The Faces of Christ Church

I visited Christ Church on a numbingly cold and drab January afternoon, and I welcomed the sight of the first crocuses and snowdrops beginning to appear amongst the stones erected as memorials to those who once lived here in the parish.

Of course, memorials can take different forms and the blue clock on the tower is dedicated to the memory of Sarah Worthington, of Maple Hayes, presented by her husband Albert Octavius of the Burton brewing company. (1)

As you look at the clock face, on either side of the window below you notice faces of a different kind. On closer inspection, more of these faces can be found all around the church and I’ve included a few examples below.

The church was built in 1847, in the Gothic Revival style, and so I imagine the architect Thomas Johnson (of Davidson House, St John St) included them to emulate the corbel heads found in medieval churches (a good example and explanation can be seen on the V&A website here). This might explain what they are, and why they are here, but not necessarily who they are! (3)

As I stood thinking about the faces, someone arrived to unlock the church door. I explained that I’d been looking at the stone heads and was told that there are more inside and was invited in. Apparently, despite being the subject of much debate, no-one quite knows the story behind them. One suggestion that has been put forward is that they are benefactors of the church. Two of the chest tombs behind the church belong to Ellen Jane Hinckley, the founder of the church and her husband Richard Hinckley, who gave land in the corner of their Beacon Place estate on which to build the church. (2) Are they also here at their church in stone form? Is the portrait of Thomas Johnson the architect or the church’s first curate Thomas Alfred Bangham to be found here? Do they depict people who used to live in the parish or are these heads in fact creations from inside the head of the stonemason?!

Inside, the majority of corbel heads are in and around the chancel, which has the most stunning ceiling. Although this is not my first time inside the church, it is the first time I’ve been in and concentrated solely on the building, rather than what is going on within it.  It hardly needs pointing out that my photos do it no justice whatsoever, but they do at least give some idea of the beautiful murals painted for the church’s Golden Jubilee by Pre-Raphaelite artist John Dixon Batten in 1897,  and the reredos, designed by GF Bodley and carved by the sculptors Bridgemans of Lichfield (a discovery of both a new word and a new example of Bridgemans’ work for me!). (4)

I made my way back outside down the aisle, laid with original Minton tiles (5).

The day should have seemed even greyer after the rich, warm colours of the church but with a copy of the newly purchased and brilliantly researched ‘History of Christ Church’ in my bag and the knowledge that such treasures were to be found on my doorstep, it actually felt considerably brighter.

Edit 10/02/2013 Good news! There’s a sign outside Christ Church saying that there is an open day on 9th March – a great opportunity to go and visit this lovely church for yourself. By then, there may even be some spring flowers and wild garlic in the lane alongside which is a nice thought, when you’re sat typing with snow drifting down outside the window. More details here


(1) The clock was made by John Smith and Sons of Derby a business founded in 1856. Whilst the firm is still going strong, the original headquarters were at risk as these photos and a news story from February 2011 (read here) show. I’d be interested to know what the current state of the building is? Also, it’s not only the clock we have the county of Derbyshire to thank for! The church’s Millenium Gates were created by David Tucker, a master Blacksmith from Derbyshire, that I wrote about here

(2) The third of the Hinckley Tombs belongs to Mrs Hinckley’s son from her second marriage to Hugh Dyke Acland. Mrs Hinckley’s daughters from her first marriage, are the girls depicted in Francis Chantrey’s sculpture known as ‘The Sleeping Children’ as Lichfield Cathedral

Hinckley Tombs, Christ Church

(3) In a 1950s edition of Life magazine, I came across an interesting article about Southwell Minster in Nottinghamshire. Their old carved heads had eroded badly, and so a stonemason was enlisted to restore them. However, rather than recreate the old images, he carved new images of people associated with the church at that time including a bell ringer, the clock winder, a dog whipper (actually in charge of the grounds) and the youngest member of the church choir (who would now be in his 60s). You can read the article and see the photos here 

(4) I believe that Bodley and Bridgemans also collaborated on the South African war monument in Duncombe Place, York, which is where the sailor on the wall of Lichfield Registry Office was originally destined for but was apparently rejected  for being too warlike.

