Church History

History of Weoley Hill Church


1915 - 1983

Chapter 1 is an except from pages 127 and 128 of Religion in Birmingham edited by Norman Tiptaft, published in 1972 by Norman Tiptaft Ltd and reproduced by kind permission of Professor Cressey and Mrs Hop Tiptaft.

1983 - 2008








1915 - 1983

An Account

by Margaret Glen and John Bartlett

to celebrate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Opening of the Buildings

on 1 July 1933



The Revd Stanley Ross thought of writing the history of Weoley Church to celebrate the jubilee in 1970 of its recognition as a preaching station. He has provided much help and advice and original documents for the archives. The Revd Norman Healey encouraged Margaret Glen to start the necessary research. The Revd Charles Surman, then provincial Archivist to the West Midlands Synod, produced meticulous information about Ministers and excerpts from Presbytery Minutes. The Revd Paul Clifford, then President of the Selly Oak Colleges, gave permission for excerpts from memorial minutes of the Senatus the Selly Oak Colleges to be quoted, and Miss Frances Williams, Librarian Of the Selly Oak Colleges. gave access to publications by or about Mr Aytoun, Mr Halliday, Mr Coates and others. The Revd Arthur McArthur , formerly General Secretary Of the Presbyterian Church of England and later the United Reformed Church in England and Wales . provided information about some of the former Ministers. Relatives of the Ministers were very helpful and gave additional information: Mrs Joanna Coates (nee Aytoun), Robert Coates, Mrs Clare Anderson (nee Porteous) and the Revd Boris Anderson, Dr Colin Porteous, Miss Kathleen Halliday. the Revd Jack Faulkner very kindly wrote to each of us with reminiscences and comments. Former and present members also helped in this way, notably Mr and Mrs E. T. Such, Mrs Betty Smith, Miss Ivy Fitchett, Mr E. S. Latham, Miss Betty Biggs, Mr L.F.H. Pankhurst, Miss D.M. Shaw, Mrs E. Hayward, Mrs Jean Greening. Dr David Mole of the College of the Ascension, at present writing the history of the Selly Oak Colleges, kindly supplied information and vetted references to the Colleges, as did Mr Philip Henslowe and Mr William Muirhead the section on the Village Trust. Mr Muirhead also took endless trouble to produce the illustrations from existing photographs and took the photograph of John Geyer. We are grateful to Mrs Sarah Bracher ( nee Kydd) for the photograph her father. The map is reproduced from OS maps, with additions by Mr Muirhead, by special arrangement between the BVT and H.M.S. O.

The main source has been Minute Books Of the Chetwynd Hall Committee, , Session, Elders ' Meeting, Church Meeting, Committee of Management, Sunday School and Women's Guild and correspondence, together with Annual Reports and Church Leaflets, Weoley Hill Church News. Our own memories go back to 1950 and 1947 respectively We are to grateful to John Glen, Mary Bartlett and John Geyer for help and advice.

The typing from our own amateur and much amended versions has been expertly done by Mrs Pat Weaver and the production by Mr Andrew Coppell of Little Baddow URC and we are especially grateful to them.

Errors and omissions are, of course, attributable to us and we look forward to hearing from others who know better.

H.M.G. and J.P.S.

May 1983




by the Revd Martin H. Cressey M.A.

(published 1972)

The Presbytery of Birmingham comprises 12 congregations in the West Midlands, four of them in the City of Birmingham. Seven congregations, including two of the Birmingham ones, were founded in the 19th century, and the rest in the 20th, the most recent at Solihull in 1945.

There were, however, Presbyterians in Birmingham itself in the 17th and 18th centuries; Samuel Wills, rector of St. Martin’s under the Commonwealth, was later licensed to preach as a Presbyterian. The Presbyterians used a meeting-house in Digbeth until, in 1689, they built the Old Meeting House in Worcester Street. In 1732 the New Meeting was set up in the street to which it gave a name. Thereafter the congregations were divided in opinion over the Arian or Unitarian movement and in 1748 the two groups parted company, the Trinitarian section becoming Congregationalists and establishing Carr’s Lane Chapel. Those who remained at the Old and New Meetings entered on a notable history as Unitarian churches.

The revival of a Presbyterianism Trinitarian in doctrine is intimately connected with the history of Broad Street Presbyterian Church; still a familiar landmark in Broad Street, the church building was sold in 1928 and became a Christian Science centre, but the congregation continued to meet for worship in the church hall in Oozells Street North until 1969. Although now closed, its life had flowed over the years into other centres of Presbyterian worship and witness in the City and the present congregations at Nechells, Moseley, Erdington and Weoley Hill honour the memory of the founding fathers at Broad Street.

Back to Index



The Weoley Hill Church had its origin about 1915 in a small Presbyterian Fellowship in Selly Oak of which the Revd Robert Aytoun, then a member of staff of Woodbrooke Settlement, the first of the Selly Oak Colleges, was the leading figure. The object of the Fellowship was to keep Presbyterians in the district in touch with one another. They met at least four times a year on Saturday afternoons at Oaklands, the Aytouns’ house, for tea and fellowship, for occasional papers and discussions on various aspects of Presbyterianism. They also held two (later four) communion services a year at Carey Hall, the United Missionary Training College for Women, another of the Selly Oak Colleges.

Later it was decided to hold a service every Sunday morning and Chetwynd Hall, a small disused lecture room belonging to the Selly Oak Colleges, was obtained in June 1918 at a rent of £12 per annum. Robert Aytoun acted as Minister-in-charge and Chetwynd Hall was recognised as a Preaching Station in February 1920 by the Presbytery of Birmingham. The Home Mission Committee gave a grant of £100 and a provisional Session was appointed of six Moseley Elders under Mr. Aytoun attached to the Session of Moseley Presbyterian Church. Miss Christina Irvine, Principal of Carey Hail, was a leading member of the Chetwynd Hall Committee and Miss Emily Blomfield of Woodbrooke was the Treasurer. Chetwynd Hall was also in use rent free on weekdays by the autumn of 1918 as a school for Serbian boys and was hired by Fircroft Men's Junior Adult School for recreational purposes two nights a week from September 1921.

When Robert Aytoun died suddenly on 11 April 1920, aged 41, this was a sad blow to the small Preaching Station and to the Selly Oak Colleges. The Revd Norman Robinson, Minister of the Moseley Church, was elected Interim Moderator and services were maintained. Revd Dr John Oman was a member of the Committee and also had oversight from April 1920 to December 1921. In 1921 the Chetwynd Hall Committee, which had established a building fund in April 1918, received a grant of £150 from the Home Mission Committee towards the purchase of a Y.M.C.A. hut from Stafford to be placed on a temporary site in Witherford Way (where houses number 56 and 58 now stand). This was rented to the congregation, now referred to as the Weoley Hill Village Church, by Weoley Hill Ltd. at a rent of ½d per square yard for seven years. It was a "Union congregation having members of other denominations as

Associate Members and many students of the Selly Oak Colleges attending services as well as local residents" and was accepted by the Bournville Village Trust as the only church to be built in the garden suburb of Weoley Hill. Early plans show a site for a church in a village centre at the junction of Weoley Hill and Witherford Way but by now the plan was to provide a site on the west side of Fox Hill south of Witherford Way for a permanent building when funds permitted.

The Revd William Fearon Halliday M.A. was appointed Preacher-in-charge and Interim Moderator in 1921 at the same time as he took up an appointment as Lecturer in Philosophy of Religion and Systematic and Pastoral Theology in the Colleges. The former Y.M.C.A. hut was provided with 200 chairs and a dividing curtain by Mr George Cadbury, and Mrs Cadbury declared the hut open, after which it was dedicated on 4 February 1922. An (unspecified) newspaper account of the occasion under the heading A New Church in Bournville stated: "The new Presbyterian Church hall at Selly Oak ( in Weoley Hill Garden Village) was opened and dedicated on Saturday last (February 4). There was a large congregation in which students from Carey Hall, Woodbrooke, Westhill and Kingsmead predominated. Rev Norman L. Robinson presided and the following took part in the service: Mrs George Cadbury, Revs E. B. H. Macpherson (Convenor of the Home Mission Committee which has done so much to foster the new cause), W. Fearon Halliday, N. Micklem, H.J. Wood and M. Hoy land. The Church will be the only Free Church in the neighbourhood, and though Presbyterian, hopes to be able to minister to members of all churches. "

In July 1922 the Selly Oak Preaching Station was designated an approved congregation and it is this date which has appeared in the Year Book ever since as the date of origin of Weoley Hill Church. At this time the idea of adding ‘Aytoun Memorial' to the name of the Church was considered but not pursued. In December 1922 Weoley Hill elected three Elders of its own to serve with Moseley Session, Mrs Dorothy Aytoun, widow of the first Minister, Miss Christina Irvine and Professor John Charles Kydd. After a period when Miss Irvine was described as Acting Session Clerk, Professor Kydd became the first Session Clerk in 1926.

In 1925 Mr Halliday was absent for health reasons for six months from Weoley Hill; other arrangements had to be made for carrying on the work and the list of preachers was posted on notice boards in the village. In 1926 the financial situation was so satisfactory that no application was made for a Home Mission Committee grant for Weoley Hill. Presbytery Visitation in 1927 recorded that the congregation had 32 members and 26 associate members and there was a Sunday School of 43 scholars and 5 teachers. However, the present place of worship was very unsatisfactory.

In 1927 it was agreed that when the new Church buildings were erected for the Weoley Hill Village Church they should be vested in and held by a single denominational body. The Presbyterian Church of England was approached regarding financial support and guaranteeing the present freedom of constitution. At this time Mr Halliday referred to the problem of the development of the congregation and the "responsibility that is greater than one who can only give part-time service to the church can fairly be expected to carry”. In 1928 the Revd J. R. Coates was invited to assist Mr Halliday by preaching on occasion and by establishing a Young Peoples’ Fellowship, and a Committee of Supply was appointed to arrange for preachers on dates which Mr Halliday could not manage. In 1929 the Weoley Hill Village Church was raised to the status of a fully sanctioned charge and the Revd Prof W.F. Halliday was appointed Interim Moderator and part-time Minister and the Session became independent of Moseley. Mr Coates was elected to the Session in January 1930.

In November 1929 an appeal for the building fund for £4,500 was launched and by March 1930 £3,182 had been given or promised. In place of the site in Fox Hill the Bournville Village Trust gave freehold the present much more favourable site. From January 1931 Mrs Adam, Church Sister, was loaned from Camp Hill for a period of three months to help with the work at Weoley Hill which was extending rapidly. She in fact stayed until July 1932 when she was succeeded by Mrs Marjorie McLachlan, who worked as Church Sister at Weoley Hill for a crucial five years. Mr Coates covered for Mr Halliday's leave of absence from August to Christmas 1931 and on Mr Halliday’s death in January 1932 he was appointed Interim Moderator at Weoley Hill. However, by May 1933 Mr Coates had declared that he too could not take on the full-time ministry at Weoley Hill Village Church. There were at this stage 59 full members on the roll and 18 associate members and the decision was taken to call a full-time minister.

The Foundation Stone of the new Church building had been laid on 11 January 1933 by Mrs George Cadbury and on 1 July 1933 Mrs Halliday was presented with the key by the Builders and the building was dedicated at an opening service when “the Revd C.C. Goodley, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of England, preached to a crowded congregation, and the Church was nearly full again on the Sunday when the services were taken by the Revd Professor W.A.L. Elmslie D. D., Mr A. Victor Murray and the Revd J. R. Coates". The Architect was Mr J. R. Armstrong of the Bournville Village Trust. The Church, seated with pews, was designed to accommodate 350. There were also two large and two small classrooms, vestry, kitchen and lavatories and an organ chamber. The completion of the building scheme envisaged the erection of a hall and further classrooms. The membership of the Sunday School was well over 200, supervised by Mrs McLachlan, and they presented the weather vane to the new building. The Women's Guild gave the font and some curtains, the Young Peoples' Fellowship presented the desk in the Minister’s Vestry. The total cost of building and equipping the building (not including the organ) was estimated to be about £5, 000 of which members and friends contributed £3, 606, including £900 as a memorial to Mr Halliday, recorded on the plaque on the pulpit in gratitude for his preaching and his pastoral work and his widespread Christian influence. In addition a sum of £2,000 was lent by the Presbyterian Church of England. There were persistent complaints of draughts at the back of the new Church which the Committee of Management did not solve for many years but on the whole everyone was well pleased.

The first full-time Minister was the Revd Eric Wells Philip M.A., who served for five years from September 1933 to September 1938. In February 1934 the Birmingham Congregational Church Extension Committee invited Weoley Hill Church to take responsibility for oversight of their proposed church on Weoley Castle Square but the Weoley Hill Session replied in April that "in view of its present commitments it cannot take on further responsibility but will cooperate heartily if the Congregational Union resolves to go ahead". The Annual Report of the Session for 1934 records that the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was observed on 11 occasions (alternate months morning and evening, except in August), the average number of communicants being 55 (53 morning, 58 evening). In September 1934 the Church was licensed for the solemnisation of marriages: fees were established by reference to Bartley Green Parish Church, total one guinea. In 1935 trees were given by Dame Elizabeth Cadbury and planted by the Bournville Village Trust around the Church. In December 1936 the final instalment of £800 in repayment of the loan made by the Jubilee Trust of the Presbyterian Church of England was paid. The Church had made unremitting efforts, notably by annual Sales of Work run by the Women's Work Party, as it wanted to be free of debt so that it could contemplate building the much needed hall particularly for its Sunday School and youth activities.

By 1938 the roll of members had grown to 148 but associate members remained at 23. The doubling of membership in five years showed the benefit of the fine new building and of a full-time minister, together with the much-loved Church Sister who had been transferred at 3 months' notice to Manchester in September 1937. There was a tremendous blossoming of Church organisations. A Boys' Brigade Company (63rd Birmingham) was formed and enrolled in 1937. An organ was purchased and installed, not without controversy, in 1939. Mr E.S. Latham was organist, and for some years choirmaster, from June 1937 for thirty years (excepting 4 years war service in the RAF), his predecessor, Mr Geoffrey Smith, having served for fourteen years. The Weoley Hill Church Council of Service of this time was presided over by Miss Irvine, with Mrs Band as Secretary and Mrs Coates as Treasurer and consisted of representatives of the Young Worshippers' League, the Sunday School Departments, the Boys' Brigade, the Temperance Associations, the Personal Service Group, the Women’s Guild, the Missionary Committee, the Sewing Meeting, the Parents ' Association, the Odd Job Group, the Hostesses' Committee, the Choir, the Young People’s Fellowship, the Bible Reading Association Fellowship Meeting, the Young People 's Bible Class and the Leaflet Visitors. The Council met quarterly and also arranged study circles among its members or others in the congregation. Missionary ‘at homes' were held monthly.

The proposed Hall, which was to double the size of the Lower Hall, was estimated to cost £550 and although the Home Church Executive offered a loan of £160 free of interest the Church decided not to go ahead with it as it was thought to be too expensive for the additional accommodation provided. A plan for a separate Church Hall connected by a corridor was also being considered. In September 1938 Mr Philip accepted a call to Kentish Town Church and Mr Coates once again became Interim Moderator until the Revd Gilbert Porteous B.A. of Nottingham accepted the call to Weoley Hill and was inducted on 16 February 1939 aged 48. Because of the war which started in September 1939 the plan for building the hall was shelved for the time being and the only change in the buildings was the disposal of the manse, 76 Middle Park Road at the corner of Middle Park Close, and the tenancy of 5 Weoley Hill, using building fund money and a loan for which interest was payable, to accommodate the Porteous family with four teenage children. Colin Porteous vividly recalls ‘endlessly' pumping the organ handle for Mr Latham to play, in the period between the installation of the organ in July 1939, and the gift of the electric blower in 1941 by the Misses Chadwick. Colin and Alison, his twin, were evacuated for a year but came back in time for the bombing of Birmingham. There were incendiary bombs on the roof of 5 Weoley Hill and the top of one was picked out of a hawthorn tree and made into a vase; there was an Anderson Shelter in the garden.

The war years meant that numbers attending services diminished and a roll of members and friends serving in the Forces was kept in the vestibule and members were organised to write to them regularly. In May 1942 this roll had 79 names, 20 of them closely linked with the Church. A Forces Work Party of 35 members was organised and a regular prayer meeting was held. In May 1941 Mr Hartland as Air Raid Warden thanked Mr Porteous and the congregation tea and comforts provided for people in the Shelter in Weoley Park Road. The Coates and Kydd families each lost a son serving in the R. A.F. John Ross Coates died aged 33 and Ian Murray Kydd aged 23 and the brass cross on the panelling behind the Communion table was erected in their memory. Mr Porteous was Interim Minister at Sheldon from December 1943, preaching there two Sundays a month at 4 p.m. and visiting two afternoons and evenings a week; three months later he was given leave of absence from Weoley Hill for a year to devote himself to the Church Extension cause at Sheldon. He retained the manse at 5 Weoley Hill and also served as Moderator of the Presbytery of Birmingham from May 1944 to 1945. He resigned from Weoley Hill as from 12 March 1945.

John Coates once again acted as Interim Moderator. He was unanimously called to be Minister in July 1945 and was inducted on 10 September 1945 at the age of 66. He served until July 1947, also undertaking during this period Interim Moderatorships at Handsworth (1946–47) and at Broad Street (1947). He had a major operation in July 1947 and retired to North Leigh, Oxfordshire.

The Revd John Charles Faulkner B.A. of Belfast was ordained and inducted at Weoley Hill on 15 November 1947. This time the Revd Professor Arthur Curtis had acted as Interim Moderator. 1948 was appointed a Year of Advance by the Presbyterian Church of England, aiming to increase the membership as a whole by 100, 000. A systematic visitation of the whole of the Weoley Hill Estate was planned for 1949, starting with the parents of Sunday School children. The Presbytery Quinquennial Visitors pointed out that only one third of the communicant members were attending the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. In 1948 also the draft scheme of Union between the Presbyterian Church of England and the Congregational Union of England and Wales was discussed by the Session and approved by the congregation at a meeting after a shortened morning service. In May 1949 Mr Faulkner informed the Session that he intended to accept a call to Croaghmore Presbyterian Church of Ireland and he was released from 31 July 1949.

