Lichfield, Hoar Cross and some
bits in between!
(the Bristol perspective!)
Unlike last year I travelled alone from Bristol, leaving in sunshine, driving through one of those very heavy summer storms in the Worcester area, and left wondering what the weather would be like as a consequence. In the end the day was rather good weatherwise although we dodged some more rain in the morning. Approaching Lichfield from the south on the A38, I felt a little thrill of excitement as I glimpsed for the first time "The Ladies of the Vale" which is how the three spires of the cathedral are poetically known.
We had arranged to meet up at the west door of Lichfield Cathedral at 1030, I arrived in Lichfield almost an hour early. On the road into the small city I passed the Holy Cross Roman Catholic church, and of course I stopped to have a quick look inside.
Holy Cross (R.C.) LICHFIELD, Staffordshire
A small distraction on the way to the cathedral!
This odd little building shows some ambition in its west front, of ashlar stone with three lancets placed over a Romanesque portal. The presbytery adjoins to the south and an odd square turret-cum-tower fills the opposite corner. Behind the side walls are of stock brick with pairs of lancets having stone dressings. Further modern extensions to the north-east and east of the nave. The door opens into a small vestibule where you are faced immediately with another Romanesque portal, and plunged into complete darkness if you close the outer door before opening the inner one as I found out! Inside a third Romanesque arch separates nave from sanctuary, and there is a small west gallery.
I have to confess that of all the cathedrals in England, Lichfield is one of my favourites, if not THE favourite. The central picture, from the cover of a superb guidebook I bought on my last visit (publ. Pitkin Pictorials 1970), shows it on a better day weatherwise. It is approached from the west from the road (above left) or the south-east from the shopping centre. It is England's only medieval cathedral with three stone spires.
The interior is breathtaking, and culminates in an east apse, an unusual feature of Gothic times in England. Like the later great churches of Belgium, the apse is full-height and has immense windows. Equally interesting are the High Victorian fittings which survive, the screen and pulpit of elaborate metalwork, the stalls and bishop's throne of wood and the reredos of varied stones and marbles.
Of all the monuments in the cathedral one of the most famous, carved by Sir Francis Chantry in 1817, stands at the east end of the south choir aisle. It depicts two sisters, Ellen Jane and Marianne Robinson, who both died in 1812, and is entitled "The Sleeping children".
Having arrived early I therefore idled away the best part of the hour inside the cathedral. I spotted John H and his Mum in the south choir aisle and Allan and his friend Jonathan entering the west door from the bookshop under the south west tower. I also spotted a couple loitering at the west door as I sat outside who, as the group assembling around me grew to six, plucked up courage to ask if we were churchcrawlers! This was Peter and his wife Esme from Nottinghamshire. DrDigi had arrived digitally a fraction before - he rang me on the mobile to say he was held up in traffic! How often the person with the shortest journey gets there last! Also there was the sad news that Rich churchsketcher) had phoned him to say that he was not going to be there after all.
We plumped for the next village and to meet at the church with all the cars. The six of us who had been in the cathedral set off there, P&E went into the cathedral - as did dd who arrived as we left (another phone call).
St Michael & All Angels, HAMSTALL RIDWARE, Staffordshire
The choice of the village turned out to be impractical for car leaving and swapping (and in fact we set off thereafter in convoy) but for the church itself was well worth it. HAMSTALL RIDWARE church is reachable via a long track through a field - and the path had recently reopened to people who had not been handling farm animals in the last seven days. For Allan, Jonathan and me this was the most serious rain shower all day which we walked through. For neighbours the church has the ruined tower and gateway of the former HR Hall, but a tall wall defied getting a better look - well for Esme certainly.
The church has a slim tower, recessed parapet spire, clerestoried nave and aisles, chancel with south chapel. There is also a small but handsome Victorian south porch. The tower had been built onto a Norman west front, parts of which remained. The church had the rather splendid Norman font from the redundant church at nearby PIPE RIDWARE which we were to pass as we left for our next destination. There is also an impressive table tomb with painted decoration, and two C15 painted panels incorporated into the dull C19 reredos with various scenes from the Life of Christ. Some C15 glass satisfied Allan greatly.
As we were completing our visit dd arrived complete with a celebrity in tow (see the group photo which dd took later). Introductions occured and the next victim was chosen. This was the odd church at
St Nicholas, MAVESTYN RIDWARE, Staffordshire
ChurchCrawlers descend en masse......
This church is wierd, a wide Georgian C18 box, with the smallest narrowest Strawberry Hill Gothick sanctuary, attached to a medieval north aisle burial chapel. The medieval tower was sited at the north-west angle of the church, and still is today. Inside the two parts are on completely different levels. The north aisle has a fantastic collection of memorials, both original incised slabs and effigies, and faked (more incised slabs, early C19). There is also a large collection of hatchments, some carved panels, and a (damaged) Norman font dug up in a neighbouring garden and restored to the church.
