Winterslow All Saints – History

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Winterslow All Saints
Winterslow All Saints

There has been a church on this site for over 900 years. In common with most churches, All Saints faces (roughly) east. Basically it is divided into two rooms: the smaller one, where the main altar stands, called the chancel, and the larger one, where the congregation sits, called the nave.

The oldest parts of the structure are the two front round arches on the south side. These are Norman and date from the late eleventh century. The corresponding two (slightly pointed) arches on the north side and the large arch that separates the chancel and the nave are slightly later, and were constructed early in the thirteenth century. The back wall for most of the church’s life ran across at the west end of these two bays. The tower, which was erected in the thirteenth century and was shorter than it is today, thus gave access via its porch to the back of the church.

Originally there would have been no pews in the church, but by the eighteenth century the building was crowded with them. Even with the addition of a gallery for the village musicians the church was becoming too small for a growing village. In 1850 it was completely rebuilt and extended. Although we were fortunate that this restoration was sensitively carried out, nevertheless it completely obliterated virtually all traces of the mediaeval structure.

Winterslow c. 1805

There are copies of an 1805 painting of the church and a sketch showing the restoration in 1849 on the organ screen at the head (east end) of the north aisle. The original 1849 sketch and another showing the restoration of the chancel are hung behind the choir stalls and there is one of the (old) Rectory on the vestry door by Rector’s stall. Also pictured on the screen are the artist’s sketch for the rebuild (which was subsequently altered), two photographs of the church taken in the late nineteenth century showing the changes, and a copy of a drawing of the church made in 1975. They make interesting comparisons. On the pillar by the font is a drawing of a Doom painting found above the chancel arch at the time of the restoration, but completely destroyed by the new work.

The main features of the Victorian restoration were the raising of the height of the tower and the lengthening of the nave by two bays. You will see that the colour and size of the stones in the front two arches on both sides is different from those in the rear two. The half pillar that stood against the old west wall on the north side was dismantled and reerected against the new (current) west wall. In each case both the shape of the arches and pillars was repeated, and so the join is not obvious. It is worth noting that whilst the pillars on the south side appear to be square they are actually cross shaped.

The present nave pews were added during the 1850 restoration. In those days a well-to-do family would rent a pew. These obviously had the best views. Others were free and were for the use of the poor and visitors. The word “free” can still be seen painted on the uprights of pews in the south and north aisles. The beautiful and varied kneelers are a recent project.

There is a myth that churches remain unaltered for ever. The font, which is a beautiful eleventh century barrel, was moved to its current position by the main door at the time of the restoration. The organ, installed after this restoration, originally stood at the east end of the north aisle. Later it was moved to the east end of the south aisle. It only came to rest in its present place in the early 1980’s. The pulpit was only moved to its current position at the time of the last move of the organ. Previously it had been on the opposite side, but the move of the organ obliterated many people’s view of the preacher. Before the restoration the pulpit had stood by the pillar just west of the organ. The pulpit is made of Jacobean panels, but probably constructed in the nineteenth century.

The east end of the north aisle used to form a Lady Chapel and the war memorials were erected in it. The move of the organ necessitated the move of the Lady Chapel to the south aisle, and the war memorials, hidden then by the organ, were moved too. The vestry used to be a partitioned area at the west end of the south aisle. It was moved in the mid-1980’s to utilise the space behind the organ, vacated by the Chapel, and thus opened up an area to serve coffee after the service in the south aisle.

Few of the memorials, which date from the late sixteenth century onwards, are in their original places – indeed some are on walls or in aisles that did not exist before 1850. The monuments are mainly to members of the Thistlethwayte family, who were lords of the manor and rectors here for some 200 years. Others are to former rectors, the Cooper family, who owned Coopers Farm, Thomas Egerton of Roche Court and Sir Geoffrey and Lady Codrington, in whose memory the choir stalls and altar rail were given in 1975. The carpet was a gift to mark the hundredth anniversary of his birth.

Thomas Egerton also gave the beautiful east window, which tells the story of the last hours of Christ’s life: the Last Supper (central lancet), the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (left) and the Crucifixion (right). Careful study of this lancet will reveal an interesting anatomical error – first spotted by the rector’s son during a sermon! The west window (the Feeding of the 5000, the Raising of Dorcas, and St. Peter walking on the water) was erected to the memory of Edward Luard, the rector responsible for the rebuilding (and also for the re-building of the (old) Rectory, and for building the School and St Johns) and two of his children. The finest window is the ‘Arts and Crafts’ illustration of Christ’s nativity. It is by Karl Parsons, and is a memorial to Major and Mrs Robert Poore. Major Poore purchased Coopers Farm and made the land available to Winterslow families via the Winterslow Land Court, established in 1892. The window in the vestry is of St Mary and St John the Baptist. Since 1856 St. John (the Baptist)’s College Oxford, has been patron of the living of Winterslow and has thus been responsible for finding its rectors. Its coat of arms, and those of the Thistlethwayte family, earlier patrons, are displayed on one door to the vestry; a list of the rectors since 1304 is situated near the north door.

In the south west corner of the church is a board commemorating the benefaction of Sarah Curtis. The school still receives the interest on her gift. The other parts of her charity have been amalgamated with ones with similar objectives left by Gabriel and John Thistlethwayte and are still distributed. Gabriel Thistlethwayte is believed also to have given the 1693 communion plate (which is now housed in a bank). Beneath the war memorials rests the parish safe (now empty). All churches were required to install these in 1813. The initials M.M. are those of Matthew Marsh, rector at the time.

In the porch above the main door is a plaque telling the story of the restoration of the bells. The earliest surviving bells are dated 1598, 1601 and 1623. A fourth was added in 1841. The ring was increased to the current six in 1910. They are (unusually) rung from the floor of the porch. The carved heads on either side outside the porch are those of Queen Victoria and the bishop at the time of the restoration. On the buttress just west of the bishop’s head, about waist height, is a bench mark – a point said to be level with the top of Salisbury Cathedral spire.

The churchyard has been extended three times. All the graves on the south side of the church date from the nineteenth century and before; the late Victorian and twentieth century extensions lie to the north of the church. One of the unusual features of the churchyard is the large number of surviving Victorian wooden grave markers, including one shaped like a bed-head near the chancel door. The glory of the churchyard is the view from its northern boundary. It is well worth the extra few paces walk, for it is a fine place to wonder at the beauty of creation and to give its Creator praise and thanks – the sole reason why All Saints, like any other church, exists at all.