The Revd H. Stanley Ross B.A. was called to Weoley Hill from his previous post as Tutor at Westminster College, Cambridge, the ministerial training college of the Presbyterian Church of England. The pruning of the roll at the end of the year left it at 122 including 11 non-resident members and the average attendance at communion was 41. Mr Walter Hayward became Sunday School Superintendent in January 1950 and served until June 1968, having moved the Sunday School from meeting on Sunday afternoon to meeting during the latter part of the morning service in July 1957. Each year during Mr Ross 's ministry there were substantial additions to the roll by profession of faith and by transfer but post–war mobility also removed members by transfer. In December 1952 members of the Session visited the families living in the new houses built on the extension of Green Meadow Road and in the Shenley Court Estate with an attractive introductory card designed by Mr Ross. The card pointed out that membership was open to all who "make credible profession of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ or having already made such profession are members of some other branch of the Christian Church. The membership of the Weoley Hill congregation includes many who are not Presbyterian by birth or upbringing". This followed the precedent of distributing such a card in Mr Halliday's and Mr Philip's times. The congregation was built up by the establishment of a Young Wives' Group by Mary Bartlett in 1952 and the Brownie Pack transferred from the Village Hail in 1956, effective Bible Study led by the Minister in a group called the Emmaus Group in the same year and monthly open meetings on a Report on Relations between Anglican and Presbyterian Churches for five months in the winter of 1957/58. To the Annual Church Meeting in March 1960 Mr Ross reported that in the ten years from September 1949 to September 1959 he had baptised 242 babies and officiated at 286 weddings. A Men's Group was formed in January 1962, independent of the Men’s Work Party which had completely redecorated the halls, passages etc. in the 50s and continued to meet to work as necessary. On 15 August 1962 John Kydd died and his forty year leadership of Weoley Hill Church ended. Dr Isles Strachan was elected to the office of Session Clerk and served until March 1977. The Session undertook a survey of the requirements in terms of space for an “effective congregational life now in the future" and decided a hall of 1000 sq. ft. was needed.

The use of traditional materials would have put the project out of reach, but a prefabricated structure was built and equipped at a total cost of about £8,000; gifts, promises and loans covered by deed of covenant met the cost which was paid off by 1971. The John Kydd Memorial Hail was dedicated on 10 October 1964 in the presence of the Lord Mayor of Birmingham and the Revd Kenneth Cranston, Moderator of Birmingham Presbytery, by the Rt Revd F. D. McConnell, Moderator of General Assembly, who also preached. Mrs Kydd unveiled the commemorative plaque. The hall project was a tremendous effort which involved the whole congregation and represented a venture of faith of great significance reflecting earlier efforts in achieving the Church buildings. As a result such projects as congregational day conferences and a full programme of social, fellowship and youth activities were possible, serving the congregation and the community better than before. Also during this period ecumenical contacts were extending: the Selly Oak Council of Churches had been started in 1954 to cover the whole area from Weoley Castle to Bournbrook with Mr Ross as its first Secretary and a programme of joint services, Christian Aid week collections, exchange of pulpits, joint visitation and discussions, particularly in Lent, was carried out. St David's Church of England, Shenley Green, was a new parish started in 1959 having as its northern boundary the south side of Middle Park Road; a tradition of joint Maundy Thursday Communion Services with Weoley Hill and Shenley Hill Methodists started in 1965. Within Weoley Hill the decision was taken to organise the finances so as to depend on 'proportional giving' by the congregation to cover the budgeted expenditure, leaving special efforts for outside giving, for example to Christian Aid. In 1970 a questionnaire was circulated with the Annual Reports and Accounts asking the congregation to consider in detail the role of the church in the local community but this approach did not prove very fruitful.

Mr Ross accepted a call to St Paul's Spittal, Berwick on Tweed in 1970 and the Revd Rex Crawford of Moseley became Interim Moderator from 1970 to 1971. A number of ministers ‘preached with a view' without it being clear to them and the church that they were right for each other and the vacancy gave the opportunity for major repairs and renovation to the manse. The Revd Norman Healey M.A. was ordained and inducted on 16 July 1971, aged 31.

Conversations which had been going on since 1933 between the Presbyterian Church of England and the Congregational Union of England and Wales finally came to fruition in the formation of the United Reformed Church on 5 October 1972. In preparation Weoley Hill Church adopted local rules in conformity with the Scheme of Union of the URC to limit the term of Elders, to hold quarterly Church Meetings and make other changes.

The tradition of Autumn study groups was maintained and extended, meeting in houses rather than at church, Sunday morning services became more informal with participation by the congregation and regular youth services, and an experimental pattern was tried for evening services. Elders’ Meetings were more frequent and longer with greater sharing of pastoral concerns. Weoley Hill had more contact with the neighbouring URC, formerly Congregational, Churches at Kings Norton, Weoley Castle and Rubery.

From 1969, when it started, Weoley Hill took part in the Appeal for 1% of take-home pay to be given for Development Aid, giving substantial and increasing amounts to this cause each autumn. In 1975 on publication a stock of New Church Praise was bought for use in services in addition to the Revised Church Hymnary, and the Order of Worship for the Lord's Supper printed at the back of this was used for an experimental period of a year at first. At the same time the individual communion glasses which had been used since 1935 were replaced* *by the common cup for about a third ( later half) of the now twice monthly communion services. Evening Services were held in the Lower Hall from February 1972 due to the National Power Crisis at first and continued as more suitable for the more informal style of worship and small number of worshippers.

The number on the communicants' roll showed a decline from 1972, partly due to the regular pruning of those who had long since ceased to have any real membership and with the added incentive of the basis of assessment for the Maintenance of the Ministry Fund being a rolling average of membership. There was a national pattern of decline in church membership and attendance in most denominations. By contrast the youth work connected with the Church grew. Cubs and Scouts were added to the youth organisations of Weoley Hill in 1974 and 1976 respectively and rapidly grew to total over 100 boys. A Guide Company had grown out of the Brownie Pack in 1960. The Bournville College of Further Education was allowed to use the Church halls for regular daily classes in 1974 which placed a burden of supervision on a few members and caused additional wear and tear on the buildings but was a useful piece of community service. The Finance and Buildings Committee of the Church, in succession to the Management Committee of Presbyterian days, maintained the buildings in excellent order through two five year plans with regular inspections: renewing and repairing the roof, rewiring and redesigning the vestibule between church and halls were some of the projects undertaken. From 1977 onwards the local Dawoodi Bohra Jamaat Muslims were permitted to use the halls for their worship at Ramadan and other important festivals. Elders and Jamaat Leaders met socially several times a year and some family days were held to involve the two communities in experiencing each other's customs and practices. In 1974 the approaching Union with the Churches of Christ was explored through discussion of infant and believers' baptism and the different practice of ministry with Elders of Word and Sacrament in that denomination. During Norman Healey's ministry the Church leaflet grew into Weoley Hill Church News which was by policy distributed widely in the neighbourhood to the families of all those connected with the youth organisations as well as to members, adherents, students and leaders of neighbouring churches. Probably the innovation by which Norman Healey will be most remembered was the move of the morning service to start at 10.30 a.m. to allow time for fellowship and welcome to strangers to follow the service. The Revd Norman Healey gave up ministry at Weoley Hill in July 1979 and after a term at St Andrews Hall left with the good wishes of the congregation to serve in Kiribati with the Council for World Mission.

After a vacancy of twelve months supervised by the Revd Peter Chave, Minister of Kings Norton URC, as Interim Moderator, the Revd John Brownlow Geyer M.A. was inducted on 8 September 1980. He carne to Weoley Hill from Little Baddow URC near Chelmsford, an Independent (Congregational) chapel dating back to the time of Cromwell.

The Weoley Hill congregation in 1983 shows the same characteristics as it has throughout its history: a firm rooting in the Weoley Hill village so that it is regarded as in some sense a parish church, with a strong tradition of service to young people; denominational loyalty shown in faithful meeting of financial commitments and regular attendance at District and Province events; but there is also a strong commitment to ecumenism through knowledge of and links in our congregation with the Church in many other parts of the world. The early emphasis on foreign missions, strong in this congregation with its connections with colleges training missionaries, has begun to grow into an understanding of partnership in mission: the Church still benefits from strong connections with the Selly Oak Colleges and with the University of Birmingham. The small Weoley Hill congregation of 1922 was unusual in the Presbyterian Church of England of its time in counting a group of redoubtable women among its leaders and Elders, a tradition owed in the first place to the Selly Oak Colleges, in turn perhaps owed to the Quaker influence. The importance of the opportunity for women to play a full part in ministry as well as in service is still recognised today as the first full-time student for the ministry to emerge from the congregation is a woman. The congregation has not so far exceeded some 180 members but it has had an influence beyond its size because of the qualities of its members and Ministers. The chapters which follow explore some of these aspects more fully.

Back to Index



The development of Weoley Hill Church has been greatly influenced by its setting. Located in what is now a very attractive suburb developed by the Bournville Village Trust and in close proximity to the Selly Oak Colleges, it also serves an area which houses many staff and students of Birmingham University. It lies a mile from the Cadbury factory and in an area much influenced by the Cadbury family. It is flanked on the north-west by the huge inter–war City housing estate of Weoley Castle.

In 1918, however, when the church was coming into being, there was no Weoley Hill Estate as it now exists, still less the further developments south and west into the Shenley Manor and Shenley Court areas (see map). The only building which had so far taken place consisted of the houses along Witherford Way as far as Fox Hill and the adjacent ones on the north-west side of the Bristol Road ( then a tree-lined single carriageway road). The rest of the area was open country and the City tram terminus was a mile away to the north in Selly Oak. Apart from St Mary's Parish Church, there was no place of public worship nearer than the two Methodist churches also in Selly Oak and the Friends Meeting House a mile to the east across open fields in the original Bournville Village.

Building of the Bournville Factory began in January 1879, and in that year 17 houses were built close to it, one for the works foreman and 16 for maintenance men and key workers. These were the only employee houses built. In June 1895, with this experience behind him and strongly influenced by the horrors of the Birmingham slums, George Cadbury started his housing experiment as a private venture. In November 1900, with 313 houses already built on 330 acres of land, he founded the Bournville Village Trust to further his ideals for reform. The objects of the Trust as set out in the Trust Deed were the "amelioration of the condition of the working–class and labouring population" by the provision of "dwellings to let in places of easy access to centres of labour'. The deed goes on to make provision for attractive lay–out and what would now be considered very low density housing and continues "the Founder further desires that the rent of such dwellings may, if practicable, be fixed on such a basis as to make them accessible to persons of the labouring and working classes, whom it is his desire to attract from the crowded and insanitary tenements which they now inhabit, without, however, placing them in the position of being recipients of bounty".

The Trust was completely separate from the business and the development was a project in model housing in its own right. It was not a scheme of tied cottages— in fact at no time did the proportion of residents employed by the Cadbury firm exceed 40% of the whole.

George Cadbury, from the beginning in 1895 did, however, encourage residents to purchase their homes and had already achieved a social mix in the dwellings gifted to the Trust in 1900. The Weoley Hill Estate was developed mainly between the wars by Weoley Hill Ltd, a Public Utility Housing Society set up by the Trust under the Provident Society Act. These houses were for leasehold owner–occupation. The original intention was to take in the area between Weoley Park and Middle Park Roads, but by 1939 houses had been built as far to the south–west as the junction of Bryony and Greenmeadow Roads. As will be seen from the map, development has now been extended much further to the south–west. Some of the newer houses and flats are let on weekly tenancies.

Places of worship have also sprung up in more recent years. There is now a Friends' Meeting House and a Methodist Church just to the north–east of the Estate. There are Roman Catholic, Anglican, URC and Elim Pentecostal churches on the Weoley Castle Estate, and another Anglican church in the Shenley Court area.

The Trustees and staff of the Village Trust have always been generous in the advice and assistance they have given to Weoley Hill Church. Land was provided for the hut in Witherford Way at a peppercorn rent and donated as freehold for the present site. Architectural services were also provided free for these projects and special mention must be made of the imaginative and painstaking work of Mr J. R. Armstrong, the Trust architect, in designing the present building. Help was also received from Mr R. C. Childs in the erection of the John Kydd Hall. The Church has benefited by various site services made available from time to time. On a slightly different note, it is also grateful for the service of Mr Leslie Pankhurst, a Church member and one time manager of building and maintenance to the Trust who has long given expert help in the upkeep of Church and manse.

There is indeed a lengthy list of local people who have given devoted service. Mr Shaw, who moved in 1920 as soon as it was built into the house still occupied by his daughter, Dorothy, was an early Church Treasurer. Dorothy has been an Elder since 1968 and is now Church Secretary. Mr F.W. Coffey, Mr I. Player, the Stainrods, Winnie and Ted Such, Winnie and Leslie Vickers, Ken and Madeleine Davenport, the Dobbs, father and daughter, among others will be remembered for the great contribution they have made in many different aspects of church life.

The second major element in the environment of Weoley Hill Church is the Selly Oak Colleges. Their inspiration also stems originally from George Cadbury, though his sons, George junior and Edward, also played a major part in later development. George Cadbury senior, realised that the Society of Friends, without a priesthood and depending entirely on the individual Quaker, had a particular need of training during a period of change. He therefore gave his house, Woodbrooke, on the Bristol Road, to found Woodbrooke Settlement as a place to which the ordinary members of the society and also teachers in the Quaker Adult Schools could come for study and liberal protestant instruction. Students could be of any age, of either sex, and could stay for any length of time from a week to a year. Lectures were not bound by examinations syllabus and so a tradition of training which is not a stepping stone in a career grew up and has persisted.

Three other factors are important. One is that it was seen to be important that Christianity should be studied in the setting of modern society and, in pursuance of this policy, John Kydd was appointed in the early 1920s to lecture on economics. Another factor was George Cadbury's ecumenical approach. Woodbrooke Settlement was the pioneer of what developed eventually into the whole Selly Oak Colleges campus comprising virtually all denominations. In fact, on the wider scene, George Cadbury saw Quakerism as an integral part of the whole Free Church movement. He would have liked to see the free churches work together to create their own parochial system throughout the country. He was instrumental in founding the Birmingham Free Church Council of which Robert Aytoun and later his own widow, Dame Elizabeth, were Presidents.

The third factor was the international one. Woodbrooke from the outset had close association with Dutch Friends, and the men’s house at the Settlement where Robert Aytoun was resident tutor was called Holland House. In subsequent years, the Colleges have always received students from the Continent of Europe en route for overseas missions. With this international flavour went a concern for peace and Woodbrooke was host to both Gandhi and Tagore in the inter–war years. From the earliest stages there was vigorous evangelism directed both to this country and to overseas mission, and there has now developed a major role in offering training for experienced pastors, teachers and administrators from overseas churches.

At the time of the founding of the Weoley Hill congregation, Woodbrooke was still providing the lecturing staff but the number of colleges had risen to five and it was to the creation of a central organisation for these five colleges that Robert Aytoun contributed so greatly. A record dated 16th October 1918 of discussions leading to that result includes the following statement which epitomises much of the ethos of the Colleges:

"It has become clear that work done at Selly Oak is meeting certain urgent needs. The spirit of service is seeking new means of expression and there is need of a training adapted to the avenues and new ideas of service that lie before us. A theology open to new light, based throughout on experience, enriched by the lessons of the past but not fettered by them— a missionary training inspired with a deep sympathy for those to whom the message is to be given— an educational science closely related to child psychology, always testing theory by practice and using the laboratory method for advance— a social science that is not doctrinaire and is always making new experiments towards a truly co–operative system— these are some of the needs recognised by many thinkers and workers, and towards the meeting of which the Selly Oak Institutions are making a contribution."

As time wore on the number of colleges increased, but until he died in 1962, John Kydd, as Registrar, was virtually the only central administrative figure. Following his death, Dr Tom Finnegan became the first President and inaugurated a movement of expansion and development which has been continued under his successors. Tom was a member of the Weoley Hill congregation, as are also the present President, John Ferguson, and his wife.

Throughout its history, Weoley Hill Church has received much help in terms of personal service from the Colleges. The initiative for its foundation came from them. Its first two ministers— or to be more accurate, Preachers–in–charge and Interim Moderators— Robert Aytoun and Fearon Halliday were professors on the Central Staff as was John Coates later on. Dr H. G. Wood, the Rev Nathaniel Micklem and Dr John Oman served on the Chetwynd Hall Committee. Christina Irvine was also on the original committee and subsequently served as Elder until her death in 1942. Miss Ross, tutor at Carey Hall, also served as Elder at various times and as Mission Secretary. Emily Blomfield, librarian at Woodbrooke, was a member, and at times secretary or treasurer of the Chetwynd Hall Committee. The person whose length of service to the Church and whose contribution exceeded all others was John Kydd and a fuller tribute to him appears in Chapter Six. The Revd Professor Arthur Curtis, also on the Central Staff was for some time an Elder. He served as Session Clerk in 1949 and 1950 and as Interim Moderator between Gilbert Porteous and John Coates and again between John Coates and John Faulkner. Eric Fenn with Kay his wife joined the congregation in 1957 and Eric became an Elder in 1959 from which position he has contributed greatly in spiritual leadership and in the role of father-in-God to various ministers. The Revd Dr Martin Cressey, now Principal of Westminster College, and his wife were members when he was Lecturer in Theology at Selly Oak. Bishop Lesslie Newbigin and Revd Dr Ian Fraser were both members and Helen Newbigin and Margaret Fraser both served as Elders. Revd Dr Dan Beeby, now Principal of St Andrews Hall and Joyce, his wife, are members and Dan has until recently been an Elder. Professor F.J. Smithen was for some years chairman of the Committee of Management and Mr Marius Felderhof of Westhill College is currently chairman of the Finance and Buildings Committee. Also among current members are the Revd Dr W. S. Campbell, Head of Religious and Theological Studies at Westhill College and the Revd Dr Harold Turner, Director of the Study Centre for new religious movements in primal societies which is world renowned. Mrs Turner is a current Elder. On innumerable occasions members of College staffs have assisted with pulpit supply. They have also contributed much to debate in Session and Church Meeting and in leading group meetings of various kinds. The Chapter on Service of Youth pays tribute to the College students' contribution, particularly in the early days of the Sunday School. The congregation itself has been enriched by the presence in its midst of students, many of them influential members of their own churches, drawn from all over the world. While relations remain cordial, reliance on the Colleges has diminished in more recent years and at the time of writing Eric Fenn is the only elder with this connection.

