On the World War 2 memorial just to the north of the main entrance to St James’ church, writes Naomi, is an intriguing inscription to the help given to the rebuilding of All Saints Church Chilvers Coton following its destruction in the blitz. It reads as follows:
Members of this parish have also furnished the chancel of the Chapel of the Three Kings in the rebuilt Parish Church of Chilvers Coton in the Diocese of Coventry destroyed by enemy action in May 1941.
Beneath the war memorial is a small brass plaque recording the thanks of the people of Chilvers Coton. Beneath two shields representing the two churches of St James and All Saints’, it reads:
The parishioners of Chilvers Coton have placed here this token of grateful acknowledgement of generous aid in the rebuilding of their church given by the Vicar (the Rev Norman Cooper MA) and parishioners of the Church of St James Hereford after the war of 1939-1945.
Chilvers Coton, now a suburb of Nuneaton, was originally a village lying between Coventry and Nuneaton, chiefly famed for being the birthplace of the novelist George Eliot. Coventry and its neighbourhood were heavily bombed during WW2 and on May 17th 1941 a string of incendiary bombs fell on the church, setting it alight. Shortly afterwards a high explosive bomb in the churchyard brought down the walls and burning roof. Many other buildings in the parish were damaged or destroyed and there was considerable loss of life. The church remained a derelict shell until its rebuilding in 1947 at a cost of £40,000. £20,000 of this came from the War Damage Compensation Board and £5000 had been raised locally leaving a shortfall to be raised by other means which obviously included a contribution from St James. Interestingly the rebuilding work was carried out by German Prisoners of War from the nearby Arbury POW camp, who were paid at the standard rate for British workmen.
My interest in this link was aroused when our vicar, Preb Paul Towner, asked if anyone knew why, from the large number of war damaged churches, had the parishioners of St James chosen to help with the rebuilding of Chilvers Coton church. Not many records from St James past have survived. Herefordshire Record Office had the PCC minute book covering most of the 1940’s. It recorded a resolution of the PCC to contribute to the rebuilding of Chilvers Coton church and the formation of a subcommittee to oversee the project. Presumably the subcommittee took minutes but these have not survived so there is very little detail of the project in the PCC minute book. Frustratingly the minute book ended shortly before the project ended and successive minute books have been lost. I contacted the Chilvers Coton vicar who told me that all their existing records had been transferred to the Warwickshire Record Office, and that he didn’t think anyone in Chilvers Coton would have memories of the project. On searching the Record Office website it would seem that the only Chilvers Coton church records held there are the parish baptism, marriage and death registers – i.e. no PCC minutes.
Having written all this, I had a thought. I wondered whether the then vicar, Preb Norman Cooper had any connection with Chilvers Coton so I went to the Cathedral Library to see if Crockford’s Clerical Directory could shed any light on the matter. Crockford’s gives brief career details of all C of E clergy, and in the 1947 edition I discovered that the current Chilvers Coton vicar was the Rev Ronald Murray and that both he and Preb Cooper had been undergraduates at St Peter’s Hall, Oxford, graduating in 1933. So it would seem that Preb Cooper and Mr Murray had been friends since university days and that was how Preb Cooper heard of the Chilvers Coton rebuilding project and encouraged St James’ congregation to support it. So it would seem that we have now established how the two churches were linked. I understand that St James’ financial contribution was quite modest, so other agencies must also have contributed to the shortfall mentioned above.
All this happened almost 70 years ago, but it may be that if you are a long term Hereford resident you may have memories or comments, either your own or passed down from a previous generation that you could share with the Bartonsham History group.