A Guide to St Mary’s Church

The Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Weaverham

A guided tour: Background Notes for guides

There was originally a Saxon Church on this site. It was probably built around 900A.D. or even earlier. The Domesday Book (1086) mentions only a few parishes with a priest and Weaverham was one of them. The early Saxon Church still existed in 1277 when King Edward I laid the foundation stone of Vale Royal Abbey. (Edward and his wife Eleanor stayed at the Manor of Wallerscote within the manor of Weaverham for this special occasion).

Edward gifted the manor of Weaverham, including the church, to Vale Royal Abbey, (although the Abbot agreed to pay an annual rent of 6 marks to the Abbey of St Werburgh which had a previous claim on the manor). This was probably the reason that a new church was built here some time between 1281 and 1360 (i.e. late 13th / early 14th century) constructed of local sandstone blocks. It was almost a cross shape (see XIII century plan and note dotted outline of original Saxon Church). We can imagine this church if we ignore the vestry and the sidechapel chancels as well as the north and south aisles. With the exception of the South porch, the fabric of the church is largely the work of that period (13th/14th century).

The church was re-modelled in the 15th century (see XV century plan) and the West tower (which dates from then is probably the oldest visible part of the present building. It originally had a steeple, making it 7ft. (2.13m) higher, but this was taken down in 1823.

The influence of the Reformation took a long time to have an effect in Cheshire (remote from London), but it took longer to have an effect in Weaverham than in other parts of the County. During the Dissolution, Vale Royal Abbey Church was demolished in1539, and some of the fabric was used when St. Mary’s was extensively altered and extended some time during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I (i.e. some time between 1560 & 1625). The church we see today is mainly from this period (16th Century).

In 1651/1652 (during the Civil War) the Cavaliers defaced the Schoolhouse. They broke windows and destroyed the seats. The School was transferred to the Church where more damage ensued – windows were broken and pews and other seats pulled out or damaged. The Patron and the Churchwardens petitioned in Quarter Sessions at Knutsford and the Royalists had to ‘make a lay’ for repairing both buildings. It should be noted that although the Parliamentarians plundered Weaverham, and tied old men to a cart, dragging them through the mire and treated them cruelly in the Dungeon, we have no record of them damaging the church.

The mark on the outside east wall is attributed to a stray shot from the 1659 Battle of Winnington Bridge (the last battle of the Civil War).

A new boiler was installed in 1930 and during the necessary excavations about 50 or 60 skeletons were found in a mass grave. Each one had a hole through the centre of its forehead which was the same size that would be made by a bullet from a muzzle-loading gun used during the Civil War. The holes were too big to have come from a later period. It seems reasonable to assume that they were the victims of a mass execution. Following the discovery, the vicar, Canon P.A. Millar gave the skeletons a Christian burial. Unfortunately, we do not know the location of the grave.

Restoration was carried out in 1855 by Antony Salvin and again in 1877 by John Douglas.

The 15th century Tower Arch is the oldest in the church, although the pier caps and string courses were added as part of the 1877 restoration of the church by John Douglas. (Obviously the glass is of an even later date!).

Note marks on the West wall and on the 2 pillars behind the pews at the back of the church. These indicate the position of supports for a square gallery (see plan of alterations). This is where a band of minstrels playing wind and stringed instruments would have led the singing. The instruments were replaced by a barrel organ in 1833 with the organist acting as leader and choir master, the choir also singing in the gallery.

The windows in the roof (called clerestories) were installed to let the light in for the minstrels. Canon Egerton’s plan of the church 1281-1360 shows a gallery. It would have been necessary to remove this when the church was re-modelled in the 15th century, but we do not know whether it was replaced immediately. The gallery is also shown on his plan for 1558-1800 so it seems reasonable to assume that it was. However, according to Charles Bebbington a new gallery was installed in 1765. Whether or not this was a replacement for an earlier one that had been removed, possibly for structural reasons, we do not know. We can only assume that it was, based on Canon Egerton’s plans.

