St. Alban the Martyr

The Early Years

The first vicar of St Alban's was the Revd James Pollock (1865-1895). He had been inspired by the Oxford Movement and wished to carry the Gospel to workers in industrial areas in the Catholic tradition. The Mission began in 1865 and James Pollock was assisted at its opening by his brother, the Revd Thomas Benson Pollock.

Although the Mission grew so rapidly that people had to be turned away from evening service for lack of space, it was not without its troubles. There was some tension with Birmingham's strong Protestant community which was not particularly welcoming to High Churchmen of the Anglican Church. In 1867 the Protestant Association had invited one Mr Murphy to the town to give a series of lectures against Catholicism. Stirred into action by his polemics, a riotous crowd attacked St Alban's, shouting and swearing during the service. On one occasion the choir formed a human wall across the chancel to protect the altar! For several months the Pollocks even had to be accompanied by the police as they went to and from services, staying all day Sunday in the church in order to avoid too many journeys. The riots eventually died down, but other troubles arose.

To ensure continuity of the Mission it was necessary to set up a separate District for St Alban's. Until that was done James Pollock could only officiate as a curate of Holy Trinity. The proposal was strongly opposed by the Evangelical Trustees of Aston Parish. Four long years of frustration and struggle followed, during which even the staunchest supporters of the Pollocks lost heart. At last, influential Tractarian friends were found, notably the Revd W.J. Butler of Wantage and Earl Beauchamp. With their support the new District of St Alban the Martyr was created by Order in Council in 1871. The Trustees appointed were Dr Oldknow himself, Earl Beauchamp, Robert Brett (a surgeon of Stoke Newington, prominent in the English Church Union) and two most loyal Birmingham supporters, H.R. Cooksey, a local manufacturer, and W.H. Sproston, a surgeon who lived in the Horsefair. These Trustees nominated James Pollock to the living and he was licensed by the Bishop of Worcester. Shortly afterwards the Bishop also licensed Thomas Pollock as curate. By the end of 1871 the new District of St Alban the Martyr, Bordesley, was firmly and independently established.

James Pollock did not agree with the building of the present church (he called the decision a "disaster") but even so he sold his Isle of Man property to help finance the venture. James Pollock served as vicar to St Alban's for thirty years. Upon his death, his brother Thomas Benson Pollock took up the post. Thomas only held the position for a year before his own death in 1896. There is a memorial to the Pollocks in the churchyard, in the form of a large blue granite Celtic cross. This is in honour of their Isle of Man origins where many original Celtic crosses can be found.

Waterhouse, R. S Alban & S Patrick, Birmingham 12. Birmingham: Parish Church of S Alban and S Patrick, Highgate, Birmingham 12, [198-]

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