St. Mary's Church by Keith Denerley, Brian Carne and Steve Dartnell

St Mary’s Church

With Keith Denerley, Brian Carne, Steve Dartnell

Meeting of 14th August 2012

We had a fascinating session at our 12th century church. Keith started off outside, pointing out the curved wall that follows the ramparts and ditch of the Castle. It seems the Normans (who built this stone church) often fortified earlier sites. You can see the typical Norman round topped arches inside with different decoration on each (and some lovely carved faces). The very ornately decorated arch – similar to work at Kilpeck and Ruardean – is by the famous Hereford masons. At this time the nave would be used for all sorts of events, much like a village hall. There were no pews, the congregation stood (with some benches around the walls for those that couldn’t). The Norman tower collapsed in the 12th Century.

This is a very large church for the size of the parish. In medieval times it had three priests earning their livings from it. Two sides of the medieval screen survive and there were three altars. The best burial spot was near the altar, outside the first plots taken were the south ones (warmer!) then working around the church. When starting again in the south, anything that remained would be moved to the charnel house.

1840s on (Brian): Rector Edward Field applied for grants to extend and remodel, including new aisles and four fireplaces. He was to spend £100 of his own money on improvement to the Chancel (for which the rector was responsible, the rest of the Church was the congregation’s). Two areas of the Church were not to be reworked as they belonged to Bicknor Court and Eastbach. The population at 1841 was around 580 so he aimed to increase the free seats for the poor to 362 (with 18” per person). In 1846 he established the girls’ school and infants’ school and was the first Inspector of Schools; he taught singing despite being totally tone deaf.

Rector John Burden came from a wealthy family. He paid to extend the graveyard (and gained from this as burial fees were part of his income). He funded new roads so people could get to work (including that from Lower Lydbrook to Stowfield) and rebuilding of other churches. His daughter, Elizabeth, embroidered the altar frontal. When Audrey Hart came to repair it she found the back had totally rotted away so she had to re-stitch every part.

Steve gave a summary of all the recent works undertaken to maintain this beautiful church. He gave us a virtual tour of the precipitous route up the tower and the stunning views from there. Photos showed that when the plinths came up for floor and heating repairs it was just soil beneath. During excavation works for the new loo the old clappers from the bells were found. Five bells date to 1709 but it seems the 1900 restoration saw the clappers discarded. The sixth bell was found by Keith and paid for from over 40 years of collections at funerals – so the bell rings for many old Bicknor folk.

More funds are still needed for The Church of St Mary the Virgin