01 September 2022
Saint Chad’s Church in
Lichfield has a history that
goes back over 1,350 years
During my visit to Lichfield last week, I returned to Saint Chad’s Church for the beginning of the Lichfield Peace Walk.
Saint Chad’s Church is in the Stowe area immediately north of the centre of Lichfield. It is a Grade II* listed building on the north side of Stowe Pool on Saint Chad’s Road.
This church dates from the 12th century, although extensive restorations and additions have been made in the centuries since.
Saint Chad came to Lichfield in 669 as the first Bishop of Lichfield. He settled in a wood and lived as a hermit in a cell by the side of a spring. From there he was known to preach and baptise his converts in the spring. Saint Chad died 1,350 years ago in 672, and he was buried near his church. His bones were moved to the new Lichfield Cathedral in the year 700.
The spring and churchyard are said to be the location of Saint Chad’s cell and spring. The original Saxon church may have been a small building built of stone or wood with a thatched roof and small windows. However, nothing of the Saxon church or monastery remains on the site.
The monastery church was rebuilt in the 12th century as a stone church with a nave, two side aisles and a chancel. The west door of the church stood where the tower now stands. The windows were set in gables and the lines of these gables and the rounded arches of the Norman windows in the south aisle are some of the oldest features still visible in the church today.
The trefoil-headed south door in the porch was built in the early 13th century and is thought to be the earliest part of the present structure. The roof was replaced in the 13th century, the gables were dispensed with and the walls built up to the level of the window heads. The Norman windows were replaced with the Early English pointed windows seen today.
The south arcade of five bays with octagonal pillars is also Early English, as are the chancel and the west doorway.
The Tower at the west end was built in the 14th century to house the bells. The five-light chancel east window with cusped intersecting tracery was also built at this time and the font also dates from the 14th century.
The Irish pilgrim Symon Semeonis visited the church in 1323 on his way to the Holy Land. He described it as ‘a most beautiful church in honour of Saint Chad, with most lofty stone towers, and splendidly adorned with pictures, sculptures, and other ecclesiastical ornaments.’
Many of the church’s assets were confiscated at the Reformation. The Reformation also saw the suppression of the chantry chapel endowed in 1257 by Agnes, daughter of Hugh Robus, an eminent citizen of Lichfield, in which masses were to be said for the souls of Roger de Wesenham, Bishop of Lichfield and his predecessors.
During the English Civil War in the mid 17th century, the church was occupied by Parliamentarian troops who besieged the Cathedral Close in Lichfield; the church was damaged considerably and the roof had to be rebuilt.
At this time, the red brick clerestory was added and the single overall roof was replaced by three separate roofs, including a grained roof over the nave and panelled roof in the south aisle.
It is said Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) frequently attended Saint Chad’s Church in the 18th century. Catherine Chambers, his mother’s maid-servant, and Lucy Porter, his step-daughter are both buried in Saint Chad’s, with commemorative tablets on the south wall of the choir.
A decision was taken in 1840 to rebuild the north aisle in a Victorian Gothic style, which makes an interesting contrast with the mediaeval Gothic of the south aisle.
However, it was not until the Revd John Graham’s time (1854-1893) that major work was undertaken to restore the building to a sound condition.
Starting in 1862, the chancel and the chancel arch were thoroughly restored, the brick clerestory was removed and extended over the chancel, a vestry was added to the north side and the porch was added to the south side, a new roof was built, and the churchyard was enclosed with a wall and railings.
Graham’s next project was to build a rectory and so make the parish independent of Saint Mary’s, with its own rector.
The west window was restored in 1875 and central heating was installed. The box pews were gradually phased out, although a few remained until 1905 and the double-decker pulpit was replaced.
Saint Chad’s Church developed slowly in the 20th century, continuing to make changes to ensure the comfort of its worshippers.
The east end of the south aisle was formed into a Lady Chapel in 1952 as a memorial to the dead of World War II. Z new roof and ceiling were put over the nave that year, and gas was replaced with electric lighting.
The old crumbling buttresses were replaced in 1956 at the south-west corner of the tower and the chancel was restored. This involved new stone for the walls, cills and mullions of the windows. The east window was removed, re-leaded, cleaned and replaced. The present choir stalls also date from this time.
The tower timbers were replaced in 1957, a new floor was installed in the belfry in 1982 and finally, in 1996, the font was moved to the Lady Chapel. The pews were removed from the back of the nave and the north aisle, and a new inner porch and welcome area were built.
Further restoration work took place on the windows and the stained glass in the chancel. The east end of the south aisle seen today dates from that period.
Saint Aidan (left), depicted with Saint Oswald (centre) and Saint Chad (right) on the altar in Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)
Three panels on the front of the high altar depict Saint Aidan, Saint Oswald and Saint Chad.
Saint Aidan, who died in 651, was an Irish Bishop who went from lona to Lindisfarne at the request of King Oswald to help him convert his people to Christianity. Aidan promoted new monasteries and schools, travelled far as he preached and ministered to the sick and needy.
Saint Chad was one of the twelve pupils in the first school he set up in Lindisfarne.
