Summary of the history of the parish of St George and St Teresa, Dorridge, based on the work of Beth Mulvey.
The strong Catholic influence in the Midlands area dates back to medieval times when Offa, the King of Mercia, set up the Archbishopric of Lichfield in 787.
Knowle had a particularly rich Catholic history in the Middle Ages. A priest called Walter Cook built the Church of St John the Baptist and St Lawrence the Martyr in the fourteenth century and founded the Guild of Knowle in 1422.
At the time of the Reformation, when it became an offence to practise the Catholic Faith, the Guild of Knowle and religious houses were closed and a considerable number of people in the parishes of Solihull and Knowle (48, according to the authorities in 1577) risked death by harbouring local priests.
As there was no Catholic Church in Dorridge at the beginning of the twentieth century, Catholic residents generally walked or cycled to the church in Baddesley Clinton on Sunday morning for Mass. However, as this journey was difficult in winter, John Hardman, who had a business in stained glass, mural decorations and engraving memorial brasses, obtained permission from the Bishop of Birmingham, Bishop Ilsley, in 1905, to erect a temporary chapel in the field next to his house in Dorridge. The chapel was called "Holy Cross". John Hardman collected priests from Solihull on Sundays and Holy Days in his 7 h.p. Humber. The congregation was small, consisting of three families, visitors and seasonal Irish labourers, but John Hardman was unable to renew the lease on his property in 1908.
The house ‘Cross Close’ where the Hardman family lived
As funds were limited, it was necessary to build a temporary church. The building was erected on a brick foundation and measured twenty feet by forty. The church and its foundations cost £302, and the total cost of land and building was £1,000. This money was borrowed. The church was opened on September 16th 1917 and was dedicated to St George. It was the only church in Birmingham to be built during the First World War.
For a period of about seven years after 1908, Catholics in Knowle and Dorridge attended Mass either in Solihull or in Baddesley Clinton. However, in 1914, a group of lay Catholics asked Canon Williams whether his curate, Fr Stanbridge, would say an early Mass in Dorridge if suitable accommodation could be found. An attic room opposite the station was rented and the first Mass was celebrated there in November 1915. The number of people present at Mass gradually increased from eighteen with the result that people were forced to sit on the stairs. Mass was usually said by Canon Williams but when he died in 1916, Fr Stanbridge took over. When Monsignor Cronin was appointed rector of Solihull, a committee was formed to raise money for larger, more permanent premises. Land was bought in Station Road, the site of the present Church. A cottage was also purchased and became the presbytery.
The temporary church of St George
The first priest was Fr McDonnell. During his time in Dorridge, the number of parishioners gradually increased, reaching 80 in 1920. A new priest, Fr Henry, arrived in 1922, when the number of parishioners reached 121. The next priest was Fr James Dwyer, who borrowed money from the Diocese in order to purchase a property in Granville Road to live in. Money was also borrowed to repair and enlarge the church as numbers were still growing. The system of ‘bench renting’ was one of the methods used in order to find the repayments.
Fr Dwyer was replaced by Fr Hogan in 1924, who in turn was replaced by Fr Perry in 1926. In 1927, £700 debt was remitted by the Archdiocese of Birmingham. The church was further enlarged and work took place on the presbytery.
In the early hours of the morning of February 23rd 1934, the church caught fire. The Solihull fire brigade was unable to save the church and most of the contents, including the altar, were destroyed. The only items saved were the chalice and the monstrance which were always kept in the presbytery. The £640 paid by the insurance company eradicated the remaining debt on the presbytery. Now there was no debt and no church.
For the next 18 months, the Assembly Room in the Wilson Arms in Knowle was used to celebrate Mass. It was offered free of charge by Mr. and Mrs. Court.
After the fire, Fr. Watts, the parish priest since 1932, made plans to build a permanent church on the land next to the presbytery. The lowest tender for the church, £4,449, was accepted in December 1934 and the foundation stone was blessed on 4th March 1935. A Lady Chapel was built and parishioners paid for the window behind the High Altar (now at the back of the church) as a memorial to the First World War. The solemn opening of the church took place in November 1935 with a Pontifical High Mass being celebrated by Monsignor Cronin.
