A Short History of St Andrew's Church
The history of Christian worship in Handsworth dates from at least 1200,
when a priest was recorded at St. Mary's Church. However, the Manor of
Handsworth had existed since Saxon times, so it is possible that a timber
church had existed previously. Originally situated in Staffordshire (until
it became part of Birmingham in 1911), Handsworth was a large parish with
a population widely dispersed in farms and cottages. The turning point in
its development was the creation of the Soho Manufactory by Matthew Boulton.
More factories followed, and the population expanded continuously throughout
the l9th century. Growth was further encouraged by the arrival of the railway,
with stations opening at Handsworth in 1837 and Perry Barr in 1854.
Laying of the foundation stone of St. Andrew's Church, 19 October 1907. For more images, please click here.
The huge increases in population resulted in the creation of several new churches
in the parish, including: St. John's, Perry Barr (consecrated 1833); St. James',
Handsworth (erected 1838-40); St. Michael's, Handsworth (consecrated 1855); Holy Trinity,
Birchfield (consecrated 1864); St. Paul's, Hamstead (consecrated 1892) and, finally,
St. Andrew's, Handsworth.
Until the 1880s the area which now forms the Parish of St. Andrew's consisted mostly
of countryside. Rookery Road had only one or two houses, was surrounded by fields and
contained a rookery. Church Lane was a country lane with a few old cottages. However,
the district was changing and the population was increasing rapidly. The nearest church
was St. Mary's but this was too long a journey for children attending Sunday School.
Two ladies, living in College Road and Somerset Road, gave up a room in each of their
houses for Kindergarten Sunday School classes and spiritual life in the district began
to grow. The first cottage service was held in the College Road house on Good Friday, 1892.
It was then decided that something must be done to fulfil the spiritual needs of the
district, and consequently the foundation stone of the Mission Church of the Good
Shepherd was laid on 11 July 1893 by the Honourable Mrs. Legge, wife of the Bishop of
Lichfield (Handsworth was situated in the Diocese of Lichfield at that time and the
Bishop was formerly a Curate at St. Mary's Church).
The Mission Church was built on the corner of Church Lane, Grove Road and College Road.
The architect was Thomson Plevins of Waterloo Street, Birmingham, and the Church, which
was built of brick in the early English style, included a chancel, entrance porch and vestry,
and seated 260 people. It was heated with a hot water system. The builder was John Mallin of
West Bromwich and the work was completed in 1894.
The first Priest-in-Charge was the Rev. R. S. Genge, who was appointed to the Mission Church
(which served the needs of those living in the western part of St. Mary's and the northern
part of St. James' parishes) in February 1894. The population in the area rose rapidly, from
around 1,500 in 1894 to over 5,000 in 1904. The Church was therefore extended by means of a
corrugated iron extension to act as an overflow, and in 1906 it was proposed that a
Conventional District should be formed from these areas, which would eventually become the
Parish of St. Andrew.
As there was insufficient space for expansion on the site surrounding the Mission Church,
land was purchased in Oxhill Road to build a new church. The foundation stone of St. Andrew's
Church was laid on Saturday,19 October 1907 by the Rt. Hon. the Earl of Dartmouth. The
architect of the new church was William Henry Bidlake, and the church was consecrated on
Saturday, 30 January 1909 by the Rt. Rev. Charles Gore, the first Bishop of the new Diocese
The estimated cost of the new building had been £8,000, but the actual cost was £10,000.
The Rev. S. J. Selwyn, appointed in 1901 as second Priest-in-Charge of the Mission Church,
had made tremendous efforts to raise the necessary money but £3,000 was still outstanding
when the church was consecrated.
The Rev. W. M. Salt was appointed as the first Priest-in-Charge of St. Andrew's Church in 1908,
remaining until 19l0, when he was succeeded by the Rev. S. A. King. At this time a change was
made in Sunday services, with Sung Eucharist replacing Matins at 11 .00am.
In 1914 the Conventional District became the Parish of St. Andrew's and the
Rev. John Edward Bowles was instituted as the first vicar. The use of vestments was
introduced by the new vicar, who planned services on the dignified ceremonial known
as the English Catholic use.
In 1923 a house known as "The Grange", in Laurel Road, was purchased as St. Andrew's
Vicarage and the Rev. R. J. Harker became vicar. In 1924 a kitchen and supper-room were
built at the Church Hall (the former Mission Church of the Good Shepherd). The
Rev. B. M. Dale succeeded Fr. Harker in 1932 and became the first member of
St. Andrew's clergy to be heard on the radio, in a programme broadcast from Birmingham
Cathedral in 1933. Fr. Dale left in 1936 and eventually became Bishop of Jamaica.
