Aston-by-Stone, Staffordshire ST15
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.
List description (the church was listed Grade II in 2016, following Taking Stock)
A Roman Catholic parish church of c.1882, possibly designed by James Trubshaw, and incorporating fabric from an earlier church of 1847-49 which was designed by CF Hansom.
Reasons for designation: The church of Holy Michael Archangel, Aston, Stone is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural quality: despite the relative plainness of the church built in 1882, it contains rich furnishings, designed by CF Hansom and brought from the former site of the chapel. These include stained glass, tracery and a carved altar, pulpit and font. * Historic associations: the manor house and later the convent at Aston have a long association with recusant Catholicism in England and were the site of the safekeeping of the bones and St Chad and of the mission founded by Saint Dominic Barberi, who converted Saint John Newman and who commissioned the furnishings now placed in this present church.
History: The site is an ancient one with a large moat (now dry). In the C16 the site passed to the Heveningham family and from them it went to the Simeon family. In about 1757 Sir James Simeon built a family mausoleum to the south-west of the moat which survives (Grade II). The estate passed to the Roman Catholic Weld family who commissioned a design for a house from John Tasker c.1798. This house was then given to the English Franciscans to serve as a noviciate and Bridgettine nuns were in residence from 1829-37. In 1838 the bones of St Chad were discovered under the altar in the hall chapel, having been brought to the site for safekeeping from Lichfield Cathedral at the Reformation. In 1842 Dominic Barberi arrived from Italy and founded a Passionist novitiate at the hall. A small convent and chapel with a courtyard plan were designed and built for him by CF Hansom in 1847-9 and placed on a corner of the moated island – a location which must have created interesting reflections before the moat was drained, but which proved unstable. Barberi was responsible for receiving John Henry Neman into the Roman Catholic church in 1845 and was himself beatified in 1963. Following Barberi’s death in 1849, the Passionists gave up the mission and the site was bought in 1855 by Revd. Canon Edward Huddlestone. It seems likely that the Hansom building was already showing signs of instability and Hansom employed EW Pugin to rebuild part of the convent buildings, perhaps using some of the earlier foundations. The present Aston Hall, appears to include an earlier wing, which formed part of Hansom’s convent building. The Hansom chapel was demolished in the 1880s and the present, smaller church was built to the north west of the moat. It is believed that salvaged features from the earlier convent were reused in the new church, most particularly window surrounds and furnishings, but probably also squared blocks of stonework . From 1959 the house has been owned by the Birmingham Roman Catholic Diocese and run as a guest house for retired and convalescent priests. The small tower housing the sanctus bell, to the north east of the church, was added in 1899 according to the diocesan archives.
Details: A Roman Catholic parish church of c.1882, possibly designed by James Trubshaw, and incorporating fabric from an earlier church of 1847-49 which was designed by CF Hansom. MATERIALS: sandstone with a plain tile roof. PLAN: the church is aisleless, with a chancel, northern vestry and western gallery. The small sanctus bell tower to the north of the chancel was added in 1899. EXTERIOR: the nave and chancel have the same height of ridge, but the division between them is marked by a visible coping stones above the sanctuary arch, which perhaps supported the sanctus bellcote before the small tower was built. The south-western flank of the building has four bays to the nave, defined by buttresses with offsets. Windows are arcuated triangles with a single lancet and a triple lancet. The chancel has a window of paired lancets. The north-west gabled end has buttresses to the corners and three arcuated triangle lights to the gable above two lancets. The north-east flank has an arched doorway at right with a plank door. To left of this are two, two-light windows with cusped heads to the lights and quatrefoils to the apex. At left again is the projecting, gabled vestry, which has a chimney to its right flank and an arched priest’s doorway to its left flank. The gable end has a three-light window with heavy hood mould, and there is a quatrefoil to the gable. The chancel has a window with paired lancets. To the left of this the later bell tower projects, and has a lancet window to the lower stage, with a door to its right flank. The upper stage has paired and single lancets to the belfry and the spire roof is square on plan with a slate roof. The south-east (ritual east) end has a window of three lights with cusped heads and with a circle to the tracery at the top containing three arcuated triangles with cusps. INTERIOR: the roof is formed of common rafters, each with angle braces and long ashlar pieces. The flooring is tiled with alternating red and black tiles to the nave and patterned encaustic tiles to the chancel which include a memorial tile with the lettering ’E+H / RIP’ for Edward Huddlestone, who died in 1871. The font at the western end is octagonal with recessed panels carved in deep relief representing the Evangelists, the Pelican in her Piety, Agnus Dei and Holy initials. The stone pulpit has a panelled front including the lettering ‘IHC’ and is approached by a staircase with a wrought iron balustrade. The stone altar has five panels to its front showing the crucifixion at centre, flanked by figures of St George and St Michael. To the right is the Nativity and at right is the Coronation of the Virgin. The altar, together with its ledge are notably deep and may indicate some later adjustment to the altar or inclusion of earlier fabric. The tabernacle has richly enamelled and engraved doors and is inscribed to its flanks with wording that clearly predates the present building; the left flank reads ‘HOC TABERNACULUM, / IN HONOREM / SANCTUTIMI SACRAMANT / DONO DEDIT.’ and the right flank reads ‘JOANNA BILLINGTON / DE MANCHESTER / A.D. MDCCCXLIX.’ (ie 1849, the year of the completion of Hansom’s convent buildings). Stained glass in the western window appears to be of mid-C19 date and shows a figure of St Michael flanked by St Peter and St Paul. The heart and cross in the central light are the symbol of the Passionists, who left Aston in 1854. Stained glass of a similar date is in the triple lancet window on the south-western flank.
Books and journals: Drinkwater, FH , Aston Hall by Stone, (1976)
Architect: C. F. Hansom, James Trubshaw (unconfirmed)
Original Date: 1882
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II