Places (10)

 Towns, Villages, Buildings etc.
Saturday, 23 February 2013 00:00

Austrey, A History

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Austrey, A History

By Celia Parton

Austrey is a small village in the very north of the county, 7 miles from Tamworth in Staffordshire and 8 miles from Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire. The nearest town in Warwickshire is Atherstone, 6 miles away. Originally known as Alcestre, Austrey is a pretty, mainly rural, village surrounded by other villages such as Newton Regis and No Man's Heath.

Austrey still has many ancient buildings. The church of St Nicholas has a tower which dates from the 13 century and is ornately decorated with carved heads and surmounted by a graceful spire.  The remainder of the church was rebuilt and enlarged c1330 and is a good example of the architecture of the period.  In 1844 the chancel was refaced externally and with new stonework and the windows restored.  The south porch is of that date but there was an earlier porch.  There are many slate gravestones which can be seen around the car park dating from 1747. 

A Baptist chapel was built in 1808 and in 1672 the Presbyterians were licensed to meet in the house of John Kendall who was probably an ancestor of George Edward Kendall of Austrey, one of whose daughters married (in 1845) John Sobieski Stuart, descendant of the Young Pretender.  There is also the black and white Bishops Farm House bearing the date 1521 and, over the road, a three storey manor House.

Austrey, St Nicholas Austrey, The Bird in Hand Pub and Market Cross Austrey, The Bird in Hand Pub and Market Cross

Close by the church, and probably the most famous building in Austrey, is the Bird in Hand Inn which was built in the15th century and has a thatched roof. In front of the inn there stands a medieval plinth. On top of the plinth there is a cross which was erected in the 19th century to commemorate the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria.  However, this was not the original cross on the site.  It is not known exactly when the first cross was put there but from Norman times Austrey belonged to the monks of Burton Abbey and it was always held that they had put up the cross where the old market was held.  This place was then used right up until the end of the 19th century as a general meeting place where people came to sell their produce and where men seeking employment gathered.  The original cross was destroyed by roundheads in the 17th century.  The Roundhead troopers accused the landlord of the inn of displaying a forbidden cross, symbol of a Royal religion, outside his house and it was consequently destroyed.

Life in Austrey changed little until the beginning of the 20th century.  They were entirely self sufficient, with their own bakery and butcher's shop, two saddlers, two carpenters and a blacksmith.  There was a windmill at the top of Mill Lane which ground the corn and the milk was driven in horse drawn float to Polesworth a village about 4 miles away with a railway station. Work and play fell in with the seasons of the year, and Austrey had its own football team, cricket team and tennis club, and the first working men's club was converted out of old farm buildings.

Sunday, 17 February 2013 00:00

Atherstone, The Shrove Tuesday Ball Game

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The Atherstone Ball Game

By Celia Parton

This year (2013) 12th February was Shove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, which denotes the start of Lent in the Christian calendar. In France they celebrate it as Mardi Gras whereas in this country it is 'Pancake Day' when we traditionally eat pancakes.  Many towns across the country hold pancake races, but not in Atherstone, in Atherstone they have the Ball Game.

The Ball Game is now Atherstone’s main claim to fame following the closure of the hat factories. The origins of the game are lost in the mists of time.  One version is that it started in the 12th century in the reign of King John as a contest between the lads of Warwickshire and Leicestershire but John Austin, in his book “Hats, Coal and Bloodshed”, suggests that its origins may be even further back in time.  He thinks it may have originated as a form of football called camp-ball played over 2000 years ago by Roman soldiers and they may have brought the custom to Britain, maybe even to Mancetter or Manduessedum as the Romans knew it.

Boarding up the shops The crowd gathering Showing the ball

The game takes place in Long Street and the only rule of the game is that it must be confined to Long Street and not stray elsewhere.  Long Street closes down for the afternoon and all the shops are boarded up for protection. The game actually starts at 3.00pm but there are certain traditions which take place before that.  At about 2.45pm the children (local schools close for the afternoon) all gather underneath the upstairs windows of Barclays Bank and sweets are thrown out to them, followed by coins including the special “golden penny”. The lucky child who finds this is rewarded with a ten-pound note.