The Church has also benefited by the University connection. Mrs Gibson–Smith, Secretary of the Chetwynd Hall Committee, was wife of a Dean of the Faculty of Commerce and Vice–Chancellor. Dr Isles Strachan, geologist, has been an Elder since 1959 with one short break and was Session Clerk and Church Secretary for over fourteen years. Professor Rowland Moss, geographer and environmentalist, was Elder, youth leader and one of the team of organists. Mrs Robbie Riddiford, a long–standing Elder, is wife of a nuclear physicist. Dr Donald Knight, Elder and youth leader, lectures in civil engineering. Dr David Weaver, member of the Radiation Centre, was until recently Treasurer and remains an Elder. And there have been others. The school–teaching and medical professions have also always been well represented. The contention that it is advisable to have at least two degrees to be received into membership of Weoley Hill Church, however, is apocryphal!

As far as the Cadbury company (now Cadbury Schweppes) is concerned, although a large number of employees live on the Estate, the proportion in the congregation never appears to have been substantial. Many, however, have held office, such as Margaret Glen, member of the Committee of Management and later Elder and Church Secretary, who joined the Church as Margaret Simpson, a Cadbury employee, and John Bartlett, Elder and for sixteen years Chairman of the Committee of Management. At various periods there have been a production foreman, a time–served fitter and a shop steward among the Eldership. Through different individuals, notably Jack Scott, practical help has been received from the Company on numerous occasions and financial assistance has also been made available.

Back to Index



In the files there is still extant a letter with the date 1915 pencil led on it which was presumably written by Robert Aytoun since the sender’s address is "Oaklands". It reads as follows : —

"Last month about a dozen Presbyterians living in this neighbourhood, met together and resolved, as there was no Presbyterian Church within reach, to form a 'Presbyterian Friendship.

"The immediate objects of this 'Friendship' were : —

 (a) To encourage the Presbyterians of this district to be loyal to the Presbyterian Church, to keep in touch with its doings, and to support its work so far as possible.

(b) Where it is difficult to attend or to work in connection with a Presbyterian Congregation in Birmingham, to encourage them, while not ceasing to be Presbyterians, to attend and work with some other Christian congregation more conveniently situated.

(c) To bring local Presbyterians into touch with one another for fellowship and friendship.

"For these purposes it was decided: —

1. To draw up and circulate a list of the names and addresses, etc., of all who should join the 'Friendship also to keep a list of all Presbyterians in the neighbourhood.

2. To meet at least four times a year on Saturday afternoons or other convenient times for tea and fellowship, and for occasional papers and discussions on various aspects of Presbyterianism.

3. To hold two Communion Services a year (at Carey Hall, Weoley Park Road, by kind permission of the Principal and the Committee).


The letter then concludes with arrangements for the first meeting. The original intention, therefore, was to set up a group which would be quite clearly in the Presbyterian tradition. As the group became more formalised, however, and regular services were held in Chetwynd Hall, the concept of a community church seems to have been gaining ground. One reason may well have been that the moving spirits were themselves not ail Presbyterians. Then, as building got under way on the Weoley Hill Estate, the need for local pastoral care was recognised — particularly in view of the absence of any free church in the area at the time. Still more was this the case later on when the Weoley Castle Estate was being developed. George Cadbury’s ecumenical views may also have had an influence for he could well have seen the emerging Weoley Hill Church, although formally Presbyterian, as having a similar parochial role to the one he had foreseen for the Friends' Meeting House in Bournville. There appears to have been an influence in this direction from the Selly Oak Colleges also. With some exceptions, the Colleges have not provided normal Sunday worship for their students; there thus existed a need for a sort of "University Church".

A letter from the Chetwynd Hall Committee dated 25 April 1921 states "The Committee of the Church is anxious, as soon as possible, to remove into the village (i.e. Weoley Hill) in order to be in a more central position for their work. Their desire is that while, for the purposes of the Church management, they are Presbyterian, the Church should prove a spiritual home for all members of other denominations who may not be within reach of a branch of their own church. The idea of a union congregation of various denominations, all having equal privileges of church life, was always in the mind of Mr Aytoun with regard to the Church. There is also a minute of 191B which calls on Mr Aytoun to write to the Birmingham Free Church Council "with special reference to the idea of a 'Union Congregation'”.

However, there were obviously very real practical difficulties in establishing a church which was not under the aegis of one of the major denominations, and in 1919 Robert Aytoun submitted an application to the Presbytery of Birmingham for recognition and the little congregation came under the jurisdiction of Moseley Presbyterian Church. Following a Session Meeting in September 1921, Norman Robinson, then Minister of Moseley, wrote an interesting letter on this subject to Christina Irvine, part of which reads as follows : —

“Another point which we discussed at some length was the question of membership.... That, I fear, is going to be rather a difficult matter to arrange. What we (i.e. Weoley Hill) would like to do, I take it, is to offer students of other Churches full membership while they are here, but, if this means the right to call a minister, to elect elders, and managers, to be eligible for such offices and all other similar rights I don't think (to be quite frank) Presbytery would or could sanction it. It would have to go to Assembly, and I don' t know what the outcome would be. In any case there would be long delay! Dr Oman says "Two rolls, and use the temporary one for all purposes but calling a minister”. But I don't see why calling a minister should be put in a different category from electing elders, say, do you? Of course there would be no difficulty at all about having a roll of “adherents", but that is not what we want— it seems a grudging way of doing things. A roll of temporary communicant members is what we want, but the real crux is the right to elect elders and managers and to be eligible for election. I expect Mrs Aytoun would regard this as mere ecclesiastical subtlety! But it really is more than that, and at present I really don't see the solution."

Dorothy Aytoun, it should be recorded, widow of Robert Aytoun, was a tremendous supporter of the Church in its early days. Her name appears constantly in negotiations and in money raising and other activities, and she was an Elder from 1923 until she left the district in 1941.

The problem of two rolls was not restricted to students. A list of about 1923 contains almost as many "Associates" as full members, most of the "Associates" being adults and some Office bearers (a tradition which has persisted).

The name of the new church also created problems. After some debate it was finally decided that the board outside the newly erected hut in Witherford Way should read "Weoley Hill Village Church — under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church of England". The term "village church" recurs at various times. A Church leaflet of December/January 1934/5 is headed "Weoley Hill Church (Presbyterian Church of England)' whereas one dated September 1942 is headed "The Village Church Leaflet".

To some extent the ambivalence between the ideas of a “gathered" church and a parochial one has continued. Jack Faulkner, looking back after thirty years at the period of his ministry, wrote in a letter "In some ways Weoley Hill should have been a Church Extension success story from the Somehow it wasn't.... I think the root trouble at Weoley Hill was that the College people wanted a local community church ( they just soft–pedalled the Presbyterian part). "

In the 1950s and 1960s, however, the church moved quite firmly into the Presbyterian tradition. There was still a roll of adherents, but their number had declined to very small proportions, although some continued to hold office, a good example being Tom Budgett who for many years gave signal service as Church Treasurer while remaining an Anglican. In this period also, sectarian loyalty probably diminished as the ecumenical movement gathered strength and many members of other denominations were quite prepared to become Presbyterians in order to participate fully in their local church.

In more recent times, the distinction between member and adherent has been further blurred by the inclusion of adherents in Elders' districts, but the major disability of disenfranchisement and ineligibility for the Eldership remains.

As far as pastoral care is concerned, the Church offered a notable service to the Weoley Castle area during the 1930s and provided the sacraments of baptism and marriage to large numbers of local people into much later times. The arrival of other churches, however, began to make itself felt and brought about, as one member has put it, the end of this ecumenical dream".

Having settled firmly into the Presbyterian tradition, Weoley Hill, like the rest of the denomination, was required to take up its position on the question of joining the Congregational Church in England and Wales in the formation of the United Reformed Church. Not surprisingly with the history outlined above the congregation gave full support to the scheme as it did to the later unification with the Churches of Christ though in this latter case there was some heart–searching over the differing doctrines of baptism.

The proposals for covenanting between Anglicans, Methodists, U. R. C. and Moravians met with more serious opposition. There was some concern about the mutual recognition provisions but much more deep seated objections to the idea of personal episcopacy. In the end, however, after earnest debate in Church Meeting, support was given by a substantial majority. The eventual failure of the proposals to pass with the necessary majority in the House of Clergy of the General Synod and so to gain the approval of the Anglicans was received with disappointment, and Weoley Hill Church is now engaged in discussions with the Selly Oak Council of Churches and also with St David’s Anglican), Shenley Green, to see how the impetus of the Covenant can be kept going at local level.

Back to Index



The Weoley Hill congregation was indebted to the Selly Oak Colleges not only for its instigation, but also for the provision of its ministers for the first fourteen years of its existence and for interim moderators during vacancies up to the end of the Second World War. The first three ministers and, later, John Coates were all distinguished scholars.

The status of a full charge was not granted until 1929, and the first two ministers acted in a part–time capacity while retaining appointments in the Colleges and were, in fact, Preachers–in–charge and Interim Moderators. In more recent times, the question of a full-time ministry has begun to surface again. In view of the shortage of ministers in the Presbyterian Church in the 60s (which became even more pronounced on the formation of the United Reformed Church in 1972), there was concern when Stanley Ross left whether the congregation was justified in calling another full-time minister — particularly as pulpit supply could virtually be maintained within the membership or at least the area. In fact a resolution that no call be issued was moved at a Congregational Meeting in February 1971, although it failed.

The same question arose in more acute form on the departure of Norman Healey in 1979. With the roll then at 138, there was doubt whether scope to issue a call would be granted. In the end authority was, in fact, given and the present Minister, the Revd John Brownlow Geyer M.A. was inducted on 8th September 1980. Like others before him, John Geyer came with a background of tutorships — this time at Cheshunt College and the joint Colleges of Westminster and Cheshunt at Cambridge, and with an established reputation in Old Testament Studies and as a writer of hymns. He had also held pastoral charge as a Congregational minister for a total of 21 years in St Andrews (Fife), Glasgow and Little Baddow in Essex.

Some further information follows about the past Ministers of Weoley Hill Church.

Back to Index


Robert Aytoun came of an old Scottish family and was born at Fraserborough, Aberdeenshire, on 22nd February 1879. He spent much of his childhood at Scarborough where his father was a civil engineer and also a lay preacher. Later, Robert went on to Tonbridge School from which he secured London Matriculation and a scholarship to Aberdeen University. A further scholarship took him on to Cambridge (Emmanuel College) where he graduated in 1902. He then went on to Westminster College (the Presbyterian theological college in Cambridge). There, the influence of Dr Oman and Dr Skinner fostered his love of preaching and care in preparation, his fascination with the literature and language of the Old Testament and above all his fearless fidelity to the truth, characteristics which remained with him throughout his life. He also became an accomplished musician, able to improvise delightfully on piano or organ. When the organ was first installed in the church many years after his death, it was dedicated on 5th November 1939 'to the beloved memory of Robert Alexander Aytoun, founder and first Minister of the Weoley Hill Church. With his scholarship and Christian wisdom he combined the charm of the musician and the influence of the saint".

Following a childhood illness, he suffered from a heart defect. For this reason he was frustrated in his desire to take up missionary work in China. He became assistant at Sefton Park, Liverpool, in 1906. Within a year of his ordination he was left in charge for a considerable time on the sudden death of the Minister. This proved too great a strain for someone with his heart condition and he suffered a physical breakdown. On recovery he applied and obtained the position of resident tutor (mainly for history of Israel and religion of the prophets) at what was then known as Woodbrooke Settlement, the first of the Selly Oak Colleges (see Chapter Three ). This was in 1908 and in 1914 he moved his family to a house called "Oaklands" on the west side of the Bristol Road (now No. 933, used as a hostel by Westhill, another of the Selly Oak Colleges). In the drawing room of this house was drawn together in 1915 the group of Presbyterians which subsequently became Weoley Hill Church. At the outbreak of the First World War, he applied to go to France as an Army Chaplain. When, once more, his application was refused on grounds of health, he became instead Presbyterian Chaplain to the wounded in all the hospitals in the Birmingham area and added these strenuous duties to his other responsibilities.

After the War, when it became necessary to work out some– thing more in the nature of a confederate relationship for the Selly Oak Colleges, Robert Aytoun was instrumental in devising and promoting a constitution for a central staff. In a memoir, H. G. Wood, also on the staff of the Colleges and a world–renowned Quaker, wrote of him, ' 'It is not too much to say that, next to the generous and steady support of Edward Cadbury, the Selly Oak Colleges in the first stages of co–ordination owed their larges debt to the loving and wise service of Robert Aytoun. "

During the War, he published his first book, ' 'The City Centres of Early Christianity". A later book, "God in the Old Testament" was published posthumously.

He remained the guiding spirit of the new congregation meeting in his house and in Chetwynd Hall as Minister in Charge and subsequently as Interim Moderator when it was raised to a Preaching Station in February 1920. Sadly, he only held this latter appointment for three months before his tragic death while taking an active part in a Student Movement Bible School in Dumbartonshire at Easter that year at the age of forty–one.

Back to Index


Fearon Halliday was born in Dublin on 9th June 1874. His father was then in business but was ordained a Minister of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland two years later and moved to England in 1880. Fearon thus grew up in a Presbyterian manse, first in Middlesborough and subsequently in Portsmouth. He returned to Dublin to complete his first and second degrees at Trinity College and was then at Westminster College from 1900 to 1903.

Through his youth and student days three characteristics seem to stand out from the record a keen love of nature, a steadfast striving for excellence and an interest in physiognomy. This last interest arose in some sense by chance. It appears that, in a house backing on the manse in Portsmouth, there lived a character known as "Old Brookes" who was deeply versed in phrenology. Fearon as a teenager as fascinated and, indeed, acquired a capacity to read the human face which he later developed to a remarkable degree.

On leaving Westminster College, he went to St John's Wood as assistant and, on ordination, was inducted at New Barnet, Herts, in 1904. There he remained until 1921 when he was appointed Lecturer in the Philosophy of Religion and in Systematic and Pastoral Theology at the Selly Oak Colleges, a position which he held until his untimely death on 19th January 1932, at the age of 57.

Fearon Halliday appears to have accepted the appointment of Preacher-in-charge and Moderator at Weoley Hill virtually from the time of his arrival in Selly Oak, taking over from John Oman who had officiated during the vacancy caused by the death of Robert Aytoun. Although Weoley Hill was raised to the status of a fully sanctioned charge in November 1929, he felt unable in view of is other responsibilities to become the full-time minister.

To the little congregation, he brought great qualities as a preacher, and it is fitting that the pulpit in the present church should be a memorial to him. He was also a scholar of distinction. Nathaniel Micklem wrote of him, "He was a passionate evangelist and an exact and constructive thinker, a most rare compound." He mastered Kant, but also, in following up his interest in character and emotion, made a thorough study of Freud. His faith, his experience and his studies found expression in two publications, "Reconciliation and Reality" and "Psychology and Religious Experience".

Fearon Halliday became one of the first to combine Christian insights with the new psychology. Added to his direct and immediate empathy with his fellow human beings, this gave him a unique pastoral skill which he practised not only within the congregation of Weoley Hill and the Selly Oak Colleges but over a far wider scene in this country and elsewhere. Although some found his powerful intellect and clear gaze rather awesome, he possessed the quality of immediate rapport with the most casual contacts. Even people in shops and railway carriages turned seemingly instinctively to him for comfort. He would never intrude but he had a remarkable ability to sum up character and the troubles. of the human heart simply from physical appearance. Already in New Barnet, he had revealed an almost miraculous skill in healing sick souls and in some instances bodies also. His psychological studies gave weight to his innate capabilities, but psychology remained for him a tool, nothing more. Healing lay alone in a right relationship with God. As time went on more and more demands were made on him. He never refused. In vain his friends pleaded with him to limit his response to these emotionally exhausting demands. In 1932 the inevitable result ensued and his health gave way under the strain.

Back to Index


Mrs M. MclachlanIn 1930 Fearon Halliday in his role of Interim Moderator applied to the Birmingham Presbytery for a Church Sister to help with increasing pastoral need as both the Bournville Village Trust's Weoley Hill Estate and the City's much larger housing estate, Weoley Castle, to the west were being developed. As a temporary measure, Mrs Adams, then Church Sister at Camp Hill, Birmingham, was loaned for a period, initially of three months, commencing on 1st January, 1931. In the following year a more lasting arrangement was made with the appointment of Mrs. Marjorie McLachlan to Weoley Hill. Following Fearon Halliday’s death and the ensuing vacancy, she stayed on as a colleague of the first full-time Minister, Eric Philip, when he was appointed in 1933.

Reminiscences of one who was a young girl in the congregation at that time describe her as "a short, plumpish, rosy–cheeked body with lively eyes and thinning hair and a motherly manner.” Widowed after a short marriage, she had no children of her own. "She was a wonderful person and we all loved her,” another member writes. “I loved her like a mother. In fact, she was a second mother to me.”

She was always concerned for the poor and the struggling. Outgrown clothing was ever in demand and there were constant jumble sales. Largely as a result of her work, the Sunday School (she was Superintendent of the Junior Department) was built up to nearly 400 in all. In addition, she gathered together a Women's Guild which in 1936 had a roll of 164.

In October 1937, to the congregation's great regret, ‘Mrs Mac' was transferred to Manchester by the Women's Home Church Association.

Back to Index


Revd. E.W. PhilipEric Philip's family were in the map publishing business, Philip, Sons and Nephew. He was born in Liverpool on 11th July, 1892. While at Birkenhead School he won first place for the whole of England in Latin in the Cambridge Local Examinations. Continuing on this high note, he won one of three major scholarships to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was placed in Class 1 of Division 1 of the Classical Tripos and then went on to read Economics.

He entered Westminster College in 1914, but then volunteered for the Y.M.C.A. and served with them in France and Salonika. Returning to Westminster after the war, he completed the Exit Examination with distinction in all subjects in 1920 and was ordained and inducted at St George's Church, Moston, Manchester in the same year.

While at Moston, he became deeply involved not only in the work of his charge, but also in the life of the City and the social problems he saw around him. He was a man of great energy. A contemporary says that he positively bubbled over with ideas and activity. From another angle it has been said that he could be impatient, and he certainly did not suffer fools gladly. However, when he accepted the call to Weoley Hill some two or three months after the present church was dedicated in 1933, he obviously grasped with both hands the opportunity offered by a new building in a rapidly developing area. The list of church activities grew and grew. Some organisations came and went, but the Sunday School built up by Marjorie McLachlan remained enormous and the Women's Guild continued to flourish. A Boys' Brigade was formed and there was a Weoley Hill Church Council of Service to co–ordinate all the activity. Numbers on the Roll increased from 70 to 148.

