Aston-by-Stone - Holy Michael Archangel

Aston-by-Stone, Staffordshire ST15

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A stone-built church of 1882, possibly incorporating material from Charles Hansom’s predecessor church of the 1840s. The site is of strong historical significance, associated with an ancient Catholic mission and with the Passionist priest Blessed Dominic Barberi. It was here that the relics of St Chad were discovered before their translation to what is now St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham. Aston Hall has twice been rebuilt, most recently by E. W. Pugin in 1856. The gatepiers and a mausoleum survive from the eighteenth century. 

The site has a long and complex history, which would benefit from more detailed research than is offered here. The following is an attempt to discern the chronology but is based on existing published accounts and limited observation. 

Aston Hall is on an ancient site delineated by a large dry moat. By the sixteenth century it had passed to the recusant Heveningham family. The house was rebuilt in rather stark style probably in the eighteenth century and passed by marriage to the Simeon family. In about 1757 Sir James Simeon built a family mausoleum beyond the moat. The estate passed to the Weld family of Lulworth in 1767, who commissioned John Tasker to rebuild the house in about 1798. In 1814 Cardinal Weld handed the hall over to serve as a noviciate for the English Franciscans, and Bridgettine nuns were here from 1829-37.

Shortly after his arrival in 1838, the Rev. Benjamin Hulme discovered the relics of St Chad under the altar in the hall chapel. These were translated to Oscott and thence to St Chad’s, Birmingham (qv). 

In 1842 Domenic Barberi arrived from Italy and founded a Passionist novitiate at the hall. A convent and chapel were built from designs by C. F. Hansom in 1847-9. Barberi died suddenly in 1849 just before the church opened. He is famous for his missionary work and for receiving John Henry Newman into the Catholic Church in 1845. He was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1963.

The Passionists gave up the mission in 1854 and in 1855 the site was acquired by the Rev. (Canon) Edward Huddlestone. He rebuilt the hall in 1856 from designs by E. W. Pugin, who also designed a Lady Chapel extension to the Hansom church. A presbytery/school followed in 1858. Canon Huddlestone died in 1871 and was buried in the Simeon mausoleum, along with six other priests and religious between 1824 and 1844.

It is possible that Hansom and Pugin’s church survives in part (the truncated stone tower and short chapel at the rear of the present hall). Otherwise, it was later deemed unsafe and demolished. It may be that fabric from Hansom’s church was used in the present church, rebuilt on a nearby site, the foundation stone for which was laid in January 1882. The design of the rebuilt church certainly bears similarities to other designs by Hansom, and the involvement of his nephew J. S Hansom cannot be ruled out (the church was served at this time from Stone, where in 1889 the younger Hansom designed the tomb and effigy for Archbishop Ullathorne). The HCC list gives James Trubsham as the architect for the rebuilding, but the source for this attribution is not clear and may be a confusion with the architect of that name credited (in its list entry) with the design of the earlier (1846) Anglican church of St Saviour, Aston-by-Stone (which in itself is a likely misprint for James Trubshaw (1804-75), see note in Colvin, p.1055).

An early (undated) photograph of the interior of the 1882 church shows a rood screen with figures, now removed. According to historical notes in the diocesan archives, the small tower was added in 1899.

The graveyard and mausoleum, now closed, were used for the burials of local people and inhabitants of the hall, including priests and Bridgettine nuns, during the nineteenth century.

In 1961 Aston Hall was purchased by Cyril Hartley KSG, who gave it to the diocese as a home for retired and convalescent priests, in which use it remains. The former presbytery/school has been converted to flats associated with this use. The church is served from Stone. 

All orientations given are liturgical. The church was built in 1882, possibly incorporating material from Charles Hansom’s predecessor church of 1847-9. It is built of stone and consists of an aisleless nave, chancel of the same height, short northeast tower and transeptal vestry. The tower was added in 1899 and is of square section with a pyramidal slated roof, of stonework which differs from that of the rest of the building. Windows are a mixture of lancets, small spherical-triangular windows, and larger windows of broadly Decorated character. There is a west gallery, ribbed timber roof and tall chancel arch. A high altar of stone is carved with a Crucifixion and other scenes. There is also a simple forward altar and a crucifix hangs from the chancel arch (part of a former rood screen, now removed).  Stained glass in the east window appears to be by Hardman, or possibly Wailes; its character is more typical of the 1850s or sixties than the 1880s, suggesting the window may have come from the predecessor church. The sacristy contains the remains of a timber confessional. 

Diocese: Birmingham

Architect: Not established

Original Date: 1882

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed