and served in the two great wars.

To the right of the organ is a marble tablet which is inscribed to the memory of Mr P Meachem. He was born in 1865 and was Gentleshaw’s Organist for 60 years, also serving as Choirmaster for the greater part of that period. He died on the 5th of June 1948.

The Lych Gate was the gift of Mr & Mrs Charles Wooton of Chestall and was presented on the 1st of June 1949.

The Rev Sharples’ ministry ended in 1951 and he was followed as vicar of Gentleshaw by the Rev John R Colman who was in parish from 1952 to 1955.  Although he was only in the parish for a short time he was remembered with great affection for his ministry at Gentleshaw. He retired to Gate Helmsley in his native Yorkshire where he continued to take services in the rural parishes around where he lived. He conducted his last service on Christmas Day in 1984 and died suddenly on the 23rd January the following year.

During his tenure two memorials were presented to the church in 1954.  The first is situated in the South Transept (in what is now the Prayer Room) and is a large stained glass window depicting “The Good Shepherd”. This was donated by Mrs C M Bradbury in memory of her husband Mr Enos J Bradbury.  The second memorial is a brass and wood Processional Cross donated in memory of Mr C Wooton, who had been Vicar’s Warden for a number of years, and who died in 1954.

On the 10th of April 1956 the Rev Edwin J Chant was instituted by the Bishop of Lichfield, The Rt Rev Stretton Reeve, and became Gentleshaw’s 10th Vicar.  Rev Chant was born in Andover, Hampshire and educated at Westfield House Private School in Andover. On leaving school he started work as a builder and decorator in his father’s business and later went to Theological College. 

After his college days Rev Chant was ordained by the Rt Rev Christopher Chavasse DD, MC, OBE, at Rochester Cathedral on Trinity Sunday 1947.  Before coming to Gentleshaw Rev Chant was a Curate at St Paul’s Church, Clifftonville in Margate. Following His retirement in 1978 Rev Chant has written over 70 hymns and composed 22 tunes.

During the time Rev Chant was in office the following memorials were given. In the North Transept a stained glass window depicting St Dunstan and St Chad was installed in memory of a Gentleshaw chorister, Mr Maurice Hunt, on 10th September 1967.  On the Chancel wall close to the lectern there is a brass tablet in memory of Mr Sydney Vincent Robinson, who was a Lay Reader at the church from 1946 until his death in 1973 aged 67 years. Another brass, situated in the Chancel, is inscribed to the memory of two former benefactors of the church, Mr John E Derry and his wife Florence.

The Rev Chant was succeeded as vicar of Gentleshaw by the Rev William (Bill) Hassall who moved to Gentleshaw in June 1980.  Rev Hassall was a comparatively late entrant into the ministry having spent 20 years farming near Leek in North Staffordshire after leaving school. He studied for the priesthood at St John’s College, Nottingham before being ordained at Lichfield Cathedral in 1977 and spent 3 years as a curate in Shropshire before his move to Gentleshaw. His wife, Mary, was a Lay Reader and his two sons, John and James, were members of the choir.

During the early years of Rev Hassall’s time at Gentleshaw much work was carried out on the church building in the form of restoration alteration and additions. On the outside the weather-beaten brickwork of the tower and south walls was restored and almost all of the roof leadwork was renewed together with general roof repairs. Inside the building large areas of the walls were re-plastered, treatment for rising damp, dry-rot and wood-worm was carried out and the 1937 heating system replaced.

The most extensive work was begun in July 1986 with the main intention to provide the church with a “Parish Room”, a Sunday School room and Choir Vestry, and also a small kitchen and WC. The work was undertaken by Mr R Stretton of Chestall from plans drawn up by architects Duvall and Brownhill of Lichfield. 

The estimated cost of the work was £22,000 and in September a Prayer and Gift Day was held in church at which the sum of £3,900 was given by parishioners towards the Building Fund. A loan of £6,000 was taken from Lichfield Diocese and together with other donations which were forthcoming the cost of the works was raised and the loan cleared in a very short time.

A large amount of pitch pine panelling was purchased from St James Church, Longdon which was used to panel in two sides of the nave after several pews had been removed. With the addition of plasterboard front walls these formed the basis of the “Parish Room” and the Choir Vestry. The pews were re-sited elsewhere in the church so as not to lose the seating. Above the Parish Room which is sited on the north side of the Nave an upper floor was installed to provide an additional room to be used as a further Sunday School room as the need arose.

The far end of the old choir vestry behind the organ was divided up to form a small kitchen containing cupboards and worktops and the central heating boiler with a separate W.C. adjacent.

It had been decided to move the Font from its position at the rear of the church to the front, north of the pulpit, and upon its removal it was found that the joist and floor-boards supporting the font had dry rot; these were replaced together with a new joist in the new gallery floor above.

The church was completely rewired and new triple-shaded light fittings were hung in the nave, vestries and the new rooms.

New doors leading from the porch into the nave were made and fitted by a member of the congregation, Roger Smith, who was a master carpenter, who also made the oak doors at the entrance to the church. These oak doors had been made as a memorial to Mr Alan Chapman, a long serving member of the church and choir.

Occupying the space under the gallery stairs is a book-case of pine designed and constructed by another member of the congregation Roy Stretton. This bookcase contains the hymnbooks, service books and prayer booklets used in the church services.

A Bishops Chair, which came originally from St Peter’s Church, Hednesford, was given by Mr J Godwin in memory of his father Mr Frederick Godwin (1869 – 1938) who was a life- long church member and former Sunday School teacher at Gentleshaw church.

To complete the restoration work the church was entirely redecorated with the walls of the Nave being painted a warm stone colour with a slightly deeper shade used in the Chancel. This work and the restaining and wax-polishing of the pews and other timber work was carefully carried out by members of the “Youth Training Scheme”.

 

Later years still to be added  (1990s onwards)