27 June 2023

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley,
a centre of ‘ritualist’ controversy
in Birmingham, is now forlorn

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, was once the most important and controversial Anglo-Catholic church in Birmingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, is a Grade II listed former Church of England parish church, about 2 km south-east of Birmingham city centre. As I looked at the church last week, it appeared lonely and forlorn on the top of Old Camp Hill, isolated in a virtual traffic island between the roundabouts known as Bordesley Circus and Camp Hill Circus on the Middleway ring road.

During the English Civil War this was the site of the Battle of Camp Hill, or the Battle of Birmingham, on Easter Monday, 3 April 1643, iwhen a company of Parliamentarians from the Lichfield garrison tried to stop a detachment of 1,400 Royalists commanded by Prince Rupert from passing through Birmingham.

Bordesley is the real life setting of the BBC series Peaky Blinders, and home to Birmingham City Football Club’s ground, Saint Andrew’s.

Holy Trinity Church was consecrated and opened 200 years ago in 1823, and it was once the most important Anglo-Catholic controversies in Birmingham that led to its Irish-born vicar, the Revd Richard Enraght, being jailed and dismissed.

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, is lonely and forlorn on the top of Old Camp Hill, between Bordesley Circus and Camp Hill Circus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Historically, Bordesley was part of the parish and union of Aston, on the edges of Birmingham. The hamlet was originally small, with only a few scattered dwelling-houses, such as Stratford Place, still standing at Camp Hill, and the Old Crown in Deritend, which I visited after visiting Holy Trinity Church last week. Both houses are of timber framework and plaster, with projecting upper stories.

Holy Trinity Church is an example of a Commissioners’ church. It was built between 1820 and 1822 by the architect Francis Goodwin (1784-1835) in the decorated perpendicular gothic style. Goodwin’s later works include Lissadell House, Co Sligo, designed for Sir Robert Gore-Booth, and the gatehouse at Markree Castle, near Collooney, Co Sligo.

Goodwin is said to have modelled Holy Trinity Church in Bordesley on King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. The church was consecrated 200 years ago on 23 January 1823 by the Bishop of Lichfield, James Cornwallis. A parish was assigned out of the parish of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Aston. At first, the living was in the gift of the Vicar of Aston, and was called a vicarage from 1872. The patronage was transferred to the Aston Trustees in 1884.

The church had an exceptionally good interior with all its fittings and galleries. It was built on a conventional rectangular plan with shallow canted apse, faced in Bath stone that is enlivened by spirelet pinnacled buttresses diving the windows and with octagonal pinnacled turrets holding the corners. A larger pair flank the effectively recessed full height entrance bay under the parapeted gable.

The soffit has a pattern of ribs over the large decorated west window, and the tracery is of cast iron. The porch proper is shallow and contained within the recess, a tripartite composition with an ogee arch to the central doorway with an ornate finial.

The east end above the apse has a cast iron tracery rose. It is said the coved ceiling still partially remains, but the interior decoration, which was of a high standard for its time, has been stripped and a floor inserted.

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, was designed by Francis Goodwin and modelled on King’s College Chapel, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Holy Trinity Church played an important in the history of the High Church or Anglo-Catholic movement in the Church of England in the 19th century.

The Revd Samuel Crane, who was the first vicar in 1823-1841, was succeeded by the Revd Dr Joseph Oldknow, who is often regarded as Birmingham’s first Anglo-Catholic or ‘ritualist’ priest.

Oldknow was buried in Bordesley and the Latin inscriptions on many gravestones offered a clue to the Anglo-Catholic traditions of the church.

Father Richard Enraght (By permission of the Principal & Chapter of Pusey House Oxford; Hall Collection 3/13, Pusey House Oxford)

Oldknow was succeeded in 1874 by the Revd Richard William Enraght, whose trials and tribulations came to a head in the ‘Bordesley Wafer Case’ were first brought to my attention in 2016 by a friend at Lichfield Cathedral, Stephen Wright.

The Revd Richard William Enraght (1837-1898) was an Irish-born Anglican priest and one of the Anglo-Catholic priests who were prosecuted and jailed in the 19th century for their ritualism. Enraght was prosecuted by the Church Association’s lawyers and jailed by Lord Penzance. He refused to attend his own trial on grounds of conscience, was found guilty under the Public Worship Regulation Act and received the maximum penalty: arrest, imprisonment and dismissal from his parish.

Enraght was born on 23 February 1837 at Moneymore, Co Derry, where his father, the Revd Matthew Enraght (1805-1882), was the Curate of Saint John’s, Desertlynn.

Matthew Enraght was born in Rathkeale, Co Limerick, where I was the priest-in-charge until last year (2017-2022); Richard’s mother Sarah was the daughter of Henry Thomas Houghton of Kilmanock House, Arthurstown, Co Wexford. Soon after Richard’s birth, Matthew Enraght moved from the Diocese of Armagh to Dublin, where he became the curate of Donnybrook and Booterstown. Richard’s mother died while he was still an infant, and his father married Maria Massey in 1843.