In 1938, Eric Philip responded to a call from Kentish Town in London where he was inducted on 14th September. He and his family identified themselves with the poor of the neighbourhood and insisted on sharing their living conditions. Here he was able to live out ever more fully his concern for the under–privileged and he was constant in his advocacy of the social gospel. In 1929, while still in Manchester, he had moved at the Annual Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of England that “the Church affirms the resolution of COPEC that the first charge on industry should be the provision of a wage adequate to maintain the worker in health and dignity, and that it should be regarded as a duty that every employed person give the most loyal service". At Weoley Hill, he once argued from the pulpit that the well–to–do middle class people of that area should pay a subvention to assist their poorer neighbours on the Weoley Castle estate.

At Assembly he also worked for the equalisation of Ministers’ stipends. He was placed on a number of its committees, notable the Welfare of Youth Committee, of which he was Convenor. From this position he was instrumental in the formation of the Presbyterian Fellowship of Youth. He was also from 1940 to 1942 honorary editor of the Presbyterian Messenger.

In July 1942, as a visitor in the pulpit of Weoley Hill Church, Eric Philip was taken ill. A few weeks later, on 4th August, he died from a tumour on the brain.

Back to Index


Revd. G. PorteusAfter the enthusiasms generated by the new church building and the initiatives of the first full-time minister, Weoley Hill was at its highest peak so far when Gilbert Porteous was inducted on 16th February, 1939. Seven months later war had broken out and he was left to struggle with all the problems of war–time conditions congregation drifting away, the organist in the R. A.F., difficulties over the evening service because of black–out, declining collections and rising costs. As a committed pacifist with many friends in Germany and elsewhere under Nazi rule, he suffered greatly in spirit. A daughter recalls how, during raids over Birmingham, while his wife and children were in the air raid shelter, he stayed out under the criss-crossed searchlights and yet could feel for the men in the bombers overhead. Perhaps the Quaker element in his family background had something to do with this, for he was ever ready to seek for "that of God in every person".

Born on 21st June 1891, Gilbert Porteous took his degree at London University where he won first prize for English. He was at Westminster College from 1912 to 1915 and then held a temporary charge in Islington in London for five years before becoming Secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a post he held from 1920 to 1930. He was then called to St Columba’s Nottingham and from there he moved to Weoley Hill.

He was an intellectual, numbering many university and college people among his friends. Yet he could easily get alongside those with no intellectual leanings. Perhaps it was his uninhibited and almost child–like candour which facilitated this as well as the uncompromising honesty which shone through preaching and personal relationships alike.

He took a very serious view of Presbyterian order and his position in it as a minister. However, he also had a great deal of the artistic temperament, expressing many of his deeper joys and sorrows and his spiritual experiences in verse. He wrote plays and dramatic presentations which formed part of special services. One, entitled "The Wolf and the Dove or Columba at the Moment of Death" was a major event which is still remembered — particularly the dramatic ending in which Columba (portrayed by Boris Anderson who later married Gilbert Porteous’s elder daughter) is taken up into heaven. His artistic side found expression in painting also, and perhaps distanced him somewhat from the practicalities of life for it could be said that he was not the most methodical of men.

He had a great love of music, and played a major part in obtaining the organ in the summer of 1939 and in its installation in the gallery at the back of the church to encourage congregational singing— rather than in the chamber at the front provided by the architect.

Throughout his ministry, he was sustained by the unfailing support and help of his wife, Bessie, whose work and personality are still remembered.

While at Weoley Hill, Gilbert Porteous was called on to assist with a Church Extension cause at Sheldon on the south east outskirts of Birmingham. As the work progressed, it took up more and more of his time and he was eventually released from his main charge for a year from 9th April 1944, to concentrate on Sheldon. Subsequently, on 12th March 1945, he resigned from Weoley Hill to devote himself entirely to the new cause.

He remained there for three years and then moved successively to Beaumont in Northumberland and to Cleaton Moor and finally to Aston Tirrold in Oxfordshire. Thence he retired to live with his son, Dr Colin Porteous, in Birmingham where he died on 8th March, 1970.

Back to Index


Revd. J.C. CoatesThe name of John Coates recurs with great frequency in reminiscences about Weoley Hill Church. His association was a long one. Although inducted minister for the relatively short period of just under two years from 10th September 1945 until 6th July 1947, he was connected with the church from the time he was appointed Professor of Old Testament and Comparative Religions in the Selly Oak Colleges in January 1928 until his retirement from the ministry. He twice acted as Interim Moderator — between Fearon Halliday and Eric Philip and again between Eric Philip and Gilbert Porteous. He assisted Fearon Halliday in the late twenties and stood in for him during his six months leave of absence in 1931. likewise stood in for Gilbert Porteous when the latter was released to devote himself to Sheldon in 1944/45. He was a Session Elder for many years as was also his wife and he was Session Clerk from June 1941 to June 1944.

Born on 25th September 1879 at Prestwich, Lancs, he was educated at Bury Grammar School from which he matriculated to Cambridge (Peterhouse) in 1897, taking his degree in 1900. After passing through Westminster College, he spent some time at Göttingen before taking up his first charge at St Johns, Northwood, where he was minister from 1905 to 1919.

While at Northwood, he led a project for the building of a new church and then, during the First World War, handed it over to the Government for use as a hospital. He was, in fact, a strong Christian Pacifist and set out his views in a book entitled “War — What Does the Bible Say?". Other books are "The Christ of Revolution" and "Men of Destiny", and he did a considerable amount of translation from German.

In 1919, he became Bible Study Secretary for the Student Christian Movement and in 1923 he was inducted as Minister of Roath Park, Cardiff. In 1927, he set out on a world tour,

in the course of which he spent some time as lecturer at Kuling and Mokansen in China. It was on his return from this tour that he took up the professorship at the Selly Oak Colleges.

With his penetrating blue eyes, John Coates was a charismatic personality. He had a great sense of (sometimes irreverent) fun and a flair for composing limericks, yet he could be shy and even awkward. He was often hesitant and staccato in speech as if what he had to say was the outcome of current meditation. He was a man of truly prophetic insight who could make the Bible live, not just in exegesis of individual passages but in broad sweeps comprehending Old and New Testaments in one.

He retired from his position in the Selly Oak Colleges in 1945 and it was this which freed him to take up the ministry at Weoley Hill. He was by then 66 years of age. A severe operation in the summer of 1947 brought about his withdrawal from Weoley Hill Church also. He moved to East End, North Leigh, Oxfordshire, where he died on 8th March, 1956.

Back to Index


Revd. C. FaulknerIn the immediate post–war years there appears to have been a shortage of ministers in the Presbyterian Church of England. In consequence, congregations with a vacancy looked to a wider field. Weoley Hill Session made their need known in Northern Ireland where there was a surplus, and in due course, John Faulkner (more commonly known as Jack) was induced to come over from Belfast to take up the charge. He was ordained and inducted on 15th November 1947.

Jack Faulkner was born in Belfast on 17th October 1910. He joined the Merchant Navy in 1928 as a navigation cadet and gained his Second Officer’s Certificate in 1932. Feeling called to the ministry, he entered Magee College in 1938 and eventually graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1942. For the next five years, he was assistant at Westbourne Church, Belfast, before moving on to Birmingham.

This was still a time of restrictions and shortages, but Jack Faulkner nevertheless took the initiative in the purchase of the present manse. Post–war Birmingham and its particular culture he found strange and it was a very difficult position for a young Minister in his first charge to find his Session largely consisting of divinity professors and tutors, education inspectors and other distinguished people. Though he got on very well personally with the Session and the congregation, he was never really happy in the Weoley Hill environment and he came to feel that the green hills of Ulster were calling him (and his new wife) home.

On 31st July 1949, he was released by the Birmingham Presbytery to take up a call from Croaghmore near Ballycastle in Country Antrim. Later, he moved on to Moy in County Tyrone, a tough assignment, where there were many bombings and shootings.

He is now retired and lives at Portstewart in County Derry.

Back to Index


Revd. S. RossBy far the longest ministry in the history of Weoley Hill Church is that of Stanley Ross who was inducted on 23rd September 1949, and who preached there as its minister for the last time on 4th October 1970.

Born in Bournemouth on 1st August 1918, he was educated first at University College School in London before going to University College in the University of London, where he took his B.A. in Philosophy.

His early church life was in St James, Edgeware, where he was deeply influenced by the Minister, William Gibb. Like Jack Faulkner before him and Norman Healey who followed, Stanley Ross had had a period in a lay occupation before training for the ministry. He worked for a time in the silver department of Harrods before going to Westminster College in 1942. On leaving Westminster, he held an appointment as Finance Secretary to the Student Christian Movement for a year, during part of which he was assistant at Marylebone in London. In 1946, he was recalled to Westminster as tutor and remained there until moving to Weoley Hill in 1949.

Stanley Ross was one on whom all and sundry (within and outside the congregation) leaned for his great administrative ability. He was for many years a member and later Convenor of the Presbyterian Church of England's Policy and Organisation Committee and of its Licentiates' Committee. As Clerk to its Business Committee, he was a familiar figure at General Assemblies and continued as chairman of the similar committee of the United Reformed Church. He was appointed Convenor of the Applications Committee in 1958 and was one of the 17 representatives of the Presbyterian Church in the discussions with the Congregationalists which resulted in the formation of the U. R.C. Nearer home he was for a long time Clerk to the Presbytery of Birmingham.

He took up again the work among students restarted by John Coates after the war, and like Norman Healey and John Geyer after him was a recognised chaplain of the University of Birmingham. The Presby-Cong Soc met alternately at Weoley Hill and at Carrs Lane.

Stanley Ross took over the Weoley Hill congregation before there had been time to repair the ravages of war — not to mention three changes of minister in quick succession. Before he left, numbers on the roll had risen to the highest yet at 186, the congregation had paid off all debts on the manse, had built and paid for the John Kydd Hall, had re–roofed and re–decorated the church, had long since begun to pay more into central funds than its minister's stipend and had established the principle of systematic proportional giving.

For many, however, it was Stanley's preaching which is particularly remembered. There are also many who, from their own experience, testify to the comfort his visits brought in times of trouble and, in particular, the sustaining power he shared in cases of bereavement.

His wife, Betty, besides providing constant hospitality at the manse, also found time to work in the congregation, particularly in the Sunday School and the Women's Guild, to sit on the Carey Hall House Committee and to be Secretary of the Women's Home Church Presbyterian Committee and member of its Central Committee.

In another sphere, Stanley Ross has been a long–standing and active participant in the Presbyterian Historical Society and a member of its Council. His lecture given in 1963 on "Some Aspects of Presbyterian Polity in England" has been published as well as another study entitled "An Unbroken Heritage".

In 1970, he accepted a call from Spittal, Berwick–upon– Tweed, where he was inducted on 29th October, settling for the rest of his ministry in the Border country he loved so much. He retired on health grounds in March 1981, and still lives in Berwick.

Back to Index


Revd. N. HealeySon of a famous father (the Revd F. G. Healey, one time General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church of England and later Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster College) Norman was born at Toronto in Canada on 7th November 1939, and came to England in 1945. In London, he went to Haberdasher's Aske's School before becoming a trainee manager with Heinz. After a year as assistant master at a preparatory school in Saltburn, he completed his teacher training at Clifton College of Education in Nottingham. For three years he taught religious education in secondary schools in Brentwood and Welwyn Garden City before entering Westminster College, Cambridge, in 1967. In addition to the College course, he took a degree in theology at the University.

He was ordained and inducted at Weoley Hill on 16th July 1971. His ministry covered a period of great change. Forms of service were everywhere being reviewed. There was a new hymnbook. The use of the second person singular in addressing the Godhead was being replaced by "you". Above all, it was the period leading up to and following the coming together of Presbyterians and Congregationalists and the consequent adjustment to a whole series of new ways.

In all this upheaval, Norman Healey was thoroughly at home and ready and willing to experiment on his own account. Questions of theology and church polity were not his first priority, however. His great concerns throughout were the quality of Christian discipleship of his congregation and their response to the needs of others. A very popular minister, he had an exceptional capacity for relating to the young, even the very young, and his children's addresses at morning worship soon won an attentive audience. Youth clubs flourished and the uniformed organisations were built up. He also identified himself closely with the locality, taking an active part in the life of the Weoley Hill community, and soon became a well–known and popular figure there also.

It is, however, for his pastoral work that he will be particularly remembered, for the keen interest he took in all his congregation and the strong support he gave them at all times — sometimes at cost to himself in terms of exhaustion and even health. When he responded to the call for overseas service, he left behind a strong, friendly, committed and caring church.

On 16th September 1979, he conducted services for the last time as minister and left England in January of the next year to take up work as pastor, teacher and administrator in the islands of Kiribati in the South Pacific.

Back to Index




The earliest list, undated but probably from 1919, shows 18 full members and 16/17 associates. By 1923, the figures had risen to 21 full (sometimes called legal' ) members and 19 associates, according to a draft Sustentation Return. A Presbytery Visitation Report of 1927 gives 32 full and 26 associate members.

From the end of 1931 onwards, when the numbers were 48 and 14, there is a consistent record. This shows a steady rise in full membership during the 1930s to a peak of 168 in 1940. The number of associates hovered around 25 and subsequently declined. Full membership dropped back a little during the war, but it was later found that many who had been kept on the roll though absent had really lapsed, and a drastic pruning in 1949 and 1950 reduced the membership to 118.

There then ensued a long steady growth until 1967 when the peak figure of 186 was reached. Thereafter there was some decline - until a further drastic pruning in 1978 reduced the total to 132. In 1983 the figure reached 148.

Back to Index

Sunday observance

As far as one can tell from the record, Sunday services seem to have followed the normal Presbyterian pattern at any rate up until the 1970s. Communion was held once a month alternately in morning and evening services, and for a period in the 1930s there was a devotional meeting on the Thursday before communion Sunday.

During the war there was some interruption in the arrangements for the Sunday evening service owing to blackout and for a time in 1943 this service was replaced by a "Reconstruction Forum". Members speak of the warm feeling of fellowship of those wartime evening services. The evening service has also been the subject of experimentation in more recent times. There have been films, discussion periods and Bible study, and it remains a valuable meeting of the dedicated few.

The 1935 decision to change from the common cup to individual glasses seems to have caused much heart–searching for it was long in debate. Similarly, in 1975, the question of restoring the common cup entailed long and anxious consideration, including discussion at Church Meeting led by Kay Fenn on the purpose and meaning of the communion service itself. Due account was taken of the views both of those who felt strongly on hygienic grounds and of those who had accepted individual glasses with great reluctance feeling them to be alien to the spirit of lateral "communion" appropriate to the occasion. Time was allowed to elapse before the change took effect and as has been said, re–introduction has been partial only. There are today some who do not partake when the common cup is used, but the number is small.

The form of the communion service was also the subject of experiment during the 1970s but it was eventually felt that the congregation liked to "know where it was" and the set form of service at the back of New Church Praise was adopted. composite liturgy containing some elements of this form is now in use.

The organist from his vantage point on the organ stool in the rear gallery keeps a head count of the congregation week by week. Apart from special occasions such as dedications and ordinations, it appears that the highest ever recorded was Christmas Day 1966, when every seat in the church was occupied, including the transept.

Back to Index

Church Governance

As the original Presbyterian Fellowship developed into the Weoley Hill congregation, an ad hoc Chetwynd Hall Committee was set up with Robert Aytoun as chairman, the first minutes being dated 20 February 1918.

When recognising the congregation as a Preaching Station on 19 February 1920, the Birmingham Presbytery appointed Robert Aytoun Interim Moderator with no less than six elders from Moseley Presbyterian Church, Chantry Road, Birmingham, to assist him in looking after the 18 members and 16 or 17 associates at Weoley Hill. This group constituted the Chetwynd Session.

For a time the two bodies existed side by side, the Session being primarily concerned with pulpit supply and securing a successor to Robert Aytoun and the Committee busying itself with raising money and negotiating for a site for a building of is own. Norman Robinson, Minister of Moseley, having become Interim Moderator on the death of Robert Aytoun chaired both the Session and the Committee. On 12 September 1921, Fearon Halliday was appointed to the Chetwynd Hall Committee and on 28 May 1922, the Session made him one of their number and appointed him Moderator.

As mentioned earlier, Dorothy Aytoun, Christina Irvine and John Kydd were ordained and inducted as Elders in 1923. From this point the Chetwynd Hall Committee Minutes cease. In May 1925 Mr Robinson suggested Weoley Hill Session should keep Minutes of its own and report to Moseley occasionally and there are a few typed or hand–written minutes relating to the years 1924, 1925, 1926 and 1927. There is also a complete set of minutes of annual and frequent special congregational meetings. Session minutes proper begin on 12 January 1930 following the conferment of the status of sanctioned charge on 18 November 1929.

In 1924 a decision was taken to set up a Committee of Management although it was not elected until May 1926, when it was stated that, "owing to the appointment of a Church Session, the office of Church Secretary ( then held by Mrs Gibson Smith) became unnecessary".

In January 1935 the number of members of the Committee of Management was increased to twelve, one third to retire each year, but Elders were all ex officio members of the Committee in addition. In April 1967, because the Committee had become unwieldy and Elders' attendance sporadic, a new constitution was adopted with three Elders appointed annually in addition to any who might be office bearers. Governance by Session and Committee of Management continued up to the formation of the U. R.C. on 5 October 1972.

At that stage, in drawing up its new constitution, Weoley Hill Church was at pains to free the Eldership and the Church Meeting from unnecessary detail and to this end a very small Finance and Buildings Committee was introduced. At the same time, a limited term of service for Elders was introduced by the Scheme of Union and a system of first appointment for five years followed by an optional period of three years followed by a mandatory sabbatical was adopted by Weoley Hill. In a review after five years the mandatory stand-down was dropped and the term became five years renewable.

Regular Church Meetings have been held at first four, later five, times a year since October 1972 as the final authority for local matters. In addition to current church business, the meetings have included time set aside for discussion of some wider topic concerning church life and witness, the world–wide church, or social or political issues.

