ST JAMES, HILL TOP,
The early nineteenth century was a time of great change with the mass exodus of people from the land into the towns and into the manufacturing industries. Hill Top at this time was a small community separated by fields from the towns of Wednesbury and West Bromwich. There were several large houses owned by the industrial entrepreneurs like the Bagnalls and the Siddons families who were the local ironmasters, and also a large number of terraced houses cramped together where the workers lived.
West Bromwich had traditional been served by the ancient parish church of All Saints, but with the increase in the population of the town, it was felt that more churches needed to be built. Out of these moves came Christ Church, built to serve the centre of the town in 1829. The first moves to build a church at Hill Top were made in 1838, but for various reasons, St James wasn't built until 1841. St James Church was originally designed to serve as a Chapel of Ease for All Saints.
But on the 19th June 1844, St James became a Parish in it's own right. The Parish covered a circuit of five miles from the River Tame to Swam Lane to the Dudley Road and on to the Tipton boundary; covering all the present day parish of St Paul’s and part of St Andrews, with a population of around 6000 people.
The First incumbent of the new parish was The Rev Francis Parker Sockett who stayed until 1868
All Saints Church
The St James National School (a Church of England school and the present day church hall) was opened in 1845 under Mr & Mrs Wilkins and in the year 1846/7 had 562 pupils including 130 infants.
During January 1871, attendance at the school averaged at 314 pupils increasing to 543 in 1900/1, and the building was improved and enlarged in 1871. At this time it became clear that the church building was in need of repair and so in 1873 a fabric fund was set up.
In July 1882, the church of St Paul was opened at its present site in Bagnall Street, Golds Hill but wasn’t consecrated until 6th September 1887 under the Rev Ralph Robson and became a separate parish. The vicar of St James remained patron of the parish with the power to select candidates for St Paul’s, a right that persisted until January 1923 when there was an exchange of benefices; the vicar of Tipton became patron of St Paul’s and the vicar of St James became the patron of St John’s Tipton.
The late 1880’s saw moves towards the renovation of the church. Under the architect, Mr E Pincher, the fabric of the church was repaired in 1890, the vestry was enlarged and a tower added to the structure in which to house the bell.
The 1890’s saw legal action against Wallface Colliery Company for allegedly mining too close to the church; the action was settled out of court and it was never firmly established how closely they had mined to the buildings. The company subsequently went out of business. By January 1894 inspections showed that both the church and school were affected and were continuing to be affected by mining subsidence.
In 1908 St James’ School was condemned by the School’s Board for not reaching the right standards. Three years later it was closed and its pupils transferred to Hill Top Council School.
A new era in the life of the parish began with the institution of the Rev B W Houldey as vicar on 9th April 1918. Early in his time at St James, there was decision to set up a war memorial at a cost of around £100, this was dedicated by the Bishop of Lichfield on the 4th October 1919,
The Mothers Union began in Hill Top on St James Day 1922. The vicars letter of that same month said, “Our St James Church can never be much of a thing of beauty outwardly; it suffered the misfortune of being built in the very worst and most debased period of church architecture and its beauty and the love we have for it must be sought in the approach to God which we find in its service”.
Scouting in Hill Top began with the formation of a troop by George Mansell on the 24th June 1924, with a Cub troop being formed two years later and Rover Scouts in 1933.
The fifties bright a time of outreach into the new housing estates springing up all over Hill Top and the church was further embellished with the gifts of pews and prayer desks.
On the 8th February 1957 the Rev David Merchant was instituted vicar and the following month the St James branch of the Anglican Young Peoples Association (AYPA) was set up gaining 42 members by May that year. The late fifties saw repairs to the school buildings and to repairs to the south window of the church.
In February 1977 there was increasing bitterness against a backdrop of problems with the church fabric; declared in a good state of repair with some brickwork in need of attention, the Quinquennial report for 1983 said that repairs were needed. The estimated cost was beyond the pocket of the parish so detailed plans were drawn up for creating a worship area in the hall in 1985.
The last major service held in the old church was the institution of the Rev Martin Rutter on the 28th April 1986. On Whit Sunday of that year the congregation marched from the old building into the Hall where it remained until the new building was created. On the 4th January 1987 the Worship Area was dedicated by the Bishop of Wolverhampton.
This time was marked by wranglings with the diocese over the future of the church site and the very survival of St James as a separate congregation was called into question. Signs of hope began to emerge, as the Worship Area worked well, Sunday School activities were restarted and a Tiny Tots Group for mothers and pre-school children were set up in 1987, whilst the uniformed organisations continued to thrive, being joined by a new Rainbow unit in February 1989.
On the 1st November 1988 the old church was declared redundant and the Worship Area designated the Parish Centre of Worship and plans for the demolition of the old building were in hand by 1989.