When Matthew Enraght later moved to England, to parishes in the dioceses of Canterbury and Chichester, Richard remained in Ireland and in 1860, at the age of 23, he graduated BA from Trinity College Dublin. He then moved to England, and in 1861 he was ordained deacon in Gloucester Cathedral by the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol. He became a curate at Saint Bartholomew’s in Corsham, Wiltshire, and was ordained priest in 1862.

After three years, Enraght moved to Saint Luke the Evangelist in Sheffield in 1864. There he shared his Anglo-Catholic sympathies in a pamphlet, To The Poor The Gospel is Preached, in which he criticised the pew rent system for barring the poor from churches and criticised a ‘Bible-Ritualism’ that over-relied on scriptural authority for what is permissible in liturgical ceremonial.

He moved to a parish in Lincolnshire in 1866, and then in 1867 he moved to Brighton as curate to the Revd Arthur Wagner, the Tractarian vicar of Saint Paul’s and the ‘Father’ of the Catholic Revival in Brighton.

Wagner held Tractarian views since his student days at Cambridge. He built churches and schools in Brighton and also built 400 houses for the poor, all at his own expense. But he was criticised in the House of Commons for his liturgical practices and for appointing Anglo-Catholic priests as vicars in the five churches he had financed.

When the Brighton Gazette reported in 1873 that Father Wagner had refused to answer questions in court that would ‘involve him to breach the confessional,’ he was assaulted on the streets of Brighton. At another Brighton parish, Father John Purchas of Saint James’s was prosecuted for using vestments and the eastward position, but he refused to attend his trial or to pay the £2,096 costs awarded against him by the court.

At Brighton, Enraght shared his Anglo-Catholic views in two pamphlets, Who are True Churchmen and Who are Conspirators? and The Last Settlement of English Reformation in 1662.

In 1871, Enraght was appointed priest-in-charge of Saint Andrew’s Church, Portslade-by-Sea, with Saint Helen’s Church, Hangleton. Portslade was three miles from Brighton and Enraght continued his role in the Brighton branch of the Society of the Holy Cross, to publish pamphlets and to write letters to the Brighton Gazette. His pamphlets there included Catholic Worship and The Real Presence and Holy Scripture.

The Brighton Gazette accused Enraght of Puseyism and of trying to turn Saint Nicholas Church School in Portslade into a Puseyite school, and attacked his plans for a retreat at Lancing College. When the Disraeli Government passed the Public Worship Regulation Act in 1874, the Brighton Gazette called for his prosecution.

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, was at the centre of the ‘Bordesley Wafer Case’ in 1879 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Later that year, Enraght succeeded the Rev Dr Joseph Oldknow, Birmingham’s first Anglo-Catholic priest, as Vicar of Holy Trinity, Bordesley. There he found friends in two neighbouring Irish-born priests in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, the brothers James and Thomas Pollock, both graduates of TCD and both priests at Saint Alban the Martyr in Highgate.

While Enraght was the vicar, a group of cricketers from the church formed an association football team, Small Heath Alliance, in autumn 1875. This later became Birmingham City FC.

An indication of Enraght’s popularity was the attendance at the Sunday Eucharist, with a congregation of 400-500 people. Sunday Evensong with sermon regularly attracted 700-800 people. With his parish’s support, Enraght introduced weekday celebrations of the Eucharist. His practices at Holy Trinity included the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, candles on the altar, wearing a chasuble and alb, using wafers at the Eucharist, mixing water with the wine, making the sign of the Cross, bowing during the Gloria, and allowing the choir to sing the Agnus Dei.

One of Enraght’s churchwardens, John Perkins, came forward for Holy Communion on 9 February 1879, but took a Consecrated Wafer to use as an exhibit in court as evidence of the use of wafer-bread. The incident created intense horror and indignation as it became known.

Henry Philpott, Bishop of Worcester, had prohibited the actions, but Enraght refused to attend his own trial on 12 July 1879. He claimed Lord Penzance and the Court of Arches derived their authority not from ‘this Church and Realm’ but from an Act of Parliament, and so had no ‘spiritual jurisdiction over me …’

The Consecrated Wafer Perkins had taken deceptively was produced in court as evidence, marked with pen and ink and filed as an exhibit. The case became known nationally as the ‘Bordesley Wafer Case.’

In his absence, Enraght was convicted on 9 August 1879 on 16 counts. On 31 August 1879, he denounced Perkins from the altar. At the next vestry election, the indignant parishioners rejected Perkins when he was nominated as churchwarden.

