Early History

Christ Church Summerfield is a Grade Two listed building standing in what was once fields on the outskirts of the thriving town of Birmingham, which was reaching the height of its success as one of the UK's foremost manufacturing centres by the middle of the nineteenth century.

The factories needed an ever-increasing population of workers and so the town grew in every direction as cheap accommodation was hastily constructed to meet the demand. The Vicar of St John's Ladywood, Revd Porter, sent a young Curate to work in the terraced houses around Coplow Street Hall so that the spiritual needs of the people there could be catered for. This young man was Revd George Sherbrooke-Walker, whose commanding portrait can be seen hanging in the vestry. The year was 1879.

Revd Sherbrooke-Walker seems to have found favour as the work led to fruitful missions resulting in prayer meetings and Bible studies that were well-attended. He found allies in local industry and banking who helped financially. He saw the opportunity to build a church on land already donated some time before by Mr Henry Weiss, when in around 1880 a committee was formed to honour the ministry of Revd George Lea, who had just retired from the ‘living’ (being vicar) at St George's, Edgbaston. (Lots of Georges!).

He persuaded the committee that Summerfield should be the venue for a memorial church. It was to be named "Christ Church" because that was the name of the church in New Street where George Lea had been minister for many years before moving to Edgbaston. £10,000 was raised by public subscription, such was the esteem in which he was held. George Lea himself never saw the building but his widow laid the foundation stone in November 1883.

Christ Church was designed by Julius Chatwin and is constructed in the perpendicular style (the last in Birmingham) and is of Yorkshire parpoints and Bath stone detailing. The reredos in the Chancel is of Caen stone. Overall, the plan is cruciform. The North Porch was originally intended to support a tower and spire. Within the building, two inscriptions in the Chancel commemorate members of the Chance family. It is yet to be established exactly what their connection was with the church but we do know that their home, Summerfield House, stood nearby until 1879, the year the garden was purchased for the public, creating what we now call Summerfield Park.

Chances were the most famous glass manufacturers in the world. The land on which the church stands was part of the so called Gillott Estate. Joseph Gillott, the pen nib maker whose fortune was made in a vast empire in the Jewellery Quarter, had himself purchased the farm lands to the west of Birmingham town when it was fashionable to do so. He built or purchased a mansion in Hertfordshire and spent his wealth acquiring works of art. After his death his daughters are said to have parcelled out the land for sale. Gillott Road still bears his name, and there is a restrictive covenant on the estate. Unlike the Cadburys, Gillott seems to have taken no thought to the spiritual welfare of his workers and the church has no connection with him.

The early congregation were passionately missionary-minded. The plaque inside the West end bears the names of people who went abroad. That sending process continues but there is also reciprocity. The church today is made up of a wonderfully diverse range of nationalities, reflecting the huge social changes that have taken place in the parish.

 

A gallery of pictures - some old, some new. Enjoy!