St. Mary's Church, Handsworth, also known as Handsworth Old Church, is an Anglican church in Handsworth, Birmingham, England (not to be confused with St. Mary's Church in Handsworth, South Yorkshire). Its ten-acre (4 hectare) grounds are contiguous with Handsworth Park and it is just off the Birmingham Outer Circle and south of a cutting carrying the busy railway between Birmingham and Walsall. It is noteworthy as the resting place of famous progenitors of the industrial age, and has been described as "the cathedral of the Industrial Revolution".
In its long history, St. Mary's has undergone successive and opinionated reconstruction, especially in 1820 and 1870. As a Staffordshire country church placed at the convergence of several cross country tracks, St. Mary's became a significant part of the largest industrial city in Britain.
In his 1851 History, Gazetteer and Directory of Staffordshire, William White records: "Handsworth Church, St Mary, is picturesquely situated on the Walsall road, about two miles NNW of Birmingham. It is an ancient structure, partly rebuilt and enlarged in 1820, and has a tower with six bells, which like the other remaining parts of the ancient fabric, is in the decorated style of the time of Edward III. In the chancel are two recumbent effigies of members of the Wyrley family, and an ancient piscena. On the south side, a neat groined chapel has been raised over the vault of the late celebrated engineer, James Watt, Esq, of whom there is in the chapel a beautiful white marble statue, by Chantrey. Among the numerous mural monuments in the church is one in memory of the late Matthew Boulton, Esq, of Soho. The rectory is in the patronage of the Rev John Peel, DD, and the Rev George William Murray, MA, is the incumbent."
Handsworth parish was transferred from Staffordshire to Warwickshire in 1911. The rectory to which White refers was demolished in the 1890s to make way for the large pond of Handsworth Park and at the start of the 21st century it is more accurate to describe St. Mary's as situated on Hamstead Road in the Victorian suburb of Handsworth, in the Birmingham electoral ward of Lozells and East Handsworth.
St. Mary's present incumbent is the Rev. Brian A. Hall who, among his many roles in the local community, became, in March 2006, the chairman of a new group called "The Friends of St. Mary's Churchyard" (Handsworth Rectory, 288 Hamstead Road, Birmingham B20 2RB) which aims among more detailed goals 'to be a focus for future hopes for the integrity of St Mary’s Churchyard as a special place' - special not only for the respect accorded to the dead which ought to apply to all graveyards, but because of the association of this church and its grounds with the founding fathers of the industrial age, and more recently with such local celebrities as William McGregor, Director of Aston Villa F.C., who organised the founding meeting of the Football League on 22 March 1888. Also in the churchyard are the ashes of the Romany King Esau Smith and his wife Queen Henty, buried with him on 11 January 1907 some six years after her husband's death and two years before their community was evicted from Black Patch Park in Smethwick.
All three are remembered by monuments in the core of the church. On the north wall of the sanctuary is a marble bust of Matthew Boulton, set in a circular opening above two putti, one holding an engraving of the Soho Manufactory. On the wall opposite, below a pointed arch, is a stone bust of William Murdoch, spelled with a 'ck' - different from his own spelling. James Watt was buried in the grounds of St. Mary's, but expansion of the church placed his tomb inside the church. To the south of the sanctuary, in an austere and serene space built especially for it - The James Watt Memorial Chapel - is a marble statue of Watt by Francis Legatt Chantrey, who regarded his statue of Watt as his favourite.
Under the aegis of the Birmingham & Midland Society for Genealogy & Heraldry (BMSGH) , who sought it from the Handsworth Historical Society and the congregation of the church, a working group of the Handsworth Historical Society, chaired by Roy Lancelott, worked between March 1980 and March 1984 to create a record of every monument in St. Mary's churchyard. This record comprises six volumes, in bound A4, with yellow covers, numbered from I to VI, titled 'Monumental Inscriptions, St Mary's Church Handsworth Birmingham'. Photocopies of this record, which contains sketches of various headstones and detailed maps showing their position in the graveyard, have been deposited with the BMSGH Library (Fiche number 11054), Margaret Street, Birmingham, The Society of Genealogists, London, The Local Studies Department of the Birmingham City Council Reference Library, and Stafford County Record Office Brian Hall observes this piece of research has "brought to light once again the fascinating social history of this side of the emerging City of Birmingham during the Victorian and Edwardian period."
Nowadays, less than a handful of monuments are visited by relatives of those interred, and three simple headstones tended annually by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.