A cartoon in the Birmingham ‘Daily Post’ on 26 November 1880 showing Richard Enraght entering Warwick Prison in chains

Eventually, Enraght was arrested at his vicarage on 27 November 1880 and he was taken to Warwick Prison to serve his sentence. Four other priests in England were jailed around the same time under this legislation: Arthur Tooth, Thomas Pelham Dale, Sidney Faithorn Green and James Bell Cox.

Meanwhile, thanks to the English Church Union, the Consecrated Wafer was recovered from the court and given into the care of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who reverently consumed the host in his private chapel at Addington on 12 December 1879.

During Enraght’s two months in prison, there were protests throughout England and in the US. The Revd Edward Bouverie Pusey wrote to The Times in defence of Enraght and others: ‘They have not been struggling for themselves but for their people. The Ritualists do not ask to interfere with devotion of others … only to be allowed, in their worship of God, to use a Ritual which a few years ago no one disputed.’

Enraght spent that Christmas in prison. He was released after 49 days when the Court of Appeal ruled on a technicality in the writ for committal. The prosecutor tried to have Enraght returned to jail, but the English Church Union forestalled this attempt with its own legal actions.

When an appeal to the House of Lords failed in May 1882, Enraght was liable to another term in prison, and the parish of Holy Trinity, Bordesley, was declared vacant three months later. Meanwhile, Enraght’s father, the Revd Matthew Enraght, died at Clifton in Bristol on 13 August 1882.

Bishop Philpott revoked Enraght’s licence in March 1883 and appointed another priest to the parish, against the wishes of the congregation. When Bishop Philpott preached in Holy Trinity Church two months later on 6 May 1883, the churchwardens handed him a formal protest, saying: ‘We, the truly aggrieved, have been left as sheep without a shepherd.’

However, a Royal Commission report that year marked a turning point, and the repression of ritualism in the Church of England was soon abandoned.

After Enraght was evicted from Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, he worked for the nine years in East London at Saint Michael’s, Bromley-by-Bow (1884-1888) and Saint Gabriel’s, Poplar (1888-1895). In this period of hardship, the Church Union’s Sustentation Fund supported the Enraght family.

He moved to Saint Swithun’s Church, Bintree, in 1895, and ended his ministry and life in that quiet country parish in Norfolk. He died on Saint Matthew’s Day, 21 September 1898, and was buried in Saint Swithun’s churchyard.

Richard and Dorothea Enright were the parents of seven children. Their second son, Canon Hawtrey Enraght, was ordained priest in Norfolk in 1896, and their son-in-law, the Revd Edgar Reeves, became the Vicar of Walsingham.

Brighton and Hove City Council erected a blue plaque at his former home in Station Road, Portslade, 15 years ago (February 2006) to honour Richard Enraght as a ‘Priest, fighter for religious freedom.’ Later that year, Brighton and Hove Bus and Coach Company named one of its new fleet buses, No 905, after Father Richard Enraght.

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, was closed in 1968 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Meanwhile, Enraght was succeeded at Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, in 1883 by the Revd Alan H Watts, against the wishes of the congregation. When Watt was introduced in Holy Trinity Church on 10 March 1883, the church was crowded, and a large police forced was present. Before the service, the two churchwardens went to the vestry to loud applause, and handed him a formal protest. Watts entered the church to loud groans, followed by turmoil, and police efforts to restore order were futile. At the conclusion of the service, an angry mob followed Watts until he drove away.

The parishes of Christ Church, Sparkbrook (1867), Saint Alban, Bordesley (1871), and All Saints’, Small Heath (1875), were formed out of this parish, and part of it was transferred to the parish of Saint Basil, Deritend, in 1896. There were mission rooms in Leopold Street, Cooksey Road (1875-1907), Miles Street (1908-1939), Moseley Road and Highgate Place (1913-1921) and Warwick Street (1928-1936).

The burial ground was closed in 1873, although family graves continued to be used until 1925. Some remains were removed with the widening of Sandy Lane and Bordesley Middleway. Many gravestones were removed after the church was deconsecrated in the late 1960s.

The church was closed in 1968. There were plans to demolish the church in the 1970s and proposals to convert the building into an arts centre, but these never came to fruition. Instead, the church was used for some years as a shelter for homeless people until about 1999.

There were plans to retore the building for church and community use as the Birmingham Trinity Centre, a conference and wedding venue and the meeting place of All Nations’ Church, Birmingham.

The church was marketed for a residential conversion in 2014, but it remains empty today.

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, remains empty, isolated on a virtual traffic island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)


Anonymous said...

A hidden gem for sure! I lived in this area of Birmingham for years but yet I never noticed it! I visited it today but it was abandoned and it’s completely blocked off (to prevent it from being vandalised I presume). Such a shame that such a beautiful specimen of the gothic revival is left to turn to dust.

Anonymous said...

Have a view inside … https://youtu.be/Ttf9yFIHDRw?si=Pmq0j2_b9hoKd_ee