November 1989 saw the demolition of the old church and the site was designated for a new ‘St James’ to serve into the next century. December of the same year saw the Bishop of Wolverhampton at St Paul’s to license Rev Martin Rutter as Priest in charge of St Paul’s as well as continuing as vicar of St James.
Construction work began in early 1994 and was completed in time for a hand over in November of that year. Then began the task of moving in the furnishings. Many items from the old church were used; the original font restored to its previous place, the original bell re-hung above the main doors, many of the pews, the nave altar, communion rails and clergy stalls. The War Memorial outside the church was renewed and re-cut by Linford-Bridgeman.
The foundation stone was laid to the glory of God, by Miss Betty Boothroyd MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, on Saturday 21st May 1994. The new church was consecrated on the 4th February 1995 by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Rev Keith Sutton, with Miss Boothroyd giving the address at the service. The Mayor and Mayoress attended as did representatives from the link churches of Baschurch, Sharnbrook and Watkins Glen New York.
The restored stained glass St James Window was finally placed in the church during the summer of 1995.
it was on the on the 1st August 1997 that Martin Rutter became the first Incumbent of the benefice of St James with St Paul’s, West Bromwich. The area had then come full circle from its beginnings in 1842 as the two churches once again coming one ministry under one vicar.
In October of 2002 that the congregation and community joined together to celebrate Martin and Val’s Silver Wedding Anniversary, it was also a farewell to Martin who had decided after sixteen years at St James that it was time to move on.
In September 2004 Rev Peter Ashby was appointed to the joint Benefice of St. James and St. Pauls. It was during this time that the pews where replaced by chairs, so that the building could be used in a more flexible manner, these where dedicated in May 2005.
Rev Peter Ashby left St. James in March 2006. He moved to Stafford.
After a short Interregnum Rev Dag Hart was Appointed as Priest in Charge to the joint Benefice of St. James and St. Pauls in May 2006.
On 25th October 2014, Rev Dag Hart retired from his Ministry to St. James and St.Pauls.
Also in October, the Church Wardens met with Bishop Clive and Archdeacon Sue to discuss the possibility of a new minister coming to St James and St Paul's. The aim of the post would be, to build the churches in mission and to help them grow in number as well as in spirit, So the wardens were asked to meet with Jeremy Oakley with a view to him coming as Interim Minister at St. James and St. Pauls.
Jeremy became Interim Minister of St James with St Paul’s in February of 2016.
It was during Jeremy’s time that the start of growth happened, with new families joining St James, the first appointment of a children’s worker (Miss Rachel Adkins), and also a building up of new relationships with our local schools.
A lot of work started or were reborn under new names. The Life Exhibition started coming to St James every other year; Little Fish starting, the local nursery using the church building for whist the new nursery building was being built at Moorland School.
The start of a building project started under Jeramy with the balcony becoming an enclosed space to create a new room where we could have children’s ministry on a Sunday.
Jeremy didn’t want to see the ministry that he started to stop, so he worked hard with the parish to appoint his successor, and to try and not stop the momentum that he started, he wanted his successor to start before he finished.
Sadly this didn’t happen, but Revd Mark Wilson was appointed Minister in Charge (to be known as Interim Minister and Ordained Missioner) of the Benefice of St James and St Pauls a week before Jeremy's retirement on the 25th of March 2018.
Jeremy Oakley retired on the 6th of April 2018.
On the 10th July 2018 Revd Mark Wilson took up his role as Minister in Charge of the benefice, and things didn’t slow down in the benefice, as we saw the completion of the upper room.
Sadly we said goodbye to Rachel Adkins, and moved quickly to appoint a new Children’s and Youth worker who took up the post in June 2019 (Miss Emily Taylor).
The benefice taking the bold step in voting to become one Parish with two churches, bringing the churches closer to where they started 136 years ago, for the growth of the Gospel. And seeing new people added to our number.
The 4th February of 2020 saw the 25th anniversary of current St James Church Building, and the church was able to celebrate with present and past members of the church. The Bishop of Wolverhampton, Bishop Clive Gregory lead the service and Revd Mark Wilson was joined by Revd Martin Rutter in leading the intersessions.
On the 1st of March 2020, the parishes of St James Hill Top and St Paul's Golds hill became one parish, and a new PCC and wardens were elected just before the Covid-19 lockdown of 2020.
St James Church Hall
St Paul's Golds Hill
St James Church
with bell tower
St. James' church
Rev Dag Hart
Rev Jeremy Oakley
Rev Mark Wilson
Rev Mark Wilson
In November of 2020we heard that 46th Sandwell Scouts were coming back to St James after 10 years of meeting elsewhere. it was a real joy having them back with us. Since then Nicola Jonson the Scout Leader of 46th Sandwell has been made the District commissioner and Mark our Vicar has been invested as one of the helpers.
As a church we are looking forward to see how God will grow his kingdom in Hill Top, Moorland, Hateley Heath and the rest of the parish.