The ball is much larger than an ordinary soccer ball. It has its own unique shape, which has been described as a squashed sphere or globe. A new ball is made each year for the occasion.  It has ribbons attached to it and these are prized souvenirs to the men who manage to grab them from the ball.

The Ball is thrown out from the first storey of Barclays bank usually by a local personality.  In the past many stars of stage and screen have done the honours.  In the fifties and sixties many stars appeared in pantomime at theatres in Coventry and Birmingham and they were asked to come to Atherstone to throw out the ball.  Some of you of a certain age may remember such names as Eve Boswell, Beryl Reid, and Shirley Abicair (famous for playing the zither), who all came in the fifties. In the sixties there was Sid James, Jimmy Tarbuck and Mike Yarwood and then Ken Dodd in 1970 and Nuneaton’s own Larry Grayson in 1977.

The ball is then kicked up and down Long Street.  Things start to get serious at about 4.30pm when teams get together and try to ensure that one of their team has the ball when the klaxon sounds at 5.00pm as whoever has the ball in their possession is declared the winner and gets to keep it.  Later in the evening the ball is taken round the local pubs and money is collected for charity.

Throwing out the sweets Throwing out the ball

The Ball Game is a fiercely held tradition in Atherstone and nothing is allowed to stop it going ahead, not even two world wars. The weather has on occasions threatened to spoil things but not even snow, bitter cold or pouring rain has stopped large crowds turning out.  In the past shopkeepers have complained of losing trade but it still goes on.  Most now accept it as it is only one afternoon a year.

It’s a real free for all with men brawling and fighting to get the ball. Although there are marshals and policemen keeping an eye on proceedings to make sure it doesn’t get too out of hand, many end up battered and bruised but still turn up to do the same again the next year - it’s tradition!

Photographs taken by Celia Parton 2009


Coventry Telegraph: 814th Atherstone Ball Game 2013 video of the Ball Game & photographs of the Ball Game.
ITV News: video report of the Ball game 2013 with some historic footage and interviews with local people.
Atherstone Organised: History and video of the game

A Brief History of St Nicolas Parish Church Nuneaton

By Guy Pargeter  ©1990

St Nicholas interior prior to the 1965 alterations.

It is believed that a Saxon church was built on this site but no trace of this now remains. The oldest part of the current building is a portion of the south Wall which dates from 1350 when The church was rebuilt in the reign of Edward III This part of the church is known as the Leeke Chapel and was named after John Leeke, a merchant who reconstructed parts of it and endowed it as a chantry in 1507.

For about 40 years the chapel served as a school and in 1552 was granted a charter by King Edward VI, Then it be-came known as the grammar School. In 1596 the red brick building in the churchyard (now the Parish office) was built and the school transferred there it continued to serve as the Grammar school until 1879 when parts of the present college were built.

The nave roof was installed in 1500 and the clerestory windows were added at this is time. The line of the original roof is still visible on the wall at the West end of the nave. This portion of the roof was re-leaded in 1740 and again in 1988 when some of the original timbers had to he replaced.

The pews were installed in 1853 when the church underwent drastic alterations. They were originally box pews complete with partitions and doors but were updated in the restoration of 1965.

Also at this time the galleries were removed. The north Gallery had been installed in 1765 and the south gallery in 1790. Until 1882 all pews in the church were rented with the exception of a Few free ones for the poor. The seats in the galleries were sold by auction.

The first organ was installed under the tower in 1813 and to celebrate the event an organ recital was given for which an admission fee of one-shilling (five pence) was charged.

The site of the old choir stalls is marked by the remains of the two sawn off ends of the gasoliers, once used for lighting They can be seen in The parquet floor in front of the glass doors.

The chancel was extended eastwards in 1853 The 14th century east window was destroyed together with its stained glass. The Victorian stained glass which replaced it, together with the glass from seven other windows, was lost when the church was bombed in 1941. The one remaining stained glass window is in the Leeke Chapel and dates from 1923.

The old East wall was where the brass chancel rail is today. In the chancel is the alabaster tomb of Marmaduke Constable. He was Lord of the Manor and died in 1560. The tomb was made in his lifetime. It is not the place of his burial so why it is in the church is a mystery. The tomb was once sited where the organ is now. All The monuments in the chancel have also been moved from their original siting.

