Making an accidental visit to St Mary’s Tyberton (Herefordshire)

Our second stop was at St Mary, Tyberton – a church that wasn’t on our itinerary (it’s not correctly positoned on the otherwise very good map on the excellent deanery website at https://www.abbeydoredeanery.org/how-to-find-us/). The church is actually situated on the B4352 on the Tyberton Court estate. If Blakemere reveals its historic past, Tyberton does so much more cautiously. A 12th-century south doorway shows that it shares Blakemere’s antiquity, but just about everything else dates from a comprehensive rebuild in 1720 by the Brydges family of the Court, restored in 1880 by the Lee Warners who had by then taken the estate on.

So it is a very unusual sort of rural church for these parts, but the external massing and proportions sit very well in the churchyard, and the interior speaks of the fashionability to which the patrons will have aspired as well as having a little of the feel of the family mausoleum which they also required.

The churchyard cross is medieval and reminiscent of that at Blakemere, but I think the head may have come from elsewhere: the Lee Warners owned Walsingham Abbey and supplied parsons there too. But I am speculating… The resident priest (see photo) is not one of them but does have a touch of lace on his cotta.

Looking beneath the surface at St Leonard Blakemere (Herefordshire)

We were out and about the other day visiting more of the churches in the Abbeydore Deanery, west of Hereford. Our first stop was at St Leonard, Blakemere where the thundery clouds parted for long enough to bless us with bue sky for our picnic lunch.

As it stands the church mostly shows the result of a thorough-going rebuild after a disastrous fire c.1877, but as so often its proportions betray it and it was clearly re-erected on much older foundations going back to the twlefth century. And on a closer look the history peeps through. A megalith now acting as a doorpost suggests that this was a ritual site long before the Christian Church or the Normans arrived. Norman though are the chancel arch and its labels (re-cut do you think?), the plain but rather fine font with its cable moulding at the bottom of the bowl,, the round-arched priest’s door and a number of simple small lancet windows.

The tomb recess in the north wall and the churchyard “preaching” cross are fourteenth-century though, and note the niche in the cross’s socket-stone, which could have held a statue or been used for a reliquary or the pyx or holy water if mass was celebrated in front of it. It perhaps suggests something of the heightened religious fervour during the plague years. A socially-distanced communion service? Or visit from a mendicant preacher? Larger windows were also added in the later middler ages.

Later periods have left their mark too. Memorials of course, but also seventeenth-century woodwork in the communion table and rails and the pulpit. Another age of heightened religious sensibility.

And all of this in a picture-postcard setting with half-timbered vernacular houses. I think the cottage in the photo gallery may be the old vicarage. I wonder what it would be like to live in it if it was so used today?

A Puzzle at Rowlestone St Peter

Our anniversary church crawl ended at Rowlestone, with its fine tympanum and intriguing chancel arch capitals in the Herefordshire School early Norman style. The Christ in Majesty on the tympanum is beautifully preserved and easy to “read”, but how the carver loved his pigeons (or are they cockerels for St Peter?) – and what on earth is going on on those capitals? The assumption must be that they show Peter, the Patron Saint of the church, and an angel, but whay are the right-hand figures inverted? It’s not just a misplaced stone because the figures and the bird comprise a single stone. One theory is that is was just a mistake: perhaps the carver did the left-hand stone first and then started on the right-hand one, beginning with the saint and angel but inadvertently repeating the orientation of the first stone, and was then reluctant to waste his work. Or perhaps, according to another theory, it deliberately echoes Peter’s upside-down crucifixion (and beyond that his denial as well as his faith). I would feel more comfortable with the second theory if an analogue could be offered though. Either way, they are strongly and impressively carved, and they made a fine end to ur tour, as did a posh picnic on a bench in the sun in the churchyard before we returned home.

St Margaret’s, St Margaret’s

From Turnastone we carried on up the west slopes of the Golden Valley towards the Black Mountains, braving the network of single-track roads (we had to a long reverse to let the postie through). But it was well worth it to at last reach St Margaret’s Church in the dispersed parish also called St Margaret’s. It’s a typical little Norman two-cell building, beautifully kept – and boasting the finest rood loft in the county, in the Welsh style, dating from about 1500. (These lofts and screens were a late rather than early medieval thing). Now in bare wood, we can admire its exquisite carving, but I presume that back in the day it would have been highly-coloured in the usual way.

Pause to admire and ponder too the well-repainted eighteenth-century texts (“Go and sin more” confronts you over the door as you leave…) and the fine Arts and Crafts east window by A J Davies of the Bromsgrove Guild.

Not to be missed!

