This year’s AGM was very well-attended and proved to be an extremely enjoyable occasion for all. It was held in the fascinating little church of St. George, Brinsop, one of Simon Jenkins’ “England’s Thousand Best Churches”, set in beautiful Herefordshire countryside. It is next to a field which had a well wherein lived a dragon, which, in course of time was slain by St. George who thereby rescued the local people from its depredations and gave the church his name.

Chairman David Furnival, welcomed everyone to the meeting, in particular our joint President, the Dowager Countess of Darnley, and Archdeacon, Paddy Benson. This will be Paddy’s  last meeting as he retires later this year. The Chairman’s Report, most of which can be read in The Lychgate, brought to our attention trhe fact that by the end of last year wthe Trust had awarded nearly £1.82million in grants in 62 years of existence. To be able to continue this work, he stated that we rely a great deal on the generosity of members and Friends in the knowledge that we cannot afford to be complacent. Derbyshire Historic Churches Trust was collecting about £20,000 from its Ride and Stride and had £270,000 in cash ten years ago; last year it dissolved its Trust. It relied heavily on grants from a Landfill  tax credit scheme which ended and it lost much of its income. He thanked all who help in the Trust’s work and concluded by pointing out that succession is a problem; new people are always sought to join the Trust and bring in new ideas. Please tell us if you know of anyone who might be interested.

Sarah de Rohan encouraged everyone to look at on which one can find details of churches to visit up and down the country and information on interesting events which are taking place in churches. One can search by postcode or place or by themes – e.g.  those with architectural awards or designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor or Christopher Wren, those with marvellous snowdrops or yew trees, those with connections to the R.A.F. or linked with suffragists and suffragettes, those with heavenly cafes….. even those with beer festivals or ones linked to Dr. Who! Churches are encouraged to register on the site which offers a tremendous way of planning days out for family or friends, or even an entire holiday.

We were then given a very informative talk by Peter  Baines, whose knowledge of Brinsop Church was so extensive that it ensured that we all spend time afterwards walking around the church and identifying all the interesting and important elements.  St. George’s slaying of the dragon nearby is the reason for the multiple images in the church of the saint whose popularity received a boost after his appearance at the Siege of Antioch in 1097-8 during the First Crusade. The Crusaders (whose knights had recently slaughtered the Turks of Antioch) were inspired to fight off the Turks who were trying to regain the city). An earlier church building in Brinsop, of which there remains a carved tympanum showing George slaying the dragon, and a door arch, probably dated from about 1150, a few years after St. George’s intervention in Antioch. The carvings  (St. George again, along with human and animal figures, foliage and an interesting Green Man) show some similarities with the Hereford School of carving which was also responsible for the carvings at Kilpeck.

Someone of a less violent disposition also associated with Brinsop Church was William Wordsworth, who visited the area regularly with his family, staying with his sister and brother-in-law who were tenant farmers at Brinsop Court from about 1825-45.  There is a memorial window to Wordsworth, part of a considerable amount of work bin the church y Ninian Comper, described by Peter as a well-known C20th “church beautifier”. An architect-designer, his work at Brinsop includes the beautiful war memorial window, reredos, textiles, baldacchino – a canopy of state usually above an altar – and  gilded angels atop the rood screen.

St. George’s contains other items of interest – a complete set of three medieval bells from about 1450, considered to be the oldest in the diocese and possibly the country, which will hopefully be ringing this year to celebrate the centenary of the Armistice in 1918, medieval glass, tombs and brasses from around the C17th and a fine C18th memorial to the Dansey family of Brinsop Court. There is even a gravestone outside to a servant girl which was paid for by Wordsworth.

This fascinating start to the afternoon continued at Brinsop Court; we are very grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Martin Churchward for having allowed us to visit and for providing us with tea and a variety of delicious cakes along with the opportunity to wander around this medieval manor house freely or take a tour with Jonathan, our host and guide for the afternoon. Jonathan’s knowledge of the history and architecture of the moated Court was, like Peter’s at the church,  quite extraordinary and he gave us all the time we required to view the buildings which surround an internal courtyard and range in date from about the C13th  or C14th to the C20th. Some of the building work is timber-framed, some has been replaced with brick, but perhaps the most beautiful parts are stone, with trefoiled windows. There are numerous features such as a wonderful king post roof with foiled four- way struts in the banqueting hall, an early window with square lights which is canted out slightly to deflect the rain and prevent rot (as Jonathan explained), fireplaces and C17th panelling.

Just a few of the interesting inhabitants of the Court include Sir Hubert Delaval Astley, President of the Avicultural Society, who met his wife Constance  at Chequers, then his family home. The Astleys commissioned Avray Tipping, the French-born British writer on country houses and Architectural Editor of Country Life magazine for 17 years, to make improvements to the house. A garden designer, he also remodelled the garden. Sir Hubert’s son, Philip, married Madeleine Carroll, a very famous actress of the 1930s who appeared in Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, among thirty five other films. Interesting visitors apart from the Wordsworths include the diarist Francis Kilvert and, more recently, Professor Stephen Hawking.

We are very grateful to everyone who made this fascinating day such a success and welcomed the Trust so warmly. Even the weather was kind!

The Church Mouse (on leave)


Herefordshire Historic Churches Trust