Rowley Village, Rowley Regis                g

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In the1950's, Rowley Village was an attractive and unusual place with a

unique feeling. Many of the houses bore traces of building in the local stone, and

where brick had replaced the earlier constructions, plans and elevations were

similar to what they had been in the early nineteenth centur"y. Now, there is hardly

any physical reminder of Rowley Village as it was. But even modern bulldozing

techniques find it hard to eradicate all traces of history, especially such a long

history as that of Rowley.

In Anglo-Saxon times, there were many patches of scrubby trees growing on

the lower slopes of the Rowley hills, though the upper slopes must have been bare.

Areas of untilled heathland must have existed at Blackheath, Whiteheath and

Cradley Heath. The Anglo-Saxons chose the site at Rowley for a settlement, partly

on account of drainage and partly height. The church's dedication to St. Giles

suggests an early foundation, and is shared with the parish of Sheldon. If there was

a church in Saxon times, no trace remains. The site of Rowley Hall is also likely to

have been built on in those earlv days. and it is likely that the first few dwellings

in the area, made of mud or wattle, would be strung along the lane between the

church and the hall. At this period the hall, which would be a roughly constructed

building no more handsome than the cottages, and probably containing one large

room, would be owned and inhabited by a series of short-lived, uncouth Saxons.

The Norman conquest chang I the administrative face of England. After

this, villages were often owned by Norman overlords who lived at a distance, and

their villages administered by stewards. Rowley had been marked out as the tongue

of land left between the larger and more influential areas of Dudley and Halesowen.

Now the manor was split between the Somery family, owners of Dudley Castle, and

the ownership of the king, who also possessedland such as Kingswinford, and Kings

Norton. All this land was 'terra r gis' in Latin - 'the king's land'.

Rowley must have been a barren, windswept village. In the distant parts of

the parish, the 'Lord's waste' at Old Hill, and in Tividale, coal lay not far from the

surface. As yet, this 'black gold' had no value. In Rowley itself, the future was to lie

with the hard dolerite or 'Rowley Rag'; but it could not yet be quarried. In the

middle ages, Rowley men lived by 'strip farming', cultivating patches of ground in

long strips, on the area stretching from the rear of the church towards Portway

Road, and down towards Bell End. On a site just over Highmoor Road, they had

probably found the remains of weapons and concluded that this was the site of

ancient battle; the name given later was 'Camp'.

From the thirteenth century onwards, the crest of the slope was certainly

dominated by the church. Later drawings show a tower which may have been

fourteenth century and a late medieval nave. The church had four bells by the time

of the reformation, and Edward V I's commissioners recorded a number of vestments.

At this time the parishioners had just sold four brass candlesticks for eightpence,

the cost of reroofing the church. From the church towards the east ran a trackway

used by nuns (or perhaps owned by them) and thus called Myncen Lane. The king's

highway between Birmingham and Dudley ran high over Turner's Hill at Partway,

and Rowley village must have been remote.

Approaching the village from Birmingham Road

The First Church of Rowley.

One cannot be certain of the date of the first church but it has been assumed by William Crump {vicar 1855} and Francis Cheverton (Vicar in 1923) to have been erected between 1199 and 1216 in the reighn of King John. It is described by Hackwood in a publication about 1920 as "the church of Rowley Regis, perched on the summit of the hills, is a landmark for miles around. Not only is it the most prominent feature of the landscape, but it is the core and centre of the place's historical associations".

It was built during a period of religious zeal, to St Giles, a Saint of the woodlands, protector of the forest against the remnant of the Saxon "wood spirits and fairies". The church was built of the dolerite stone of Rowley called "Rowley Rag". There was no morter used, each stone being placed together, each wall formed by two outside shells of rag stones placed at a considerable distance from one another and the space filled with rubbish. The principal side of the isle was nearer the north side than the centre and continued from the west entrance to the communion rails. Near the South side was a narrower isle running the length of the church. Accross the west end was a gallery upwards of eighteen feet erected by the gentlemen for themselves, their families and ther tenants. On the south side was another gallery about twelve feet deep from the west end to the chancel. Towards the east end there existed a flat white stone of marble about six feet in length on which were visible some ancient writigs. This edifice had proof of its Romen Catholic origin in the existence of a Gothic niche, about three feet high and four from the ground, once used for holy water. Affixed to the north wall was a plank into which an inscription was cut in Roman capitals :-


The church was known as a chapel of ease attachecd to Clent the Vicar of Clent being also the  Vicar of Rowley, both churches in the diocese of Worcester. This first church of Rowley had a long history of neglect and decay 

Vestry Notes

The records and Memoranda of the Vestry and Parish Meetings from 1656 to 1778 make amusing and interesting reading

                      "Ye book of ye officers etc of Rowley Regis".

Some notes and entries.

This book contained the records and memoranda of the Vestry and Parish Meetings from the years 1656 to 1778. 