The reredos (wooden screen behind the altar), the altar and the choir stalls are all modem and installed in 1927 when the chancel was refurbished. The tiled floor was also laid at this rime. The chance steps are in memory of a former vicar.

In 1853, when the chancel was extended, the original reredos, inscribed with the Ten Commandments, was destroyed. The chancel roof was installed in 1853 and represents an upturned boat - St Nicolas is the Patron Saint or sailors.

The chance arch dates from 1853 and replaced a flat ceiling and a wall put in by the puritans. The wall was painted with the Royal Arms of Charles II at the time of the restoration in 1660.

St Nicolas as is a royal patronage and as such is obliged to display the Royal arms. For 135 years no arms were displayed but a local artist painted and donated the current coat of arms in 1988. The vaults in the nave aisle are Victorian and when bought cost one guinea each. These are the only known sites of vaults in the church.

The tower is 14th century and contains a bell chamber with a peel of eight bells. During the civil war the tenor belt signalled the nightly curfew imposed on the town. The bells were peeled to tell the towns people of the victory of Waterloo in 1815. When Queen Victoria died in 1901 the news was given by the tolling of a single bell. The bells remained silent throughout the period of World War II, as the ringing of church bells was the warning of Invasion. Naturally they rang out as a celebration of victory at the ending of the war.

There has been a clock on the front of the tower since 1670 and the original clock mechanism is still its service having been restored in recent years. The Elizabethan vestry was extended in 1912 when the present door was cut into the north aisle.

The font was originally sited in the nave aisle at the West end beneath the two devils carved on the ceiling. One devil is smiting, hoping to take the soul of the unbaptised child. The other is scowling, showing his anger that the child has been baptised.

Above the chancel arch the five wounds of Christ may be Seen carved in the ceiling. Until 1965 the ceiling was dark oak Colour but when the church was restored it was decided to lighten the ceiling and gild the roof bosses.

The walls were lime washed for the first time in 1965. The list of charity benefactors and a wall painting. both on the north wall were lost at this time.

On the ceiling of the Leeke Chapel can be seen the face of the Virgin Mary and nearby on a beam is the devil putting out his tongue at her.

The Leeke Chapel is formerly a Lady Chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. After a variety of uses, including a period as a storeroom it was refurbished and dedicated for its present use in 1929.

The head of King Edward II on the east wall of the chapel is now the site of the aumbrey. Many years ago there was a hole in the wall above the Kings head which was used to feed lepers who were not allowed into the church.

On the external South wall of the chapel are the remains of ancient Mass Dials. They were a form of sundial and were used to indicate the times of services before clocks were common. On the same wall can be seen vertical grooves cut into the window ledges, these were made by archers' sharpening their arrows.

The turret, also on, this wall, once led into the chapel but was blocked off by the puritans. It now leads only to the roof.

The churchyard has been closed since 1873. The last burial was in 1929- the oldest tombstone in The churchyard is dated 1670. A former Vicar is buried with his family and with the body of a young African Chief who died whilst staying at the vicarage. The lime trees at the front of the churchyard were planted in 1836 at the expense of a Churchwarden.

George Eliot knew the church. In her book "Scenes Of Clerical Life" she depicts St Nicolas as 'Milby Church'. She attended the Elms Boarding School, which stood next to the Parish Hall and was demolished after it was bombed in the last war.

Sunday, 12 July 2009 17:28

Mancetter, St Peter's Parish Church

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St Peter's Parish Church, Mancetter

Mancetter is a Parish with much history. The Roman road, Watling Street forms its Northern boundary and the Romans built a fort or staging post here. in the 4th Century AD it was called Manduessedum. In fact it is believed that Boudicea, the Ancient British Queen fought her last battle against the Romans somewhere between Mancetter and Hartshill.

Hartshill itself was part of Mancetter Parish until 1848 when the new Church was built there. Atherstone was also a Chapelry of Mancetter until 1825. The hamlet of Oldbury also lies within the old Parish. Oldbury is where an Iron Age fort has been found and where Oldbury Hall was situated until it was bombed during the World War II and subsequently demolished.

