St. Mary’s Church, The Croft and farm, Aldridge, early 20th century. (Walsall LHC)

St. Mary’s Church, The Croft and farm, Aldridge, early 20th century. (Walsall LHC)

The settlement at Aldridge dates from at least the Anglo-Saxon period.  Known as ‘Alrewic’ or the ‘Alder village’, it was already a thriving little agricultural community by the time of Domesday Book (1086), some twenty years after the Norman Conquest.  Aldridge is listed in the Domesday survey as farmland held by ‘Robert’ from his lord, William Fitz Ansculf, who was a major landholder in theWest Midlands.  From this period Aldridge was part of the Manor of Great Barr and Aldridge, but Aldridge was subsequently granted as an inferior manor to a local family.

In the Middle Ages, the Manor was held by a number of important local families, such as the Hillarys and the Mountforts, who were associated withWalsall.  The Jordans, a family of minor landowners in medieval times had risen to the status of lords of the manor by the 17th century and by the late 18th century the manor was in the hands of the well-known Croxall family from Shustoke.

Aldridge Church prior to 1798, with the old rectory. (Walsall LHC)

Aldridge Church prior to 1798, with the old rectory. (Walsall LHC)

The parish church of Aldridge, dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin, was originally thought to date back to around 1250, but in recent years a charter has come to light at Stafford Record Office which, although undated, belongs to the end of the 12th century or the beginning of the 13th.  This concerns Robert de Barr, with one witness being Drogo of Aldridge and the other Widon, parson of Aldridge.  It contradicts the theory that the church was founded by Nicholas de Alrewych (of Aldridge), a minor official of Cannock Forest whose family received the manor of Aldridge in the 13th century and took their name from the village.

The effigy in the chancel of the present church was formerly thought to be of this Nicholas de Alrewych, but it is apparently that of a 14th century priest, which makes it more likely to be Roger de Elyngton, a rector of Aldridge c1345, who founded a chantry chapel and was given a position of honour as a resting place.

The church, which has been altered many times, probably replaced an original wooden building.  The oldest part is the nave and chancel, with a 13th century chapel being added on to the north side.  This was soon extended to form the north aisle.  The western tower and a short south aisle were added in the 14th century.  Later, a gallery was built over the north aisle for the schoolboys and another across the belfry arch for the girls.

Box pews belonging to local families faced in every direction and there were almost no seats for the poor of the parish.  The ground floor of the tower was used as a vestry.

Interior of St. Mary’s Church, Aldrodge, c1920. (Walsall LHC)

Interior of St. Mary’s Church, Aldridge, c1920. (Walsall LHC)

The bells were cast in 1738, and the clock was installed by 1754.  The Rev. Jeremiah Finch Smith was the first Rector of Aldridge after Barr had been made a separate parish in 1849.  He was instrumental in restoring and improving the church in the 1850’s.  A new aisle and vestry were added, the galleries demolished and the nave opened into the lower part of the tower.  The old pews were taken out and new ones, later replaced in their turn, were installed.  They were apparently the first pews without doors to be installed in Staffordshire.  Extra seats were added for the poor.

The font was given in 1853 by Mary Ann Allport in memory of her parents.  In 1881 the church was lit by gas as a memorial to Edward Tongue.  A new vestry was added in 1975.

Saint Mary’s Church remains one of the finest and most interesting buildings in Aldridge, especially since so much else was demolished in the 1960’s.   It continues to form the historic centre of this ancient town, once the ‘Alder Village’.

Stuart Williams