The names of the officers appointed, namely the Church Wardens, Sidesmen, Constables, Collectors for the poor, and Overseeers of the Highways, were recorded, and the "accompts" of the various officers.

The first entry is dated 10th November 1656 "The accompt" of John Foley and Richard Carpenter being "Constables for that yeare"

This is signed by the Church Wardens, Richard Russell and William Martin.

At the Easter Vestry of 1659, Henry Haden, (of Haden Hill) is one of the wardens, "chosen by ye Minister". The parishioners appointed the other.

In 1665 the distinction between the "overside" and the "netherside" is first made; the minister appointing the one and the parishioners the other and taking turns in the appointment for the upper and lower sides (of Rowley Regis Parish).

The churchwardens of each year were appointed "sidesmen" for the year following.

The Vicar was, of course, Vicar of Clent, of which Rowley was a Chapel. He always nominated one Warden, but often did not attend the Vestries. Occasionaly there was a Curate; until Easter 1663 the entry is not signed by clergy or people; and in some years no entry of the officers is made, to that date. In 1663 it is signed by Sares Roylston "Curate de Rowley"; and several parishioners. In 1665 and 1666 Joseph Simcox was Vicar; In 1667, 1668, Walter Wheeler; in 1669 Thos Walker signs as Vicar and remained until 1713 according to the book.

In 1714 no vestry was held but the names of "ye officers for the "yeare 1714" are simply entered.' The next year Thos Sanders is vicar and continues to 1732, Edward Sheward succeeds Saunders in 1773 until 1736. In 1737 we find John Perry, Vicar, who remains to the end of the book.

As to Curates; from 1665, when Roylston was Curate, there seems to have been no more until 1734. Then Rudolf Sheward, (possibly a relative of Edward Sheward, who was then Vicar ) officiated for one year only; for the next year J Wells signs as Curate, his Vicar also signing; the only entry in the book of both clergy attending the Vestry.

Wells remains until 1738. In 1740 Benj Lee is Curate; he is very erratic; stays until 1750; goes for three years; is back again from 1753 until 1755; disapears until 1763, when he returns for one year only. No other Curate is mentioned in the records.

At Easter 1776 the Warden for the upper side is entered as "proprietor's choice" ; Mr Perry had not attended since 1661 and did not attend again; but he was still vicar, for in the years succeeding 1773 the Warden is entered as "Mr Perry's choice".

Some entries concerning the Parishioners.

Nov 17 1657; "William Russell of the Portway, deceased, gave five pounds to the poor of Rowley. The interest thereof to be distributed on St Thomas Day".

1661 Henry Haden's disbursements:-

"paid the Ringers on the Coronation Day by order, 6s 8d".

"My charges in bringing Robert Grove to ye house of correction, 9s 0d".

"My charges for stopping two Anababtists, 2s 6d".

1662. "Memorandum, about John Chambers, Alias Ireland of Totnall, he hath in his hand £3 6s 8d, which was left by will by old Alice Chambers to use of the poore forever".

"Old William Turton of the Mill left a Marke a year, by will, to be distributed to the poore of this parish yearly by two equal portions att St Thoms Day and Good Friday, issueing out of the Moores John Turton now holdeth".

"John Turton of this Parish hath in his hands five pounds that was given by his father by his last will, the interest whereof is to be distributed to the poore of this parish upon St Thomas Day".

"Old Richard Jevons, Gent of Sedgley, hath given 10 shillings yearly to the poore of this Parish and to be paid to them on Good Friday. This money hath been usually paid by Ambrose Crowley of this Parish".

"Thomas Werkman gave Twenty pounds to the poore of Rowley forever which money remains in the hands of Richard Russell and ye interest thereof to be distributed on St Thomas Day". (later this sum had to be recovered from Russell "by suit")

April 11 1664. "Memorandum about Mrs Elizabeth Brindfield now Monning had leave of those concerned vis. Mr Russell, William Ersland of Freebodie, Thomas Willetts of the Portway and Walter Mansell and the Church Wardens and others of this Parish for the erecting of a Pew of wainscott and dore of the same belonging to itt, which should continue to her house in this parish named Dirith Hall, for her husband herself and her son, Mr Robert Brindfield, in the Parish Church of Rowley". (Note; The Sheldons an old Warwickshire family had a residence in Rowley called Brindfield Hall.)

April 19 1664 "Memorandum. There was bought by Thomas Osbourne a silver plate for to putt the bread att the Sacrament upon att the charge of the Parish itt cost nineteen shilling sixpence".

November 7 1664. (from the Constables accounts).

"Hee hath paid towards towards the maintyning of the trayned souldiers and reparing theire armes £2 00 06d".

18 April 1665 "wee whose names are subscibed being Jurors at ye great Curt this day do find it our custome with the consent of our Steward that it is the custome of our Manor of Rowley Regis to lay a paine before we do amerse any person offending".