Fr. Watts then decided to build a larger presbytery, which would be suitable for a parish priest and a curate, next to the new church. The old presbytery became the home of the house keeper. The Church Hall was also built in the 1930s. This was used as a secular school for a while and also housed evacuees during the Second World War.
Fr. Watts was replaced by Monsignor Manion in 1941, who was parish priest in Dorridge for the next 26 years. Before 1941, Balsall Common was part of St. Austin’s parish in Kenilworth. After having been approached by a resident who explained the difficulties Catholics in Balsall Common faced in terms of getting transport to Kenilworth, Monsignor Manion obtained permission to have Mass on Sundays and Holy Days in the local school in Balsall Street. He later obtained a loan of £5,000 from the Archdiocese of Birmingham to buy a farm in Balsall Common with two acres of land, with a view to building a temporary church, a presbytery and perhaps a school at a later date. Three disused army huts were used to construct the church, which was dedicated to St Philomena. It became the first Catholic Church in Balsall Common and was used for over 40 years. The debt was paid off in 1967.
Interior of the St Philomena church
Monsignor Manion was assisted by a curate, Fr. Patrick Cronin, from 1943 until 1947. The presbytery in Dorridge was enlarged and a garage was constructed. Another curate, Fr. Peter Taylor, arrived in the parish in 1961. As there were sufficient children in the parish of St. George and St. Teresa by 1963 to merit a school, the decision was made to build one in Dorridge. Monsignor Manion retired in 1967 and was replaced as Parish Priest by Canon Patrick Smith. Monsignor Manion died in 1973.
The Columban Fathers came to the parish in 1967 when they purchased Blythe Hall in Widney Manor Road as their headquarters in Britain. From the outset, the Columbans offered their services to the parish to help out when needed. This arrangement was carried on faithfully until the new millennium.
The small school with only four classrooms was opened in Dorridge on 8th January 1968 with space for 160 pupils. Two new classrooms were soon added as the number of children grew.
Canon Patrick Smith retired in 1975 and was replaced by Fr. Dennis Manion, a nephew of Monsignor Manion. An extension to the church in Dorridge was necessary because of an increase in the number of people attending Mass. This extension was completed in 1977. An entirely new sanctuary was built at the west end of the church and there was a small Lady Chapel on the opposite side. The old Lady Chapel became the Narthex.
Even more classrooms were needed in the school in the late 80’s, although two of these were temporary Terrapin structures.
Fr. Tony Maguire became Parish Priest in 1988. As Balsall Common began to grow in size, it became clear that it would be necessary to build a larger church there. Planning permission to build a new church in the large field next to the original church was refused because the land was part of the green belt. However, it was eventually decided to build a new church and presbytery on the site of the original church. The building was completed in time for the Christmas Day Mass in 1994. The church was dedicated to Blessed Robert Grissold, the martyr who was born only six miles away in Rowington and who died with Fr. John Sugar in 1604. Balsall Common was joined to the parish of Baddesley Clinton in 2004.
Fr. Maguire retired in 2001 and was replaced as Parish Priest by Monsignor Daniel McHugh. In June 2002, the parish celebrated the ordination to the Permanent Deaconate of Paul Grosvenor, a parishioner, who died in 2007.
A number of celebrations took place in 2005 to mark the Centenary of the Parish. Firstly, Archbishop Nichols came to celebrate Mass in June 2005 and joined parishioners and guests for a Pig Roast in the field afterwards.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols on the occasion of Mass to celebrate the Parish Centenary in June 2005.
Left to right: Fr Dennis Carter (Superior Columban Fathers), Archbishop Nichols, Monsignor Daniel McHugh, Deacon Paul Grosvenor
Secondly, a pilgrimage to the Shrine of the English Martyrs, Tyburn, including Mass at Westminster Cathedral, took place in September 2005 and, thirdly, the Foundation Stone of a new Parish Centre, attached to the Church, was blessed by Monsignor McHugh on 1st October (the month in which Mass was first celebrated in the Holy Cross Chapel in 1905) on the Feast of St Teresa. The Parish Centre was opened in April 2006 and has become an important part of the Parish.