The Rev. N. N. Kennaby was appointed vicar in 1936 and faced the most difficult task
of any priest at St. Andrew's when the Second World War started in September 1939.
Handsworth suffered numerous air-raids, with many inhabitants killed or injured. Fr. Kennaby
was always ready to attend the casualty post set up at Grove Road Baths to comfort the sick
and dying. He arranged shelters for the children remaining in the area, but many children
(including those in the choir) had been evacuated. There was much disruption in family life
and he had to combat apathy towards attending church. However, services continued
as usual, using the Good Shepherd Chapel (which had been blacked out) and altering the
time of Evensong to 3.30pm because of blackout restrictions.
Many bombs and land-mines fell in the area around St. Andrew's, including a bomb
("Satan") reputed to be the largest dropped on Birmingham, which fell on Rookery Road in 1942.
Eight parishioners were killed during the war. The church was damaged by blast - some of the
tracery in the West Window was damaged but fortunately the West Window was undamaged. However,
the effects of the damage caused by land-mines falling nearby was not apparent at the time,
and was to cause structural problems in later years. The Vicarage was also badly damaged,
and the cost of repair was too great for the parish to bear. The house was therefore
handed over to the government for use as the Home Guard's district headquarters.
In 1942 Fr. Kennaby was succeeded by the Rev. E. G. H. Hymas. During his sixteen year
incumbency much work was done to the fabric of the church, including work to stop water
leaking through the roof from the flèche - unfortunately this repair was not permanent
and the problem was to return in later years. The old Vicarage was demolished and a new,
smaller, house was built on half of the old site.
The population of the parish had been increasing throughout the 20th century and new
estates had been built in Friary Road, Handsworth Wood and Hamstead Hall.
"Home" Sunday Schools had been started in houses in 1943 and a new church was proposed,
to cater for the needs of the new estates. When Fr. Hymas died, in 1961, a Building Fund
of £860 had been collected by residents of the estates. No site had been secured, although
the Church of St. Francis had been instituted, with services held in Grestone Avenue School.
In 1962 the Rev. K. E. Fielding was appointed as vicar and, as the St. Andrew's Parish was
now greatly expanded, St. Francis' Church became the responsibility of the curate. A
priest's house was established at 51, Vernon Avenue and successive curates lived here in
the centre of the estate to which they ministered.
Although the original intention had been to build a church, there were many unforeseen changes -
the Second World War caused much disruption, all churches experienced falling attendances in
the post- war period and the population of the area was changing. Older people left the
large houses and moved to distant suburbs and new inhabitants, of different ethnic origins,
arrived. In addition, Birmingham City Council announced a large increase in the rent for
Grestone Avenue School, so in October 1982 it was decided that the congregations of
St. Francis and St. Andrew should join together. The house in Vernon Avenue was
Fr. Fielding retired in 1981 and was succeeded by the Rev. John Hervé (appointed as
Priest-in-Charge), who had served as an army chaplain since 1976 and continued with
the reserve of army officers, holding the rank of Major (Chaplain). This was a
period of vigorous change in the parish, during which some restoration work was carried
out on the church building with the help of the Manpower Services Commission. In 1986
Fr. Hervé left to become Director of Theological Studies at the Anglo-Catholic Theological
College at St. Stephen's House, Oxford, and was succeeded as vicar by the Rev. David Collyer.
In recent years much work has been carried out on St. Andrew's Church, strengthening its
structure, repairing the roof and upgrading the heating system. In addition, new parish
rooms adjoining the church and named the Good Shepherd Hall have recently been completed.
The architects of the new building were Temple Cox Nicolls of Edgbaston, and the work was
carried out to the highest standards by Messrs. Storr-River of Walsall.
Many dramatic changes have occurred in this area in the last hundred years, but
throughout the century the congregation of St. Andrew's , and previously of its parent
Church of the Good Shepherd, has continued to bear witness to the Christian faith in
Handsworth. Now combined in a group ministry with the churches of St. Michael and
St. James, and working in conjunction with churches of other denominations, it will
continue to make its way forward in faith, serving God and the community.
To Return to The Friends of St Andrew's Church click here.
Registered Charity Number 1079654