The gallery was removed as part of the 1877 restoration carried out by John Douglas. This was probably because an organ had been installed a few years earlier. In 1872 Mr Heath of Hefferston Grange presented a 2-manual organ.

The present organ was installed in 1951 as a War Memorial. The money was mostly raised by the congregation.

Bench in front of organ: This settle was made from the original Jacobean chancel screen. Note the carving of tracery with two heads depicting a man & a woman in the time of Henry VIII. We can only imagine the beauty of that screen.

The Stone Font

The lower part, round shaft and moulded base are probably Norman, the bowl is 17th century and the cover Jacobean.

When the gallery was removed in 1877, this font was replaced by a marble one which used to stand by the south west corner of the south door. You can still see the pulleys in the ceiling which were used to raise and lower the heavy cover. The old font was actually used by Mr Heath of Hefferston Grange as a garden ornament. The marble font was removed in 1927 and this font was restored to its original position where it still stands today. At the same time a cross ornamentation was added. Charles Bebbington rescued the Jacobean cover from the old Vicarage stable loft (the stables occupied the site of the present vicarage).

Note the black mark on the pillar near the organ. It is said that, early in the 20th century, a lightening bolt hit the church during a Sunday service leaving this mark. Geoff Burgess, a former church warden, who was an old man in the middle of the century, claimed he was present in church when it happened.

The North Aisle

The First World War Memorial now blocks the position of the former North Door. However, its position can be clearly seen from the outside and the mason’s initials, ‘EJ’ can clearly be seen in the frame. In a more superstitious age, the door was opened to let evil spirits out of the church during a baptism. It may also have provided a separate entrance for the musicians to enter the gallery. Although the North Aisle was not present in the 13th century church, it did have a north door (see 13th century plan). We are not sure why it was blocked up, but the 1877 church restoration took place shortly after the organ was installed.

The 16th century ceiling is thought to have come from Vale Royal Abbey when it was demolished during the Reformation. Originally it was enriched with bosses and coloured. Unfortunately, a similar ceiling in the south aisle had to be removed because of damage by the death watch beetle which made it unsafe.

Memorial Plaque to Charles Edward Bebbington

Parish Clerk and Sexton 1904-1943 (previously Deputy Clerk from 1885). He succeeded his father and was the last in a long line of holders of the freehold office of Parish Clerk. He was a well respected antiquarian and worked tirelessly researching the history of this church and the village, writing many papers published in the ‘Transactions of the Lancashire & Cheshire Antiquarian Society.’ It is said that ‘he was never happier than when using his skill as a craftsman on some work of restoration’. It was Charles Bebbington who rescued the Jacobean font cover from the scrap heap.

The Charles Spencer Stanhope Window

At the foot of the window we can see that this is a memorial to a former vicar ‘Charles Spencer Stanhope M.A. for 39 years Vicar of the Parish born October 14th 1795 died October 29th 1874. The parishioners and others in loving memory of his pious labour placed this window’

He was obviously a great character who was vicar from 1835-1874. He was very absent minded and eccentric and a multitude of tales have been told about him. For example:

When he was vicar the choir sang in the gallery and the tunes for the hymns were confined to those the barrel organ could play. He would sometimes change the appointed hymn and announce one not on the barrel organ. The organist, Mr Bayley Bebbington (father of Charles Bebbington) would have to shout from the gallery telling the congregation which hymn the organ could and would play and which the choir would sing. If the vicar thought the singing was too slow, he would shout ‘’A bit quicker Bayley, a bit quicker’’ whilst swinging his arm in imitation of the turning of a barrel organ.

He wrote his sermons on loose sheets of paper which he frequently got out of order, which, we are told, ‘’enlivened his discourses on many occasions.’’ When he returned from his honeymoon he happily drove away from the station leaving his wife on the platform. He was nearly home before he realised what he had done. (There are lots of other stories about him.)