The most notable holder of the key office of Session Clerk (or now Church Secretary) is John Kydd who was first appointed to this office in 1926. The Church Hall stands as a memorial to him and the following minute written by Stanley Ross was passed by the Session in his memory when he died:—

"John Kydd was born in Montrose in 1890 and was educated at Montrose Academy and St Andrews University. From 1911 to 1921, he was professor of Economics at the Scottish Churches College, Calcutta. In 1922 he became Professor of Economics at the Selly Oak Colleges, being appointed Registrar in 1923.

"Soon after his arrival in Selly Oak, he became associated with and became a leading figure in the small group of Christians who were meeting for worship in this area. In 1923 he was one of the first three elders to be elected from the new congregation and when the Session was organised he was the obvious choice for its first Clerk. He served the Church in that office, with two short breaks, until his death on 15 August 1962. For more than ten years during and just after the war he was also Chairman of the Committee of Management. By the regularity of his attendance at public worship and his steadfast loyalty to Weoley Hill Church, Mr Kydd was a strong support to successive ministers, while his wisdom and knowledge were always invaluable in the concerns of Session and Committee of Management. He represented the congregation at the 1960 General Assembly.

"Great as his influence was in Weoley Hill Church, perhaps his greatest service to the World Wide Church was through the Selly Oak Colleges, whose development he guided through the years. As Registrar until his retirement in 1959, he took a personal interest in successive generations of students. He served as a Life Governor of Birmingham University, Chairman of the Birmingham Citizens’ society from 1933 to 1947, Chairman of the Birmingham Advisory Committee of the National Assistance Board and chairman of a number of Wages Councils for the Ministry of Labour, these public services being recognised by the award of the O. B. E. in 1958.

"Weoley Hill places on record its gratitude to God for the life and service to Church and Society of John Kydd....”

Dr Isles Strachan took office on the death of John Kydd, seeing the congregation through the very successful period of the 60s, the building of the john Kydd Hall, the vacancy between Stanley Ross and Norman Healey and the transformation from Presbyterian to United Reformed.

He was succeeded in 1977 by Margaret Glen who guided the affairs of the Church with a firm hand until March 1983, including the year–long vacancy between Norman Healey and John Geyer when she bore a heavy burden with great distinction.

As far as the Committee of Management is concerned, the name of F.W. Coffey stands out. He served as chairman from the early 20s until 1939. Charles Stainrod was another stalwart, acting as secretary from 1939 until 1955 and spending long hours applying his practical skills to the upkeep of the church. John Bartlett was Chairman for sixteen years from 1956 to 1972 and Dorothy Shaw was Secretary for sixteen years from 1966 to 1982.

Back to Index

Church Organisations

Apart from the Session and Committee of Management, the longest–running organisation must certainly have been the Women's Sewing Group, later known as the Women's Work Party. Started back in Chetwynd Hall days, it not only provided fellowship for those taking part but also generated quite crucial finance. In the ten years up to 1934, it contributed £671 10s 9d to the building fund, but its annual and later biennial sales of work bore a major role in balancing the finances of the Church. Dorothy Aytoun led the group for many years as did Mrs L. E. Moffatt and Mrs B. M. Ward in more recent times. As more and more women went out to work in post–war years, fewer were available to take part, and the availability and relative cheapness of quality goods in the 1960s rendered unsaleable at appropriate prices some of the beautiful work produced. Hence the Work Party ceased about 1965.

From earliest times, also, there was a Missions Committee of which Emily Blomfield was for some time Secretary and Treasurer. An elaborate system of envelopes was instituted in the 1920s to enable subscribers to direct their giving to the missionary organisation of their choice. Missionary Sunday was observed up to the 1950s and Missionary "At Homes" and missionary suppers and other events ( some of which raised considerable sums of money) were organised. In 1935, Mrs Halliday, widow of Fearon Halliday, was appointed Women’s Missionary Association Secretary. Through the Selly Oak Colleges, the congregation has always had a close contact with missionary matters as also by personal contact with missionaries who attended the Church while in training or on furlough. In more recent times, financial support has been left to the Unified Appeal and contacts have been more in the shape of welcoming mature students from the world church during periods of study at the Colleges.

The great burgeoning of Church organisations during the 1930s, many of them loosely grouped under a Council of Service, has already been mentioned. Possibly it was somewhat overdone, for most of the groups, including the Council of Service itself, seem to have died away during the next decade. There were, however, special reasons for this— the difficulties of the war years and also the fact that three of the great characters of the early days, Christina Irvine, Dorothy Aytoun and Ellen Halliday either died or left the area. Two of the groups, however, merit special mention. One is the Visiting Committee. Set up in the 1920s, its role was outreach in the neighbourhood and also assistance to the Interim Moderator in his pastoral work. In the 1930s, its members were allotted areas in the Weoley Castle Estate to carry out visitation evangelism and also to look out for "cases of need". The effects of the work of the Committee at this time are to be seen in the growth of the Sunday School and Women’s Guild and other activities such as the Home–makers Class, the Parents' Association and the clubs for young people which were set up to meet a perceived social need.

The Women's Guild is the second organisation deserving special mention. It was started in January 1933 as an afternoon meeting for women not out at work and quickly grew to a huge size. With a regular attendance around 70, there is some speculation about how they can have fitted into the upper or lower hall, or even both (the John Kydd Hall not having been built at the time). The Guild continued in existence the 1970s, during which time it attracted great loyalty among its members so that there was reluctance to allow it to close when its last leader, Sheena Moss, left the area.

In 1953, a Young Wives' Club was started led by Mary Bartlett. Members met in the vestry in the afternoon, one of them taking the young children away to play in one of the church halls. The group continued to meet in the afternoons until 1957, when it was found that most of the children were now at school and more wives were out at work and evening meetings were more suitable. The name was then changed to the Women’s Evening Meeting. In the course of its existence the group ran the Cradle Roll for many years and organised talks and discussions on a wide variety of problems, particularly family and social. It ceased to exist in 1972. In the following year, however, a Women's Monthly Meeting started up and in 1976 a Friendship Group was set up, originally with the needs of widows in mind, but now offering a meeting place to women and men and to the neighbourhood as well as to the congregation. Meetings are held during the day–time.

Not to be out–done, the men formed their own Men's Working Party in 1950 to decorate various parts of the church premises. It ran for four years in the first instance and was resurrected at intervals later as required. Apart from doing cheaply a lot of necessary work, usually under Jack Scott’s cheerful and optimistic leadership, the Work Party gave an opportunity for fellowship.

Discussion groups of one sort and another have proliferated down the years. Congregational discussion meetings were started in the autumn of 1934, scheduled to run on Monday evenings “throughout the season". After a short time they changed to Thursdays and were known as the Thursday Meetings and were led by John Coates. There were groups for bible study at intervals and prayer meetings were held for a time at 10.30 a.m. on the second Sunday of the month from 1923. These apparently lapsed after a time as it was agreed that they should be resumed in 1942. During the war, there were daily morning prayer meetings and in 1972 a Fellowship of Prayer was started with regular meetings and a commitment to prayer at home. House groups have been a feature of congregational life since the early 1970s. Many of these have been held in the autumn and have covered a wide variety of subjects from direct bible study through social questions to "Whence came our Hymns?" Some groups have continued for longer periods and one has been in existence for ten years, providing a strong sense of community and support to its members and much opportunity for exploration in the faith.

In 1955 a group was set up to study the papers for the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches meeting later that year at Evanston in the U.S.A. Out of this grew the Emmaus Group which met fortnightly after evening service for several years to discuss various aspects of Christian faith and life led by the Minister or a layman. Other groups have been led by Pam Cressey, Jean Parker and others and Weoley Hill has always participated in the Lent discussions and study groups run by the Selly Oak Council of Churches.

Congregational conferences were held in 1965, 1973 and 1976. The first studied four topics— worship, action for and service from youth, nature and purpose of the congregation and the material needs of the Church. The 1973 event was based on material issued by the Birmingham Council of Christian Churches under the general heading of commitment. The third took the general subject of renewal.

In between, in 1969, a questionnaire seeking views on forms of worship and congregational life were sent to members and some others. About one third of the membership replied but the information gleaned proved somewhat conflicting.

Back to Index

The Outward Look

Concern for the wider scene has varied over the years, and, on occasions, criticism about a lack of such concern has been voiced at congregational meetings and conferences. At the outset, a young church was no doubt much involved in establishing its viability, and for many years after the 1939–1945 War efforts seemed to be concentrated on immediate practical needs. Nevertheless, as already mentioned, overseas missions were well supported from the first, and local visitation took place during the 1920s. The 1930s were a great period of outreach— particularly in the Weoley Castle area. The Church also became affiliated to the Birmingham Christian Social Council (forerunner of the Birmingham Council of Christian Churches) and of the World Alliance for International Friendship. There was a branch of the Women’s Temperance Association and petitions were submitted opposing the extension of the Birmingham licensing laws and the grant of a licence for a public house on the corner of Castle Road and Weoley Park Road, about half a mile away from the Church. In the autumn of 1936, John Coates, then an Elder, seized on the occasion of the Cambridge Students Campaign to urge on the congregation a radical review of its concern for evangelism. Sunday, he said, should not be a day of rest but a day of work. Services should be reduced to the minimum required for spiritual rejuvenation. The Minister should be relieved as far as possible so that he could devote himself to his real task of Christian education inside and outside the congregation. If people would not come to church, the church must be taken to them. Sunday must become a time of aggressive activity. Visitation evangelism was undertaken in 1944 and in 1949 and in the new Shenley Court area in 1952. There was a further campaign in conjunction with the Selly Oak Council of Churches in 1956 and with St David's, Shenley Green in 1970. Sadly, the conclusion seems to have been that these efforts met with very limited success.

Weoley Hill Church has always played its part in local and national denominational affairs. Through its association with the Selly Oak Colleges, it has always numbered several ordained ministers among its membership. Of these two, Eric Fenn and Lesslie Newbigin, have been moderators of General Assembly. Mr Harold Greening has held many appointments in the wider sphere such as Convenor of the Presbyterian Church of England Grants, Loans and Property Committee, Chairman of the Retired Ministers' Housing Society of the U. R.C. and Treasurer in unbroken succession of the Birmingham Presbytery and the West Midlands Province. Dorothy Shaw, while serving on Presbytery became involved in religious broadcasting and has recently been appointed to the Advisory Committee for Midlands Radio. Reference has already been made to the Women's Missionary Association, and there was also a representative of the Women's Home Church Association. Church members attended rallies of both these organisations as also services on the Women's World Day of Prayer (these services were held at Weoley Hill in 1969 and 1978).

A particular criticism raised at one annual meeting and re–echoed at other times was that too much money was spent on church buildings and, by comparison, too little on outside concerns. As a result, Annual Reports have since carried an analysis of money contributed to outside causes. Including the Unified Appeal assessment and the 1% World Development Appeal, the total in 1982 was £3,333, 21% of total expenditure.

The Elders' Meeting has in recent years acknowledged the difficult problems created when the Church feels that its Christian witness conflicts with current political policies, and the Revd John Reardon, Church and Society Secretary of the United Reformed Church was invited to discuss this matter at a Church Meeting. In the meantime, various matters have received attention and letters have been sent to M.P.s and statements issued to the press on such matters as Development Aid and the Nationality Bill.

As this is being written, a group with some members of neighbouring churches is seeking Christian insights on the question of nuclear armaments.

Back to Index


From the start of the Chetwynd Hall Committee, money was set aside for a building fund. There are hints that the Moseley Elders viewed with some nervousness the project for purchase of a Y. M. C.A. hut and its erection, but the Weoley Hill people were not to be deterred. The hut was duly purchased with the help of a grant from the Home Mission Committee and all debt was paid off by 1922. Thereupon, a new fund was immediately set up for the construction of a permanent church building. One can only admire the faith which inspired the congregation in 1929 to go ahead with an appeal for £4,500 for this purpose. At present value, of course, the equivalent sum would be many times as much— and this was at the time of the Great Depression. Church membership stood at about 50 with some 15 or 20 adherents. By March 1930, £3,182 had been given or promised and the decision was taken to go ahead on a £5000 scheme. By 1937, all debts on the main church had been cleared. No sooner had the present church been built than plans were being laid to extend the hall accommodation. Having assumed the responsibility of paying for the church, the congregation also undertook to provide a stipend supplement of £100 p.a. in May 1933 so that a full-time minister could be called.

The present organ was purchased second hand in 1939 from Christ Church, Perry Barr, for £80 and installed for £120 on the strengthened balcony instead of in the originally designated organ chamber. This filled Mr Coffey, Chairman of the Committee of Management, and two other members with such concern that they resigned. The money was borrowed from the Hall Building Fund and the proceeds of the Sale of Work applied to repay the loan. When the John Kydd Hall was built in 1964, borrowing was only necessary to bridge the gap until promises and covenants fell in.

The manse was purchased for £2,000 in 1950 with a grant of £200 plus an annual rent allowance of for ten years from the Home Church Committee and loans of £1,250 plus congregational funds and giving. The mortgages were cleared by the end of 1957.

In 1951 for the first time, the Church paid the full amount of the Minister's stipend without being a liability on central funds. Weoley Hill continues to pay its Maintenance of the Ministry (Plan for Partnership) Assessment and a Stipend Supplement.

Ordinary church expenses were met over the years by the usual combination of Sunday collections and special efforts (mainly sales of work). There was a free will offering scheme in existence in the 1920s. This scheme and covenanting were given special impetus from time to time. The name of Mr Robert Harvie must be mentioned in this connection. He was Free Will Offering Treasurer for no less than 20 years up to his death in December 1965. In the 1950s, it became necessary to supplement these sources of income with a Congregational Gift Day—sales of work and gift days occurring in alternate years and yielding an average of about £200 on an annual budget of £800 to £1,000. As already recorded, the Women’s Work Party and with it the Sale of Work ceased in 1965. It was then put to the congregation that, since whatever special efforts were undertaken to balance the accounts, funds must in the end come almost totally from the membership, it was better, especially in times of inflation, to face this situation and plan for it. It was suggested that members and adherents aim to contribute a fixed proportion of annual family income (2½% was mentioned) to church funds. Although the figure of 2½% was never actually approved, the principle of planned proportional giving was accepted and by and large normal giving (with the addition of donations and income tax refund) has met normal requirements since then.

Back to Index



It was the students of Carey Hall under Miss Cornish who first staffed an afternoon Sunday School at Chetwynd Hall and later at the Village Church in Witherford Way. It is recorded that "numbers of pupils increased from 8 to 39 in 1922; three students and one resident of the Village undertook the teaching and the running of the school; contributions have been sent by the children to help to maintain an orphan girl in India, to a Birmingham hospital and to the Russian Famine Fund" The Brownie Pack had its first meeting on 26 June 1922 and six girls had joined. By November of the same year there were also 'Wolf Cub' meetings. It was resolved "that no charge be made for meetings other than church services but if necessary donations invited to cover expenses". The leader of the Boy Scouts was told in September 1923 "that until the Church is in a position to have a caretaker on the spot it will be impossible both on account of expense and of the disorder created to permit the use of the church for the Boy Scout activities". There is no further recorded connection of guides or scouts with the Church until 1949, apart from attendance at an Easter Day service in 1935. In 1924 it was agreed that a special children's service should be held each term.

By 1926 the Upper School which met at the Church numbered 30 and the Primary School which met at the Village Hall 10. In 1930 the Sunday School population shot up to 83 due to the addition of boys from the Middlemore Homes, and it was necessary to hold Primary classes at the Village Hall while the Homes boys were taught at Carey Hall, Senior boys were taught at Kingsmead College and other classes were held at Church (i.e. in the former Y. M. C.A. hut). By January 1931 all four sections total led 104, 80 boys and 24 girls, with an average attendance of 85. Mrs Adam, the Church Sister, succeeded Miss Cornish of Carey Hall who was leaving. In 1932 when Mrs McLachlan came, there were 60 pupils in the Primary Section alone, 151 in total and 23 teachers, and the school was affiliated to the Birmingham Sunday School Union.

The large numbers were drawn to a great extent from the Weoley Castle estate. One former member remembers that an old lady living in Gregory Avenue gathered together about fifteen children from newly built houses and marched them down to the hut in Witherford Way. Winnie Seeney was the eldest, being almost 16 years old, and it was suggested she might be a Sunday School teacher. There were about a dozen of her age and they also met on week–nights in the vestry to do handicrafts. The prospect of the new building was very exciting. On the great day of the opening the Sunday School gathered together in the Village Hall and carrying little banners formed up in a crocodile and walked up to the new Church. However, there was not enough accommodation even in the new buildings for the Sunday School. The Primary Department of 65 scholars met at the Church. The Junior Department of 75 scholars met at the Village Hall under Mrs McLachlan as Superintendent with Mrs Coates as pianist. Nine Carey Hall teachers looked after 69 Middlemore Homes children at the Homes in Weoley Park Road.

The Young People’s Fellowship had many happy evenings at the Manse (76 Middle Park Road) but the new Church rooms were very well used; most evenings would see some activity going on— Sunday School teachers' training classes on Tuesday evenings, drama group, Young People's Fellowship on alternate Mondays, choir practice on Fridays, and so on. The first teachers' dedication service was held in October 1933. Mrs McLachlan persuaded some of the young teachers to go in for the National Sunday School Union examination and coached them herself for the two year course in Old and New Testament, child psychology and the art of teaching. She started a leatherwork class for girls in the Upper Hall and small items were made to be sold along with the beautiful handiwork of the ladies of the Work Party at the annual Sale of Work.

In February 1934 the Sunday School roll was closed for the time being with the numbers at nearly 400 and a Teachers’ Council was established. Mr Ernest Wallbank was appointed Secretary of the Sunday School and 10th June was to be observed as the Sunday School Anniversary with specially invited preachers. Mrs McLachlan established a Children’s Hour on Thursdays from 5–6.30 for 8 to 11 year olds and there was an average attendance of 40 to 50. The next development was a Senior Girls' Guild on Tuesday evenings at 6.00 p.m. and a Lads' Club on Wednesday evenings at 6.30 for 13–14 year olds; Mr Philip ran that for a time himself. In January 1935 the suggestion was made that the Middlemore Homes boys be divided between Weoley Hill and St Mary's to relieve the congestion at Weoley Hill, but Matron was opposed to it. At the Annual Church Meeting in February the lack of teachers was deplored (already beginning to be a perennial plea) and there was need of an additional piano. From October 1936 the Middlemore Homes boys over 11 years old were withdrawn from the Sunday School. At the same time the Session Clerk recorded the decision that a Young People's Service be held on one Sunday evening each month.

