A brief description and history of the Church of St Stephen the Martyr, Willenhall.
The first references to St. Stephen's start to appear some time after a Mr. Fisher became incumbent of Willenhall in 1834, when three ecclesiastical districts, referred to loosely as "parishes" were constituted, these being St. Stephen's, St. Anne's and Holy Trinity. St. Giles, though based on a medieval chapel of ease, an offshoot of St. Peter's Wolverhampton, was merely made up of the remaining area of the town.
After the Bilston Cholera epidemic in 1832, which barely touched Willenhall, a Public Health Committee was formed by public pressure in Willenhall in 1842, and one of the administrative districts used for the purposes of this committee was St. Stephen's District, which followed the lines of today's parish boundaries. The church register dates from 1848 but it was to be some 6 years before money was raised to build St. Stephen's church ready for its consecration on 31st October 1854. The builder is recorded as W. D. Griffin (who was also later (in 1867) to rebuild St. Giles Church.)
After a battle against dry rot the old church was demolished in July 1978. Prior to this, on the first Sunday after Easter 1978, the congregation moved into the recently extended new church hall, which was to be used for worship and social activities until the new church was available. In January 1977, work began on the new church that was connected to the church hall (referred to in older papers as St. Albans Hall). This connection, to quote a write-up at the time of the dedication "was to make it clear that God is at the centre of all human activity, both worship and social". The generosity of members of the church, friends, neighbouring churches, local industry and the Diocese of Lichfield, meant that of a total bill of £55,000, only some £6,500 was still owed at the time of the dedication by Bishop Barry Rogerson on 8th September 1979. The priest at the time was Rev T. Green and the Churchwardens were Gerald and Ron Starkey. For the record the Architects were Wood, Goldstraw and Yorath of Hanley, Stoke on Trent, and the building contractor was David J. Bremner of Sedgely.In addition to the Dedication Service itself, and the normal masses, a Festival Evensong and Concert. by Clothier Street Choir celebrated the week of the dedication, as did a "Gang Show" presented by the Youth Organisations, An Evening Entertainment by the Ladies Fellowship and a Family Disco.
The new church is modern steel-framed brick building. It still contains some important mementoes saved from the old church. It had been intended to bring across the old pulpit, including the carved wooden statues which stood at its corners, of Saints Stephen (holding a stone), Peter (keys), Chad (a model of Lichfield cathedral) and James (a sword). The statutes of the saints are now fixed to the west wall opposite the entrance, but the pulpit did not survive the removal from its old setting since it, like so much of the old church, was also infected with dry rot. A statue of St. Francis occupies a corner at the south west of the main church whilst Our Lady has a small shrine in the entrance lobby. The choir stalls were also saved, as was the altar and the crucifix from the rood screen (now on the east wall above the altar), whilst its original attendant figures of Mary and John are affixed to the north wall.
The church proper seats 112 people. The choir stalls and organ are set into an alcove to the left of the altar sanctuary and the pulpit is to the right, with a smaller alcove behind it housing the Church banner and various flags and standards.
A later addition on the north and south walls are the 14 carved wooden stations of the cross, donated by the Starkey family in memory of their mother.
Historic records of St Stephen the Martyr, Willenhall have been deposited at
Staffordshire Record Office, where they are available for consultation by
the public. These include the parish registers of baptisms 1848-1968, and
A catalogue of these records is available in "Gateway to the Past"
- the online catalogue of the Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service. The Archive Service's website provides further information on
planning a visit to the office to consult records, should you wish to do so.