One man’s vision

The Church of St Michael and All Angels, Tenbury is the result of the vision and determination of one man, the Reverend Sir Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley (1825–1889).

A baronet, priest and musicologist, Ouseley was drawn into the Oxford Movement, or Catholic Revival, within the Church of England in the mid-19th century. He was passionate about the Anglican musical tradition and its role in worship, and founded St Michael’s and its adjoining college to maintain and promote it.

The church opened on 29 September (Michaelmas) 1856, whereupon Ouseley became its first vicar, and warden of the college, positions he held until his death 33 years later. You can read more about him here.

One of the church’s first organists was John (later Sir John) Stainer, who took up the past aged 16 before going on to become organist at St Paul’s Cathedral, a composer and academic. His Crucifixion oratorio remains his best known work today.

Since then, many other notable church musicians have also served at St Michaels over the past century-and-a-half; Wikipedia provides a full list up until the closure of the college.

The building

Ouseley chose as his architect Henry Woodyer, a pupil of the leading Victorian Gothic revivalist William Butterfield, to design both church and college. Woodyer later also restored the nearby Church of St Mary in Tenbury Wells.

With its steep roofs rising to 74 feet (23m) and large eastern apse with tall stained glass windows, the church makes a striking feature in the landscape, particularly when approached across Oldwood Common from Tenbury.

The intricate stained-glass windows were made by the Birmingham firm of Hardman, which worked with Woodyer on his many church commissions, and also with Sir George Gilbert Scott.

The remarkable “Father” Willis organ, with its elaborately decorated pipes, was built and installed in 1873 by the London firm of Henry Willis & Sons, which also provided organs for the Royal Albert Hall and for several cathedrals including St Paul’s. Incorporating parts of an earlier, unsatisfactory organ, it has been only lightly modernised in the decades since.

The font and its huge ornate oak cover, the choir stalls, chancel screen, altar rails, stone pulpit and tiled floors, also remain unaltered in the church, which is Grade II* listed.

In modern times

The college closed in 1985, but since then the church has continued in use as the parish church of St Michael’s village.

Between 1990 and 2020, the college was an international boarding school. It is currently unused.