(5) Between 1844 and 1858, Herbert Minton donated tiles to 46 Staffordshire churches & parsonages. More information can be found in the report ‘Minton Tiles in the Churches of Staffordshire’, carried out by Lynn Pearson for the Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society. At the time of the report in the year 2000, amongst others, there were also examples at St Mary’s, Aldridge, possibly St James’ Church, Brownhills (though covered) and St Peter’s, Elford. An online version of the report with photographs can be found here 


Christ Church Lichfield – A History by Ursula Frances Turner, later revisions Robert Hazel, Julia Baker and Larry Ridout

Public Sculpture of Staffordshire and the Black Country – George Thomas Noszlopy and Fiona Waterhouse

Beacon Place Part One

Much of what is now Beacon Park in Lichfield once belonged to the Beacon Place (sometimes known as House) estate. The house is long gone, demolished in 1964, but I know that there are some remnants left over! I enjoyed my ‘treasure hunt’ around the old Fisherwick Estate and thought it might be interesting to do something similar a bit closer to home. To avoid this being too long a post, I’m doing it in two parts. Part one is a very brief history of the estate.

George Hand built Beacon Place in the late 18th century. 1 On the death of his widow Ann in 1826, the house was sold in an auction at the George Hotel on Tuesday 28th March 1826. Amongst other things, it was described as having contained a handsome staircase of Hopton Stone, lit by a skylight, a kitchen garden with hothouses and orchards, and good cellars under an excellent kitchen.2

From 1837, Beacon Place was the home of Richard and Ellen Jane Hinckley. As well as extending the house itself, they also gave land for the construction of Christ Church in 1847.  The Hinckley’s had their own pew at the church3, and could see it from the house. As I’ve mentioned before, the lane running alongside the church, over the A51 and into Beacon Park, is an old carriageway that would have led to the house (I think it was also the old Walsall Rd until 1832).4

The path between Christ Church and Beacon Park in winter

Richard and Ellen Jane Hinckley are buried in two of the three tombs behind Christ Church. The third tomb is that of Ellen’s son Hugh from her previous marriage to Hugh Acland. Hugh jnr. was one of the first people to be buried in the graveyard.5

Hinckley Tombs, Christ Church

A document at Lichfield Record Office gives an insight into how some of the rooms were furnished. The Inventory and Valuation of Beacon House for Probate on 2nd November 1870, following the death of Mrs Hinckley lists furniture, artwork and decorative items, and even some of the books that she owned.  For example, Mrs Hinckley’s dressing room contained a fire screen, bookshelves, a weather house, an easy chair, a small ivory bust, two cases of insects in glass, a Bible and five pieces of ornamental china. I think there were also portraits of her Father and second husband. The best dinner service used in the house was Ironstone China (from Staffordshire of course!). Some of the Hinckley’s silverware was engraved with family crests or initials. I wonder if there is any still around in someone’s cabinet!6

On Mrs Hinckley’s death the estate passed to her husband’s nephew Arthur Hinckley7  and it was sold at The Swan Hotel on Wednesday 27th October 1880 at 6 o’clock to Samuel Lipscomb Seckham (who I believe was renting Hanch Hall at the time and later also purchased Whittington Old Hall)8. Some of the items listed on the sales particulars are extensive pleasure grounds, flower and kitchen gardens, vineries, peach and hothouses, a coach house, stabling for 6 horses and a labourer’s cottage.  It was described as standing on an elevation which commands beautiful views of the Cathedral and of the open country with ornamental pools and plantations in view of the windows.9

So that’s a brief description of how it was, but what remains of the estate today? Part two to follow shortly!

*Ellen Jane Hinckley was the mother of Marianne and Ellen-Jane Robinson, who are the subjects of the ‘Sleeping Children’ monument in Lichfield Cathedral. The plaque behind the monument belongs to her first husband, and father of the children, Rev Robinson. I learned something new about this well known sculpture recently from a friend who had been on a tour of the Cathedral. Sir Francis Chantrey, the sculptor, apparently left an uncarved piece of marble on the foot of one of the children, as he believed that only God was able to create perfection.

Edit 6/9/2011

There’s a program on BBC iPlayer called Romancing The Stone: The Golden Ages of British Sculpture. In part 2, Mavericks of Empire there is a section on Chantrey and the presenter Alistair Sooke visits Lichfield Cathedral and discusses the monument with the Head Verger. This link should take you to this part of the program

An old photograph of The Sleeping Children Monument in Lichfield Cathdral


1. ‘Lichfield: Manors and other estates’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 67-72.

2. Sales particulars of Beacon House estate 1826, accessed at Lichfield Records Office

3. The Gentlemans Magazine By Sylvanue Urban Vol XXIX

4. ‘Lichfield: The 19th century’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 24-32.

5. Cathedral City by Howard Clayton

6. Inventory & Valuation of Beacon House for Probate accessed at Lichfield Records Office

7. ‘Lichfield: Manors and other estates’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 67-72.


9. Sales particulars of Beacon House estate 1880, accessed at Lichfield Records Office