All Saints Church
Small Heath, Birmingham
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St. Aidans 1910 - 1969 (continued...)

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The reredos was erected under Ellery Anderson acting on his own since the partnership with Bligh Bond had long since ended; the work was undertaken by Messrs Mowbray and Co of Oxford. The evidence for this is based upon the original correspondence, including estimates, between Fr Long the then vicar of the church, and Ellery Anderson. There is in addition the original press clipping of 15th October 1921 at the time of the dedication, which reads inter alia: "The design is that of Mr Ellery Anderson and the work has been admirably carried out by Messrs Mowbray and Co of Oxford". It is considered that the reredos is certainly by Mowbrays possibly to the design of W H Randoll Blacking, a disciple of J Ninian Comper, with the carving by Jethro Harris and the decorating and gilding by Edward Simpson.

The history of the first thirty years of the church is therefore one of continual change and development, and of adaptation to the needs of the parish and of a desire to beautify and decorate:

  • The building of the iron mission church in 1893
  • The demolition of the mission church and the building of the first portion of St Aidan's in 1896
  • The building of the second west end portion of St Aidan's in 1898
  • The building of a new clergy house in 1904
  • The placing of new windows in the Guild chapel in 1907
  • The addition of the Rood Beam, Lady chapel and organ loft in 1910-1912
  • The installing of the Guild chapel screen in 1914, although its intended colouring was never completed
  • The alteration to the high altar steps around 1918
  • The addition of the high altar reredos in 1921
  • The paneling of the Lady chapel in 1934
  • The redesign of the organ in 1954

The end result was a building described by Betjeman as: "successful Perpendicular design in red brick and terra cotta. Tall and spacious with a broad chancel" and by Pevsner as "a striking and successful example of the local red brick and terra cotta school ... with an atmosphere much encouraged by the splendid Rood and Screens". These features, which have been described by the Victoria Society as producing a building "of very considerable merit and of more than local importance. It is one of the six or seven finest Victorian churches in Birmingham", resulted in the church building being given a Grade II* listing status in 1970.

The construction and decoration of the building, largely completed by the 1920's had from the beginning been marked by doctrinal difficulties over various aspects of the decorative scheme: with the Chancellor over the figures of the Rood Beam, and with the Bishop over reservation and incense. The controversy over reservation of the sacrament, and on other issues flared up in the 1930's and 1940's under Bishop Barnes, and as the Diamond Jubilee souvenir booklet of 1956 records, the incumbency of Fr Simmonds between 1931 and 1946 was "a time of great difficulty in the parish", arising partly because of the "ban" by Bishop Barnes, which involved his refusing to come for confirmations, but no doubt also because of the difficulties of the war years. Fr Simmonds himself describes his incumbency as a transitional period between the "almost legendary days" and the present day. Congregations it is recorded, became low and in the immediate post war years "Church life was at a low ebb and there were no signs of that great return to religion which some had predicted".

Following the destruction of its church building by bombing during the war, the former parish of All Saints, the mother parish of St Aidan's, was discontinued and divided between St Aidan's and St Gregory's.

Even if the numbers in the congregation were not high in the latter period, the parish church was nevertheless the place for baptisms, marriages and funerals; there was a weekly dance in the hall behind the church; there were processions in the streets at Easter and Corpus Christi; there was Sunday School and the range of visiting and pastoral work that is the daily fare of the parish church. As the years passed, and the once newly urbanised parish stabilised and as intermarriage and the range of community connections and relationships grew and developed, St Aidan's seems to have settled into the role of parish church of a poor but stable parish. During all this period the church remained physically surrounded on all sides by the residential streets and at the centre of a community of perhaps 10,000 people. From the mid 1950's Christian people from the Caribbean began to come to the parish and to join the congregation and are today a central part of the life of the Church.

Origins of Small Heath
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the area which includes the present parish became substantially urbanised outwards from the city centre through Digbeth.More...

St. Aidans 1861 - 1909
A word about one aspect of Church history of the time may be helpful at this point, as it is not possible to understand the development of the Small Heath Churches without knowing something of the renewal of the catholic tradition in the Church of England.More...

Small Heath Parish 1970 - 1992
It was however, at the end of the 1960's and the beginnings of the 1970's that a wave of change began to take place in Small Heath which has come to alter almost every aspect of the community...More...

Small Heath Parish 1993 - 2002
The result of all these changes on the Church communities of Small Heath was of course dramatic with congregations in each of the parishes falling...More...