St John's Chapel, Hopwas

I am always drawn to visiting and researching canalside chapels and graveyards, and here I share my research into a chapel in Hopwas.

St John's Chapel, Hopwas
The graveyard at St John's Chapel, Hopwas

I am always drawn to visiting and researching canalside chapels and graveyards, and I have been researching one of these as part of my volunteer role with Find a Grave - the Chapel of St John in Hopwas. The Chapel was erected in 1836, enlarged by the addition of the chancel in 1839, and was consecrated by the Bishop of Lichfield on 27th August 1840. There are no known photographs of the chapel building, but there is a lithograph in the William Salt collection at Stafforshire Archives, dated 1840. It can be seen on the Staffordshire Past Track website. We can safely assume that the 'expanse of water' in this lithograph is the Coventry Canal, and that the horse we can see in the foreground is pulling a narrowboat.

Hopwas Chapel: lithograph

Hopwas Chapel: lithograph'Hopwas - Staffordshire. Erected 1836- Enlarged 1839- Consecrated Aug. 27. 1840.' Showing the chapel with an old barn nearby. There is a horse tethered to an object on an expanse of water [a river ...View Full Resource on Staffordshire Past Track

Seven years after the consecration of the Chapel, the burial ground was also consecrated by the Bishop of Lichfield. On 5th June 1847 the Tamworth Herald reported:

On Wednesday last, the ceremony of consecrating the burial ground of Saint John’s, at Hopwas, in this Parish, was performed by the Right Rev the Lord Bishop of Lichfield. After partaking of a luncheon at the vicarage, his Lordship, in company with the Rev E Harston, vicar, the Rev Dr Lally and Mrs Lally, Rev George Inge, Rev C Thompson, Rev RW Lloyd, Rev Llewellyn Lloyd, Rev J Brown, Sir CM Clarke Bart and Lady Clarke, Mrs A’Court, J Dover Esq, William Tongue Esq and Mrs Tongue, F Willington Esq, J Mott Esq, and W Hell Esq, proceeded to Hopwas, where his lordship was met by the Venerable Archdeacons Hodson and Spooner and a numerous party of ladies and gentlemen, assembled to witness the ceremony. The chapel is a neat and commodious building, designed for the accommodation of the inhabitants of Hopwas, the ground on which it was erected being given for the purpose by SP Wolferstan Esq, some years since. The ground now consecrated has been recently purchased by Miss Wolferstan, of Tamworth Castle, and by her most liberally presented to Her Majesty’s Commissioners for building new churches, for the purpose of a cemetery.

A font was erected at the Chapel in about August 1850. According to the Tamworth Herald (17th August 1850), the font was made of Caen stone in the perpendicular style by Messrs Austin and Seeley of London, and bore the inscription 'Veni, Creator Spiritus'. It was the joint gift of Mrs Pole Showe of Hints Hall and Rev R J Ozanne, curate of Tamworth.

The grave markers

Only the graveyard of St John's Chapel remains today. I have photographed all the surviving graves at St John's and added them to Find a Grave. Here are the names recorded on the grave markers, listed with birth and death dates where known:

  • Dinah Baxter, unknown – 3 Oct 1850
  • Phillip Baxter, 1770 – 11 May 1858
  • John Bramall, 1786 – Dec 1871
  • Agnes Fisher, unknown – 5 Dec 1868
  • Charles Fisher, unknown – 4 Mar 1877
  • Charles Fisher, unknown – 16 Apr 1864
  • James Fisher, unknown – 26 May 1864
  • Mary Foster, unknown – 25 Jan 1860
  • Caroline Hanson, 1839 – 9 Jul 1862
  • Emily Hanson, 1840 – 1893
  • Mary Mills Hanson, 26 Feb 1815 – 30 Mar 1877
  • Mary Hanson, unknown – 1856
  • Thomas Hanson, unknown – 20 Oct 1865
  • Thomas Hanson, 12 Nov 1798 – 20 Jul 1859
  • Hannah Haskew, 1790 – 14 Sep 1871
  • James Haskew, unknown – 15 Aug 1863
  • Joseph Hastilow, unknown – 14 Nov 1880
  • Theodosia Hastilow, unknown – 21 Oct 1869
  • Elizabeth Halt Heap, 1818 – 25 Dec 1862
  • Florence Hodgson, 1874 – 8 Jan 1874
  • Sarah Johnson, unknown – 22 Jun 1888
  • Thomas Johnson, 1790 – 11 Jan 1850
  • Elizabeth Marlow, unknown – 4 Sep 1878
  • Jane Marlow, 1801 – 14 Jan 1880
  • Margaret Reeves, 1787 – 2 Feb 1858
  • Thomas Reeves, unknown – 24 Oct 1860
  • Anne Smith, unknown – 21 Mar 1878
  • George Smith, unknown – 1869
  • Maria Stretton, 1848 – 7 Mar 1862
  • William Proudman, 1849 – 4 Aug 1877
  • Mary Ann Proudman, 1813 – 11th Sep 1873. Also near this place, her brother William Proudman, 1860.

There are at least six stones which are too worn to read, two in the mowed part of the graveyard, and the remainder hidden in the hedge to the rear of the graveyard.

One of the unreadable stones

The remaining grave spaces are unmarked, so these are the only known burials in this churchyard. Other burials are currently impossible to identify, and will remain so unless I find references to them in old newspapers, or if any earlier original registers come to light. The main difficulty in identifying more burials is that the "Staffordshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1900" burials collection in the Staffordshire Archives do not give the names of graveyards, only the Parish name and the Abode of the deceased. I have viewed the digitised pages of the register and confirmed that there is no additional information on them. None state whether a particualar burial was in Hopwas.

