Turn off junction 14 of the M5 motorway, towards Wotton Under Edge, and after a small wood on the left turn left again and you will discover the rather hidden estate village of Tortworth. On a beautiful early March day in 1999 I did just that! I thought initially I was on the wrong road but then suddenly the road drops downhill and the church, with its exceptionally tall west tower comes into view. The churchyard is walled and there are remains of the old Court in the wooded land to the east of the church. before entering via the tower doorway walk around the church to the east and sit on the stone memorial (it's OK, it is meant as a seat, with elaborate stone canopy over it) to Julia, Countess of Ducie d1895 and look back at the church (picture below).
The tower rises over the church, and is C15 Perpendicular in style, of four stages (where three may have been better as it does appear strangely thin) with three light transomed bell openings and a C19 openwork embattled parapet and tall angle pinnacles. The north porch is disused, and the church consists of nave with four-bayed S.aisle, and chancel of two bays with a single-bayed S.chapel and large transeptal N.vestry and an organ loft above, reached by a sizeable stair turret in the angle of chancel and vestry.
The interior rises from the west door to the chancel quite notably, which is odd as the churchyard does the opposite and drops away: does this mean that the stairs give access to crypts or burial vaults under the east end of the chancel and chapel?
Much of the church has been restored or rebuilt in 1872, by R.H.Carpenter and W.Slater. The large Perp. windows I feel must in part be original in the South aisle and chapel, but the east end of the chancel with its ornate sanctuary fittings and five-light window is their work. The latter has glass by Powell, c1872.
On the far right of the picture, the S chapel with two large monuments can be glimpsed, and these form in part the most interesting part of the church (see below)
The south arcade is beautifully proportioned and is late fourteenth century work. The east respond (part of the chancel arch) is embellished by an image niche. A further bay to the east, the chancel arch and the arch between aisle and chapel are in the same style although the latter is taller than the rest .By the west respond is the oldest piece of the church, the Norman font which has a Jacobean cover. Most other fittings are C19 and of no particular interest.
Moving on to the south chapel, the brightness of the largely clear glass in the two windows made photography impossible on the day of my visit so I reproduce below an old postcard from my collection to show the most splendid tomb in the church. In the tracery of the windows however is medieval stained glass of c1472, possibly in commemoration of the Battle of Tewwkesbury (1471) as it contains a portrait of Edward IVth, together with the "Sun in Splendour" service of that king on the shield of one of the angels and the emblems of the Passion.
The two tombs are both to Thomas Throckmortons, that on the south side is a tomb chest with canopy in a transitional style between Gothic and Classical, and he d1568. The monument under the east window (shown above)has an alabaster reclining effigy lying on an ornate tomb chest with a huge back panel decorated with all manner of carved symbols and devices around the inscription and supporting a large Renaissance superstructure with crests and obelisks flanking. This Thomas died in 1607.
In true ChurchCrawler style, Tortworth is included as another example of the interest there is in the less-well known churches of this planet. Here I found peace from the bustling world, and stories of grand families from the past and the memorials they leave behind. Pure architecture Tortworth is not, the tower is too tall, the church is restored to the point of being rebuilt. Yet I find it full of interest and worth celebrating it on this page.
The point is "Do you agree?"
An interesting afternoon trip can be made by combining the trip to Tortworth with a visit to nearby Kingswood, with its delightful abbey gateway, and Wotton-under-Edge, a sleepy Cotswold town with an interesting parish church (St Mary the Virgin) and some interesting almshouse, in the courtyard of which stands a small C17 chapel. Alternatively you can head back over the M5 and visit Thornbury with its very fine church and castle, the latter now one of the top hotels and restaurants of England (with prices to match of course!)