Of Mancetter itself, the Church of St Peter dates from the 13th Century. Its solid bulk and squat tower, the upper parts of which date from the 15th Century sit next to the black and white, timber framed Manor House and the almshouses. The Manor House is now a Hotel and Restaurant and the Churchyard is bisected by the main road. For more detail on the history of the Church and the monuments it contains see Benjamin Bartlett's 'Manduessum Romanorum, being the history and antiquities of the Parish of Mancetter' published in 1791 which is available in Nuneaton Library.

Apart from a Council Housing Estate and what remains of the extensive quarrying of the area, the Parish is still very rural. The River Anker flows through the water meadows on its way to meet the Tame at Tamworth, and the Coventry Canal, cut in the 1780s also passes through . Both the canal and the railway, built 1848, helped to transport material from local quarries.

Important names belonging to the Parish are Robert Glover and Joyce Lewis, the Protestant Martyrs (see Arthur Mee's 'Warwickshire' in the King's England series), the Bracebridge family and of course the Okeovers & Farmers of Oldbury. Benjamin Bartlett lived in the Grange at Hartshill.

Sunday, 24 October 2010 01:00

Hartshill, Holy Trinity Parish Church

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Holy Trinity Parish Church, Hartshill

By Rosemary Tyler

The history of Hartshill Holy Trinity Church actually begins on 30th March 1842 when the Parish of Mancetter Vestry Meeting was held to discuss forming an ecclesiastical Parish of Hartshill out of the Mancetter Parish. The population of Hartshill at that time was about 1000, and already there was a Wesleyan Methodist Church and a Society of Friends Meeting House in the village. There was also the Independent (Congregational) Chapel at Chapel End just down the hill. It was therefore decided that a Parish Church should be built, large enough to seat about 600 people and £650 was immediately raised by the first subscribers. Mr. Richard Jee, who owned the quarry, agreed to donate the stone required.

Plans were made and the work begun, but when the skeleton church was almost complete, in November 1843, part of it fell down - this was attributed to both high winds and defects in the building work. Little progress was made for the next few years due to lack of funds, as an amount of £2500 was required in total. Eventually, thanks to a gift from the Rev. H.E. Lowe who was visiting friends at Atherstone, the building was completed. 

The first Holy Communion Service was held there on Sunday 30th April 1848 by the Vicar of Mancetter, as Hartshill’s new Vicar, Rev. W.J. Edge had not yet been appointed. The Consecration Service took place at the end of June.

In 1848, of course, the Church looked very different from how we see it today. The path to the Church, which now has a tarmac driveway and car parking spaces, was originally on the north side of the Church not the south. The ground on the south side of the Church was again donated by Mr. Richard Jee. To the north of the Church was an old farmhouse, which was added to and became the Vicarage, built from the same stone as the Church itself. The land around the Vicarage was a gift from the Trustees of Nuneaton Grammar School. The west doorway is one of the largest to be seen on a Parish Church in England and was built in the Norman style, with decorated arches and pillars carved with capitals. Below the great wheel window are four stone roundels with symbols of the Evangelists which today are unfortunately too worn to make out. However, above the window, at the base of the tower, you can still just make out the two quaint heads – one of a gossip with two tongues. The tower has one bell which has not been rung for many years due to the tower itself being unsafe to do so

Originally the Church was lit by oil lamps suspended from the heavy oak beamed ceiling, which is now hidden by the false ceiling erected ten feet below. There was a small organ situated in the north east corner of the nave (replaced by choir stalls at one time) and a pulpit on the right hand side. Over the years the Church has been enhanced by many generous gifts from its Parishioners, the first being a brass lectern in memory of George and Elizabeth Tippetts in 1893. Stained glass windows were also added – the first being given by the daughters of Joshua Fielding Matthews (Churchwarden) and his wife Maria in 1895. There are two other windows which commemorate Charles Abel (1905) and Catherine Grant Matthews (1907). In 1909 the Vestry was built adjoining the north side of the Church and was used for meetings and other social functions, the architecture blending in very well with the main building. In 1926 electric lighting was introduced. 

Hartshill Holy Trinity parish church_1.jpg     Hartshill Holy Trinity interior 1960s
Hartshill Holy Trinity. Note the trees in the first, undated photograph. Who chopped them down and when? Photograph of the interior from the 1960s.