Miss Ivy Fitchett, still a member of the Church in 1983, took charge of the Primary Department of the Sunday School in February 1935 when there were 78 scholars in that Department. By then there were two teachers' preparation classes a week, a junior library, and summer and Christmas parties were held. Many experiments were tried with different groups of children and young people for both Sunday school and club purposes. The Young People's Society, the King's Missionary Band, the League of Young Worshippers, the Band of Hope and the Junior Temperance Association were some of the youth organisations which flourished for a time in the thirties.

The organisation which did succeed was the Boys Brigade. The 63rd Birmingham Company was formed in September 1937 with Mr Norman Cooper as Captain, Mr Edward Such and Mr Harry Debney as Lieutenants. Monthly Church Parades were held on second Sunday mornings, a weekly service was held in the Church room' on Sunday mornings, the weekly drill was held at Princethorpe Road School and the P. T. class at Church on Thursday evenings. Attempts to form a Girls Life Brigade Company in 1938 were unsuccessful. Ted Such reports that the BB Company was suspended during the war and when the Company was restarted in 1946 the officers were Captain Harry Debney and Lieutenant Ted Such and by that time Mr Coates was the chaplain. Mrs Such ( formerly Winnie Sweeney) ran the Life Boys Team. By 1952 the number of boys enrolled was seriously reduced and the Company was disbanded about 1954, but it had a big influence on a large number of boys who still remember the Company with affection.

When Miss McLachlan was moved to Manchester in December 1937 Miss Marjorie Wallbank took over the Junior Department of the Sunday School briefly. Her father had died suddenly in January of that year, a much valued Secretary and Treasurer of the Sunday School although not a Church member, and he was succeeded by Mr Charles Porter. A Junior Church service for teenagers was tried during the latter part of the morning service but the Session preferred them to attend an afternoon Bible Class. In September 1937 a system of Junior Membership of the Church was approved and during the year eleven boys and girls were admitted to it but it is not clear how long it persisted. When Mr Porteous arrived he conducted the weekly Bible Class for 13 to 16 year olds and started up a training class for Junior Sunday School teachers again on a weekday evening. He also ran the weekly meetings of the Young People’s Fellowship of which Miss Frances Biggs was the Secretary. Mrs Band of the Missionary Guest House in Selly Oak attended as older friend or Advisor. (She was the mother of George Band, at 23 the youngest member of the successful Everest Expedition of 1953.) The Fellowship met fortnightly during the winter and was alternately social and ‘informative’. Miss Doris Dyer, well known as warden of the Presbyterian Settlement in East London, arrived in Birmingham in 1941 and was immediately drafted into service on the Session. She ran a very successful boys and girls club for some years. January 1944 a club for transferred girl workers was started and in February a boys club which was soon well established.

Colin Porteous remembers the very flourishing Sunday School run by Miss Georgina Baker, who took over as leader of the Junior and Intermediate Departments in November 1940; she was a teacher at the Edgbaston High School for Girls. Miss Fitchett continued to lead the Primary Department until July 1946 and Mr Porteous took the Senior Class for 11 to 15 year olds until he took his leave of absence to work in Sheldon. There was an attempt to keep the Youth Fellowship going through the war years with young people’s discussions after evening services which were held in the Lower Hall as the Church could not be blacked out. Winnie Such remembers these as very happy times with a grand fellowship among the small band who gathered together and had some wonderful discussions.

The numbers in the Sunday School fell off not only due to the war but also to the establishment of four other churches in the Weoley Castle estate so that in 1943 there were 118 scholars and 12 teachers at Weoley Hill. George Monkhouse, Employment Manager at Cadbury’s, with the boys of the Bournville Youths Club established the Weoley Castle Boys and Girls Club on the Square in the late thirties to provide leisure activities for the young people of the City estate. After the war this was taken over by the City and renamed the Square Club; Walter Thornton, then leader of the Bournville Youths Club, recruited a member of Weoley Hill Church to be Girls' Leader from 1950 to 1956.

Some provision had to be made for young children attending the morning service with their parents and a "Children’s Church" was started by Mrs Herbert in October 1945. In September 1946 the Junior Department of the afternoon Sunday School was led by Miss Janet Macgregor, an Inspector of Education, with Mr and Mrs Such, Miss Maisie Porter and Mr Tearne. The Senior Department was led by Westhill College students under Mr R. Beasley, who was also Assistant superintendent under Mr Coates as Superintendent. Also in 1946 a Youth Council was formed with representatives of the FOY, the BB, the Sunday School teachers and the Boys and Girls Club, with the Minister and an Elder. In July 1947, when Mr Coates resigned as Minister, Dr Janet Macgregor became superintendent and she declared that “as there was now sufficient help with the Sunday School available from the congregation no further help was required from Westhill at present". The disadvantage of students was that they went away in vacations and were only available for a short time anyway but their help had been essential with the pressure of large numbers and much appreciated. The decision not to accept formal assistance with the Junior Church from Westhill College was taken again by Walter Hayward in 1965. Mrs Such was Secretary of the Sunday School until the end of 1953 and Miss Fitchett was Treasurer until January 1951. Miss Wallbank became Superintendent in June 1948. In January 1949 the Sunday School Minute Book records with gratitude that six food parcels had been received from friends in Australia to provide food for the Sunday School Christmas parties and the gift was repeated for several years. This acts as a reminder that food rationing was more severe in the years immediately after the war than during the war itself.

Mr Faulkner, in his short ministry at Weoley Hill, received the special gratitude of the Session “for the interest he has shown in seeking to gather round him a group of young people". At the end of his ministry there were plans to visit the new houses in the Shenley Court estate growing up south of the Church.

Mr and Mrs Ross were drafted into helping with the Sunday School immediately on their arrival in 1949, and the Session was very concerned about this burden on them, arranging a parents' evening in an attempt to recruit some more teachers. In January 1950 Mr Walter Hayward became the Sunday School Superintendent and held the post with the respect and love of all who knew him for 18 ½ years. Mrs Edith Hayward played the piano and supported him in everything. Numbers of children were still small compared with pre–war years but grew steadily to 145 in 1955. The Young People's Fellowship (or FOY) was the only youth organisation connected with the Church and its numbers too were small. Two notable members were Pat Williams and Pat Newey: in November 1955 Pat Williams was appointed Youth Representative on the Birmingham Council of Christian Churches and Secretary of the Presbytery Youth Council; she also served on the Youth Committee of the Selly Oak Council of Churches and the Birmingham Christian Youth Council. The FOY became smaller and smaller and petered out by the end of the decade.

Walter Hayward recorded in the Sunday School Minutes for June 1957 "a serious fall–off in attendance in all departments due to the changing habits of the people of the district. On most Sunday afternoons children are taken out by their parents” and various alternatives were considered. The decision was to hold the School during morning service in three departments: Primary aged 6–7 in the Lower Hall, Juniors 8–11 in the Upper Hall, and Seniors 11–13 in the Vestry. Beginners' Class had to be dropped due to the lack of accommodation. A circular letter was sent to all parents of children in the School and also to residents on the new estate. Families came and went in membership as promotion or the chance of a better job elsewhere caused them to move on. Still many of the old patterns persisted with missionary collections and annual donations to Wider Work from Sunday School, annual parties, anniversary services, children's stall at the biennial Sale of Work. Open Sunday School meetings were held with a display of work. Teachers dedication services were revived in September 1961 and have been held ever since. The Men's Work Party helped by decorating the balcony rooms so that first one and then another senior class could be held up there but the problem of condensation was never conquered. Eight Weoley Hill Sunday School teachers took Presbytery Youth Committee training in 1964, subsidised by the Session Fund. Sunday School staff and Session discussed the problems of transition from Sunday School to Bible Class to full Church membership. Young members, for a few months or years before they went away to college or university, came into Sunday School teaching or to care for the creche which became possible in 1964 with the opening of the John Kydd Hall. By contrast senior staff gave long service, for example: Peggy Strachan ran the Primary Department for thirteen years and Mary Bartlett led a Bible Class for twelve years. Madeleine Bird, a member of the Sunday School, remained as a teacher until the present day, with short breaks and her husband, Ken Davenport joined her as a teacher.

The Cradle Roll, that is the list of children baptised in the Church, in 1938 had 35 names and Miss Winifred Dobbs is the first recorded visitor to the families concerned. Miss Piggott had charge of the Cradle Roll from 1949 to 1954 when Dr Macgregor took over this responsibility; for a maiden lady she had a very practical outlook – one young mother remembers being presented with a Scottish horn spoon which the baby's teeth could not damage and a tiny picture prayer book for use at home. Birthday cards were sent with love from the Church and an attempt was made to keep in touch. The Young Wives Club made the care of the Cradle Roll, numbering 115 by 1962 as the post–war baby boom was at its peak, one of their special jobs for many years. Two parties a year were held for the young children and their mothers, and the friendship to the families and care for the children, expressed first in the Baptismal promises of the congregation, were, much appreciated and helped to maintain contact with some at least who grew up to join the Sunday School and Junior Church. Mrs Doreen Longman, followed by Mrs Margaret Shiner in January 1972 continued the care for the Roll.

Miss Alice Jones, the District Commissioner, who had persuaded Mr Ross immediately on his arrival in October 1949 to conduct the Annual District Church Parade of Brownies, Guides and Rangers at Weoley Hill, persuaded him in 1956 to take the Middle Park Brownie Pack which had been meeting under erratic and temporary student leadership at the Village Hall under the wing of the Church. He agreed provided that one of the members would take it on and Margaret Simpson agreed to do so, at first with one of her friends as Brown Owl as she had no experience of Guiding and had to start by training. However, she led Brownies for nine years. The Pack was established at the Church as an Open Pack, that is church attendance at Weoley Hill was not required (as had been the case with the BB) and the Guide, Cub and Scout units followed this lead. At first Brownies went up to Guides at Selly Oak Methodist Church, and the Guiders were helped and encouraged by District Meetings and taught the ways of the Movement. Middle Park Guide Company was formed in February 1960 under the leadership of Miss Christine Merritt (not a Weoley Hill member but the former Brown Owl) but she soon left to be married. Mrs Robbie Riddiford held the fort from May 1961 in order to avoid the Company being disbanded. Mrs Margaret Field, Ted Such's little sister who had grown up in Guiding in the District, first came to help her in October 1962 and has now been in leadership of the Company for over twenty years. Mrs Margaret Redden became a Brownie Guider in 1972 and Mrs Margaret Shiner in 1973, both still serving at the time of writing. The name of both Pack and Company was changed to Weoley Hill.

The Girl Guide District had to come to the rescue of the Guide Company on many occasions as Margaret Field struggled to hold the Company together as Lieutenant (warranted 1966). Mrs Harrison of Selly Oak Methodist Church made a great success of the Company as its Captain from 1966 to 1968 and in particular enabled it to have its own Company camp, but then temporary student help from Westhill was needed again. The first Queen's Guide badge was awarded in 1971.

The organisations, like the Junior Church, were enabled to grow by the opening of the John Kydd Hall with its fine large space for games and its kitchen which could be used to serve tea to parents and for cookery experiments. There were anxieties about the beautiful polished floor and somewhat fragile heaters and light fittings but guards for these were provided in 1974 and the floor was sanded and sealed in that year. The organisations also needed storage space for their equipment and they raised money to buy cupboards whose locks proved tantalising to intruders.

The Junior Scottish Dancing class grew out of an amateur attempt to teach Scottish country dancing to Brownies and was established as a separate group from January 1973 with several teachers, but notably Mrs Audrey Duxbury, a member of St David’s Church, from January 1976 onwards. The pianist, Mrs Mary Hancock, a Kings Norton Methodist, has provided live music for the class for over ten years. Successive Brownies, Guides, even some Cubs, and other children of the neighbourhood have been taught to enjoy learning to dance properly and have taught their parents the simpler elements at family socials several times a year. The group has also performed for Bryony House and at Village Festivals and the first joint social with the Muslims.

Presbytery Visitors commented that the boys were being neglected and Norman Healey soon after his arrival first thought of trying to revive the Boys Brigade connection but that came to nothing. Paul Geeson offered to start a Cub Pack and the first meeting was held in November 1974 with 16 boys. He persuaded his twin brother Arthur to start the Scout Troop at the end of April 1976 with Ken Davenport. During that year there was a full Pack of 36 Cubs and a waiting list which was estimated at two and a half years. Paul Geeson was appointed Group Scouter. An outstanding achievement was raising the sum of £525 for St Mary's Hospice by a sponsored walk; family camps and leadership training for the Scouters were notable too. A second Scout Troop was started during 1978 and the Cubs won the Brockhouse Shield. The attempt was made to offer the chance to camp to every boy and a very considerable amount of camping equipment was acquired. In 1979 a second Cub Pack was started with Peter and Jean Abbott, members of St David’s, as leaders, Peter having worked with Paul to run the first Cub Pack almost from the beginning. Meanwhile the Support Group of parents and others ran jumble sales, monthly newspaper collections, weekend family camps, day trips and other social and money–raising events. The Venture Scout unit was started in 1980 and the fund–raising objective of buying a minibus achieved. The first Chief Scouts Award was made in 1981, closely followed by two more. Brownies and Guides, with the help of Junior Church, parents and the congregation raised the astonishing sum of £400 in a 'Blue Peter’ sale for the International Year of the Disabled in 1981. The Westaway weekend camp in 1982 was magnificently organised for 800 campers of whom the Weoley Hill contingent was 113; a Venture Scout went to Liechtenstein with the Movement and another, Sarah Hands, was chosen as a representative of the District at the Scout Jamboree in Calgary, Canada in 1983.

The achievement of the uniformed organisations attached to Weoley Hill Church is a splendid record of which this is a minimal account with many notable names left out. It is the more remarkable in that the new Anglican Parish of Shenley Green rapidly grew many youth organisations of its own from 1959 onwards. The Vicar, the Revd David Pendleton, was also a prime mover in the Shenley Green Youth Centre project and for many years Chairman of its Management Committee of which a member of Weoley Hill Church was Secretary until 1970. The Centre opened in 1964 with a Youth Leader appointed and paid by the City, and young people flocked to join, particularly attracted by its discos but also facilities for games and coffee bar.

The traditional Church youth club was revived at Weoley Hill in 1962 with Mr Ken Blackmore, a neighbour not a member, running a very successful fortnightly Club for twenty–five 13–16 year olds. It was officially an open club but most members had some other connection with the Church and a good proportion attended the evening service. Outings, carol singing, skating and sledging formed part of the programme, as well as games, dancing and discussions. The Youth Fellowship was also restarted in that year with Bible study and serious discussions for a small group. In 1963 Rowland Moss took over the Senior Club (and the YF) while Ken Blackmore continued the Junior Club for 12 to 15 year olds meeting on alternate Saturdays and sharing equipment and facilities. These Clubs have continued in recognisably the same form until the present day, although with changing leadership; Ken Blackmore stayed for five years. A Committee of the Senior Club members was formed. Numbers remained relatively small in these Clubs, although in 1965 over 160 people attended the Youth Service, a very large attendance for those days. Jessica Bartlett and Helen Marshall joined the Presbytery FOY Executive Committee. In 1967 the Youth Fellowship met regularly each month for five months with young people ( defined as 'under 30' ) in other Selly Oak Churches, taking turns to be hosts and arrange speakers and discussions. Use was made of students from the Selly Oak Colleges who spoke and answered questions about the work of the Church in their own countries. Badminton at the Village Hall was added on alternate Saturdays for the Senior Club members.

Donald Knight was immediately volunteered to run the Junior Club on his arrival in January 1969 and has run it ever since with a variety of helpers. The happiness of the annual weekend camp in the early summer is recorded in delightful photographs. The Senior Youth Fellowship worked hard to design and build an excellent exhibit as the Weoley Hill contribution to the Presbytery Missionary Exhibition held at Moseley in 1969. It was made quite clear that the aim of the leaders of the Church youth clubs was to build up relationships with the young people in order to introduce them to Bible Classes, the Youth Fellowships and eventually to full membership of the Church. Thus numbers were deliberately kept small and no attempt was made to compete with the secular youth work flourishing nearby.

Nevertheless the Minister's Report on 1974 referred to "the aching gap between children and established adults in the Church" Norman Healey’s solution was to draw new and younger Elders into the Elders' Meeting at the centre of the congregation’s life. In order to meet a feeling of isolation among the youth leaders, a termly meeting of all youth leaders with the Minister, Church Secretary and other Elders to discuss successes and problems and plan the parade services was inaugurated in 1975. Rowland Moss said in the Annual Report for 1975 that it was "encouraging to hear of active Christian witness and faithful Church membership of a number of past (Youth Fellowship) members, some still in higher education, others embarked on various careers. So few actually return to Weoley Hill but are bearing fruit in other places and other churches.” It was ever thus: the Annual Church Meeting in 1977 was startled to learn that the total number of children and young people in touch with the Church was 225— an echo of pre–war days— but the junior Church numbered 86 (including the creche) with 12 helpers and leaders; the average adult attendance at morning service was then 85, 24 in the evening. Norman Healey’s report on 1978 contained the comment "The Church is more than an agency for young people's work!' and referred to the Palm Sunday Parade service attended by 100 adults and 134 children. The Junior Church report stated “it is clear that the steady and persistent downward trend in numbers attending Junior Church that occurred throughout the ' 60s and early 70s has been arrested". Of the 40 Junior Youth Club members in 1979, 16 came regularly to Church, 8 attended other Churches and 8 were unattached. Senior Club, by then led by Jean and Tony Sames, was run as an open club.

Friendship has always been a strength of the Sunday School which became the Junior Church and the feeling of being a Church Family is very important, with many families giving between them very long service. When Walter Hayward retired in 1968 and was presented with six "Uncle Walter" roses, "Partners in Learning", an experiential method of teaching was introduced. Philip Longman who had been Secretary of the Sunday School since 1961 became Superintendent and agreed to serve for seven years. In 1971 he was made Education and Training Director of the Birmingham Council for Christian Education. The Elders' Meeting and the Junior Church Teachers examined and discussed the different teaching schemes: Partners in Learning, Church of Scotland, Scripture Union etc. at length, and each of these was used for a period in succession, adapted by the teachers for Weoley Hill. Mary Bevin became Junior Church Leader in 1975, Donald Knight in 1979.

