The Muntz family
Umberslade Baptist Church was opened in September 1877 by George Frederick Muntz, a prominent local industrialist and Baptist convert who had purchased Umberslade Hall, in the estate of which the chapel stands, in 1857.
The hall was previously leased by his father, George Frederic Muntz, a Liberal MP who had built up a successful business in Handsworth. Muntz Snr was a founding member of the Birmingham Political Union, an organisation that looked to spread the right to vote to working-class men, and one of the city’s first MPs, it having been represented previously only as part of the county constituency for Warwickshire. His fortune was based on the manufacture of ‘Muntz Metal’, an alloy of copper and zinc that was used to coat the wooden hulls of ships. Muntz Snr was also instrumental in the introduction of perforated postage stamps, and was known for his extravagant beard in a time when it was fashionable to be clean-shaven.
In building his chapel, Muntz Jnr sought to serve not only the needs of the estate, but also to spread Baptist worship in the local village. To this end the church is built halfway between Umberslade Hall and Hockley Heath. The chapel was built by the Birmingham-based Congregationalist architect George Ingall – it is now the major extant example of his work.
Built in a Decorated Gothic style, on first appearance the church seems to be an old Anglican parish church. Made of Wilmcote stone with Bath stone dressings, the body of the chapel is a wide aisle-less rectangle aligned east and west with shallow north and south transepts. Muntz had his own special entrance to access the church, which purportedly remained shut for many years after his death. Within the surrounding grounds can be found a monument over the Muntz family vault, along with a number of other graves. A wooden church that later served as a school, also built by Muntz, stands nearby.
The wide unimpeded chapel makes few concessions to gothic expectations. the seating below the arch-braced timber roof has no central aisle but three ranks of pine pews facing the central pulpit, the focal point of worshippers’ attention. In the south transept there is a late 19th century organ, built by Bishop & Son. In the north transept a brass plaque can be found to Muntz Jnr, who in his old age used to listen to the sermons from the Hall via a microphone in the pulpit. The stained glass windows depict geometric patterns.
Umberslade Baptist Church was transferred to the auspices of the Historic Chapels Trust in 1999, and the first phase of restoration was completed in 2008, in which the roof was renewed and crumbling stonework in the church and tower was repaired and replaced. However, much remains to be done.
The Friends of Umberslade Baptist Chapel can be found on facebook.