Using John H's good beer guide, two abortive attempts at finding food and good ale later (one - no food, the second too popular and standing room only) we settled into the Golden Cup opposite the church at YOXALL.
St Peter, YOXALL, Staffordshire
This medieval church has been given a huge going-over by the eminent Victorian architect Henry Woodyer, to the extent that apart from the tower and a restored Norman south doorway, it seemed an entire C19 rebuilding. Characteristic features of Mr Woodyer included a straight-headed near continuous row of over-Perp clerestory windows and a south chancel window almost completely filled with reticulation. The interior was a little disappointing despite the C14 arcades, a notable alabaster tomb-chest and effigies and an odd throwback to the later C17canopied tomb of +1867 (illustrated above) with recumbant effigy on luxuriant pillows and a dog looking lifelike at his feet.
Jonathanis here glancing into the organ loft where several other memorials were placed so high up on the wall that appreciation of them was impossible. Yoxall was also the venue for the Groupfoto, so take a bow John H, Peter, Esme, drdigi, Allan, Jonathan (cheesy grin!), Mrs H. and LBP Phil!
Holy Angels, HOAR CROSS, Staffordshire
We returned then to the site of the second too-popular pub at HOAR CROSS. The church of the Holy Angels proved to be one of the high points of our little tour of south-east Staffordshire. Bodley's masterpiece must be an incredible burden on the small community and we sadly noted places where the sandstone was badly worn. The interior was incredibly dark until we found a GBP1 for 20 minutes electric light meter! The light (in comparism) and exotic chancel and the side chapels were all locked off from the casual visitor. But someone noticed a small sign offering guided tours of the church, and it was out with the mobile phone (lousy signal!!) and shortly a very nice lady came and opened the east end for our inspection. Vestments came out too (John H was intrigued) and we saw small side chapels like small oratories) and the fine tombs of the founders were able to be inspected close up, along with the fabulous rich carving in the chancel itself. This will long live in the memory and even people who prefer the ancient and history seemed impressed.
Time was proving an enemy for some and we sadly took our leave of John H and his mum who set off back to Kent. (It was by then well past four o'clock). The rest of us set off to see the ancient Norman priory church of TUTBURY.
Here was our only disappointment, locked and the vicarage deserted, but after a long examination of the exotic norman west front, and peering through the plain-glazed windows of the north aisle at the mighty Norman arcades inside, and a glance at the circular yet Gothic C19 east apse, we debated where to go next. We had, you see, passed an impressively sited church on a hill at Hanbury, but had sort-of planned to see the church at Barton under Needwood too.
St Werburgh, HANBURY, Staffordshire
HANBURY won, and we set off back to St Werburgh's church. It is a superb setting in the quietest part of the village with a view for miles from the churchyard across the wide floodplain of the Trent. The interior is surprisingly packed full of interest especialy for the monuments enthusiast and the Victoriana fans. Closer inspection of the proud tower suggested a C19 rebuilding (thanks Jonathan!). There is recent work too, clear to see the moment you enter the church. The west end of the church has been converted (in 1986 - looks earlier though) creating an entrance foyer, two rooms (in the west two bays of each aisle) and another under the tower which completely cuts through the design of Minton tiles, a memorial to a former canon of Lichfield Cathedral. Sadly the conversion gets in all views, for me destroys the proportion of the tower arch and as the upper part is glazed spoils appreciation of the tower's west window and its glass. It also stops you from being able to get a proper sense of proportion of the nave and aisles looking east.
ChurchCrawlers in the narthex
Opinions were divided among our group and Peter properly has pointed out that the church has created an asset for the villagers, and is a church very much in use and not a museum. DrDigi pointed out as conversions go, it was better than many. However there was still the amusing monuments behind the chancel arch and the quality of other monuments, together with the outrageous Victorian font (well I liked it a lot!) and the quality Victorian decoration of the chancel. Allan found some more interesting glass. Finally there was THAT view outside and all in all St Werburgh's left us with good if mixed feelings about the place.
Here outside we said our goodbyes and set off home. I hope a good day was had by all, and certainly as a group we had gelled together well. It was after all 1810.
I had agreed to take Allan and Jonathan back to the station in Lichfield, but in the car we discovered that his train would not be to 1945. The three of us decided to make one more stop at a church we had driven by and ear-marked twice before -
All Saints, KING's BROMLEY, Staffordshire
We parked up and got out the car, and so shortly afterwards who pulls up but DrDigi!! Same idea! The church was locked. But intrepid we are and we hunted down a key from a quirkily named house called Chapparel where a certain Mr Wright churchwarden lived.
Our final church was a fairly ordinary church with a fine tower and clerestory (Perp). The pulpit and font were late C17 and typical of their date and Allan found an unlisted piece of medieval glass in the splayed Norman window of the south wall of the nave. The screen too repaid closer inspection where little heads can be found within the foliage..
This time it really was goodbye, I dropped my passengers at the station and headed home. Already thoughts had shifted to "Where next year?" - and we leave that in part to you too.
Link to :- ChurchCrawling 1st Birthday - Churches of Grantham area