At the time of the Domesday survey Bilbrook was part of the fee of the canons of Tettenhall and was subject to the manor of Tettenhall Clericorum. Even at this time Tettenhall was already important. There was a Deanery and a College for secular canons with a Royal Free Chapel which had been founded by King Edgar. He had endowed it with lands and revenues out of his estates at Tettenhall; thus forming two manors, Tettenhall Regis (the King’s Manor) and Tettenhall Clericorum (the Dean’s Manor).
The main settlements at this time would have been clearings in the forest, with the life of the village people centred around the Church and the priest’s house, the manor house with the demesne lands and the village mill. Around these and outside the demesne lands of the lord would be the common fields of the tenants. On the edge of the clearing would be the waste land reclaimed from the forest.
From the Domesday survey we learn that the Dean’s Manor consisted of one hide of land in Tettenhall and one hide in Bilrebock, which explains why Bilbrook was part of the Church of Tettenhall and not that of Codsall. (A hide was a variable unit of land enough to support a household).
In 1247, King Edgar granted his protection to Tettenhall Church, declaring it a Royal Chapel. This is the earliest document to give the dedication of the Church to St. Michael and to describe it as a Royal Free Chapel.
The inhabitants of the small hamlet of Bilbrook continued to travel to Tettenhall for their Church Services for another six hundred years until 1898. In this year Mary Ann Smith, of Chorley Place, left 1,176 square yards of land. This piece of land situated roughly between what is the Woodman Pub today and Homefield Road was sold to the Diocesan Trust for the princely sum of £25.
On this land a small mission Church was built, still owing its allegiance to the mother church at Tettenhall. At the end of last century only a few families lived around Bilbrook Manor and the village green at Lane Green so this small Church would have been quite adequate for the local people.
However, after the First World War the population began to increase. First, came the families who had been allocated smallholdings in a move to help the unemployed after the First World War. Gradually Bilbrook started to expand from a hamlet into a village. Then in the 1930’s industrial expansion began as Dowty Boulton Paul moved their factory from Norwich into Bilbrook and houses were built to accommodate the work force.
At first the factory employed some 800 people, but by 1940 the number of employees had risen to 5,000 and it would climb still higher to 7,000 before the war ended.
One particular person had a major part to play in the growth of Holy Cross almost from its inception. That person was Mr. Harold Twentyman. He was a churchwarden at Holy Cross Church from 1908, just ten years after it was built, until the end of the war in 1945. After his death the people of Bilbrook subscribed towards the cost of building a porch in his memory. Over the entrance to the porch is a tablet marking the splendid work that he did in the early days of Holy Cross.
The boundary changes which occurred in 1959 finally severed Bilbrook from the ecclesiastical control of Tettenhall. On September 15th Holy Cross came into the parish of Codsall and became a daughter church of St. Nicholas Church, the Parish Church of Codsall.
The Reverend Michael Pollitt accepted the position of assistant priest at Holy Cross, taking up his position on November 1st 1959.
All this took place just at the time that St. Nicholas Parochial Church Council had to start considering the question of accommodation at Holy Cross for the increasing number of worshippers.
When it proved impossible to find another, larger site for the Church it was decided that an extension should be put on the existing building. A Building Fund was established and set in motion. Before the meeting in the Parish Room closed there was already £1,000 to start the fund. An appeal was launched and the people of Codsall and Bilbrook were invited to make a donation towards the building costs.
Eventually, building work commenced and was subsequently completed around the early part of 1966. The total cost was in the region of £20,500. Roger Gaskell undertook the task of overseeing the project and he gave a very generous donation of £5,000 to the appeal fund.
Shortly after the completion of the extension came the eagerly awaited event, the dedication of the Church of Holy Cross. Indeed, for most of the 250 people who crowded into the splendid ‘new’ church it was the culmination of many years of hard work. The ceremony was conducted by the Diocesan Bishop, the Rt. Revd. Stretton-Reeve, attended by the two Church Wardens from St. Nicholas Church, Douglas Yates and Ernest Gaskell. The Vicar of St. Nicholas, the Reverend Gilbert Smith, said, “For many, this Church is a dream come true.”
As a result of the building work the East window became the West window. One or two visitors remarked that the Church appeared to be the wrong way around, but it was pointed out that at least the congregation faced the right way!
Time passed by and Holy Cross Church became a centre point of life in Bilbrook. However, there seemed to be a problem – no priest stayed longer than two and a half years before moving to take on greater responsibility. A suggestion was made to the Parochial Church Council that Holy Cross should apply to become a District Church. Finally this was agreed to and the application was made. One advantage would be that now our priest would stay for a minimum of five years.
Of course if you embark upon a project such as this you can be sure that nothing will run smoothly. Just as an example, one of the early shocks came during our researches when we discovered that Holy Cross had never been licensed for worship!
A frantic searching of the Church Registers followed. Had anyone been married at Holy Cross? Fortunately – no! So, the Church became a District Church with a District Church Council, wardens and a thriving congregation.
On June 6th 2005 Bilbrook became a Parish in the newly created Benefice of Bilbrook and Coven. Areas of land that had previously belonged to the Parishes of Codsall and Tettenhall Regis were included in the new Parish of Bilbrook to ensure that it was adjacent to the Parish of Coven. The incumbent at the time, Reverend David Baker became the first Vicar of the Benefice, moving from Bilbrook’s Church House to the more spacious Vicarage in Coven. The Diocese consequently sold Church House to provide additional accommodation for a neighbouring Nursery. The Church’s Car Park, located to the rear of Church House, also being sold, to provide parking for the Nursery.
When the incumbent retired in 2012 it was decided that Bilbrook and Coven churches should separate and the post of a part time priest for Holy Cross was advertised, but because of there not being any accommodation for an incumbent the post was not filled. A return to the Parish of Tettenhall Regis was suggested and, with the agreement of both Church Councils, this became a reality in November 2014. The post of Team Vicar, with responsibility for Aldersley and Bilbrook, was advertised and Reverend Simon Douglas was appointed; being licensed in February 2015.
Graham Johns & Mike Spragg
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