Major alterations were made in 1938 – 9 and the Church was closed whilst these took place, services being held in the newly built Church Hall. This was when the false ceiling was installed due to complaints about draughts. The gallery was strengthened and the organ moved to the centre of it. The old pulpit was replaced and also the altar rails were replaced by the present oak ones dedicated to the memory of Miss Maud Wilson. An inner porch was added, and the old pews and floor replaced as a gift from Mr. Walter Tremlett. All this restoration work was carried out at a cost of £2000.

On Saturday 29th May 1948 the Centenary Commemoration Service was held by Rev. W.A. Richards. A recording was made of the service, and a box was buried somewhere beneath the floor of the Church by the Vicar and Mr. Kenneth Branston, which contained a 1948 penny, a Church Service Programme, and another unknown document. The Centenary Celebration Funds amounted to £1000! 

Over the years many other gifts have been made for the adornment of the Church and in 1965 the whole interior was redecorated by a local contractor having the welfare of the Church at heart. In more recent years a New Vicarage has been built as the Old Vicarage was expensive to maintain and difficult to heat, and was therefore sold off and is now privately owned. 

In June 1998 the Church celebrated its 150th Anniversary and exhibitions were held in the Church where so many activities have taken place since it was first built. Summer fetes have been held on the Church lawn and Christmas bazaars in the Hall. Many years ago the dramatic society put on performances and concerts in the Hall. Sunday Schools were held, there was a sewing circle, playgroup, and a baby clinic, Mothers Union meetings and much more. There is currently a well supported Over 50s group and a toddlers group, the Hartshill Windscape Handbell Ringers have their home there and the library is also based in the building. The Church hosts Atherstone Choral Society concerts twice per year as the acoustics are deemed to be very good.

Over the last few years repairs have been made to the organ, the roof and the wheel window above the doorway which is looking really great now thanks to the efforts of the previous incumbent Rev. Laurie Beard. At the moment there is a Parish Project underway to completely rebuild the Church Hall and associated facilities. Last September saw the Church welcoming its first female vicar, Rev. Heather Barnes. 

  • ‘The King’s England – Warwickshire’ edited by Arthur Mee 1936
  • ‘The Story of the Parish Church of the Holy Trinity, Hartshill’ by W.K. Branston 1967
  • ‘Heardred’s Hill Part 5 -  A Busy Place -  the Nineteenth Century’ by Joan Allen 1978
  • ‘What House Will Ye Build Me? Hartshill and its Parish Church 1848 – 1998’ by Bob Cretney 1998

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.

Sunday, 12 July 2009 17:19

Atherstone, St Mary's Parish Church

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St Mary's Church, Atherstone

By Celia Parton

In 1985 Atherstone celebrated the 600th anniversary of its church. In the early 1980s a great deal of restoration was done as part of a Youth Opportunities Training Scheme and the Lounge area at the back was built. The highlight of the celebrations was the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales on the 27th of June. Atherstone church overlooks the Market Square and I had never seen so many people crowded into the square on that day waiting to see the Prince and Princess. They were not disappointed as the Prince and Princess went on an informal walkabout before entering the Church and opening the new lounge. They then went on a tour of a special exhibition in the church put on by local schools and industries. They spent the morning in Atherstone having lunch at Chapel House, which is right next to St Mary`s Church, before moving on to Bosworth where they were celebrating the 500th anniversary of the famous battle. Later a plaque was erected to commemorate the visit and last year following the tragic death of the Princess many floral tributes were laid by local people around this plaque.

By 1155 there was a chapel on the site of the church. The Abbey of Bec was granted the Manor and an agreement was made for the parson at Mancetter to take services. In 1375 Ralph, Lord Basset of Drayton, founded an Austin Friary on this site. The friars took services themselves rather than the parson at Mancetter. By 1385 they had built another chapel, which is the present day chancel, on the foundations of the old one and added a small nave and octagonal bell tower. King Henry VII received communion here before the battle of Bosworth field. The original doorway, now bricked up, is still visible outside.

In 1536 came the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. The friary was suppressed. The old nave was kept as a church but the chancel was used for a school. Aymas Hill, William Devereux and Thomas Fulner founded a free Grammar School. A charter was granted by Queen Elizabeth in 1573 and the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School remained on this site until 1864 when it moved to new premises in Long Street. The school is still there but it is no longer a Grammar School. In 1975 Atherstone went comprehensive and the Grammar School was merged with Atherstone High school.

