By the 19th century the interior of the church had been plastered, hiding the carvings. This probably happened in the 17th century when such decorations were disliked by people with puritan points of view. The two aisles had been demolished and the arches of the nave bricked up.
Izaak Walton’s “The Compleat Angler” (1653) is about far more than fishing. It invites us to contemplate the real world of nature around us. He was born in the parish of St Chad’s, in Pitcher Bank. By his time the church was already 500 years old and neglected. He loved the old church and gave £22 (this would be worth several thousand today) to build a stone wall around the churchyard. In 1672 he gave the rents of “all his garden in the Borough of Stafford, and appurtenances” to the Borough, to buy coals for the poor, and to provide money for the church wardens for the upkeep of the wall.
The church building itself was already in a very bad state. The aisle walls were so unsafe that they had to be pulled down, possibly even before 1650. The spaces between the nave pillars and arches were then bricked up to form the new exterior walls, the transepts disappeared, and the carvings on the chancel arch were covered with layers of plaster. An early nineteenth-century print shows the overall effects of this work: a narrow tunnel-like building, with most of its former glories hidden from view.
In 1740 the west end fell down. There was an attempt to remodel the interior in neo-classical style. The ceiling was plastered with “Grecian mouldings”, according to a description in the “Staffordshire Advertiser” of August 2nd 1856, but money ran out. In 1757 four of the six bells in the tower were sold to pay for this work, but the remodelling was never finished. A picture dated 1837 reveals a re-modelling of the tower parapet, with a Grecian urn on each corner, but the nave is barn-like, the windows tall, with slightly curved tops and iron grilles reminiscent of the factory windows of the period.
At this time services were held infrequently. By 1782 it was customary to hold only one service a month, simply prayers and a sermon, on the second Sunday.
St Chad’s would have been a small, dark place, hidden from the High St by other buildings. Its original beauty would have been forgotten.
St Chad’s was still a parish church, but its rector probably never set foot in the town. From the end of the fifteenth century all the church income went to the Prebendary of Prees, a small village in Shropshire, who was a minor canon of Lichfield Cathedral. The Prebendary kept the income from property owned by the church, including the old Dale’s shop that stood in front of the church, and tithes, but was only required to contribute a small amount to pay for a curate to serve St Chads. This was a fixed sum, £7 10s a year, so by the nineteenth century Canon Henry Ryder was taking all the income but paying almost nothing for the work of St Chad’s. (The Staffordshire Sentinel, February 3rd 1877, gives details of the property of the Prebendary.)
From 1846 to 1854 the curate of St. Chad’s was also usher, or second master, at Stafford Grammar School, at that time housed in Gaol Square. This was still the situation when the first steps were taken to restore the church. Such medieval arrangements seemed obviously absurd and impractical by the nineteenth century, but nothing could be changed until Canon Henry Ryder died in 1877, and the Cathedrals Act of 1840 required the patronage to be given to the Bishop of Lichfield, who could then appoint a vicar, who was paid £91 a year. The Earl of Shrewsbury took over the responsibility of maintaining the chancel. The upkeep of church buildings in the Church of England is usually the responsibility of the local congregation, or landowners who support the church in return for land they were given or sold in the 16th century Reformation. Lord Shrewsbury also paid for a vicarage, which was built, in 1882, on the south side of Tipping Street, where Staffordshire Place now stands.
By the time the first vicar was appointed the church had been restored, thanks to the enthusiasm of the banker Thomas Salt.
The front page of the “Staffordshire Advertiser” on Saturday May 28th 1853 announced the plan to restore St Chads as a memorial to Izaak Walton, and to provide room for a growing population. This was a time when Stafford’s shoe industry was developing. The original plan was to include a stained glass window and a brass plate as a memorial to Walton. It was to be “a fitting memorial in the place of his birth to one, who, as an author, is of imperishable fame…” “Beside rescuing an ancient parish church from ruin provision will be secured for between 400 and 500 additional worshippers.”
A considerable amount of money had already been raised from the Bishop of Lichfield and local people.
The choir and sanctuary (the east end of the church) was restored, leaving the rest of the church still encased in plaster, but the Norman carvings had been revealed. There is a detailed description of the restoration in the “Staffordshire Advertiser” of August 2nd, 1756. This first stage of the work was done by architect H Ward and builder C Espley.
(St Chad’s between 1856 and 1874. Photographs from the scrapbook of Edward Marson, by permission of the William Salt Library, Stafford.)
