St Marys Church during a phase of transition in 1860. Work was completed in 1870
Records suggest that this site in the heart of Lichfield City centre has been occupied by a church or chapel since c1150, although the earliest written records did not exist until 1291 when it is recorded that a fire destroyed most of Lichfield and many of its churches, including St Mary’s. The church was rebuilt in the 14th century, featuring an aisled chancel and nave, a west tower and a spire. This church was occupied by the guild of St Mary and St John the Baptist which effectively provided the government for the City. It was the church where Samuel Johnson was baptised in 1566.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, problems with the buildings structure caused the spire to fall twice (once in 1594 and again in 1626), forcing costly repairs to be made. These repairs proved ineffective, however, as in 1716 the tower collapsed for a third time. This final collapse led to the eventual demolition of the old building, with a more modern neoclassical design taking its place in 1721.
A neoclassical St Mary’s Church in the early 19th Century
As the church design became more and more outdated in the mid-19th century, pressure grew to replace the building with a Victorian Gothic style church. In 1868, after 147 years, the church was demolished. Architect James Fowler submitted his design for the church, and in 1870 the building, constructed of Derbyshire sandstone, was complete. The new building also acted as a memorial to the former Vicar Rev. Henry Lonsdale, who was buried beneath the west tower.
In the 20th century, after the numbers attending church dropped, the building was transformed into the multi-functional space it remains today. The centre, which features design work by Hinton Brown Langstone of Warwick, opened on 30 May 1981 as Lichfield Heritage Centre. In July 2013, it was renamed St Mary’s in the Market Square and welcomed Lichfield District Council’s tourist information service.