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When the Black Country nearly lost a fine landscape feature

By john workman  |  Posted: February 09, 2012

Evidence of shrapnel blast on the stonework at St.Thomas Church, Dudley.

Evidence of shrapnel blast on the stonework at St.Thomas Church, Dudley.

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  IT WAS on Monday 23rd September 1940 that one of the Black Country’s most visible landmarks, St Thomas’s (Top) Church in Dudley, came close to total destruction. But instead fate had decreed that it should be a nearby public house that took the full force of an explosion the night Hitler came calling on Dudley to remove The Three Swans.

In an old directory of Dudley the church of St Thomas is described as follows: “It was rebuilt in 1819, at an expense of £23,000, of which sum, £7,600, including £2,000 contributed by the Earl of Dudley, was raised by subscription, and the remainder by a rate; it is a handsome structure in the latter style of English architecture, with an elegant and lofty spire, and is not only an ornament to the town, but from its elevated situation forms a fine feature in the landscape.” Back in Bugle 1010 an article about childhood memories of the Luftwaffe over the skies of the Black Country, which included a mention of Top Church, reminded Kevin Forcey of Netherton of the pictures he had taken with his trusty camera a few weeks before in November last year.

He tells us: “By coincidence I had taken a few snaps of the church and the damage caused during the war.

The shrapnel marks at the front of the church are very clear, particularly in the stone blocks closer to the ground.

Some of the stonework has obviously been replaced or repaired as there is less damage to the front of the church the higher up you look.

“I have also come across the following reference to the bombing that caused the damage which I thought might be of interest to fellow Bugle readers. I found it in a booklet entitled ‘Inns and Inn Signs of Dudley’ by Mark H.

Washington Fletcher, who was chairman of the County Borough of Dudley’s Licensing Bench from 1932 to 1953.

“‘For upwards of a century the Three Swans nestled peacefully beneath the shadow of the tall Gothic spire of the parish church. During the hours of darkness on the night of the 23rd September 1940, agents of Herr Hitler removed these well known premises — without the consent of my Bench.

Fortunately no one was injured, although considerable damage was done to the church and surrounding premises. (The Inn was sold by the Earl of Ducie on the fourth of March, 1879, to the sitting tenant, Mr. John Meanley for £300). This was the only licensed house in Dudley destroyed in the two world wars.” Kevin adds, “I assume the Three Swans once stood on the upper High Street in Dudley, opposite the church, where there is now a gap.” Does anyone in Bugle land have a photograph of the Three Swans public house? If so we would be only too grateful to publish it in a future edition.

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