Category Archives: All Saints Church

A Sunday to Remember in Bloxwich

Veterans, cadets and local groups march behind the standards to All Saints Church (pic Stuart Williams)
Veterans, cadets and local groups march behind the standards to All Saints Church (pic Stuart Williams)

This year’s Remembrance Sunday in Bloxwich was indeed one to remember, mostly for all the right reasons – but was also an event dogged by confusion and controversy.

Most importantly, the local community came together in their hundreds once again as they have done since the 1920s, to remember and honour in silence and in song those fallen in war and conflict, especially local servicemen and women and the other victims of war – and to hope for that peace which is the right of all but which is so rarely found in this world.

It has to be said, however, that the day was sadly somewhat tarnished by the controversy over the cancellation of the traditional High Street parade of veterans and local groups, including youth groups, who enthusiastically but thoughtfully gather to march each year.

The band leads the somewhat curtailed Bloxwich Remembrance parade past the grave of Bloxwich rebel Samuel Wilks (pic Stuart Williams)
The band leads the somewhat curtailed Bloxwich Remembrance parade past the grave of Bloxwich rebel Samuel Wilks (pic Stuart Williams)
Conspiracy theories and confusion

Confusion over the reasons behind the parade’s cancellation resulted in understandably angry but sometimes, it has to be said, ill-informed mutterings on local social media and on the streets of Bloxwich and district. Some of that was to be expected, as information was at first scarce and communication from organisers who were desperately trying to rescue the event and other official channels was sometimes confused. But then the publicising of the Bloxwich event has never been very good and always last minute, something which needs to be rectified in future.

No Legion, no parade

Variously blaming Walsall Council, local councilors, Walsall Police and others, these stirrings mostly missed the main reason why the parade was cancelled and re-scheduled as a short march through the grounds of All Saints Church. This was, as was widely reported in the Bloxwich Telegraph, primarily down to the demise of the Bloxwich branch of the Royal British Legion, presumably due to insufficient local support, in 2013.  This meant that, due to a combination of health and safety law and official red tape, as well as perfectly reasonable safety concerns, together with the unwillingness of the Royal British Legion to extend insurance for the march without a local branch, the usual parade could not go ahead.

Veterans and cadets march behind the standards to enter All Saints Church (pic Stuart Williams)
Veterans and cadets march behind the standards to enter All Saints Church (pic Stuart Williams)
Police cuts

Overshadowing this primary problem was the issue of nationwide police cuts due to our national Conservative government’s ‘austerity’ policies, something which has received a massive amount of media coverage in recent weeks. Even had there been a branch of the Legion to insure and organise a parade, our sources informed us,  it would almost certainly have been cut back due to there being half as many police available to marshal road closures as last year. This is a situation likely to get worse next year.

All Saints Church was packed to the rafters for the reading of names and service of Remembrance (pic Stuart Williams)
All Saints Church was packed to the rafters for the reading of names and service of Remembrance (pic Stuart Williams)
The Bloxwich Royal British Legion must be reformed

So, it is absolutely essential that a new branch of the Royal British Legion be formed in Bloxwich, so that local veterans may be supported locally, so that funds may contnue to be raised for the charity, and  so that Bloxwich people may see the return of their traditional Remembrance Sunday parade.

Thankfully, local interest in forming such a branch is already taking shape, and anyone who is interested in helping and taking part is invited to contact the Legion’s local contact, Mr Bill Griffiths, by telephoning  07944869687 or 01922 492064.

The future

The present police cuts and the prospect of more of the same next year may call the parade’s future  into question again, even if, as is hoped, a new branch of the Legion rises phoenix-like in Bloxwich in time for Remembrance Sunday 2016. It looks like any future organisers will have to fund and organise at least part of the traffic management themselves, due to reduced numbers of police available.

Between now and then, Bloxwich people will really have to ‘step up to the plate’ and help.  After all, Remembrance is for life, not just Remembrance Sunday.

The reading of the names of the Fallen (pic Stuart Williams)
The reading of the names of the Fallen (pic Stuart Williams)
Bloxwich can still be proud

But whatever happens next year, Bloxwich can at least be proud that disaster was largely averted this year by the hard work of public-spirited local councillors, All Saints Church and representatives of other churches, many local groups and police – and not least the veterans themselves – who came together with other local people to organise a shortened march through the church grounds and a massively well-supported Service of Remembrance within the church itself.

Not only that, thanks should also be offered to those many local people who, whether unable to get into the church or determined, as Bloxwich folk often are, to stand up for Bloxwich and for tradition, still gathered round the Bloxwich War Memorial to pay their respects as in days gone by.

Hopefully, everyone who turned out in church or on the streets of Bloxwich on Sunday last will actively support the future of the Royal British Legion and Remembrance in Bloxwich as well as looking to the past  – otherwise it may have no future!

