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The parish of

Kings Norton

Part of the Church of England

Ancient Stones

The early history of St Nicolas' has been lost to us, but archaeological evidence found during restoration work in the 1870s confirmed that its origins are Norman. There is no documentary evidence of a church on this site until the time of Henry III (1207-1272).

There is, however, sufficient evidence from topography and Anglo-Saxon documents to suggest that Nortune (perhaps meaning "the north town of the King’s forest") was a scattered settlement with a standing cross or wooden church on this site. It may then have been replaced in stone during the 11th century re-building of small churches.

Archaeology unearthed during the recent restoration revealed a 10th century boundary ditch beneath the Tudor Merchant’s House (now part of Saint Nicolas' Place) which could well have separated the church and burial ground from its neighbouring settlement.

By 1100, a simple, two-cell village church occupied roughly the area of the present chancel. It had been established and was served by the church in Bromsgrove, an arrangement which continued until 1846, when Kings Norton became a separate parish.

In 1231, Henry III gave the mother church in Bromsgrove, together with its chapels of Kings Norton and Grafton, to the Priory of Worcester on condition that the monks celebrate his anniversary and that of his father, King John, after his death. Throughout its early history, Kings Norton was so closely identified with Bromsgrove that, until the 1530s, is difficult to find any separate record of it.

From the mid-13th century onwards, the nave and the aisles were built in two phases. Archaeology from the Restoration Project and the high-status buildings on the Tudor Merchant’s House site suggests that the new construction was the common enterprise of a newly-prospering local community gathered around the church. Then as now, the nave formed the largest public gathering-place in the parish.

The extended church had its own clergy from 1304. The north and south aisles had chantry altars, one of the chantry priests being responsible for the school, possibly in the south aisle. This would have been replaced in 1547 at Edward VI’s widespread granting of charters to new Reformed grammar schools. The chancel became the sanctuary at Mass, separated from the nave by a huge painted rood-screen at the chancel arch, which was itself plastered and painted as was customary.

Humphrey Field's Bequest

By about 1450, Kings Norton was established as a pre-eminent wool and market town. The imposing west-end tower, door, window and internal arch were built out of this prosperity, as also happened at Bromsgrove, Yardley and Coleshill. The same wool-based prosperity funded the building, in 1492, of the Tudor Merchant’s House.

The 16th century Reformation brought great change. There is no detailed record of how things stood before or after, either in the church building or in its parish community, but Kings Norton clearly went through the same radical processes of change, removal and replacement as elsewhere.

Early reformed innovations in the church may have included a massive pulpit under the chancel arch, inward-facing lengthways pews in the nave and the use of the chancel as a plain space for Communion around one centrally placed long table. All are clearly visible in an early a 19th century drawing, but are almost certainly much older. The Reformation also disposed of much plate, furnishing and decoration.

In the 17th century almost the whole of the south aisle was re-built, the chancel was re-roofed and the low pitched roof that had covered the nave since the 15th century was replaced by a much steeper model. Both north aisle and south aisle were given four separate, high pitched roofs set side-by-side.

The probable neglect of the 18th century made restoration a necessity during the 19th. In 1863, the old 17th century chancel roof was taken down as it was 'in the last stage of dilapidation' and the present roof was erected.

Although there had been minor work carried out as the century progressed, by the mid-1860s major work was considered a must. A decade later the work was complete and the church, although sound, was stripped internally of its medieval character.

The major re-ordering of the church in 1870 shaped the church that we now know. The nave and chancel roofs were completely replaced and raised in height. The north aisle was taken down and re-built with pitched roof replacing 17th century gables. The central nave pulpit was removed and replaced by new pulpit and lectern at either side of the arch. The chancel was redesigned to contain an east-end altar and sanctuary with choir stalls and an organ.

At the same time, the Tudor and Jacobean memorials and hatchments were moved from the chancel to the tower entrance; the lengthways pews were replaced throughout nave and aisles by east-facing marriages of old and new timber, much of which was probably brought from another church with a raised floor. The north and south aisles were filled with east-facing pews. The south aisle was given a small Lady Chapel altar and the south-west corner was ordered as a baptistry, with a new font. It is not known where the previous font stood.

The crypt was concreted over and new, encaustic tile and timber floors were installed throughout. The old chancel vestry was removed, to be replaced by the current small vestry at the north-west corner. An internal weather-porch and steps were created at the south and west doors. Lastly, and very far from least, new stained-glass windows by Kempe, Hardman and Swain-Bourne were commissioned and installed throughout.

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