St Giles Church
St Giles Church
Willenhall, St. Giles is not an ancient structure but stands on the site of a building erected probably at the commencement of the 14th century. Before 1846 it was a Chapel of Ease to the mother church of St. Peter‘s, Wolverhampton which was a collegiate establishment outside the Diocese of Lichfield and presided over by a Dean who was also Dean of Windsor. The earliest record we have of a church at Willenhall is to be found in one of the Paget deeds dated 1313 in which a chaplain at Willenhall is mentioned.
In the Chantry Returns of 1546 and 1548 (published in Staffordshire Historical Collections) it was certified that "St. Giles' was founded by Richard and John Hampton, Esquires, for one priest to sing daily service in the Chapel at Willenhail for the ease of the inhabitants there, and at Bentley. The founders of the chantry here, brothers otherwise known as John Gervase and Richard Gervase of Wolverhampton; were members of a family seated at Dunstall by that town which can be traced there at least as far as the middle of the twelfth century. Dunstall being part of the same manor as Willenhall (that of Stowheath) may have led to their choice of that chapel for this foundation in February 1328-9".
This mediaeval church was probably a half-timbered structure, similar no doubt to the one still standing at Rushton Spencer in North Staffordshire, and survived until the middle of the 18th century when the ravages of time and decay made its replacement necessary. Dr. Wilkes the famous Willenhall antiquary also comments in his diary on the 6th May, 1748, when the work on the new church was commenced "This day I set out the foundations of a new church in this town; for the old one being half-timbered, the sills, pillars, etc., were so decayed that the inhabitants when they met together were in great danger of being killed. It appeared to me that the old church must have been rebuilt or at least the middle aisle of it; and that the first fabrick was greatly ornamented".
The new church was an ugly structure typical of the period in which it was built. It was a square building of red brick with a small apsidal projection at the east end which served as a chancel. A number of photographs have survived and a drawing of the interior is to be seen in a collection in the Chapter Library at Lichfield. The ancient tower probably built about the time of the Reformation was suffered to remain and in 1788 a further storey was added into which was placed a peal of eight bells made by Abraham Rudhall of Gloucester. These bells survived until 1933 when they were recast and rehung and two further bells added in commemoration of King George V Silver Jubilee. There is also mention of an Edward Holbrooke, curate of Willenhall, who had previously taught the famous Dr. Samuel Johnson at Lichfield Grammar School in his former capacity as usher to the under master.
About 1850 a move was made to get a new church more worthy of the sacred purpose for which it was used and in 1853 the Vestry Meeting had before them a scheme drawn up by Mr. Griffin (a Wolverhampton architect), for altering the existing building. This consisted of building a new chancel, taking down of the pillars in the nave, and building two new arcades in the Gothic style with a clerestory, erecting two new galleries and building a new vestry. It was soon realized that this scheme would be too costly and the architect who had just designed and built the new church of St. Stephen in Willenhall was commissioned to design a completely new church and tower in the Gothic style. This new church was consecrated by Dr. John Lonsdale, Lord Bishop of Lichfield on 18th July 1867. It cost £6,700 to build.1898 saw the building of the organ by Hill Norman and Beard to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Other additions have been made to the church building. 1900 saw the first school building.
Parish Records Historic records of St Giles, Willenhall have been deposited at Staffordshire Record Office, where they are available for consultation by the public. These include the parish registers of baptisms 1642-1983, marriages 1841-1988, and burials 1727-1978.
A catalogue of these records is available in "Gateway to the Past" - the online catalogue of the Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service. The Archive Service's website provides further information on planning a visit to the office to consult records, should you wish to do so.