We decided to visit some of the churches in the northern area of the Forest of Dean today and then make our way down to the Severn Bridge, crossing over to Bristol and thence to Somerset.
The first church we came to was St Mary the Virgin at Upleadon in Gloucestershire. It has a unique position, way out in the country, next to a grand house – Upleadon Court – and some grade II listed barns .
Another unique feature is the Tudor tower, built around 1500 and being half-timbered right the way up from bottom to top. The nave is Norman in origin and the north doorway is a fine example of the craftmanship of that period. The jamb shafts either side have carvings of strange beasts.
Inside the church is light and airy with a wonderful view of the wooden cross bracing supported by rough cut king posts.
There is a fine Victorian east window:
The oak panelled pulpit bearing the date 1661 was built after the restoration of the monarchy.
The church’s prize possession is the so-called Black Letter Bible dated 1611. This copy has the correct text but apparently the 1631 issue from the same printer had an unfortunate missing word, reading “Thou shalt commit adultery”. It was dubbed The Wicked Bible and the King’s printer, one Robert Barker, was reportedly ruined.
From Upleadon we headed north west to Kempley again. This time I was determined to see inside what John Betjeman apparently named “The Cathedral to the Arts and Crafts Movement” – the church of St Edward the Confessor. It looked pretty stunning in the pale autumn sunlight.
As I mentioned in my blog a couple of days ago, this church was designed in 1903 by Randall Wells, brother of H.G, for the 7th Earl Beauchamp. The red sandstone is from the Blakeney quarry in the Forest of Dean and all the timbers came from local oaks. It was built entirely with local labour in the Arts and Crafts tradition and the blacksmith made all the hinges and nails.
The large west window is known as a ‘jam tart’ window, for reasons unknown to me – perhaps something to do with ‘lattice’ pastry decoration?
Turning towards the chancel you immediately see the impressive scissor-beam roof trusses, painted with vine leaves, carrying the wooden figure of the ‘Christ Triumphant’, carved by the last remaining carver of ships’ figureheads in London, David Gibb. He is flanked by the carved figures of the Virgin Mary and St John.
Unusual for an English church, it was thought that Wells got the idea from earlier travels to France. The elegant oak candlestick holders, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, were made by Ernest Gimson and the Daneway Studio Joinery made the typical Arts and Crafts designed pews. The stunning silk and gold tester above the altar was given by the Earl of Beauchamp, together with the heavily carved columns.
If you like the Arts and Crafts Movement as much as I do, you will love this unusual church.
The third church we looked in at today turned out to be the strangest and most mystical. It is situated in the hamlet of Kilpeck in Herefordshire near the Welsh border and is the church of St Mary and St David. It was built in the Romanesque fashion in about 1140, out of tough impervious red sandstone which means it has remained virtually intact to this day – remarkable!
What makes this Norman church famous (if not infamous) is the corbel table which runs around the entire church. Three of the figures are shown above in the featured image – others show wrestlers, grotesques, animals and of course the ‘infamous’ one (the sheela-na-gig) which I will not picture here for the sake of decorum but which you can read about on this website:
Apparently, one Victorian lady objected to some rather explicit male figures and had them removed (or ‘re-worked’) but she obviously missed this one!
Here are some of the other oddities:
And I have a definite soft spot for the nearly 900 year old cartoon-like dog and rabbit!
The doorway is magnificent, with more intricate carving by the famous early Herefordshire School of Sculptors and just look at that fabulous door!
Inside the church is gentle and peaceful. As you approach the chancel, sympathetic lighting comes on.
This highly decorative font stopper was stolen many years ago but was recovered from somewhere in Ireland and now sits on a window sill:
The font itself, in contrast, is absolutely huge and is very simple in design:
At the back of the nave are wooden stairs leading up to a slightly rickety three row gallery and the view from there is wonderful:
Altogether, a truly mystical church built at a time when life was simple, if short. Good versus evil mixed with widespread superstition. How amazing that it still stands today. Services are apparently still held there every three weeks.
Today was the first day since the clocks went back and so we were very aware that we should get a move on down to Somerset. We travelled down to Monmouthshire and then onto the Severn Bridge, arriving at our destination, Castle Farm near Wedmore, at about 6pm in total darkness! Our hostess, Jo, gave us a warm welcome and escorted us to the camping field. We couldn’t see a thing but are looking forward to seeing it in daylight!
Judy Beer said:
Loved the carved figures
It’s Day 2 of self isolation and I’m absolutely loving your blog from 2012 although I can’t imagine why I missed them at the time in ‘Adventures with Bessie’.
I’m gobsmacked by the superb pics and your background information transports me there as always and am overawed by the architecture.
I look forward to more of the past and present adventures really lifting my spirits 👍. Things are so grim everywhere- our borders are closed from tonight and so many Aussies abroad trying to get home 😩
Tasmania is closed even to us mainlanders.
Keep up the good work. xo
I sometimes catch up with these old blogs myself Vicki – it’s amazing how much you forget over time. I’m so glad you are finding them interesting and they help to pass the time for you. Australia has put up with so much this year and this isolation has put the tin lid on it I imagine. Let’s hope they speed up with finding a vaccine or at least something to help minimise the effects. Scary. Keep well Vicki. xx