Retro: Church has a huge place in history of our nation
The skeletal clock face can be seen on the tower of St Mary the Virgin in Handsworth.
This dinky little gem has significant national history and interesting features that make it unique.
Only a small part of the original Norman church remains – the chancel and the lower part of the tower.
St Mary’s dates from around 1170 and was probably founded by William de Lovetot, Lord of the Manor or his father Richard, the estate passing to the Lovetots from Robert, Count of Mortain (half-brother of William the Conqueror).
Richard de Lovetot is believed to be the lord who founded Sheffield alongside his castle and probably responsible for building a new parish church, which is now the Anglican Cathedral.
Maude de Lovetot was given in marriage, by Richard I, to Gerard de Furnival, Lord of Hallamshire. He died on crusade in 1218.
At this time it appears the church was a Royal Peculiar, belonging to the Dean and Chapter of York.
Maude built the side chapel to the north of the chancel as a Chantry Chapel for her late husband between 1241-1284 and dedicated it to St Katherine of Alexandria, a popular saint of the crusaders.
What is now the Cross Keys public house, situated in the graveyard, is believed to have been the Chantry House.
Adam de Brome was Rector of Handsworth between 1313 and 1316. He was the founder of Oriel College Oxford and had been Almoner to King Edward II.
In the 15th century, the estates of the Lovetots and Furnivals passed to the Earls of Shrewsbury.
George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury was Earl Marshall, Lord High Steward, Justice of Ireland, Knight of the Garter – a leading aristocrat in the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.
He was Henry VIII’s henchman for those who led the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 and one-time gaoler of Mary, Queen of Scots.
He gave a bell to commemorate the defeat of the Spanish Armada of 1588, which has been recast and is still rung.
He was the fourth and last husband of Bess of Hardwick.
Sir William Cavendish, born at Handsworth Hall, was grandson to Bess of Hardwick and William Cavendish of the wealthy Cavendish family of Handsworth and later Dukes of Devonshire, was governor to Charles Stuart, Prince of Wales and a royalist during the Commonwealth.
At the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, Charles II rewarded Sir William’s loyalty by making him 1st Duke of Newcastle.
In 1651, the Barony fell to the 5th Duke of Norfolk via Alethea Howard. The Protestant dissenters, Thomas Towndrow and William Spray were imprisoned in 1651 for testifying in this church.
In 1833, the medieval north wall was demolished and the early English columns raised to extend the north aisle and house a gallery. Fifty years later the gallery was removed.
The roof of the nave is Tudor in origin, with bosses of the Tudor Rose and the Talbots.
The present chancel arch was built in 1870. Before the iconoclasm of the Reformation, a rood screen would have been there.
The chancel itself was extended in the 13th century, from the high altar rails to its present location.
The tomb of Rev Michael Adams (rector from 1612-27) now lies where the 12th century high altar would have stood before the extension of the chancel.
I cannot write about the church without mentioning The Cross Keys public house.
It is unique in that it lies within the consecrated ground of the churchyard. It is said to be the only pub on consecrated land in England.
It is a 13th century building that started life as a chantry house, probably to house the priest who offered masses in St Katherine’s chapel.
After the Reformation, the building was used as a village school until 1800 when it became the house of the Parish Clerk, Richard Marsh.
It was sold to Mr Marsh eight years later for the sum of £43.
About two decades later, the building was licensed and renamed the Cross Keys, a symbolic reminder of its association with the church.
The first person to hold the licence was a certain Paul Dodson in 1825.
The Dodsons were well known in the area as Paul’s father, Edward was a farmer.
He is mentioned in directories of 1849 by 1856 and it looks as though his son Edward took over the farm.
Another son John, was a butcher and he lived at no 43 Shambles House, Handsworth.
It looks as though his butchery business was at no 28 The Shambles, now long gone.
Paul ran the Cross Keys with his wife Elizabeth from 1825 to 1830 when either Paul died or he retired because of ill health.
From 1833 to 1854, Elizabeth ran the pub in her name and thankfully the Cross Keys is still open.
In August 1931, the City Engineer drew attention to a tunnel which had been found during the course of widening Handsworth Road.
The tunnel or drift was entered from the south-east corner of a cellar under a cottage which stood on the north side of the road, and it ran under the roadway towards a cellar beneath the Cross Keys Inn.
The tunnel was 3ft to 3ft 6in in width and about 7ft in height; it was cut out of the solid rock and tapered towards the top.
The tunnel appeared to have been cut from each end and there was a bend in it, suggesting that the two drifts did not meet as it would have done today.
But you can understand why the tunnel was like it was as a board was found giving the name of the contractors – Dawson & Sorsby – no job too big or too small!