The Church's year revolves with appropriate worship in the familiar pattern. Social habits change imperceptibly and the population of children in the area now fluctuates downward.

We still hope to lead our children to be able to know and respond to Christ, and to show ourselves a caring fellowship reaching out into the community to any who will come with us to learn about our Lord and in love and service where we can meet a need. We are still greatly blessed by our special contacts with Christians with experience of the Church throughout the world.

Back to Index



The history of Weoley Hill Church is not finished. No history will be complete until the end comes, when Christ delivers up the kingdom to God the Father (I Cor. 15: 24).

We live in an on-going stream, a stream affected by the light and shade of the world around it. Looking back through this history, it is possible to see the changing landscape. Among the varied and valued leadership that God has provided in this place can be identified alike those who have been fired by the social Gospel, those who have re-called the Church to the fundamentals of the faith and those who have lived to discover the unity that Christ wills for His Church.

There have been times of much confusion. There have been many voices, calling in different directions. There has been much experimentation. Also in recent years there has been a desire to stop at the cross—roads and to look for the ancient paths (Jer. 6:16). The membership is again increasing. By being itself, the Church discovers that it is better able to serve the community through the rich variety of ministries that God is providing and continually increasing.

The hope of the congregation in 1983 is that this work of the Spirit will continue, ever more powerfully, as the different denominations of this area come together in closer bonds of unity and service, whilst we wait for that time when God will be all in all.

John Geyer

Back to Index


1983 to 2008

By John Aitken

Before the Jubilee

In 1983 a history of the Weoley Hill congregation since its tentative beginnings in 1915 was written to celebrate a Jubilee— the 50th anniversary of the opening of the church in 1933. This history continues that story to 2008 as we mark the 75th anniversary, and to put this in context it starts with a very brief summary of the origins and earliest years of the congregation. This is based on the full account in the Jubilee history, Weoley Hill United Reformed Church 1915-1983 by Margaret Glen and John Bartlett, which can be obtained at the church.

The congregation grew out of an arrangement of quarterly meetings for Presbyterians in the area initiated in 1915 by members of the Selly Oak Colleges staff, and the congregation which eventually came into being was a part of the Presbyterian Church of England. Regular weekly services, however, did not start until 1918 in a room in the Colleges. The congregation moved in 1922 to a large hut in Witherford Way, part of the Weoley Hill estate then in course of being built by the Bournville Village Trust, and there it stayed for 11 years until the present church was built.

The new church and its small halls (the larger John Kydd Hall was not built until 1964) was opened in 1933, and was to have another new development — a full time minister. All ministry before that date, though continuous and much committed to the cause, had been done by part time ministers who also had posts at the Selly Oak Colleges. Among them, the name of the Revd. Robert Aytoun should perhaps be singled out as the founding father and driving force in the very earliest years until his death at an early age in 1920. The existence of the Selly Oak Colleges, the presence of Presbyterians (and therefore Weoley Hill church members) on their staff, their links with overseas missions and their ecumenical spirit have had a deep influence on the way in which the congregation has developed.

The new minister in 1933 was the Revd. Eric Philip and he remained until 1938. He has been followed by nine ministers to date, including the Revd. Stanley Ross, by far the longest serving, who was here from 1949 to 1970 and under whom membership continued to rise, reaching a peak of 186 in 1967. He was followed till 1980 by the Revd. Norman Healey, in whose time the congregation became part, in 1972, of the newly created United Reformed Church.

Back to Index

From the Jubilee of 1983 to 1992

Revd. J.B. GeyerThe minister at the time of the Jubilee was the Revd. John Geyer, who with Margaret and their three children had been with us since 1980. John came with a scholarly reputation, and throughout his time with us continued to publish papers on Old Testament topics — a feat which could not have been easy for such a conscientious minister with many demands on his time. It follows that he was efficient, determined and well organised— as any man must be who also manages to keep a diary started in 1947. John's firm Christian faith was based solidly on his formidable knowledge of the Bible, the Word of God, and his pastoral letters in the Weoley Hill Church News were often filled with biblical references backed up by chapter and verse, though he was by no means an old-fashioned (or new-fashioned) Biblical fundamentalist. He wrote hymns too, which his congregation were given to sing from time to time to well known tunes: one was a very successful attempt to write some new words to the tune of 'Land of Hope and Glory'.

One of the key elements in John Geyer's view of his ministry was the organisation and the leading of worship, and he had some definite ideas on how the main service of the week, at least, should be presented. He was a firm believer in the value of the long standing forms of worship in the Reformed churches— the tradition to which both of the uniting denominations in the URC belonged. At the very opening of his ministry here he had explained how the service should proceed and what each part of it should mean to the worshipper. Rather naturally in an age of rapid change, when people expected modernity in every walk of life, this traditional stance did draw some criticism. In 1984 a member of the congregation wrote to John 'suggesting changes in the morning service', a feeling which seemed to be echoed later that year when a visiting deputation from the Birmingham District of the URC found the service 'conservatively traditional'. The elders backed John against the critics, minuting, in reply to the letter 'their appreciation of the present order of service and their confidence in the minister's ability'. The district visitors' comments seem to have produced no changes either. (The elders did complain, for this and other reasons, about the tone of the report and the way in which it had been presented). The minister in any case would not have objected to the word 'traditional'. It is interesting to note, however, that John's sample order of service that visiting preachers to Weoley Hill were expected to follow contains this unexpected item: 'Sermon, 10 minutes maximum'— obviously there were traditions which could after all be revised. Notable too, at least in this service sheet, was the lack of any children's address, a custom that most churches had got used to.

One of the most striking aspects of John Geyer's pastorate was his single-handed taking up of a ministry to members of the Afro-Caribbean community in Balsall Heath, an inner-city suburb some four miles from Weoley Hill, after a chance encounter with some young men there in 1984. This led to many subsequent contacts and various projects (for instance to help local people in business opportunities), and also to efforts to get Weoley Hill members involved, which were never so successful as John would have hoped. It was after all difficult to see how this could be 'our' work in Balsall Heath in any particularly meaningful way, (though this is how John described it) and not just 'his', however sympathetic Weoley Hill members might be. But taken all in all the Balsall Heath initiative was a brave move, and on the personal level resulted in friendships with many people there.

It should be said that the Balsall Heath project, though it was admired by many in Weoley Hill, did produce a certain amount of criticism on the lines that there was plenty of social deprivation nearer home, though this while true perhaps misses some of the point of a ministry, to which John seems to have felt called as a result of his encounters, in an area of mixed races with all the problems that this implies. Even so, it was not easy for Weoley Hill members to tell what the relation of the work was to that of the many agencies already at work in the area, particularly to the churches, one of which was United Reformed. But the work called forth a half hour programme on Radio 4 (dramatically called 'John the Godfather'), some baptisms of children of Balsall Heath in Weoley Hill Church and many tributes from members of the community there, whose letters and comments (three at least sent from prison) were printed in the Weoley Hill Church News.

In his annual report for 1987, the minister wrote 'Our main activity has been a series of house groups attended by a majority of members'. The house groups were the core of a Stewardship Campaign, perhaps the most important event in the church during this period, and they were discussing a booklet 'Stewardship in the 80s' in the context, wrote Donald Knight, the organiser, of 'our corporate life in the service of God'. Over 70 people enrolled for these, including a significant number who were not usually to be seen at house groups. The campaign, as the words above suggest, was not just about the stewardship of money— the hope that people would learn to give more to God and for charitable purposes— but about the stewardship of the lives God had given them in every aspect. It was hoped people would learn to realise their membership of the church on a deeper level than they had before, speaking more openly than before to each other about their faith.

In the last few months of John's ministry here, another district visitation, while acknowledging that there had been 'some differences and tensions', particularly in the matter of public worship, praised his 'scholarly and challenging preaching' and pastoral gifts 'expressed particularly in hospital visiting and sensitively led funeral services.' Also in his closing months John and Margaret made a visit to Mozambique, a direct result of help he had been instrumental in arranging for Wilson Silva, a Mozambiquan, while he had been studying here. John had raised from the congregation some money for Wilson to complete a course to earn a pilot's licence which he would need in his work for a Christian development agency as he flew to remote areas with aid supplies

In 1990, when the Geyers had been with us for 10 years, John had told the elders that he would look for another pastorate, and in 1991 he found this in the Congregational church at Dundee. He left good friends at Weoley Hill and was missed by many, as was Margaret whose warm and friendly nature (and lovely singing voice) had won our affection. In 2003 our sympathies went out to them and to Ben and Anna at the death at the age of 32 of their younger son, Reuben, who had spent eleven years among us as a child and a teenager.

At the beginning of the 80s membership at Weoley Hill was rising, reaching 169 in 1987, though this trend was not to last as the congregation joined the majority of 'mainstream' denominations in seeing their numbers falling, and in observing that this trend was more than anything due to a decline in young members. In 1990 the Junior Church leader, Jean Sames, remarked that while some of our young people did become members, we didn't have younger children to take their place and become members in their turn 'We are an ageing congregation and it shows in our Junior Church most clearly.' She observed that 'the hump', where 'young people find church of any kind irrelevant — is happening at a younger age than ever’.

In the 80s then, the task of keeping the attention and attachment of young people became significantly more difficult, and great praise is due to those who worked unselfishly in Junior Church, under the leadership of Donald Knight and then of Jean Sames. Numbers fluctuated, going up at one point in mid-decade but at the end of the 80s there seems to have been a fairly sharp drop in numbers. In the early and mid years there were also Senior and Junior Youth Clubs with fluctuating fortunes. The uniformed organisations of Scouts and Guides which in 1983 had a full quota of troops, companies and packs, also began to find it less easy to attract new members. The early 80s, however, also saw the founding of the Fellowship of United Reformed Youth (FURY), and a branch appears in Weoley Hill, which became a permanent feature during John Geyer's ministry, mainly organised around those who had come up through church families and the Junior Church. And it was good to hear, during this decade, of a flourishing URC Society at Birmingham University to which our minister was chaplain, many of whom attended Weoley Hill Church.

One aspect of Junior Church which was given a great deal of attention over many meetings in the 1980s and 90s was the relation of its worship to that of the morning congregation. At one time the children sat in a group for the first part of the service in church, before going out to their own classes. The district visitors of 1984 didn't like this and suggested that they should sit with their families, a practice which was then adopted. Later in the 80s however, over a period of three years, the children were only seen at morning worship on one Sunday each month, the Junior Church staff finding that the fact of having a full service of their own was something that the children liked. The staff themselves felt that the continuity given by a whole service of their own gave a better atmosphere of worship, and one suited to the children. On the remaining Sunday each month the children were in church for the whole service for what has now come to be called 'all age worship'. In the 90s, new thinking, especially the idea of the inclusive 'church family' put paid to this partial isolation, for better or worse.

During the 80s, as in every decade, the material facts of church life— money (or the lack of it), and the church buildings, not to mention the Manse, all exercised the minds of the Finance and Buildings Committee (F&B). These are large responsibilities and the committee is few in number, but they face their sometimes considerable challenges mostly behind the scenes unnoticed by the rest of us. Their larger scale projects are supplemented by volunteer working parties to do many jobs on the buildings and grounds. Among the F&B works in the 80s were a new heating system in 1986 and the rewiring of the church in 1989.

Music has been a strong feature in Weoley Hill over the years, and Gordon Thornett, a new member in the 80s has continued that tradition, arriving soon after one or two talented musicians had been lost to us as they moved away from Birmingham. We had been fortunate too in our organist, Donald Workman, who, at the end of the decade, however, decided to retire. He died in 1992, having given the church great service over 20 years or more. Some thought was given to finding a successor through advertising, but the church seemed to get on satisfactorily with members of the congregation playing, and the position was inherited after a few years by one of these, Alan Cotgreave, supported by a small team of deputies. This is still the situation in 2008.

Vacancy or Interregnum? Both phrases seem to be in use for the period when we are looking for a minister, as we were in 1991-2 and again exactly ten years later. To the historian of the church a vacancy gives the opportunity to discuss the ongoing life of a congregation without having to discuss ministers, although it should be noted that the interim ministers in the two vacancy periods, the Revd. Hugh Martin, and the Revd. Roy Fowler, were well liked and were of course important figures in the finding of the next pastor.

Not having a minister, a position all congregations may have to get used to over longer periods than used to be the case, puts burdens on the lay leadership, especially upon the church secretary. In the whole of this quarter century between the church annual meeting in 1983 to that of 2008 there have been four church secretaries: Dorothy Shaw, Brian Wood, Michael Walpole and Christine Marlow. Of these Brian and Michael held office during the two vacancies. The same period also saw four church treasurers: Denis Green, Mary Bevin, Pat Weaver and David Marlow, who has been in office since 1997. And it also saw chairs of Finance and Buildings in Marius Felderhof, Jim Brackley, Tom Bradley, Cynthia Waters and Philip Longman. The small number of names in each of these lists rightly suggests a stability and continuity of leadership which is a great help to any institution.

It used to be said at Weoley Hill there were enough ministers in the congregation, and others in the Selly Oak Colleges, to enable the church to fill the pulpit during a vacancy with ease. Now in 2008 those days have gone, yet we need more preachers in these days when scoping shares our ministers around. Fortunately, we benefit now from a good supply of lay preachers, including two in our congregation, Ann Evans and Alan Cotgreave, produced by way of the Training for Learning and Serving courses (TLS).

Back to Index

From 1992 to 2001

Revd. T. ArthurThe Revd. Dr Thomas Arthur was inducted to the pastorate at Weoley Hill on 19th September 1992. Tom proved to be a man of immense energy. An American from Illinois with a doctorate in literature, his previous charge had been the URC congregation in Ely, a suburb of Cardiff. The Manse was soon as full as it had been with Geyers, as the new minister, Marieke his Dutch wife and their three children moved in. Tom's arrival heralded a ministry which, District visitors said in 1996, had 'a different style.... from his predecessor'. They also thought that a fall off of members was 'due in part, inevitably to the change of ministry'. The two styles and perhaps also the two theologies in question were certainly likely to appeal to rather different sorts of people. Tom's worship service though in many ways as carefully planned as John's, was perhaps less predictable, certainly more participatory, and definitely different on the singing side with the songs and hymns the minister brought with him.

The core Arthur beliefs were as firm as the Geyer ones — they too were challenging, but in another way. Tom believed that the way forward was to transform the church by transforming the relationships of the people within it. The Church's essence was seen in these relationships: intimate, close, a family. Hence the emphasis on small groups, which as much as anything defines the Arthur ministry. Very early in his ministry he wrote that he would like to see the church organised into groups of eight people. This didn't happen, though many groups did emerge with different tasks and purposes. Some of them were subgroups of the five principal ones — 'Five Groups Named Grow' — through which 're-tooling for ministry in a new world and goal re-evaluation' would help us to achieve 'an unreached potential at Weoley Hill'. The five groups were Stewardship and Mission, Education, Worship and Music, Fellowship, and of course the familiar (indispensable ) Finance and Buildings. Some of the names changed over the years, and one or two groups faded away, but something like the basic structure remains still in 2008. But the key to the group idea, and this applied not just to the practical groups but also to house groups or prayer groups, was not only what they did, but more importantly what they learned in the doing. 'The challenge' Tom wrote in 2000 'is not just to "get to know one another" round a cup of tea but to grow together.... the groups must not be just places for learning interesting things about the Bible, but locations for pastoral care and nurturing discipleship.'

With this emphasis on close relationships it followed that the church's face to the world should be welcoming, and not just in the usual pleasant yet reserved way that churches usually show this. This sometimes caused difficulties for strangers who came to church here for the first time, and were asked early in the service to stand up, identify themselves and say a few words. 'Oh no!' some had been heard to mutter, as this soon to be routine slot was announced, and Tom was there with the portable mike. Many people came to church 'to find God and be part of a worshipping community', one of his elders told him once, they did not want to be 'jumped on'. Many agreed with that, and it could be argued that the Arthur approach did little for those perfectly genuine needs, yet the 'welcome' emphasis was essential in what Tom was trying to do. It is not too much to say that he saw us (and most churches) as welcoming only in a formal way; meeting strangers as ships that pass in the night. We should be inviting people back to our homes, we should be making them friends and not passing acquaintances.

It was not surprising therefore to find that Tom saw the Church as 'inclusive' — the 'church family'. These are not new ideas, but taking them seriously was another matter. To take them seriously could be made manifest in a number of ways both practical and symbolic. One demonstration was the decision by the church meeting in 1994 that communion should be open to 'the whole church family, including children'. This admission of children to the table is still church policy. No one has suggested changing it, though when the question was asked a few years ago why we never saw the children returning for the communion, it was said that they were always invited to go but would rather stay in Junior Church. Another move was to revise the worship space in church, to make things more communal — to move the table to a lower and less remote spot, to rearrange the pews a bit for the same purpose, to abandon the pulpit. Some would have liked to have done more. Another aim was to redesign the entry to the church, to make it more welcoming, less off-putting. Most people would have been glad of this, but it was presumably judged as far too expensive.

In May 1997 Tom Arthur suffered what he described as a mini- stroke. Its effects were mainly on his eyesight, a condition he was told was permanent. He could not drive and even reading was difficult, especially for any length of time. The church secretary, Michael Walpole, in his annual report nearly a year later, wrote of the frustration that Tom, 'a self-confessed workaholic', had experienced since then. Radical changes had been needed in his ministry. As part of this, a church member and elder, Mary Bevin, became Tom's administrative assistant. At the same time a gift of $10,470 was received from the Presbyterian Church of USA to assist Tom's ministry under these new circumstances. It was to be called 'The W.C. and Dorothy Bailey Fund', and was clearly a great help, especially in upgrading the church office. But Tom did not sit back after the stroke, however massive a setback it was. He still had plenty of energy to share and it can never be said that his ministry ran out of steam. With his usual determination (and his bus pass) he gave it all that he could for four more years, and that was a great deal.

What follows is a selection of what seem to be the most significant and interesting events during the Arthur ministry, and one was the very welcome presence of Barry Griffin in 1995-6, serving an internship with us while a student for the ministry at Queen's College in Edgbaston. A delightful man, coming into the ministry after experience in secular work and father of two daughters, Barry proved a popular figure. He became an important part of our community, and the wonder is that this has never happened again. We have had student attachments since, but it is no fault of theirs that the arrangements, presumably required by the College, seem never to have allowed them to become so much a part of the congregation. A coach load of people went to Barry's ordination in Burslem in the autumn of 1996 and enjoyed an excellent and uplifting day.

