St. Alban the Martyr

Tony Morton

Celebrated TV and Film actor Tony Morton's vivid recollection of his early life in Highgate with his Mother and Grandmother are profoundly moving. He has said that both he and his Auntie Ida agree that when you now stand on the steps to the West Door of St. Alban's Church and look out down the green grassy slopes of Conybere Street the view is very different. It would not be easy today to picture what this area of Highgate in Birmingham looked like, but 100 years ago, terraced houses, courts, back-to-back housing were built over a filled-in claypit known locally as Vaughton's hole.

Former Housing off Vaughton Street

Housing was cramped, clustered, and claustrophobic, two up, two down for a family of 7. Courts and terraces led into a cul-de-sac of more courts and terraces. These were serviced by outside water closets or lavatories — approximately three lavatories to six families sited in out-houses built in the centre of each court adjacent to a communal wash house where a family's washing was laundered in public.

Whooping cough, chicken pox and measles dogged the early years of a child's life. A new-born was immediately insured for one half-penny a week. When a new child died, the family was burdened with the cost of the funeral. The infant mortality rate was high; the insurance policy therefore imperative Illiteracy was a fact. A penny a week was paid for lessons in the 3 R's, in somebody's front parlour.

Set against this background, Doctor Oldknow, the Vicar of Holy Trinity, Bordesley, a noted theologian, invited the Reverend James Samuel Pollock tostart work on a mission in Highgate later to be St. Alban's elementary school. James's brother, Thomas Benson Pollock came to help. Between them they gave their devotion, dedicating the substance of their lives work to the cause of this establishment. A member of the Guild of St. Alban, Sister Emma Simcox, joined the Brothers in their work. This dedicated trio, with the help of other Deacons and Priests are responsible for the magnificent Victorian Church we cherish and hope to fully restore today.

Much has been done, more is needed to ensure that this traditional Anglo-Catholic Parish Church continues to witness to the richly diverse multi-cultural local community the joy and abundance of God's love today and in the next millennium.