Turnastone, St Mary Magdalene – old and new working together for the future

Turnastone took its name from the Norman Ralph of Tournai who settled there and the present building shows 12th- and 12th-century work creating a simple open space of some elegance. The fine monument to Thomas AparrI (ApHarry/Parry) d.1522 and his wife speaks of continuity of use and worship despite a parish population of perhaps a couple of dozen, and the fine barrel roof of c,1500, a major restoration in the 1880s, and another recently in 2016-18 show how resilient manby “marginal” churches can be. Striking in that regard is the national pilot project to build a fully-reversible “Holiday Accommodation Pod” in the church (see the picture of the model and http://www.wyedoreparishes.org.uk/Turnastone_files/AccomUnit.htm) which is currently being adjudicated. To my mind it offers a win-win, providing good visitor accommodation, supporting local businesses, and generating funds to maintain the building, without prejudicing its historic fabric. When I was chair of the Cambridgeshire Historic Churches Conservation Trust my repeated message was that it is living use that best guarantees historic conservation.

St Bartholomew, Vowchurch: a symphony in wood

St Bartholomew’s is of course a mediaeval church, with its surviving stonework being mostly from the fourteenth century. But it is the woodwork that distinguishes it. The roof was rebuilt in 1613, supported on internal wall-posts, which gives it a curious aisled-but-not-aisled feel – perhaps the work of John Abell, although nearly all the woodwork of any standard in these parts seems to be attributed to him. From the seventeenth century also date the screen, with its “caryatids” – perhaps Eve and Adam (and Adam at least looks very like a portrait) and the support-work at the west end. To those we can add a good selection of pews inscribed by ?churchwardens, and a remarkable panel telling us that, “Heare Below Ly The body Of Thomas hill ande Marg(ar)et his Wife Whose Children Made This Skryne.”

So my puzzle from this church is, how would you best translate “skryne”? It’s a variant spelling of “shrine”, but that word could mean “chest” or “screen” as well. Over to you.

The lovely old couple in the photo are the brother of Lewis Caroll and his wife: he was vicar here once, and a reminder once again just how interesting the clergy were in these somewhat remote places – and I hasten to add how interesting they still are.

Faith in action at St Faith’s, Dorstone

Dorstone stands at the head of the Golden Valley, where the river Dore rises. D’Or and Dore make a wonderful wordplay, and it is indeed a wonderful and slightly hidden valley, once dominated of course by Dore Abbey at Abbeydore. Pilgrim shells welcomed us, fixed to the gate and notice boards, but this was the only church on our trail that was locked. Only, though, becauce that week they were celebrating Two Funerals and a Wedding and had valuable equipment on site – and two parishioners quickly welcomed us and returned in short order with a key. (Others were also visiting as the photos show.) The church is thirteenth century at its heart but was given a good Arts-and-Crafts makeover in the late nineteenth century, although the overambitious tower had to be cut down to size more recently. This was indeed a place of golden and warm welcome, and we were happy to part with a little of our own gold using their uptodate payment terminal. It was good to hear too of plans to reinstate the west gallery and install the usual facilities in the ample base of the tower (where the bells were reinstated recently too). All good!

A holy place for the Herefordshire Hardwicke

The parish of Hardwicke was carved out of that of Clifford, reputedly then the fourth largest in the country (by area…) in 1853. The promoters were the Penoyre family who lived locally at The Moor, and they commissioned a Monmouth architect, Thomas Tudor, who made a good fist of it. The first vicar was the resoundingly named Revd. W T Napleton Stallard Penoyre, who was succeeded by William Webb, a well-known astronomer and friend of Kilvert.

Puzzle of the day: Why the ship in the window?

UPDATE: the ever-resourceful Rob Walker suggests that there was a slaving conection with Jamaica: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146638593.

High above Hay: finding life at St Mary, Cusop

Yesterday was our 47th wedding anniversary, and we treated ourselves to a post-lockdown Church Crawl round many of the Abberydore Deanery churches that we haven’t yet visited. First up was the little chapel-sized church at Cusop, above Hay-on-Wye, which was begun by the Normans but well restored in the 19th century. Like all the churches in the deaney that we visited it was open, and clearly showing signs of life and adventure: a good sign in this very rural part of Hereford Diocese. CPAS are the patrons and the evangelical heritage shows here, not least in the memorial to William Seward, friend of the Wesleys, who sadly died soon after a hostile reception in Hay. His memory lives on here though.

On the way out we wondered at a beautifully conceived and executed tombstone that was inscribed “I am the Gate” and hada cut out through which the lychgate could be peeped.