Castle Bromwich Church, Warwickshire

Castle Bromwich which is today a fairly undistinguished suburb of Birmingham squashed up next to the M6 was once a rural village of Warwickshire and, indeed, probably pre-dates its large neighbour – interestingly Birmingham is said to have evolved from “Bromwicham” implying that Castle Bromwich (and West Bromwich nearby) have kept the original name.

The Church in Castle Bromwich probably dates from the same time as the Castle – from which the area gets its name. In 1165 the area was granted to Tickford Priory and in 1175 a Norman chapel here is mentioned being dedicated to St. Mary. It seems probably that the church was founded by either Wido de Bramewic or Alan de Bromwych – both of who took the name of the area for their own.

It seems that this first church may have been a private chapel for the Lord of the Manor, but at some point in the Norman period it seems to have been enlarged as the Parish church.

It is not altogether clear what form the medieval church would have taken, but there is an engraving from around 1700 which shows a half-timbered addition to the church which was added at its west end in the 15th Century, the other half of the church is stone built but its age is very difficult to determine.

By the 15th Century the castle had long since gone (now being just earthworks) and the nearby village of Birmingham was beginning to grow. In 1657 Orlando Bridgeman bought Castle Bromwich Hall, estate and church for his son, Sir John. His son, another Sir John, inherited in 1710 and he was responsible for the massive rebuild of Castle Bromwich Hall (much as it stands today) and for laying out the Hall Gardens (again as they have now been recreated). He also ordered the Church to be rebuilt. First off the new tower was built, around 1725. Then over the next 10 years the whole of the rest of the church was rebuilt in the then highly popular neo-classical style, the architect being thought to be William White from Worcester.

Although not readily apparent – and actually forgotten about until 1890 - the original church was not removed, remodelled or demolished, but actually built around – the new brickwork being laid directly on top of the existing stonework. This makes Castle Bromwich a rare English example of the phenomenon known as a “church within a church”.

Oddly this hidden church was not discovered until local architect Charles Bateman began looking at the church with curiosity around 1890. He was suspicious of the size of the church and began by peeling away some of the interior woodwork in the chancel. He found behind it the original medieval stone. By this time Bateman was on a mission – he clambered up in the roof of the bellringing chamber and began picking away at the 18th Century work. Behind it the posts and wooden roof of the medieval church were preserved. This truly was a church within a chuch – with the stone church having encased in brick and wood.

Unusually Castle Bromwich Church escaped Victorian restoration and it has allowed both the medieval and the neo-Classical versions of the church to survive to this day. The survival seems to be because the Bridgeman family lost interest in the Hall, Church and Estate and moved off to Shropshire, so no money was spent on renovation here – which has allowed us today to have the Jacobean Hall, the layouts for the original gardens and this odd church which is unimpressive to look at but very curious when you look deeper.

Charles Bateman, the discoverer of this oddity, is now lying buried in the churchyard at Castle Bromwich, perhaps very appropriately. It is a shame, perhaps, that today Castle Bromwich is so uninvitingly squeezed in between other Birmingham suburbs and the M6 as it thunders northwards.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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