History and Building
St George's was originally built in 1836-8 as a chapel-of-ease of Edgbaston parish church (St Bartholemew's), to serve the new suburb rising at the eastern end of the Calthorpe Estate. A conventional district was assigned in 1852, extending beyond the estate to the Birmingham parish boundary, thus including part of the rather different area north of Hagley Road.
The original building consisted of a nave (the present north aisle) and two aisles, with galleries on three sides -a 'preaching box' church in a 'churchwarden gothic' style described by Pevsner as 'a basic Early English Style with very attenuated stone arcades'. The architect was J. J. Scholes, a man mainly associated with high-church buildings, though the leading lights of the building of St George's, the patron and landlord George, 3rd Baron Calthorpe, and the Birmingham industrialist J .F. Ledsam, were evangelicals, as was the first incumbent, Isaac Spooner, son of a leading Birmingham banker and a relation by marriage of William Wilberforce.
In 1856 the church was enlarged by the addition of a chancel, to the design of the Birmingham architect Charles Edge, best known for the completion of Birmingham Town Hall, and the design of the original Market Hall, who seems to have lived in the parish. After the fashion of the times it was filled with box pews like the rest of the nave and aisles, while a high double-decker pulpit under the chancel arch, reached by a long, straight staircase from behind, blocked view of the communion table.
The building was transformed in 1884-5 by the addition of the existing spacious and lofty nave, chancel and south aisle by the leading Birmingham architect J .A. Chatwin, who worked on more than thirty churches in the city. The old nave, reseated with bench pews, became the north aisle, and the old chancel the Lady Chapel, though it was not fitted up as a chapel until 1906: an extant architect's plan shows alternative schemes of a chapel layout and bench pews facing into the chancel. Remarkably, considering the scale of the operation, the work was completed in not much more than a year, and without closing the church for more than four Sundays!
The interior is notable, besides its impressive scale and proportions, for some 8, very fine woodwork, by Bridgeman of Lichfield to the design of J.A. or P.B. Chatwin-clergy and choir stalls and parclose screen (1885), organ case (1890), reredos (1903) and Lady Chapel screen (1906); and for a good collection of late Victorian stained glass: by Burlison and Grylls, Heaton Butler and Bayne, Hardmans of Birmingham and most particularly a Jesse tree in the Lady Chapel by C.E. Kempe.
Into the Twentieth Century
At the beginning of the twentieth century the parish was still full of large middle-class houses occupied by large middle-class families and their numerous servants, who provided a congregation to fill the spaces, and many volunteer ladies to carry on a great bulk and variety of work at a daughter mission north of Hagley Road. Nowadays the servants are history and most of the houses are converted to offices, presenting a quite different challenge for church work, and leaving St George's with one of the lowest resident populations of any parish in Birmingham.
A continuing theme through all the changes in St George's history is work with education. One of the very first actions of the new Select Vestry was the provision of a church school, which opened in 1854 and still flourishes as a small voluntary-aided primary school, in a replacement building dating to 1968. Its most recent inspection report (2003) was as favourable as its first (1857). Carvings in the enlarged church commemorate the presence nearby at the time of institutions for the deaf and for the blind; older members of the congregation still recall the blind children in their regular place at the front of the north aisle, and the deaf at the east end of the gallery, with the service relayed to them in sign language by a teacher stationed under the pulpit. The blind institution has moved, and the deaf closed, but there are in the immediate vicinity of the church three major independent schools and a campus of the Birmingham City University.
The church continues to evolve.In 2004, St George’s embarked on a plan called The Dragon Project, the aim of which was to open the church to greater community use. This was done in two stages. Phase I saw the removal of all the pews in the North Aisle, thus creating a large social space within the church which connected to and enlarged the existing community room. The Dragon Project Phase II involved the removal of the first five rows of pews in the Nave of the church which opened a spacious area for greater use by musical groups for concerts and so forth. These two developments have given great flexibility in providing a variety of uses for the modern church. With the help of a generous grant from WREN (Waste Recycling Environmental Ltd) and gifts from other local trusts and individuals, St George's has been able to completely renovate its outdated kitchen and toilets facilites.The newly refurbished kitchen is invaluable to outside users of the church who may wish to offer light refreshments to their members and patrons or to enhance their own fund raising efforts.
An illustrated history of St George's is available in the church, price £2.