Friday, 10 July 2009 16:29

Baddesley Ensor, History of St Nicholas Parish Church

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St Nicholas Parish Church, Baddesley Ensor

By Celia Parton

Baddesley Church was completed in 1846. To celebrate the 150th anniversary a special exhibition was put on in the church. Many photographs and other memorabilia were loaned by local residents. It was an excellent exhibition and provided a history of the life and times of the church and of the village. It was especially nostalgic for me as I had been born and brought up in Baddesley. Well, strictly speaking, that is not true. I was actually born in Little Brum, which is in Grendon Common. But Grendon Common is like a little enclave within Baddesley, as it is the only part of Grendon which is on the right hand side of Boot Hill. Otherwise, as you go up Boot Hill from the A5, it's Grendon on the left and Baddesley on the right. Most people thought of it as part of Baddesley. It was certainly much closer to Baddesley Church than it was to Grendon. However, just to confuse you even more, Baddesley School, which I attended, is in Grendon.

There were many photographs on display depicting past events, such as church bazaars, photographs of past vicars, churchwardens, choirs and members of the Mother's Union. One of the choir photographs was taken in the 1930s and my grandfather, Joseph Clay was on the end of the second row. I inherited a copy of the same photograph from my mother but I did not know the names of the rest of the choir. I now found out as all the names were listed underneath the photograph. There were also photos of the church taken at different times in its history and of other places in the village. There were wedding photos of couples who had married in Baddesley church. One of the photographs was of a Sunday school class of the 1950s, taken outside the church. One of the little girls on the front row, aged about 5 or 6 was me.

There was also a display about the history of coal mining in Baddesley. I was particularly interested to see the brass plaque near the altar dedicated to Mr William Dugdale and the men of Baddesley who lost their lives in the pit disaster of 1882. One of these men was my great uncle, Joseph Day. There was other material on view relating to this disaster, including two of the bibles presented to the rescuers.

This was the second church dedicated to St Nicholas in Baddesley Ensor. The first one dated from at least the 12th century. It was typically Norman in design. We know what it looked like thanks to a drawing from the Aylesford collection, which can be found in the Victorian History of England. It was a two-cell building with a tower accommodating a single bell. Its best feature was a chevron-moulded doorway. It was situated on what was called the Low Common. To find its position today you would need to go along to the end of Hill Top and beyond the hedge, in the next field, overlooking Dordon is where it was situated. The old churchyard is still there but I understand it is now overgrown. The position of the church was part of its downfall. By early Victorian times the village had grown away from the church due to mining activities. This also happened in the neighbouring parish of Baxterley but they did not have a new church and today Baxterley church is about a mile and a half outside the village. So Baddesley church had become rather isolated. Also it was small, not big enough to cater for the growing populaion. As it was so old it was also falling into disrepair and Albert Fretwell suggests in his book " Low Seams and High Vistas" that the curate at the time even increased the dilapidation in order to further the cause of a new church. Then of course there was competition from the non-conformists. Both the Methodists and the Congregationalists had chapels on Keys Hill, which is right in the heart of Baddesley Village. The curate and the churchwardens got their way and the bishop granted a faculty for a new church in 1845. Mr William Dugdale, as Lord of the Manor, gave a piece of land at the other end of Hill Top close to the village. He had just completed the building of a new hall at Merevale and the architect, Mr Henry Clutton, responsible for the completion of that building, was asked to design the new church. Funds were raised, mainly from the local community and work began. The Bishop of Worcester (this was before the formation of the diocese of Birmingham) dedicated the new church in 1846.

The old church was not left to fall into ruins. A considerable amount of re-cycling was carried out. The Norman archway was bought by Abraham Bracebridge of Atherstone Hall. Atherstone church was being extended at this time and the archway was placed around the rear entrance, which was used as a private entrance by the Bracebridge family, Atherstone Hall being situated immediately behind Atherstone church. It can still be seen there today. A new church was being built at Attleborough and they purchased the font. This was in use for a few years before a new one was purchased and the Baddesley one confined to the churchyard. Most of the bricks and masonry was transported to the village and used to build Church House. This is situated on the opposite side of the common to the Maypole Inn. It is now a private house but was for many years a shop and off-licence. One of the window arches was set over an entry in a row of cottages adjoining Church House but when they were demolished the archway was rescued nd is now at the foot of the clock tower of the new church. Finally, the pulpit was bought by the Methodists and placed in their Chapel at the top of Keys Hill. This pulpit is five-sided with a large sounding board and made of black oak. It is known as the Latimer Pulpit after Bishop Latimer who was burned at the stake in 1555. It is believed that he tried to keep out of sight after Queen Mary came to the throne by visiting relatives, the Glover family of Baxterley Hall. As this is less than a mile away from the old Baddesley Church it is quite likely that he could have preached from this pulpit. By 1996, the numbers worshipping at the Methodist Chapel had declined and it was decided to combine the two chapels, thus forming the United Reform Church and services were to be held at the nearby Congregational Chapel. The Methodist Chapel was put up for sale and the Latimer pulpit was returned to Baddesley church in time for the 150th Anniversary celebrations.

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