Shropshire Star

Group's appeal for help in unlocking secrets of demolished church

A group of volunteers aiming to tidy up the churchyard of a local heritage gem is trying to track down descendants of those buried there so that their stories can be told.

The Red Church shortly before its demolition.

The Friends of the Red Church was formed by locals wanting to tidy up the overgrown and neglected site of St Mary's Church at Jackfield, which was demolished in 1961 and was dubbed the Red Church because of its distinctive red bricks.

Despite its condition the site remains consecrated and Graham Hollox of the group said that, at the request of the Diocese of Hereford, they were appealing for anyone who knows or thinks that they may have ancestors buried in the churchyard to contact them, particularly if they have objections to work there.

With the easing of the pandemic, working groups from the Friends are again clearing the site, about which stories and legends abound.

Many relate to "the Grey Lady," thought to be the ghost of Mary Brown who bequeathed the money to build the church in the 1760s but did not live to see it happen.

Her spirit is said to haunt the site because the church was not being built originally as she wanted.

Graham said: "Responsibility for maintenance lies with Shropshire Council and they have given tremendous support this year by felling diseased and dangerous trees – much to the annoyance of a few squirrels.

"Some of the old stories claimed that the presence of 'the spirit' discouraged birds from the site, but that’s doesn’t seem to be the case today. Nesting boxes have been occupied by diverse species including blue tits and nuthatches.

"There’s a lot to do to tidy up and develop the site which remains consecrated under the Diocese of Hereford. Subject to their approval, plans include making all the graves safe and outlining the footprint of the church foundations, removing demolition debris to find any surviving memorials, improving the offering to visitors with information via a noticeboard, and more.

"Behind all this, though, it’s the memorials and the history of those buried in the churchyard which is proving fascinating and a valuable addition to the heritage of the district.

"This small churchyard, just 50 yards long and 25 yards wide, is the last resting place of over 1,200 persons, from all walks of life, dating back to 1770.

"The Friends are bringing this history to light through the stories of the persons buried at the Red Churchyard. There’s a full list of such persons as well as photographs of memorials and transcribed inscriptions on the website

"These stories become particularly illuminating after delving into the genealogy to identify links to living descendants.

"We are trying to find anyone who knows or think they have ancestors baptised or buried at the Red Church. Already a number have come forward both locally and as far away as Queensland and California.

"If people think they could add to the history of the church, they can contact us via the link on that website or on our Facebook page, 'Friends of the Red Church'.”

The church, built on a knoll near Broseley, was affected by subsidence and was hardly used after about 1930 – a new church, St Mary the Virgin, was built in Victorian times nearer the river in Jackfield.

Hit by weather, vandalism and neglect, the Red Church became dangerous and was ultimately demolished.

Graham says that despite instructions to the contrary the memorials were not protected nor were records kept, and when the church building was razed all except a few memorials were destroyed.