Quality rather than quantity is the phrase which comes to mind when reporting on this year’s church crawl in June. A beautiful summer’s day was enjoyed by those keen supporters who were able to join us exploring churches in the Ledbury Benefice, but we hope for a higher attendance in 2015. Once again we used a small coach for transport around the country roads, and this is now a popular feature of these tours.
Aylton was our base, where we had a warm welcome from Ian and Rebecca Jones with coffee in the magnificent thatched medieval barn at Court Farm, before looking around the tiny Norman church. Recently restored with grants from the Trust and English Heritage, the building has remarkable leaning walls and a charming sundial by the entrance. Inside, the asymmetrical medieval wooden screen is a surprise and makes a striking division between nave and chancel.
On to Pixley, where the little church of St Andrew is situated just off the busy main road near the Trumpet crossroads, in the farmyard of Pixley Court. We were greeted in the medieval porch and entered into the whitewashed nave to enjoy the simple medieval timber roof and possibly the earliest rood screen in the county. Furnishings and a sympathetic restoration in the 1860s by Victorian architect G. F. Bodley link this church to his others in Herefordshire, including Llangrove, and Kinnersley where he is buried. We were also delighted by the stained glass figures in the east windows designed by William Morris. Major repairs to the stonework and roofs are likely to be needed in the next few years.
Our coach then took us to Munsley and a walk around St Bartholomew’s church in the fields with the very enthusiastic churchwarden, Michael Robinson. Although there are several prominent Victorian features to the church, such as the bellcote and porch, the early Norman work soon becomes apparent with tiny windows to the chancel, herringbone masonry and a wonderful plain chancel arch. Curious medieval coffin lids and the ancient yew tree in the churchyard all contribute to the feeling of great antiquity at this site.
The final visit of the morning was to Ashperton, and another St Bartholomew’s church. This much larger mainly 14th century building needs significant damp cure treatment, and plans for repairs to the early Victorian tower together with the installation of kitchen and wc facilities are well advanced, with the church hoping for a significant grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Churchwarden Wendy Miles accompanied us around the church where we enjoyed hearing about medieval franklin, Walter de Helyon, whose wooden memorial is now at Much Marcle, and the extraordinary royal arms in the north transept.
We returned to Aylton to enjoy our picnic lunches in the sunshine outside the barn before setting out again for Stoke Edith. The landmark steeple of St Mary’s church is medieval, though it was truncated in 1940. It adjoins a fine Georgian Classical nave and chancel designed by Henry Flitcroft. The church is a powerful tribute to the Foley family whose fine mansion has sadly disappeared, but who still own the estate. The church contains many Georgian furnishings and we heard from incumbent, Sue Strutt, about vital repairs to the roofs and ceilings that will need to be tackled very soon.
Our journey was then through the lanes below the Marcle Ridge to the very pretty Putley Church, which stands next to a pond amongst the orchards. Here we marvelled at the amazing Victorian fittings, such as the beautiful carved reredos, altar and choir stalls, all installed in the church when it was rebuilt by Thomas Blashill in 1875. These along with the stained glass and painting are the result of benefaction from the Riley family of Putley Court. The fine medieval churchyard cross and the discovery of Roman remains on the site reminded us that this too is an ancient place, but the recently installed wc facilities and kitchen in the Victorian vestries have transformed the way this delighful church can be used. We were served a delicious tea by Elizabeth Hunter and members of the church before returning to Aylton once more.
The Trust was pleased to have the opportunity to visit these churches to see restoration and develoopment projects which have been recently completed, and to learn of future works for which the Trust is likely to be approached for support. This was a very enjoyable day and proceeds from the tour were divided between the churches visited.
Tim Bridges, Ali Haydn-Jones and Susanna McFarlane