Read about Hillmorton on the British History web site
Published in 1951, the article has sections on the manors, church, advowson (or patronage), and charities.
A brief history of our church building
Download this Church plan as a reference to the numbers in brackets.
Early records suggest that there has been a church on this site since the 12th. Century, the first endowed by the de Astley family. Of the original church nothing above ground remains standing, but some of the original stone may have been used in the later rebuilding. The oldest existing structures are parts of the nave and chancel (1) dating from about 1240. In 1342 the patronage was handed over to the newly formed College of Astley (near Nuneaton) and it was at this time that the church was extensively altered.
The ‘Singers Gallery’ ( 2 ) is mentioned in records of 1766 when the attractive curving wooden stairway, having an intricate ‘pineapple’ carving on the lower newel post, was moved to its present position – probably to give space for the bell ringers at the base of the tower.
The nave (3) is lofty and at the centre of each of the roof crossbeams can be seen carved bosses. These date from the 16th Century when the clerestory was added. One of the central bosses is of a face – a ‘Green Man’.
Outside the clergy vestry is an old box pew (5) as it was when originally installed in 1766. Of Norway Oak, these were fitted with doors – you can see the pew number on the door – and very narrow wooden deal seats. The pews came up to shoulder level and must have been a good defence against the cold draughts blowing through the building before heating was installed.
Grade 2* listed pipe organ
The organ (4) in the gallery was made by Bishop’s of London especially for this church and was installed in 1842. It is a single-manual choral organ with a very sweet tone. Originally fitted internally, a barrel enabled 10 hymn tunes to be played in the absence of an organist. The barrel worked in the same way as a musical box and is displayed in the gallery. The electronic organ in the N. aisle was dedicated in 1991 as a memorial to John Griffin, Master Builder, who loved this church at which he worshipped.
Old Artifacts and Chattels
In a niche in the north aisle (8) is a recumbent figure of the first Incumbent (Vicar) of Hillmorton, William de Walton, d. 1348.
Of the two wood carvings (9 ), one is after an etching by Poussin of The Finding of Moses in the Bulrushes’ and the other is of The Flight into Egypt’ – source unknown.
The box pews were repositioned in the late 1770′s and the Georgian mahogany pulpit (10) can be dated to 1779. It, together with the oak Vicar’s desk and Clerk’s stall, cost 26 Guineas (£27.30). The piscina or it may possibly have been an aumbrey, in the wall (11) is from the 14th C. and may have formed part of an early chantry chapel.
Above the chancel arch you can see the Coat of Royal Arms (12) of Queen Anne (d.1714) painted on wood. It was the custom of the Church of England, started in the time of Henry VIII, for the Royal Arms to be displayed. The practice ceased during Anne’s reign.
In the restoration work of the 1960′s, the oak box pews were reduced in height and wider seats fitted for our comfort. Inside this original pew on the north wall you can see some older Jacobean panelling. How far this once extended is not known.
A glance back at the vestry-end window (6) will show how far out-of-perpendicular is the north aisle. At the 1960s’ restoration of the church, plaster was beginning to fall off the north wall; when it was removed traces of a painted Lord’s Prayer were found ( 7 ),dating from the Post-Reformation 16th. C., and also the Ten Commandments between the next window and the east end of the aisle. Because of its poor condition it was covered over.
The chancel fell down in 1640 and was replaced with the present design but it is possible that the east window (0) from the original building was incorporated. The vertical stonework of the tracery has recently been renewed. The foundations of the 1640 building were poor and there is continuous movement of the south wall, necessitating the ‘temporary’ window frames that you see today. The glazing from the single lancet window representing the Virgin and Child – given in memory of Mrs. Jenkin, wife of the then Vicar – is stored away.
The panelling around the wall of the chancel (14) was made from the box pew doors in 1921 when the old plaster was removed from the chancel walls. The processional cross and communion rails formed part of this refurbishment. The two sanctuary chairs are mid-17th. C. The extreme narrowness of the chancel suggests that it was designed as an open area; behind panels at the Vicar’s stall (15) is a sedilia in the wall. This was a group of three seats, divided by vertical columns, used by the clergy during services of worship. Wooden seating for the clergy and servers was not added until 1766.