Amongst the other memorial plaques of note is a brass one from 1762.

The Parish Chest of 1725

This is where the parish records were stored. (Now, of course, all parish records nationwide are stored by the County Council and ours are stored in the Winsford salt mines which are very dry.) It had three locks. The vicar and the two church wardens each had a key so that the chest could only be opened if all three were present. Unfortunately the locks were forced open in 2006/7 and are now broken. The chest is now used to store toys for the children using the crèche during the Sunday morning service.

The Pews

Other than pews for the gentry, pews for the parishioners were first put in during 1634. These Jacobean pews were closed up. They had a turned knob at each corner for a candle. Candles were the only means of lighting the church until the 19th century when oil was introduced. The Jacobean pews were replaced as part of the 1877 restoration of the church but the 1634 pews were used to make the new ones. The ends of the pews are Jacobean and each one is different. However the knobs were replaced in 1877, having no hole for a candle.

The old collecting boxes with long handles: on chest behind pulpit.

The Lady Chapel

This was formerly a private chapel belonging to the owners of Hefferstone Grange. It was originally called the Grange Chapel and later the Heath Chapel. In 1919 the Heath family relinquished their ownership of the chapel, and in 1925 it was dedicated by the Bishop of Chester as the Chapel of the Annunciation. Note brass plaque on wall. The pews were removed in 2006 and replaced by chairs. A carpet was also laid on the new floor, as it is now used as a crèche during the Sunday morning service.

Again, note the 16th century ceiling, the oldest in the church, and said to have come from Vale Royal Abbey.

The North Window

Second square up on LHS of window is a little mark ( a black tower imposed on the head of a wheatsheaf ) which signifies that this is a window by C.E.Kempe & Co. Ltd . (Charles Eamer Kempe 1837-1907 was an eminent stained glass artist and church decorator. He and his firm were responsible for beautiful windows in many of our cathedrals as well as the chancel window in Sandringham Church in memory of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. This logo indicates that this window was made after his death when his chief designer and friend John William Lisle carried on the tradition of the Kempe style.) The window was paid for by public subscription in memory of Dr. Joseph William Smith (1844-1916).

The Communion Table

The Communion Table is Jacobean with turned legs and came from a Hampshire Church.

The piece of wood on the windowsill is believed to be part of the 13th century church and was found in a nearby cottage. The carving on the box, which is sometimes on the windowsill beneath the Kempe window and sometimes at the back of church, is also believed to be part of the 13th century church.

The North-East Corner

This was not part of the 15th century church, but was added in the 16th or early 17th century in order to make the church ‘square’. (During the 1558-1625 alterations according to Ormerod/1636 according to Bebbington.) Looking towards the east wall (adjacent to chancel), a line is clearly visible from bottom to top, the stones on each side being of contrasting colours. This is where a buttress (formerly outside the church to give the building extra strength) used to stand. Externally there is a line by the drainpipe following the line inside the church.

Vestry was behind the main altar in the 13th century church, but it is clearly shown in its present position on the 15th century plan of the church.

The Pair of Sanctuary Chairs of William and Mary period (i.e. late 17th century): One in the Lady Chapel and the other in the Chancel. Exquisitely carved. When there is a wedding these are placed near the lectern in the central aisle and, after they are married, the bride and groom sit on them during the service.

The Chancel

Note the second of the William and Mary Chairs.

The linenfold panelling behind the altar was brought from Aston Hall in 1854, but originally came from Norton Priory.

The Holy Table is Chippendale (Bebbington gives date: 1760) with cabriole legs and claw feet.

