St. John the Baptist, Wolverley
The church has been in the deanery of Kidderminster since the 13th Century. Tradition claims a Saxon church here and a priest of Wolverley is recorded in the Domesday Book (1086). A replacement church, then consisting of a new chancel and nave attached to the east side of a stone built tower of the earlier church, was consecrated on 20th September 1772.
Funds came from a Churchwardens’ levy to which were added donations from the local gentry, Edward Knight being the chief benefactor. The water-powered charcoal iron industry was the source of much of their affluence.
Our church has served as school chapel for the former Wolverley Grammar School (later Sebright School), founded by William Sebright (1540-1620).
At the present time, special services are regularly held here for pupils attending the various schools within this part of the parish. Each Remembrance Day, a service is held around the War Memorial, attended by members of the Wolverley & Cookley branch of the Royal British Legion.
The church is open every day during daylight hours.
A Brief Description of the Church Interior
The church contains work by John Flaxman, R.A. and Morris & Company and there is a collection of worthwhile memorials.
A. The FONT is situated just inside the main entrance, symbolising the spiritual entry into the Church through baptism. Perhaps dating from the 18th century, its age is disputed by architectural experts. Carving present on both the six-sided bowl and on the stem suggests that the stem may be older. There is a pewter lining, an iron bound cover and an inscribed ewer.
B. The WAR MEMORIAL of white marble and alabaster, placed on the North wall of the nave in 1920, commemorates the men from this parish who gave their lives in the Great War. In 1946, the names of those killed in the Second World War were added. There are three other memorials in the church to men who fell in the Great War. The memorials along the North wall of the nave are part of the unusual number of high quality 18th and 19th century memorials.
C. The OAK PULPIT with brass mounted reading desk was built in 1881; the carved inscription reads: “The just shall live by faith”.
D. The fine memorial CHANCEL SCREEN of oak was given by the Rev. W.G. Melville, M.A., vicar here 1898-1908, and Mrs. Melville.
E. The CHANCEL contains six stained glass windows. The one, best seen from the vicar’s stall, is a memorial to James Fairfax Amphlett Morton who was killed in action in France in January 1915, and depicts St. Stephen who was the first of the Christian Martyrs. Above his head, a group of angels holds a golden crown. The name Stephen is derived from the Greek word stephanos meaning a garland or crown.
F. The small marble MEMORIAL TABLET to Helen Knight, who died on the island of Madeira in 1801, was described by the Rev. Edward Bradley, B.A., who wrote under the name of Cuthbert Bede. The semi-reclining figure of Resignation has her gaze fixed on the biblical text: “The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance”. Bradley believed this figure to be a portrait of Mrs Knight with whom the sculptor, John Flaxman, R.A. (1755-1826), was probably acquainted.
G. Two MEMORIAL WINDOWS to Maria Emily Elkington (died 1899) and her husband Frederick Elkington (died 1905), a Birmingham silversmith, of Sion House, Wolverley, were made by Morris and Company after the death in 1896 of William Morris. John Henry Dearle was chief designer to the company. “Consider the lilies” shows Christ teaching among wild flowers growing in a landscape backed by bare hills. The second window depicts St. Peter.
H. The CHANCEL EAST WINDOW, consisting of three stepped round-headed lights, a Trinity window, contains sixteen roundels illustrating events in the life of Christ. Bradley attributed this window to Wailes. William Wailes (1809-1881), of the Newcastle-upon-Tyne firm of Wailes and Strang, has yet to be confirmed as the artist
I. In the chancel floor, by the alter rail, are two SMALL BRASS TABLETS to the memory of Abel and Samuel, the sons of Henry Attwood of Wolverley Court. They died in the early 18th century, before the old church on this site was destroyed.
J. The ORGAN. The traditional location for early church musicians was the west gallery. In 1835 Wolverley contained in the west gallery a handsome two manual organ built by Nicholson and Lord of Walsall. It had been bought by public subscription. In 1887, this organ was relocated to its present position in a purpose built organ chamber. The chancel has a fine oak barrelled ceiling.
K. The west gallery can be seen from the chancel steps. Attached to the front of the gallery is a carved oak PULPIT CANOPY, or sounding board, of 1638, which helped the preacher’s voice to be heard throughout the church when it surmounted a three-decker pulpit. The old pulpit stood in the centre of the nave by the south arcade. Also from this view point can be seen the ROYAL ARMS of 1714 and a number of HATCHMENTS of the Brown and Brown-Westhead families, along the walls of the south and north galleries.
L. The broken EFFIGY of a late 14th century knight lies legless on the floor, with his feet resting on a lion. He is believed to be Sir John Attwood. The legend of the Knight of Wolverley is described in a frame alongside the effigy.
M. Nearby on the east wall of the nave is a fine MEMORIAL TABLET to Lieutenant William Hancocks who was killed at Poelcappelle, France, in 1917. He was an only son.
N. On the south wall of the nave is a 20th century MEMORIAL to Roger Alwyn Henniker-Gatley, M.A., Oxon, who was headmaster of Wolverley Sebright School for a quarter of a century.
The Church Exterior
A good view of the south elevation of the church can be obtained from the gateway in the wall opposite the porch. There are battlements on the nave and tower. The windows are arched and set in blank arcades. Notice how the colour of the brickwork of the nave and chancel, completed in 1772, differs in depth of colour from that of the choir vestry, erected below the tower in 1812. The original sandstone tower, apart from its substantial plinth, has been encased in brick. The original sandstone is visible from the inside of the tower, seen only by the bell ringers as they climb to the ringing chamber.
PEAL OF BELLS. The two oldest of the eight bells are inscribed: “Edward Stillingfleet, Vicar, 1737” (treble bell) and “Thomas Brettell and Samuel Boucher-Chwds 1737” (tenor bell). The original ring of six bells was restored in 1988 and placed in a new steel eight-bell frame. The ring was augmented to eight in 1991. The work was carried out by Arthur Berry (bellhanger) of Malvern and John Taylor (Bell Founders) of Loughborough. The bells in this tower have pealed out over many human generations in celebration of great historical events as well as calling the faithful to church.
The TOWER CLOCK was given in 1889 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. A second dial faces north over the village. The clock strikes each hour.
CHURCHYARD. Memorials to two families; Talbot and Woodward, are Grade II Listed. There are fine views to be enjoyed over the Stour Valley and over the village.
To celebrate the Millennium, the Friends of Wolverley Church erected a commemorative MILLENNIUM STONE alongside the patch to the south of the porch. This stone depicts the boundaries of the parish as they are today.
The path from the east end of the church to the village, the HOLLOWAY, is carved out of the soft sandstone, and is most unusual. It leads to the village through a handsome arched gateway. The iron gates came from the chancel door.