Saint Oswald , was brought up in Saint Columba’s monastery at Iona and became King of Northumbria. He looked to the monks to help him establish Christianity in his kingdom, and Saint Aidan was chosen to assist him. Saint Oswald was slain in 642 in a battle with the King Penda of Mercia.
The altar rail is a good example of 17th century woodwork.
The windows in the chancel illustrate the changing styles of church architecture. The middle lancet window from the 13th century is flanked on one side by a 14th century widow in the decorated style and on the other by a 15th century perpendicular style window.
The east window is a fine example of the decorated or geometrical style constructed about 1300. The stained glass was designed by Richard T Bayne and manufactured by Heaton, Butler & Bayne, probably in the early 20th century.
The window at the east end of the south aisle was made by William Wailes of Newcastle in memory of Anne Wright Gresley. It was installed in 1864 and provides the background to the Lady Chapel altar.
Two windows in the Lady Chapel by Christopher Whall date from 1905. They are in memory of Thomas and Mary Haywood and illustrate the teachings of Jesus. One of the windows depicts the parable of the talents.
The window at the west end of the south aisle shows Christ blessing the children. It was made in 1916 by Curtis, Ward and Hughes in memory of John Chappell and George and Eliza Cartmale.
Two memorial windows are attributed to Morris and Co date from 1922. One depicts Saint George and Saint Alban and commemorates members of the parish who died in World War I. The second depicts Saint Elizabeth of Hungary and Saint Christopher. They are in memory of Nelly Thorpe, died 7 July 1919 and her grandson Christopher Godfrey Asquith Benson, died 23 April 1919, and were donated by their family.
The north aisle window depicts Christ among the Elders in the Temple. It was made by John Hardman in 1896 and is in memory of Grace Brown (1876) and Patience Brown (1886).
There is a monument to Catherine Allden (1615-1695) and her husband Zachary Babington (1611-1685) of Whittington and Curborough, who were married in Saint Chad’s when she was 20 in 1636. His father, Canon William Babington (1582-1625), was Precentor of Lichfield, and his grandfather, Canon Zachary Babington (1549-1613).
Canon Zachary Babington was Prebendary of Curborough (1584), Master of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (1587), and Precentor of Lichfield and Prebendary of Bishop’s Itchington (1589), two positions held earlier, in 1555-1559, by his aunt’s brother-in-law, Canon Henry Comberford (1499-1586). He was also Chancellor of the Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry from 1598.
Zachary Babington, who is commemorated in Saint Chad’s, was a brother of Canon Matthew Babington, a chaplain to Charles I, while his sisters included Margaret, who married John Birch, one of the trustees of the Comberford estates in the 1650s and 1660s, and Mary who married Matthew Dyott of Stychbrook and Lichfield.
This Zachary Babingnton, who died in 1688, was the grandfather of Zachary Babington (1690-1745) of Curborough Hall and Whittington Old Hall, was a barrister and High Sheriff of Staffordshire in 1713 and 1724. Zachary Babington’s daughter Mary married Theophilus Levett (1693-1746), steward or town clerk of Lichfield (1721-1746) and a friend of Samuel Johnson’s family as well as part of the intellectual circle in Lichfield that included Erasmus Darwin, Anna Seward, David Garrick and Matthew Boulton.
Two monuments on the south wall of the chancel have links with Samuel Johnson: one commemorates his step-daughter, Lucy Porter, who died in 1786, and another is a memorial to his mother’s maid-servant, Catherine Chambers, who died in 1767.
The altar and the chest in the Lady Chapel date from 1658 and 1669. The Perpendicular style Baptismal font dates from about 1450. It was moved to the Lady Chapel in the late 1990s to make way for the carpeted welcome area at the west end of the church.
The pulpit dates from about 1900 but the recess in the floor was made in 1916.
The Deacon Memorial screen was built across the tower arch in 1949. It is in the form of a parclose screen, intended to portray the life of Alderman JR Deacon JP with the themes of ‘work , worship and citizenship’.
Above is a statue of Saint Chad holding a model of Lichfield Cathedral and a bishop’s crozier.
The interior of the church was redecorated at that time.
The statue of Saint Chad over the south porch was a gift from Lady Blomefield (Lilias Napier) in 1930 in memory of her husband, Sir Thomas Blomefield (1848-1928), Assistant Secretary of the Board of Trade (1901-1908).
There are four bells in the tower: three date from the 17th century and the fourth is dated 1255.
Saint Chad’s Well, where we gathered last week at the beginning of Lichfield Peace Walk, is in the churchyard, to the north-west of the church. It was built over a spring where Saint Chad is said to have prayed, baptised people, and healed peoples’ ailments. It was once a popular place of pilgrimage.
When the well dried up by the early 1920s, it was lined with brick and a pump was fitted to the spring.
The stone structure was demolished in the 1950s and replaced with a simple timber structure and tiled canopy.
• The Rector of Saint Chad’s is the Revd Rod Clark. Sunday services are at 8 am (Traditional Communion with the Book of Common Prayer) and 10 am, Family Eucharist with Hymns and Sermon.