The Communion Rails

These altar rails were here prior to 1877 but were removed as part of the restoration of the church. They were then used as a balustrade to the back staircase at Hefferston Grange. They were restored to the church in 1909 and, when they were being re-fixed, Bebbington found an inscription saying the rails had been ‘’made out of the olde ones and put up here in the year of our Lord 1709’’ There is documentary evidence that the ‘’olde ones’’ were REPAIRED in 1634., so they have had an interesting history.

i.e. Altar rails in 16th century church; repaired 1634; removed and new ones made from them in 1709; removed 1877 and used as balustrade to a staircase; restored to church 1909.

Note the Victorian encaustic floor tiles.

The East Doorway

This door has been blocked up and evidence of its former position hidden by the linenfold panelling. Its position can clearly be seen on the outside of the building. This doorway led to the vestry in the 13th century church. According to Canon Egerton a new vestry was built when the church was extended in the 15th century (note door leading to vestry in Lady Chapel) and the old one removed (see XV century plan of church). The door may have remained here for some time, because, according to evidence found by Charles Bebbington, it was not blocked up until 1636.

When the panelling was removed for repairs in 1915 Charles Bebbington discovered shelves and an aumbry (an aumbry is a place used to house the communion bread and wine). Inside the aumbry he found some old papers and documents that had been lost for nearly a century. He also discovered a hornbook (used in the past to teach children the alphabet, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed etc).

The East Window

This is the oldest of the windows in the church (1854), although all are Victorian. The five main lights depict Christ ascending with the gospel writers either side.

Brass Memorial to William Barker

A Free Grammar School was founded in Forest Street in 1638 for children living in the Township of Weaverham & the Lordships of Gorstage & Sandiway. (English & Latin were free, but a small charge was made for writing and accounts.) William Barker of Sandiway was the main benefactor. In 1678 he not only endowed the school with £100 in money (an enormous sum in the 17th century), but gave it lands in Great Budworth and Weaverham.

The hanging candelabrum

This brass candelabrum dates back to the 18th century and according to the Rev. A.V. Atkinson, when he wrote about it in 1942, there were only 21 of its kind in Cheshire.

The Rood Screen and Rood Loft

(a gallery above a rood screen): There was a rood screen and loft in the 13th, 15th and 16th century church (see Canon Egerton’s plans of the church 1281-1360 & 1558-1800). As we know, a rood screen/loft used to be placed in a church to separate the holy part of the church from the congregation in the nave. It was also believed that it would prevent the devil from reaching the holy part of the church. Evidence of the rood screen/loft can be seen by looking at the arch at the east end of the church. There are marks on the stone near the top of the arch, showing where the rood loft may have been attached. The rood screen was removed in 1774 and replaced by a three-decker pulpit and prayer desk. This was removed in 1854. Marks near the base of the pillar indicate where it stood. In 1877 the present carved oak pulpit was installed. At the same time, the minstrel’s gallery was removed and the choir stalls were installed. (i.e. The choir have been brought from the back of the church to the front, with the organ at the rear of the church.)

The screens around the two side chapels

These were made from the Jacobean rood screen and retain the doors, so we can get some idea of what the rood screen may have looked like.

The oak (eagle) lectern was presented to the church in 1877.

The Wilbraham Chapel

This chapel was originally owned by the Dones of Crowton and was known as the ‘Crowton Chapel’. The Dones left Crowton in the 17th century and were followed by the Hattons. We can see the family memorials on the east wall. The estate was then bought by a member of the Wilbraham family, who built Delamere House (a large house surrounded by a wooded park and now a housing estate). The chapel then became known as the ‘Wilbraham Chapel’. The family were still occasionally using the Georgian box family pews in the middle of the 20th century. The copper bowl, used for flowers, belongs to the family.

The South East Door

The box pews were installed in 1700 and a window put in, making the chapel a lot lighter. This MAY have been when the south east door, shown on the 13th century plan of the church, was blocked up. However, it is not shown on the 15th century plan of the church, nor on the one for 1558-1800, so it could have been removed when the church was extended in the 15th or 16th century. However, it would have provided a private entrance to the family chapel, so it seems likely that it was here until the box pews were added in 1700. The original position of the door can be clearly seen on the outside of the church, under the window.