(Note; Court Leets could inflict a fine, of a fixed amount, which was assessed by the Steward; or could amerse the offender, which was a fine suitable to the offence and assessed by the Jury. It was usual to distrain on the offender's chattels to compel obedience to the Court.)

1666 The year of the Great Plague and Fire of London.

The Wardens for this year were Richard Nicklin and Richard Carpenter. Among their receipts for the year appears "for a grave made in the Church, 3s 4d".

1671 "Then bought a Mattocke for yo Parish Clarke to make graves with, price 2s 4d".

1676. "Memorandum. that wheras it doth appear that John Pearsall, lately deceased, did put into tha hands of Robert Willetts the sum of ten shillings to be paid by the said Robert by 12d. the week in white bread to 13 poore people upon each Sabbath day till all the ten shillings be disposed of and the officers are to get down the mames of those that are to receive itt. At the decease of any one of the aforesaid 12 poore people the officers are to make Choyce of another in his roome".

1686. "Recd. of Mr Haden for breaking up the Church floore the sum of 3s 4d." (note. This was probably the Family Vault under the Chancel, in which Henry Haden's father Henry had been laid the previous year.)

Nov 9 1686"It is agreed between William Tromans and the Parish that he shall keep the Church and Little Chancel Wiindows all in sufficient repaire for the sum of 9 shillings a yeare for seven years, and hee to receive the money at one payment at Easter in every yeare during the said terme."

1690.  In this year several briefs are recorded. These wrere Royal Mandates ordering collections to be made for building churches, and relieving sufferers by fire etc., refugees etc.. Among these are; "recd. the sum of 19s 4d collected in the Parish upon ye second brief towards the relief of the distressed Irish Protestants". For the inhabitants of New Arelsford 12s 1halfpenny. Briefs for fires; at Bishops Lavington, Wilts. 8s; East Smithfield 5s 6d, Southwark, 19s 8d.; Stafforde Towne, 4s 9d halfpenny.; Morpeth, Co. of Northumberland, 5s 11d.

June 16 1690. "Recd. then of Henry Willetts the sum of eight shillings fore the cure of a wound upon the back of a child of Henry Coley the younger of this Parish. Margaret Jones Her mark."

1699.  "Allowed to be spentt upon the publick att this meeting 6s 7d." (Note; Meetings were usually held at public houses; later this was no longer allowed and the meetings were held in the Church.

"Agreed and bargayned with John Mayo that hee shall putt and keepe our presentt Church Clock in good repaire from time to time yearly and every yeare durng the term of his naturale life and to receice for his labor and satisfaction five shillings per annum."

Oct 6 1704; "The ssurplice cost twelve shillings eight pence."

3 April 1716. " At a publick meeting it is ordered, consented and agreed to, by the most substantial of the inhabitants of Rowley Regis as under writ;- That no Tayler bee employed to make the poores Cloathes that live out of our Parish nor Cloth Lincey or Hurden bee bought for the poore without consent of the Rev Mr Saunders, Mr Haden, and Mr Turton.

That no collector or Overseire of the poore shall have liberty put trucke upon the poore but that our poore shall be paid with ready money.

That the new elected officers for the poore shall immediately badge the poore and every one of them that does not constantly wear the Letters shall have no pay."

The "substantial persons" who subscribe are, Thos Saunders, Vicar, Hen. Haden, John Turton, John Cartwright, John warren, John Pearsall, John Cole, Thomas Sheldon, John Windsor, Josiah Bach, Jon Darby and Edward Tomson.

1724. "It was agreed at a Publick Parish Meeting held in ye Church at Easter that we should not spend anything on ye Publick nor meet anywhere upon ye Parish business but in Church."

1726. "Mem. that i John Cartwright of ye Parish of Rowley Regis have set Thomas Willetts a Seat or Pew by ye furthest window in ye olde gallery ajoyning to ye pillar Post, which i do affirm to him to enjoy from this day forward and forever."

1737. " It is hereby unanimously agreed at a Publick Parish Meeting that the Ringers shall have 5s at the 5th of November 2s 6d at the Kings Birthday and 2s 6d at the Queens Birthday and no more in the whole year."

1737. It is agreed by us at a Publick Parish Meeting that Mr Russell's house at Portway that part not inhabited by Joseph Windsor we have this day ageed with Mr John Turton for one year at £6 per annum for a Work House for the poore of Rowley Regis."

1738.  " It is hereby ageed by the Gentlemen and Officers and other parishioners to allow Thomas Cartwright 10s a year for keeping the Parish Books."

1747.  "at a vestry meeting held in the Church Persuant to Notice given for that purpose it was agreed and consented to by the Majority of the Parishioners then present and by them ordered that Edward Chambers and Joseph Willetts the present Churchwardens should seal and execute a Counter part of the lease with proper Covenants for the erection of a gallery or Singing Loft in the North part of the Chancell of the said Church for the Bennifitt of the Psalm Singers who are particually mentioned in the said lease. Granted by Thos Hunt Esq for Thirty years."