In 1849 virtually the whole of the church was rebuilt including the present nave. The chancel remained and if you look at Atherstone Church today the oldest part i.e. the chancel can easily be distinguished. The octagonal bell tower which had been restored in 1782 also remained. It now contains a peal of bells hung in 1961. At the same time a new church was being built at Baddesley Ensor and the old one had fallen into disrepair. The Norman archway from the old church was acquired and placed over the back entrance to St Mary`s which was used as the private entrance of the Bracebridge Family of Atherstone Hall. Atherstone Hall was demolished in 1963 and a housing estate built on the site (which is where I now live). The church was re-consecrated on the 14th March 1850.

In Mediaeval times Mancetter was larger than Atherstone which is why St Peter`s Church was the mother church and Atherstone part of the parish of Mancetter. However, by the 19th century Atherstone had grown and developed in a way that Mancetter had not. Mancetter remained a small, mainly rural community , whereas Atherstone was a market town and had developed industries. Atherstone therefore required its independence. In 1841 Atherstone was formally separated from Mancetter and the first vicar was Frederick H Richings, son of the vicar of Mancetter, who continued to serve Atherstone until his death in 1888. Members researching ancestors in Atherstone should therefore note that for dates prior to 1841 they will need to consult the Mancetter parish registers.

In 1884 the chancel was restored, joined to the nave and re-dedicated in 1888. The church must then have looked much as it does today. However, until the 1960s part of the view of the church was obscured by some 18th century buildings. There was also a Market Hall on the site of the market square. During the slum clearances of the early 1960s these buildings were demolished, the road in front of the church widened and the area landscaped as it is today.

A project was begun in 2000 to divide the building and use it as a community space which should benefit both the church and the town. An appeal to raise £1 million pounds has recently been launched to pay for the development.

Sunday, 02 January 2011 18:38

Astley, St Mary the Virgin parish church

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St Mary the Virgin, Astley

By Kate Keens © 2010

The church we see at Astley today is small compared to an earlier church on the site yet is displays many clues to its former glory.

The village of Astley was a Saxon settlement and was mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086.  It is known that a church existed from at least 1285 since there is a record of Stephen Astley being appointed incumbent by Edith Astley in that year.  In 1338 Thomas de Astley was given permission to found a chantry in the Lady Chapel of the Church and by 1340 there were seven secular priests at Astley. 

In 1343 the old church was taken down and a collegiate church built.  This was a large cruciform building with a central tower crowned with a tall spire.  To the west the nave extended for about 90 feet, (running from the present church door as far as the present gate).  The nave of the present church was the chancel of the collegiate church extending to the east of the tower.  The church terminated at its eastern extremity where the present chancel arch is today and here the old east window of the original church can still be seen, albeit now blocked up with plaster.

There were chapels on the north and south sides of the cancel.  Blocked up doorways to these former chapels can still be seen on the inside and outside of the present church.  To the north and south of the tower would have been the transepts, running out some 30 to 40 feet.   The very high ceiling of the nave of the present church is perhaps another indicator of its former size.

After dark a light was always shown from the spire and was known as the 'Lanthorn (or Lantern) of Arden'.  The light guided travellers through the thick forest which surrounded Astley at that time.

Tragedy hit the church at the end of the 16th century.  Living at Astley Castle, just a stones throw from the church, was Frances Brandon, the widow of the Duke of Suffolk and mother of Lady Jane Grey.  She married Adrian Stokes, a member of the household, and it was he who, in about 1555, stripped the lead from the roof of the tower.  Having been left open to the elements the tower fell in about 1600.

In 1607 Sir Richard Chamberlaine, the then owner of the castle, demolished the remains of the tower, the transepts, and the nave.  He then converted the old chancel into the nave of the church we see today, building a tower at the west end and a new chancel, using the material from the old northern chapel.  Two sets of high oak stalls, which may have been in the collegiate church, were fitted to either side of the chancel.  The seats have their original carved misereres and the back of each is painted with a figure; those on the north depicting the apostles and those on the south the prophets.   


left - Apostles, Right - Prophets

The east window of the new church contains fragments of glass from the collegiate church.