The present Communion Table (16) was made by G. S. C. Lucas, a parishioner, from an oak felled at the site of the Aldermaston Research Laboratories and was dedicated in 1968. The previous Table, given in 1921 as a thanksgiving for 2 sons (anonymous) who survived the Great War (1914-1918), was moved to the south aisle ( 17 ); the cross and candlesticks now on it were made by A. E. Matthews and given in memory of a parishioner. Made from brass rodding, they remind us that the church is concerned with the work of all mankind.
The lectern (18), whilst not of noteworthy design, is somewhat unusual in that it is double-sided. The fittings for two candleholders can be seen at either side.
Notice the remains of wall paintings to the left (19) of the first window in the south aisle. These have not been dated since they were first uncovered during the 1960s restoration. Beneath you will see the remains of a Piscina – a basin with drain, once used by the priest when washing his hands and the vessels used during Mass. The front Portion of the basin was destroyed when the box pews were installed.
The 1920s stained glass windows (20) are in 14th C. style stonework and represent:
(a) St. Peter; Jesus, the Good Shepherd; St. John
(b) St. John the Baptist; King David; the story of the Good Samaritan
Effigy of Knight and other Characters
The effigy of a recumbent knight (21) is thought to be Sir Thomas de Astley d.1265. It was severely cut about when the box pews were installed in the 1770s, and previous to that it had been badly defaced, possibly in the Civil War, when parliamentary troops may have been billeted in the church before the Battle of Naseby in 1642. They did not care for ‘graven images’ and sometimes used them as sharpening stones for their swords as well as breaking off pieces.
The adjacent figure (22) in the south aisle is probably a memorial to Edith, Sir Thomas’ wife. Traces of colour can still be seen in some of the dress folds, showing that this once was elaborately painted, as may also have been that of her husband. The Edith effigy forms the lid for a stone coffin, the base of which is let into the floor.
The brass (23) of a lady – either Catherine or Margaret Astley – dates from about 1410 and is similar to another at Mereworth, near Atherstone.
At the heads of the pillars (24) dividing the south aisle from the central nave notice the carved faces. These may well have been caricatures of the benefactors who provided the money for the extension. The grotesque nature of some, with lips pursed, was probably the result of having no teeth.
Dating from the 12th Century, the font (25) was once discarded in 1777 and replaced with a marble basin on an iron stand. We are fortunate that the original font was retrieved from the churchyard rubbish heap in 1849 and replaced in its present position. The font cover is from c. 1880.
There are several ‘charity boards’ in the church. Adjacent to the main entrance is the Astley charity board (26). Sir Edward provided for two shillings each week to purchase twelve two penny loaves. These were placed on the rack beneath and were distributed after Divine Service to such poor of the parish that had attended (or were prevented ‘by sickness from attending) as the Vicar and Churchwardens should think fit. This charity is now incorporated in the Hillmorton civil charities and is no longer administered by the church.
On your way out through the porch, see the bay of lead (27) framed on the wall. This served as a reminder of the date 1719 when the church was re-roofed and as a check that the lead used was of good quality. And, maybe, as an advert for the plumber! There is another from 1810 in the vestry.
On the lead of the porch roof (unfortunately stolen in 2010) were the ‘marks’ of two of the plumbers who installed the lead when the porch was roofed. The outline of a square-toed boot is incised into the lead, together with their initials.
Once outside, you will notice that the church is built on higher ground rising out of what was, at one time, marshland – the ‘moor’ of ‘Hill-moor-town’. The footpath from the main entrance porch leading under the railway foot tunnel, led directly to the site of the former Hillmorton Manor House, located where Constable Road and Brindley Road now meet. In bygone days, the Lord of the Manor was ‘responsible, as ‘Lay Rector’, for the upkeep of the Chancel.
The tower (28) was built about 1565 and a set of five bells, by Thomas Russell of Bedford, were hung in 1731. The old wooden bell frame was replaced in 1972 by a new steel frame made by apprentices from GEC. Another bell, by Taylors of Loughborough, was added at that time to make a ring of six.
GEC apprentices also made the weathervane atop the tower, which faithfully follows the design of the original mid-1700s wrought ironwork.
On an outside buttress on the south wall, east of the porch, you can just make out the markings (29) of an old vertical sundial.
The churchyard is no longer used for burials and the gravestones that once were all across it have been moved to the outside edge so that the grass can more easily be mowed. The unmown area to the north of the church is now a managed Nature Conservation Area.