The carvings on the arch had been ”greatly mutilated” but some heads had been protected by the old pulpit and were in “a perfect state”. It is very difficult to tell now which parts of the carvings are original and which were replaced. The church was fitted up with new seating, an alabaster pulpit and a new brass rail for the communion table. At this stage St Chads had not been redesigned in the Anglo-Catholic style. The font is a 19th century copy of 12th century Norman style.
The church was re-opened on Tuesday 29th July 1856.
The restoration committee hoped that money would be raised to buy the property around the church and restore the outer aisles so that St Chads would be, once again, “one of the most beautiful sacred edifices in the county.”
Thomas Salt died in 1874 and the rest of the church was restored in his memory, in 1875. The nave was restored by George Gilbert Scott, who built a new west front in Norman style.
Scott, himself, gave the statue of St Chad on the west front. This was controversial. 1874 was the year of the “Public Worship Regulation Act”, designed to stop the spread of catholic-style ritual and ornaments. A satirical poem appeared in the Staffordshire Advertiser made fun of the 1874 Act and the anti-Catholic attitudes of the time.
In lawless vestment habited
In lawless Alb, Stole, Cassock clad
A lawless mitre on thy head,
Yet not afraid, Saint Chad.
Lest three aggrieved parishioners, backed
By kindred spirits – popery-mad-
Enforce the Public Worship Act
To drag thee down, Saint Chad!
This statue might have been seen as a sign of controversial, even illegal, “High Church” attitudes, but the Anglo-Catholic style of worship and decoration at St Chads began a few years later, with the influence of priests Robert McCleverty (1893-1915) and Henry Jevons (1915-1935). It was during the time of Jevons that the church began to take on the style of the High Church, or Anglo-Catholic, movement, with very fine decorations in gothic-revival style.
The tower was restored in 1884 and the north transept in 1886. The organ was built in 1892 and restored in 1995.
The font cover, choir stalls, porch at the west end, and rood beam were designed by Sir Charles Nicholson (1867-1949) in the 1930s. Nicholson was responsible for many church restorations at the time. The woodwork has medieval influences, without being a direct imitation.
The font cover is raised telescopically, a medieval idea which can be found, for example, at Ufford, in Suffolk.
The choir stalls have some quite bizarre details, including some grotesque figures whichhave a medieval mood but are 20th century in style.
The figures of Christ, Mary and John on the rood were made by Guglielmo Tosi, an Italian wood-carver and artist based in Chelsea, who provided the figures for many works by Nicholson in the 1920s and 30s. Nicholson and Tosi also made the similar rood in Wells Cathedral.
The Reredos, the decorated screen behind the altar, was designed by Sir Walter Tapper in 1910, in gothic revival style. It shows the annunciation and nativity and English saints St Chad, St Werburgh, St Etheldreda, and St Guthlac. The latin inscription is from St John’s gospel –
Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis
“The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”
During Advent and Lent the reredos is closed and shows a text from the Lamentations of Jeremiah – “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow.”
The altar itself dates from 1951, replacing the altar from the 1850s restoration, which was given to Hopton Mission Church. In front of the altar are seven brass sanctuary lamps. This is an unusual number. The number may represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The statue of Our Lady in the north-west corner of the church is a copy of “Our Lady Queen of Sciences” by the French sculptor, Henri Bouriche, from 1860.
The original is in Angers, but it was copied and used by Sulpician Catholic Churches in the USA and Canada. The title is a nineteenth century version of the mediaeval “Sedes Sapentiae”, “seat of wisdom”, a title which is given to statues or paintings of Mary as the teacher of Jesus.
An example of the medieval style can be seen in “Our Lady of Walsingham.”
ST CHAD’S TODAY
St Chad’s is a mix of old and new, with ancient roots, but looking to the future. The west windows were designed by David Williams of William and Byrne. The centre panel shows St Chad on his travels across the landscape of Staffordshire, and on either side are the Tree of Life and the Water of Life.
The ancient carvings reflect the new interest in Nature in the 12th century. Izaak Walton, who had a special concern for the church in the 17th century, is a person of exceptional importance as an inspirer of interest in the natural world. The Tree and River are both the symbolic Tree and River of scripture, and the real river that flows through Stafford and the woods and forests nearby. The focus of the church is the altar, where the eucharist celebrates the unity of all creation in Christ. We hope that when we walk out into the world outside we can see God in everything around us.