The Wilbraham Hatchment

(big coat of arms on wall): When George Wilbraham died in 1885, this was carried, by hand, from Delamere House to the church.

The South Aisle

Leaving the Wilbraham Chapel look once more at the wooden screen. The top part, the top shelf, and the panelling at the bottom were all part of the original rood screen/loft (as are the other screens).

Music Group Corner

A pew was removed in 2009 in order to accommodate the music group (formed 2002/3), so, instead of a Minstrel’s Gallery we now have a minstrel’s corner! The choir, accompanied by the organ, sing every Sunday at evensong and at special services, whilst the Music Group lead the singing every Sunday morning.

First World War Memorial

Either side of main panel – lists the fallen. During the Sunday service the vicar at the time, Rev Francis Long, would read out the names of those recently killed. As we can see, from the name on the centre panel, one Sunday morning, he had to read out the name of his only son, Lt. Francis Stuart Long, who died in the Battle of the Somme, 1916 age 20.

The Douglas Window

Given to the Church in 1877 by John Douglas in memory of his parents and sisters.

The Coward Window

Erected by Peter Barncroft Coward, a Rotherham Solicitor, in memory of family members. Depicts King David, King Solomon, King Edward I who founded Vale Royal Abbey, and John Chamneys the first abbot of Vale Royal. Under the latter, it states that the king granted John Chamneys ‘the Advowson and the Castle of Weaverham’. We do not know what this means. ‘Castle’ could be another word for ‘Manor’ or ‘area’ as we do not know of a castle in Weaverham. However, there is a ‘Castle Field’ near the river between here and Acton Bridge and there are a few large stones there.

The end pew before south door

Notice the Churchwardens’ staves with brass heads of a mitre and crown. The panels at the back of the pew are from an earlier pulpit.

The South Porch and Doorway were widened in 1724. It is said this was to accommodate ladies wearing wide skirts which were fashionable at the time. A new internal porch was added in 1877 and this was extended to provide a cloakroom and toilet area in 2001 when the kitchen area was installed.

The vicars are listed on the wall (back of church between door & window South side). There was a priest here in 1086 when the Domesday Book was written and probably long before that. Until 1277, the living was a rectory in the gift of the Crown. The list of vicars extends in an unbroken line from 1299.

Some interesting vicars

* Rev. Edward Shalcrosse Vicar of Weaverham 1575/6-1607 . The people of Cheshire as a whole objected to the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity but out of a troublesome county Weaverham was the worst parish. Although he was the choice of the Queen (not the Bishop of Chester) Rev Shalcrosse was probably partially responsible. He was severely criticised in the Visitations of 1575, 1590 &1592. He didn’t wear his surplice or cross, didn’t conduct the service in the order set down, and was frequently absent from services. He only gave one sermon in 3 years. He was an extortioner and took bribes for false penances. ‘’He goethe much to the alehouse and is a common drunkarde’’. One night on the way home from the alehouse he fell in a ditch and was unable to stand up without help. etc etc etc.

* Rev Thomas Hunter MA (Oxford) Vicar of Weaverham 1755-1777 Very highly esteemed. Author of several notable publications ‘active, social and just’.

The Carved Stone Slab

Unearthed in churchyard in 1938, when it was twice its present size. It was stolen from church when Michael Ridley was vicar and when the top half was returned a few years later it had been painted purple. (The vicar had received a phone call telling him that it had been left outside the door. It is believed that it had been used for black magic by a coven in Delamere Forest). There is some debate about its origins. It is Celtic. Some people believe it is a depiction of Christ on the cross (in which case it is very rare). Others think that it is a depiction of the horned god Cernunos. There was an early British camp of the Cornovii tribe in the general area of the vicarage (the highest point of the village) and they worshipped Cernunos.

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