Following all the new housing development in the area bounded by Warwick Road, Seven Star Road, Lode Lane and Dovehouse Lane after the Second World War, there were lots of young families finding friendships, baby sitting circles and so forth. Several of them got together in each other’s houses as a prayer group, where they could nurture their faith in less formal surroundings than were available in the Parish Church. This group grew apace and soon they got too big for meeting in private houses. Meanwhile, a plot of about one acre St. Helens Road had been given to the Parish in 1948 by Revd. R H Couchman (more on this is below). After much discussion and negotiation, a second hand hut was bought and erected on this plot, mostly by do-it-yourself labour ... and St. Helen’s Church proper was born. The photo shows St Helen's Church in 1961
A second hut was added later and a permanent structure built in the mid 1970s. Although there was a small chapel in this building apart from the main hall and small meeting rooms and kitchen, this soon proved too small, so a much larger chapel with vestry was built and opened in 1994. Meanwhile, the more robust of the two huts was retained for use by youth organisations, Sunday School etc., but by then it had become more of a liability than an asset, needing a great deal of repair work and its safety was very questionable. The photo shows St Helen's Church in 1987
A decision was taken therefore to scrap the hut and build a new youth hall integrated with the main building. This was completed and dedicated in November 2001. Except for the chapel, which is retained as a place of peace and tranquillity, the buildings were built for multi-purpose use and there are few times when the halls are not occupied by some group, many of them secular. The photo shows St Helen's Church in 2010.
The Couchman Family
The mention of Rev'd R H Couchman in the St Helen's story is significant, not only for the church itself, but also for several of the surrounding roads which are included in the District of St Helen within the Parish. The Couchman family lived in Kent during the 18th Century, but one member, Henry, moved to the Midlands as a builder, eventually living in Temple Balsall.
Henry's second son, Rev'd John (1811-1901), became the Rector of St Helen's Church at Thornby, Northamptonshire, from 1847-1901. Thornby is near Naseby, not far from Junction 1 of the A14. Also, he was bequeathed the title 55th Lord of the Manor, Solihull (1859-1901) by Col. Robert Short and maintained close ties with Temple Balsall through marriage.
The Rev'd John's grandson, Rev'd Reginald Henry Couchman (1874-1948) became the 57th Lord of the Manor, Solihull, owning land within the Parish. Meanwhile, Rev'd John's third son, Robert Edward (1847-1915) lived in Edgbaston, Birmingham and was a land agent of New Street, Birmingham (Couchman and Steeds). This firm dealt with a number of estates, including the land owned by Rev'd R H Couchman, bounded by Mirfield Road, Warwick Road, Manor Road and Lode Lane and Olton Golf Course, which became released for building prior to World War II. His only son was a GP (Dr H J Couchman 1886-1960) who lived at places including Buryfield in Upton-on-Severn and Morland, Ferndown, Dorset.
The Couchman family retained strong links with St Helen's Church, Thornby and with Temple Balsall. They also appeared to have had a strong influence on the naming of this church and of local roads: St Helen's Road; Thornby Avenue; Naseby Road; Buryfield Road and Ferndown Road. There is still a connection with the family, though slender, since David Foster-Smith, who worships at St Helen's, is a grandson of H E Steeds of Couchman and Steeds and we are grateful to David for providing this information about the Couchman family.
PEB June 2010