An additional confusion has arisen from the omission of burial locations. Burial locations are recorded by Ancestry and Find My Past as "Tamworth, St Editha, Staffordshire, England", leading to the incorrect assumption that all the burials were in St Editha's churchyard. "Tamworth, St Editha" is the Parish name and NOT the actual location of the burial.

There is a local story that the burial ground is haunted by the ghost of a small boy, who can only be seen by children.

The closure of the church

By 1876 the tiny churchyard was completely full. The Tamworth Herald reported on the later history of St John's and its replacement by St Chad's in an article published on 15th September 1906:

OUR CHURCHES, No 2, ST CHAD'S. [...] The Church of St Chad is one of the three daughter churches of Tamworth, and was erected take the place of the old chapel in the village that was found to be small and inconvenient. The movement for a new church had its beginnings during the vicariate of Brooke Lambert, whose marvellous energy, and broad, masculine view of his duties, revivified the life of the Church throughout the wide domains of our scattered parish. His efforts were seconded by as talented a body of coadjutors as ever devoted themselves to Christ's work, and his and their influence is felt in the life of the community today. The old church no longer exists. Practically the sole relic of it is a stone in the wall at the rear of the old cemetery, on which is the following inscription:— "Church of St John, Hopwas. This chapel, erected and endowed by voluntary subscriptions in 1836 and enlarged by the addition of the chancel in 1839, was consecrated in 1840. The whole of the sittings are free. The Rev RC Savage MA, officiating minister from 1836 to 1845." As far back as November, 1876, writing in the Parish Magazine on the spiritual needs of his charge, Brooke Lambert said :— "In the matter of Hopwas Church, Mr Levett has come forward most generously, offering a site, stone from his quarries (if found to be of a nature fit for building), and timber. Mr MacGregor has lodged £616 in the bank, and I have no fear but that the remaining sum, so largely reduced by Mr Levett's generosity, will soon raised. There are two circumstances which make immediate steps in this case necessary. In the first place, the present Church is seriously inconvenient. The cross benches on which the children have to sit interfere with the seats. It is inconvenient to have to step over a form placed against the end of seat. The children, moreover, being thus placed, are under no proper control; no one can face them, and children are kept in order mainly by the eye. They cannot look at the clergyman, and as they look at each other, the result is not satisfactory. But I suppose we should have been obliged to grin and bear this a good deal longer were it not that the churchyard is full. The Inspector has visited and condemned it, and if some new churchyard be not made, we shall have to resort to a Burial Board. This makes Mr Levett's offer most opportune. He gives us an acre of land, which will provide room for a church, churchyard, and eventually I hope, a parsonage. The site is a very beautiful and commanding one, under Hopwas Wood, and overlooking the village and the plain below." The foundation stone [of St Chad's] was laid on July 28, 1879, and the Church was consecrated by the Bishop of Lichfield on April 23, 1881. The Rev W MacGregor was Vicar of Tamworth at the time. Since he came to the parish, first, as priest-in-charge of Hopwas, he had taken very keen interest in the proposal to erect new church; and it was greatly due to his personal efforts and large-hearted generosity that the beautiful edifice adorns the hamlet. [The article continues with a detailed description of St Chad's].

I have found the stone in the wall at the rear of the old cemetery of St John's, but it is almost totally obscured by the thick hedge.

The dedication stone in the wall at the rear of St John's Chapel graveyard.

The new Chapel, the Swiss cottage style Anglican Church of St Chad, in Church Drive off Hopwas Hill, was erected despite opposition from Sir Robert Peel on the grounds that Hopwas was too small to justify the new church.

St Chad's Church, Hopwas

On 16th April 1881, the Tamworth Herald mentioned proposals for the sale of the old Chapel in a report on a Vestry Meeting. It merely sets an agenda,

... to obtain a faculty for the following purposes viz.:—For the general restoration of the Parish Church; for the conversion of the north chancel into a chapel for small services, and for the sale of the old church at Hopwas to pass resolutions thereon and for the transaction of general business."

The following week the paper announced that these resolutions had been carried.

It was then proposed by Mr Thomas Cooke Jun, and seconded by the Mayor of Tamworth (Mr W Tempest), "That faculty for the following purposes be applied for, (1) for the general restoration of the Parish Church [St Editha's]; (2) for the conversion of the north chancel into a chapel for small services; and for the sale of the material of the old church at Hopwas." The resolution was carried unanimously.

It appears that either St John's Chapel had been pulled down already, or that it was about to be pulled down.

The font now stands outside St Chad's Church, Hopwas. The inscription, 'Veni, Creator Spiritus' is not visible. Perhaps it was on the pedastal. The chapel bell was removed to St Chad’s tower. The altar table was sent to Tamworth Workhouse in Wigginton Road. The only evidence I have of this is an article in the Tamworth Herald on 16th April 1898: "The holy table was sent to the Workhouse many years ago, and is believed to have come from the old chapel at Hopwas."

The font of St John's Chapel, Hopwas, now standing in front of St Chad's Hopwas.

In 1888, building began for a Wesleyan Chapel (i.e. Methodist) further down Hints Road. This was reported in the Tamworth Herald on 18th August 1888. This chapel still stands today, and I think its existence causes some speculation that the graveyard is somehow connected to it - but it is not.

A bungalow has been built on the site of the old chapel, so the graveyard is no longer visible from the canal. I will share any subsequent research into this pretty little graveyard on this page.

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