In the early 1270s, on the site of the present church, Henry de Edgbaston built a small chapel dedicated to St Bartholomew adjacent to his manor house. The chapel is mentioned as part of a legal dispute that took place in 1279. The original chapel was approximately the length of the present nave and the width of the tower.
In the late fifteenth century, the Lord of the Manor, Richard Middlemore, added the north aisle. In 1530 his widow, Margerie, built the tower. Her son, Humphrey, became a Carthusian monk and was martyred in 1535, during the reign of Henry VIII. These events are commemorated in the ‘Middlemore Window’ at the west end of the south aisle.
During the Civil War the church was plundered by Roundheads under the command of Colonel ‘Tinker’ Fox. The lead from the roof was melted down to make bullets, and roof timbers and stones were used to barricade the manor house, Edgbaston Hall. It is said that horses were stabled in the nave. The church stood in ruins for more than a decade before permission was granted to the parishioners to undertake a collection to refund its restoration.
The records state that:
Some time after the Restoration of the Royal Family, the Inhabitants began to rebuild the said Church at their own proper costs up to the wall plates, but finding themselves utterly unable to finish it, the charges thereof amounting to £430, besides the casting of the bells and the mounding of the churchyard, in the year 1683 they obtained the King’s Letters Patent for their collecting the charitable benevolence of his loving subjects throughout the Counties of Warwick, Northampton, Oxford, Gloucester, Worcester, Leicester and Shropshire, whereby they were enabled to complete and finish the same.
The work of rebuilding the church continued throughout the late 1600s. When Sir Richard Gough purchased the manor house and estate in 1717 he oversaw and funded its completion.
The most famous occupant of Edgbaston Hall, whose memorial is situated on the south wall of the Lady Chapel, was Dr William Withering, physician and botanist. Withering’s work on the medical uses of digitalis (derived from the foxglove), proved groundbreaking, and his memorial features carvings of both a foxglove and a Witheringia solanaceae – a plant that was named in his honour. He resided at the Hall from 1786 until his death in 1799.
The church of this period had a twin roof, divided by a central valley, evidence of which can still be seen inside the building on the wall of the tower. By 1800 the ingress of rainwater through this central valley was proving a major concern, as a result of which the building was re-roofed under a single span, and a gallery was added.
The population of Edgbaston increased markedly during the early nineteenth century, and the church was enlarged significantly with the completion of a south aisle in 1856. This was followed in 1885 by further substantial building work, and the addition of a new chancel, and the north and south transepts. The aisle where the Lady Chapel is situated was built in 1889, and the carved wooden screen, altar, and its surround added in 1932.
The memorials, windows, and artefacts that can be seen in our church today reveal much about the history of this area of Birmingham, and the lives of the great men and women who shaped our city. These works were designed and produced by some of the finest artists and craftsmen of their era (see Exploring our Church), and clearly testify to the importance of the Christian faith in the lives of those who funded and commissioned them.