Paying tribute at Bloxwich War Memorial -- lest we forget... (pic Stuart Williams)
Paying tribute at Bloxwich War Memorial — lest we forget… (pic Stuart Williams)

 

To view larger versions of the above photographs, and for more pictures of the day by Stuart Williams, follow this link to a Flickr photo album.

For more background to this event, see our previous reports.

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Preaching across time in Bloxwich

The Preaching Cross at All Saints, Bloxwich, c1950 (pic E.J. Homeshaw)
The Preaching Cross at All Saints, Bloxwich, c1950 (pic E.J. Homeshaw)

It is not generally known that Bloxwich possesses one of the oldest and most complete monuments in the Midlands – although it is of two different periods – and it is certainly the oldest thing in Bloxwich.

The old preaching cross or column standing in All Saints churchyard, on the south side close to the church itself, has been an object of curiosity to generations of parishioners. We may safely designate it as a cross, since by no means all old crosses conformed to the true cruciform shape. But this cross is far older than the church itself, being probably the oldest monument in the borough, and is very important.

Throughout the Middle Ages, Bloxwich was a small agricultural village with a population of around 600. A Chapel of Ease to Walsall Parish Church was licensed for services at Bloxwich in 1413, but Bloxwich did not have its own separate parish until 1842. The chapel had a tower by the 1500s. In 1790 it was decided that the chapel should be rebuilt and the tower altered. This work was completed in 1794. All Saints Church as it is today dates mostly from 1875-1877 when the earlier church, St. Thomas of Canterbury (named such for the original 1842 parish), was rebuilt and rededicated.

Relic hunters
All Saints Church, Bloxwich, late 1800s
All Saints Church, Bloxwich, late 1800s

In 1940, when local historian Billy Meikle wrote about the Bloxwich Preaching Cross, he said that “The churchwardens are so jealous of this, their only historic treasure, that they have planted a grove of trees round it, possibly to protect it from local vandals or American ‘relic hunters’.  The cross is eighteen feet high, and cannot be seen from the church gates, even in winter when the foliage has gone.”

No records of the cross appear to have survived, nor was any indication of its full age discovered on it when it was restored in 1935. We are therefore thrown back upon the opinions of experts. All authorities are agreed that the practice of erecting such crosses goes back to the earliest days of Christianity. Sometimes, in English villages, they were set up on the spot where the Gospel was first preached. As time went on, according to historians, the south side of every churchyard contained a cross.

The fact that the Bloxwich cross occupies this position, as well as the fact that it is of the primitive ‘shaft with steps’ type and betrays the wear of centuries of rain and frost, suggests a very early origin.  Professor Hearnshaw, of King’s College, London, once wrote: “I should date it 13th or 14th century (say A.D. 1300).”

The cross
The Preaching Cross, 1940 (watercolour by Billy Meikle)
The Preaching Cross, 1940 (watercolour by Billy Meikle)

Though not of the usual form, the cross itself consists of an eight-sided shaft, slightly tapering towards the top, and terminating in a later Jacobean capital surmounted by a Jacobean ball, both of the early 1600s.  It is mounted on a base of three stone steps.

Meikle commented that he had noticed that “…the churchwardens, although taking care of it one way, have allowed the contractor for the tarmac path round the church to lop off the corner of the bottom step (which is probably five centuries old) in order to continue the line of the gutter.  Fancy cutting the corner of an ancient monument so that the rain water could have a straight course, instead of a ‘wimple’ round the corner.  Notwithstanding this, the cross is in wonderful condition.”

The support of the stone ball had gone, leaving the iron rod which goes through the capital exposed.  Meikle thought this would certainly collapse in due course, and ought to be judiciously repaired “…not like a portion of Dudley Castle and other places which could be mentioned, but under the supervision of a local antiquary, if such there be in Bloxwich.”

He also noticed that at one time the centre of the steps had been clamped with iron staples, but these had rusted away except for the portions which were leaded into the stone.  An attempt to repair the clamping on the top tier had been made, but given up by the repairer as he had only been able to drill to a depth of three quarters of an inch.

Graffiti
All Saints Church, war memorial and High Street, 1920s
All Saints Church, war memorial and High Street, 1920s

Meikle went on “The shaft, which has been painted (another piece of folly) contains many initials carved on the surface, but I could find no date.”  He must have missed an 18th century date, part of centuries-old graffiti which is certainly visible now, but he concluded that the character of some of the lettering would indicate its dating back to about 1600, and the bottom steps “…would very likely be 13th century work.”

A thought for Christmas…

This coming festive season, which is not too far away, perhaps readers of this article, whether Christian or not, might like to go and stand by the old Bloxwich Preaching Cross and reflect for a moment, as Billy Meikle may have done before them, on what Christmas may have been like for their ancestors all those centuries ago when there was no church, and no traffic to disturb their quiet Yuletide contemplation.

Stuart Williams & Billy Meikle

 

Historic images courtesy Walsall Local History Centre