Also in 1996, on 2nd June, the congregation went live in ITV's Sunday morning service. A full church participated in a good service taken by Tom and Barry, with the participation of other members and an introit and an anthem from the choir. Everyone was pleased with the result, and rightly so.

Interest and concern in matters both social and political have been a feature for many at Weoley Hill, in recent decades at least, and it is not surprising that the campaign about third world debt found a ready response here. In the 90s, the big demonstration in this campaign was what has become known as 'the chain', which took place in Birmingham on 16th May 1998 to coincide with the G8 summit of leaders of wealthy nations taking place at the Convention Centre. In the city centre, or rather all round it, 70,000 people, including a good contingent from Weoley Hill, held hands in a symbolic and unbroken chain representing the chains of the debts which developing countries owe to rich ones. The Drop the Debt campaign is urging the G8 nations and others to lift some of this burden. A group of 50 girls from Belfast, Protestant and Catholic, here for the chain, spent a night or two in the John Kydd Hall.

Also on overseas concerns, and also in 1998, came the response to hurricane destruction in Central America, especially in Honduras and Nicaragua. Christian Aid had been given the use of a cargo ship to fill with basic needs — blankets and simple foodstuffs like rice, sugar, beans. Marilyn Raw took on the reception of these in the church halls as an appeal was put out around the district, while Len Fisher persuaded Parceline to loan a lorry and driver to take them to Southampton for the boat. Speed was necessary as the boat was leaving soon. It is not clear how the publicity for this was managed, but it was amazingly successful, the response being remarkable, with boxes 'four feet high and rising' piled in the lower hall as people came with goods, amongst which schoolchildren had added messages of goodwill. The lorry was filled, and so was the boat.

Stretching in all from 1995 to 1999, the URC's debate on Human Sexuality was a major concern of the denomination. At Weoley Hill it was exhaustively explored by elders' and congregational meetings, but the issues were complex and perhaps further complicated by General Assembly resolutions. It would be hard even to start on it here, beyond pointing out that although the title was intended to include all forms of sexual inclination, it became a discussion of homosexuality, especially the question of having ministers who are actively gay. At Weoley Hill there was a special edition of the church news, and a special church meeting, but with no resolution before it, for it was intended to be a forum for the exchange of views. The issues were explored, the church secretary wrote, with 'an unusual degree of frankness.... [and] a willingness to listen to contrary points of view', and the minister too expressed himself happy with the way the meeting had been conducted. At Assembly there was in effect a state of no change in what is possible at present — the freedom of a congregation to call a minister in a loving same sex relationship.

Around 1996-98 a good deal of discussion took place about mission — especially to the young — and for a time Tom had a group of youngsters recruited from the after school club which met on the premises, whom he formed into a youth club. More generally, talk of outreach resulted in two significant developments, the lunch club and the leaflet drop. The lunch club still flourishes under the supervision of Iris Bird, who has been with it since the start. The leaflet — The Weoley Hill Church Good News — enjoyed a year or so of circulation carried out by a team of members and financed by local advertising. Besides details of church activities, the leaflet always discussed some topic of interest, the one which caused most reaction being a questionnaire on 'End of Life Concerns' based on an attempt in the URC to bring about a debate on the subject of death and its varying — not usually theological — problems. Topics such as how to talk about death to children; suicide; assisted suicide; bereavement counselling; the undertaker's role and other aspects, elicited a brisk response, and a series of discussion meetings. At roughly the same period Tom was meeting with a small group of enquirers unwilling to commit themselves to church, but interested enough to talk. There was also a trial of a Saturday evening service for those who found that more convenient than a Sunday morning.

Occasionally over the last 25 years the congregation was invited to spend the day together. Sometimes it was an away day to a place like Malvern with a mixture of sightseeing and talks and group discussion. Sometimes it was a church conference on a Sunday. Two in the 90s consisted of a number of workshops from which people could choose two to go to. The Education group managed these.

Weoley Hill was not a user friendly place for disabled people before the 90s. Many steps lead up to the church at the front, and more lead down from the halls at the back. 'Accessibility' was therefore a major watchword for the Finance and Buildings committee, and a hearing loop, a sound system, a disabled toilet, a chair lift and a ramp arrived during this period, helped by grants in some cases from the charity Access for All, and from the Bournville Village Trust. Also in the 90s the committee had the interior of the church redecorated.

There is of course recreation at Weoley Hill, and here is some of it. In the 90s, and possibly before that, Ann Evans earned a reputation for arranging outings. In 1992 alone she ran about half a dozen — many, but not all, to shows in Birmingham or Stratford. Over the years, too, she has taken coach parties to places farther afield, such as Slimbridge, the South Wales Garden Festival, London and Blackpool. On the music side, Gordon Thornett reported in 1994 that concerts were being held at Weoley Hill with amateur and local talent, roughly monthly, and concerts continued to be arranged, though not always so close together. At the end of the decade Gordon's brother presented the church with a grand piano, needing some attention, but once put right a valuable asset used for the anthem in the service every Sunday, and very important for the concerts.

Mention has been made at the beginning of this study of the importance to the congregation of its links with the Selly Oak Colleges, many of whose staff have been members of the congregation. Gradually over recent years with the closure of missionary colleges, especially the URC's St Andrew's Hall, those links became weaker. Finally came the closure of the Selly Oak Colleges Federation altogether and as a result the demise of the central teaching staff. The premises, and Westhill College, by far the biggest unit, were bought by the University of Birmingham in the late 90s to mark the end of a long era. A list of distinguished scholars who taught at the Colleges and were members of Weoley Hill can be found in the earlier history. Those who were members in our period include Professor Eric Fenn, a former Moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly and Dr Dan Beeby formerly Principal of St Andrew's Hall and teacher on the central staff, both longstanding and important members at Weoley Hill, and Professor John Ferguson one of the last Presidents of the Colleges Federation who died in 1989 still at the height of his powers. This also is the place to mention the membership here of Bishop Lesslie Newbigin one of the most important theologians of our time, besides his memorable work in India where he was a bishop of the Church of South India, a unique church uniting several denominations including the Presbyterian Church in which he was a missionary.

Tom Arthur left us in June 2001 to return to Cardiff with many good wishes, so we had also to say goodbye to Marieke so warmly remembered for her charm and quiet work in relationships and for the young people.

Back to Index

From 2001 to 2008

Many of us spent the 2001-2 vacancy learning about scoping — the science of dividing ministers into percentages and sharing them around. This is a sign of the times, and as a result Weoley Hill emerged with an allowance of 75% of a minister's time. It is of interest to note that we were reminded that even so the United Reformed Church actually had a better ratio of ministers to members than any other 'mainstream' British denomination.

Surprisingly, this was not the first time that the congregation had been affected by a shortage of ministers. There was one in the Presbyterian Church just before the URC was formed, when Weoley Hill had a vacancy in 1970-1 and, as the earlier history of the church tells us, a member proposed at a church meeting that since the congregation was so well furnished with ministers active or retired it could get along alright on its own. This rash suggestion seems to have got little support. It is worth noting however that the Weoley Hill ministers were never (even before the days of percentages) expected to give all their pastoral time to the affairs of Weoley Hill, since for at least 50 years the post had included a chaplaincy at Birmingham University. In Tom Arthur's time this was scoped at 15%, but Tom gave it up as a result of his stroke, and it was not reintroduced in the new arrangements in 2002 partly because of new agreements on Free Church chaplaincies at the University.

Revd. J. EmbreyThe Revd. Jacqueline Embrey was ordained and inducted at Weoley Hill in October 2002, having recently finished her ministerial training and moved to the Manse with her husband John and their two boys. They had been living in Sutton Coldfield for some years. In her working life after University Jacky had been a chartered accountant. Her subsequent call to the ministry took her to Queen's College in Edgbaston, and to an excellent degree at the University of Birmingham.

Scoping has so much affected ministerial affairs in the 21st century so far, that it may be as well to get its variations, so far as they affect Jacky and Weoley Hill, dealt with as soon as possible. The remaining available 25% of Jacky's time was to be spent taking part in the ministry of Sparkhill United Church — a joint Moravian and URC congregation. This lasted rather more than two years, until new possibilities at Sparkhill, and a vacancy at Weoley Castle Church — around half a mile from Weoley Hill — enabled Jacky to be withdrawn from Sparkhill and become, with the consent of both congregations, minister of Weoley Hill and Weoley Castle, with a 50% scoping in each. Revd. P. WhittleThe Revd. Paul Whittle took over a 20% share in the ministry of Weoley Hill, to add to his many duties, mainly at Cotteridge, where he lives with Mary and their two daughters. All this came into effect at New Year 2005 and as the congregation welcomed Paul it also welcomed the overdue establishment of a firm link between it and its nearest URC neighbour. At the same time, it had to be realised that the task of being the minister of two congregations multiplied the amount of meetings that Jacky needed to attend, to a greater extent than had been the case with the Sparkhill connection. It was necessary to get used to some changes in the pattern of ministry.

It is time to turn back to look at the ongoing life of the congregation as Jacky Embrey joined us in 2002. Tom Arthur's legacy of groups was to some extent intact, with groups on Worship and the Arts, Education, Church and Society and Finance and Buildings. There was also of course the Friendship Group which has been around for most if not all the period covered by this book. Their list of contacts — people who whether they can come or not want to hear from them — has amounted to 50 and even 70 in recent years: Margaret Glen's unstinted work on the group's behalf over a matter of decades needs to be highlighted.

Morning worship, the principal service of the week, soon settled into a kind of middle road between the formalities of the Geyer years and the informalities of Tom Arthur's while Jacky restored the sermon to the pulpit. But worship on Sunday morning has never been the only worship opportunity at Weoley Hill. There is for instance a Prayer group on Mondays; while Mary Bevin is keen to encourage interest in the Fellowship of Meditation. Jacky herself has experimented with what were called 'Spirited Services', alternating on Sunday evenings between Weoley Hill and Weoley Castle. In the church news they were described as 'generally interactive and discussion based, using our different senses and songs which stir the heart as well as the head'. The services went on for several months, but proved not to be attracting sufficient numbers. There were also some opportunities to worship according to the Taizé practices.

Work amongst the young has been no easier since the millennium for the various reasons already described — a whole generation growing up with no direct link to a church and the lack of young parents in this and many congregations. Junior Church has dedicated leaders — all with helpers (these are necessary under the Child Protection Act). Leaders in recent years have been Sue Beeby, Norma Johnson, Lorraine da Costa, Marilyn Raw and Audrey Nganwa (Lukwago). They have to be ready to teach whatever age group turns up. FURY had something of a revival in 2002-4 after no reports since the 90s, but it has not been possible to form a group since 2005 — in the earlier years Sue Beeby and Audrey Lukwago were active in encouraging the group, which became a joint group with Weoley Castle, as church friends. The uniformed organisations too have had their continuing difficulties: by the beginning of the decade there was no Scout troop and no Guide company. Brownies alone flourished and continue to do so, and Cubs have struggled but never disappeared and at the time of writing have recovered a little, while Beavers come and go. Thanks are due to Joanne Buttress for her work in the Brownies and to Gary Davenport, the very long serving Cub leader, and back beyond them to very many others who have served these organisations so well.

To turn again to the material side, the Finance and Buildings Committee have had their usual busy time in the 21st century, when major projects have included the new sound system in 2004, the new heating system in 2005, redecoration and new curtains in the John Kydd Hall, and the purchase of the freehold of the Manse after what seemed to be an age of negotiation with the Bournville Village Trust (and a remarkable number of conflicting estimates of what it would or should cost). At present also the buying of some computerised projection equipment is likely, and the outside of the church needs painting. These are just a few of the matters this small group attends to on the church's behalf.

One thing that the annual accounts show each year is how much the premises at Weoley Hill are used by organisations, our own and others, and how much this is worth to the church in lettings fees. In the financial year 2007 these amounted to very nearly £11,000, around one-sixth of income. The principal organisation renting space here is the Birmingham Korean Congregation, which has been meeting in Weoley Hill for many years now and uses the premises not only for worship but for social events and for a Saturday afternoon school. Also among regular users, the lettings secretary Rosemary Hay reports, are Iraqi, Arab and Palestinian groups, some child minders and a slimmers group, besides our own Cubs and Brownies. That the lettings are of great importance to the church finances is undoubted, but they also show that the premises are an important local asset, providing accommodation to useful groups of people who might struggle to find it elsewhere.

Relations with other churches have always figured in the Weoley Hill agenda, yet the ecumenical scene in the area has not always, not often in fact, been particularly animated beyond the standard joint services in Holy Week or the week of prayer for Christian Unity (when ecumenical choirs, often stimulated from Weoley Hill by Gordon Thornett, have proved successful). Indeed, interest in interchurch activity in Selly Oak has seemed to fluctuate greatly in the past 25 years, possibly in accordance with unanimity or otherwise amongst the ministers of the churches about its importance. In the 80s, at one point, the Council of Churches was exceedingly energetic, seeing itself as a major stimulator of mission. Yet in a year or two it was seen to be in a poor state, and in the 90s, though said to be lively at one point, it went into abeyance for a time later on. By 1998 the Revd. Nick Skelding, coming to Selly Oak Methodist Church, was 'shocked' to find there was no properly functioning Council of Churches and set himself the task of getting together at least something which he called the Selly Oak Christian Network. In Northfield, with which Weoley Hill has some connection because our church is actually situated in a Northfield Church of England parish, St David's, there is Churches Together in Northfield which has been particularly active, at least in recent years, especially in the sphere of social concern. Lorraine da Costa is our representative on CTIN and through her we give support to its projects, for instance in finding starter boxes of utensils, plates etc, to young people recently in care starting in their first home. A not dissimilar project of our own came into being shortly before Jacky's arrival, when the congregation took on (and still maintains) a monthly collection of tinned food, tea, nappies and so forth for Birmingham City Mission, in connection with their work amongst families in serious debt. Ursula Aitken suggested and organises this.

At Weoley Hill interest in the wider world and awareness of the problems of humanity worldwide have always been strong. And it has been strengthened no doubt by the long list of students and scholars from all over the world who have found their way over the years to Selly Oak, and in many cases to Weoley Hill Church. The Church and Society group has been a constant body in the church for many years, though other groups may come and go. Jacky, having been convenor of the Church and Society group at the church she attended in Sutton Coldfield, has been a keen advocate of these causes. Members of the church have been involved in the Drop the Debt campaign and the movement to 'Make Poverty History', and the retiring collections after monthly communion have gone to many worthwhile causes. And Christian Aid Week, from its inception in the 1950s, has been an unbreakable commitment for some.

Two other matters are connected with the wider world and its problems, one being Jacky's visit to India in 2005, part of a twinning of the URC West Midland Synod with a diocese of the Church of North India, which gave the opportunity of helping a hospital there. The other is some work being done by Brian and Kathleen Wood in Uganda where they have been helping an orphanage called Maria's Care. They have also been involved in work in Kenya. Back home in Birmingham, too, Kathleen and Brian have been involved for many years as assistant hospital chaplains at Selly Oak Hospital.

Music has continued to do well at Weoley Hill. The small church choir still sings every Sunday, and the concerts which Gordon Thornett organises from time to time have received wide praise. Two at least of these, in 2004 and 2007, were for Christian Aid, the last including the Sutton Chamber Choir of which Gordon is Musical Director, the choir of the Korean congregation, several soloists, a children's string orchestra of impressive talent, and an ecumenical choir, which at times is also recruited to sing at joint services with other churches. Favourable comments have been made by performers about the good acoustics in the church.

We were shocked to hear in January 2007 that Paul Whittle had suffered a heart attack, but learnt with relief that he was making a good recovery which brought him back to his varied tasks in a few months. Indeed, at the time of writing, he has obviously been pronounced fit enough to be promoted, and will take up his new and deserved role as Moderator of the URC's Eastern Province later in 2008: the URC has only about a dozen such posts. Another change in ministry is therefore near as we say goodbye to Paul and family, but the present arrangement of ministerial work will remain intact, with Jacky still minister of the two churches, and a successor to be found to take over Paul's share of the work at Weoley Hill.

The history of Weoley Hill Church in these 25 years has been one of facing the same problems as face many other churches. The membership is now 94, having been around 135 in 1983, although that figure did shoot up for a brief period in the 80s. But in the congregation there is abundant friendship, goodwill and even optimism. Yet there is also a realistic acceptance of what might be the future for us, the possibility that God sometime may have other things for us to do.

Back to Index

Weoley Hill

United Reformed Church

2008 to 2018

Revd. D. LittlejohnsUsually an attempt to summarize ten years of the life of the church will start at the beginning.  In this case a start is being made at the end, in sadness and also thankfulness for the ministry of David Littlejohns among us.  It is very unusual in the URC to have such a short ministry and so little time for us to get to know him and he to get to know us.  His picture now hangs in our vestry alongside all of the other ministers to this congregation in its 85 year life.  I hope that his and the other ministries will be remembered in the future, perhaps by the writer of a document on the centenary of the church in 2033.

Ten Years

This ten years has seen big changes in the ministry of the church.  At the time of the last anniversary we were sharing the ministry of Jackie Embrey with Weoley Castle church.  She had been sharing the ministry here with Paul Whittle who left to become Moderator of Eastern Synod.  Jacky in turn left us to go to Cotteridge Church with responsibilities for the wider church in Birmingham.  She in turn has gone on to be a moderator.

After a vacancy the ministry was taken up by George Kalu and he in turn has left us to go to churches at Westgate-on-sea in Kent. Several of us made the long train journey to his induction service.

Since then we have had long periods of vacancy, both before and after the ministry of David Littlejohns.  We are very grateful to the many good friends who take our services Sunday by Sunday.  It seems as though retired ministers never really retire and we thank them all for their visits to us.  We also have many services taken by our own team of lay ministry.

The calling of a minister is a serious business not to be undertaken lightly by church or candidate.  In our case this is made more complicated by the fact that we are part of the Cadbury Pastorate covering Bournville, Weoley Castle and Weoley Hill churches.  We are very grateful to our Interim Moderator, Ian Ring, who is guiding us through the process towards hearing a candidate come “to preach with a view” (to the ministry) as is commonly said in the URC.

This brief summary is intended to give an update on what is in the fuller document covering the years between 1983 and 2008.

John Fletcher

July 2018

Back to Index




Printer Printable Version