At this time the walls of the new smaller church were embellished with painted texts. Unfortunately these deteriorated over the next 400 years until they had almost disappeared.  Having received donations and a grant from English Heritage, these wall paintings have been restored this year and we can now see them as our ancestors would have done.

 The newly restored paintings

Parish records are available for Astley starting in 1670 so none of our ancestors traceable in that source would remember the collegiate church.  However St Mary the Virgin at Astley today would be instantly recognisable to those baptised or married since 1670.  Included in those married at Astley were Robert Evans and Christiana Pearson on 8th February 1813.  Robert and Christiana were the parents of Mary Ann Evans who became famous as the novelist George Eliot.


The Kings England, Warwickshire. Arthur Mee (1936)
A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 6: Knightlow hundred, Astley (1951)
Notes taken at Astley Church (2010)


Friday, 20 November 2009 16:53

Nuneaton, Courtaulds - A Members' Memories

Written by

Courtaulds - Members' Memories

Gordon Mears

I was prompted by reading Peter Lee's article to write about my memories of Courtalds factory.  I spent my school years living on Princes St across from the Police houses. I used to pass by the factory on my way to school on Greenmore Road, I crossed the "patch", then up a back lane, over the canal bridge and another back lane to reach school.  I used to be there all day as I stayed at school for lunch.
Of course this was during the war.  One day coming home I crossed the bridge, came down the lane and what did I see but the entire patch covered with American soldiers and their vehicles - mostly trucks.  I wandered into the camp with no one bothering me, I guess I looked harmless in those days.  As  I wandered around, probably looking for someone to give me some gum, I found a soldier working at a vice.  He was filing a half a crown to make something.  To my young eyes this man was destroying a valuable coin, one that I very likely had never owned.  He said Hi to me and with that I took off home as I was  not sure whether we were supposed to talk to them.  They seemed to be from another planet with all their equipment, fancy uniforms and food we had never seen before.
Anyway they were there for some weeks and then one day I walked by the patch and they had all gone as quickly as they  had arrived.  I have often wondered what they were doing there but I was too scared to ask.
Peter is right about the clock influencing our lives, living so close to it we could never use the excuse that we did'nt know the time! I remember walking towards the patch on Marlborough Rd and seeing, across the street from the factory, some buildings built from the same red stone as the main plant.  I ofter wondered what they were and what was going on in there.  I think they were the cafeteria, or maybe offices.  My Dad used to work for Courtalds after the war when he quit working in the coalmine, I think he was in the boiler house.

Footnote from Pat Boucher

There were two other buildings which formed part of the Courtaulds factory. One, on the other side of Marlborough Road, was the canteen which had a marvellous ballroom. This building is still there and is still used as commercial premises. The other was the office block which is now "The Old Mill" doctor's surgery.

The architect was Harry Quick who also designed the Coventry Courtaulds buildings. Both factories were built from lovely pink bricks which came from Webster Hemmings brickyard in Foleshill.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009 17:22

Lapworth, Harold - Caretaker of Courtaulds clock

Written by

The following article appeared in the Nuneaton Tribune 1st February 1990

Harold Keeps Time With The Modern World

One of Nuneaton's most prominent landmarks, the 70 year old Courtaulds clock, is keeping perfect time thanks to a great deal of loving care and attention. The one time thriving factory in Marlborough Road closed down in Nuneaton almost ten years ago and since then the clock has been kept going.

Harold Lapworth, the present clock "caretaker" said: "I have a great sense of conservation and satisfaction for this very fine piece of mechanism which has been keeping time within seconds, throughout its 70 years of excellent service." He added: "I have lived 60 years within the sound of the Courtaulds clock - I've been interested in clocks since a child and my father used to give me a clock to keep me busy by taking it apart and putting it back together."

Harold, a chemist by trade, took over winding the Gillet and Johnston clock six months ago after contacting Beazer Homes, the development company who are turning the five-storey derelict factory into flats, because he was concerned about its maintenance. The clock is similar to Big Ben and the weights on pulleys are wound the entire five floors of the building every week by Harold to keep the pendulum going.

Harold said: "Many people remember Courtaulds and still rely on the clock now - years ago people on the canal used to time themselves between the clock." Apparently when the south wind blows people in Camp Hill can hear the clock and that tells them that it is going to rain. Harold added: "Clocks like to be talked to and cared for with a little bit of oiling here and there."

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