17th April 2022 is the 85th anniversary of the laying of the Foundation Stone of St Leonard’s Church, Marston Green.
This was a significant event, which marked the switch from the old St Leonard’s chapel, and the building of the new St Leonard’s church.
Colonel Frederick James Boswell Wingfield Digby (1885-1952), a landowner who lived near Coleshill, but whose family had owned most of the land in Marston Green, laid the Foundation Stone.
In 1922, he gave the Wingfield Digby family chapel of St Leonard, situated on the corner of Station Road and Land Lane to the Diocese of Birmingham, so that the people of Marston Green could go to local church services instead of travelling to St Peter’s Church in Bickenhill. In 1920, he also gifted three acres of land on Elmdon Road where a church, a church hall and vicarage could be built (Kenilworth Advertiser, 17th July 1920).
This was the culmination of his earlier efforts to ensure that the people of Marston Green had access to local church services and eventually their own new church and social space linked to the church.
In 1928 when the Rev. Thomas C. Baines, Vicar of Bickenhill died, the old church of St Leonard’s was transferred to the parish of Sheldon in Birmingham.
It was late 1936 before any building work started on the new St Leonard’s, but by April 1937 when the Foundation Stone was laid, the new St Leonard’s church was taking shape, and the building was finally consecrated in May 1938. The church had cost £4,000 to build.
The building of the Vicarage and Parish Hall didn’t happen straightaway because of the war, but also, funding had to be arranged to help with this. The Vicarage was built in 1952 at a cost of £4,300, and then the Parish Hall and a new vestry in 1964, which together cost £19,500.
Recently, I was lucky enough to be able to meet and chat to Hilda Elliott (née Knibbs ) who was born and lived in Marston Green for many years, and taught mainly reception classes at Marston Green Infant School. She is now 92, and at the age of six, Hilda attended the laying of the Foundation Stone in 1937.
Hilda was a member of the old St Leonard’s Sunday school at this time, and she remembers that every child was given a brick to lay and that the children all took part in this after Colonel Wingfield-Digby laid the Foundation Stone.
The choir sung at the ceremony to celebrate this, and the first hymn rather appropriately was: Christ is made the sure foundation, Christ the head and corner-stone.
Hilda’s photograph of the Sunday School children shows them grouped together with the Rector from St Giles Church in Sheldon, Alfred William Waugh, who is on the far left. Hilda is third from the right, in the front row of the group. Hilda said that the building of the church seemed to be in a field, because the land that fronted Elmdon Road at that time was still open green land.
St Leonard’s Church was finally finished in 1938 at a cost of £4,000, and the Rt. Rev. E.W. Barnes, the Bishop of Birmingham consecrated the church on 28th May of that year, with Marston Green becoming a parish in its own right in 1939.
The new St Leonard’s Church became the focal point of the village as had the old St Leonard’s before it, carrying on the community service that was already part of the fabric of Marston Green.
The old chapel became the Church Room, where members of the Sunday School who were under eight met. The older children met in church, with the Youth Fellowship meeting in the old vestry which is now currently used by Marston Green Bowling Club.
The Church Room had also been a first aid point during the Second World War, housed the village library, and was used as a venue for birthday parties and dance classes. It was also known as The Point, because villagers used it as a meeting point.
The old chapel of St Leonard’s was finally demolished in the mid 1960s, and its old bell was given to St Leonard’s church to be installed there.
There were, and still are, thriving groups linked to St Leonard’s, such as the Women’s Institute and the Mothers’ Union, and later, from the 1970s, the Women’s Fellowship and the Men’s Fellowship.
There were plenty of trips and outings from St Leonard’s after it was built, and these two photos show a WI trip to the Houses of Parliament in the 1950s and a Sunday School gathering from 1960 outside the church doors.
The new Parish Hall, designed by Marston Green architect Geoffrey Barnett, welcomed its first function in April 1965, as Daphne and John Halton held their wedding breakfast there.
As lovely and new as the Parish Hall was inside, the car park was still unfinished, and in this photo, Daphne and John are probably trying to avoid the muddiest bits.
Today, Marston Green Parish Hall is still a very important part of the community and has a brilliant volunteer group who raise funds by putting on events, which the village supports. This ensures that the Parish Hall can carry on being a valued resource for the village and the wider community.
St Leonard’s Church continues to be a huge part of life in Marston Green and still works for the community as it always did, right from the early days up until the present day. In writing this piece, I felt it was important to mark the anniversary of the laying of the Foundation Stone, because it was literally the foundation of the modern-day St Leonard’s Church, responding to life in Marston Green from 1938 right up to the present day.
I am very grateful to Hilda Elliott, Pat Raymer, Bobbie Wilson, John Halton and Stella Reece for their photographs and support. Thanks to our customers and friends in the library who were always willing to help with their knowledge of the local area.
Marston Green Library
© Solihull Council, 2022.
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