Saint Mary The Virgin.

The Parish Church of Thornbury.

The noble tower of Thornbury Church raises its coronal of  pierced battlements and turrets high above broad pastures that slope gently towards the Severn, forming a far-seen landmark. The church stands in a pleasant, spacious churchyard, apart though not remote from the rapidly growing town and bounded on the north by a garden wall whose embrasures reveal the towers and curtain walls of Thornbury Castle.

At the time of the Conquest the manor of Thornbury was held by a Saxton thane, but there is no record of a Saxon church here. A Norman Church there certainly was: a little later Robert FitzHamon, on whom for his exploits in Glamorgan, this manor was bestowed by William Rufus, granted Thornbury church (among others) to Tewkesbury Abbey, Which thenceforth down to the Dissolution received the great tithes of the parish and appointed Vicars. These rights passed at the Dissolution to Henry VIII`s (originally Wolsey`s) new foundation of Christ Church, Oxford, the present patron. In the glass of the chancel south window, erected in 1849 to signalise the restoration of the church, are roundels displaying the arms of Tewkesbury Abbey and of Christ Church.

FitzHamon`s grant is attested by a confirmatory charter given in 1106 by Henry I. Of the Norman church no trace remains; it must, however, have been partly rebuilt or extended before the end of the twelfth century, for the north and south doorways are definitely of the Transitional-Norman period (re-inserted in later walls), as is also the font. The present chancel, except for modern repairs and insertions, belong to the Decorated period. It was built around 1340, and some decades later, in Richard II`s reign, a south "aisle" or chantry chapel was added by Hugh, Lord Stafford.Richard II`s badge, the peascod, is carved as one of the stops of the hodd-mould over the east window of this chapel (for the Lordship of Thornbury had passed by heiresses from the FitzHamons to the De Clares, and then in turn to the Staffords.

Some little time before 1500 - possibly while Edward IV was still reigning: the badge the "sun in splendour," which was one of the numerous Stafford badges, appears thrice in the ancient glass set in the head-tracery of the south-west window of the south aisle - the church was entirely rebuilt, except for the chancel, in the then prevalent Perpendicular style: the tower was rebuilt last, the upper stage and the pinnacles not being added till about 1540. It has been by some conjectured that the rebuilding of the church was contemporary with that of the castle, which was begun in 1511 by the ill-fated Edward Stafford, third Duke of Buckingham; but the phrase used by the typographer Leland seems to indicate (as does the style), an earlier date. The chancel was the responsibility of the Abbey of Tewkesbury, which was probably unwilling to spend money on improvements. The nave was the people`s part of the church and the Lord of the Manor and the inhabitants could and did erect a more splendid building to the greater glory of God. Buckingham had obtained a licence from the Crown to found here a college of priests (a semi-monastic establishment), but did not live to carry out his project: he gave offence to Wolsey, and was executed, ostensibly for high treason, in 1521. 

The fabric of the church has sustained little substantial alteration since the time of the Perpendicular builders. The church was restored in1848, and while it was in progress the date 1599 was found inscribed on one of the old wooden beams which supported the roof. What the date signifies is not clear. It may have marked the building of the clerestory, though this is unlikely; more probably it was the year in which some or all of the roof timbers were renewed.

It will be noticed that the windows of the clerestory are not directly over the arches of the arcade and that the mouldings on the tops of the arches are finished differently on each side. This probably indicates that as services had to be continued during the rebuilding of the church, one side was completed before the other was begun.

The plan of the church comprises chancel of three bays, with north and south chapels and north vestry; nave of six bays, with north and south aisles and south porch; and west tower. There is accommodation for 600 worshippers.

An excellent general view of the church exterior is obtained from the road skirting the churchyard on the south. From admiration of the tower`s fine proportions and lace-like parapet one passes at last to the body of the church, which satisfies the eye by its regular alternation of four-light windows and pinnacled buttresses, broken only by the lofty porch. The arched windows of this side are more attractive than the uncompromisingly square windows of the north aisle, and are placed unusually high on the walls, as if to leave room for a cloister. Aisles and clerestory alike have embattled parapets, with crocketed pinnacles set at intervals; at the bases of the pinnacles are gargoyles, some of them extraordinarily grotesque.

The chancel is covered by a high-pitched modern gabled roof of tiles, the other roofs being low-pitched: all date in their present form from 1848. The south aisle and its continuation, the Stafford chapel, display the Stafford badge, a looped knot, in several places - as stops to dripstones; below the south-west pinnacle; on a shield held held by a carved angel over the south-west window. The Transitional north doorway is quite plain: a round arch with roll mouldings, having a dripstone with sculptured stops. The Perpendicular south porch was orginally of two stages and had an upper floor reached by a stairway from the south aisle, long walled up but lately reopened. Above the exterior doorway, blocking a window, is a sundial with the date 1764 and restored in 1956 in memory of Charles and Freda Taylor which bore a familiar phrase from Catullus, "Pereunt et imputantur: the hours pass away and are reckoned to our account," now obliterated. Above is a canopied niche that probably held an image of the patron saint. This has recently been filled by a statue of the Madonna and Child - the work of the late Gabriel Pippet, who resided in Thornbury. It was given in memory of Frederick William Davis, Churchwarden for many years, by members of his family; over this is a parapet of trefoil-head arches. Below the dial is a small shield carved with the Stafford arms. Inside the porch, on the west wall, is a bronze tablet recording the names of parishioners who fell in the first Great War. The stone benches and the stoup beside the doorway, merit notice. The doorway with its round Norman arch and Early English ornamentation - the undercut foliage of the jambshaft capitals and the dog-tooth embellishment of the dripstone - is typical of the Transition. The door itself has ring-plate and lock of high antiquity. In the churchyard, opposite the porch, is a Calvary Cross of Guiting (Cotswold) stone with carved panelled head, erected in 1919 as a War Memorial.

The splendid tower measures 130 feet to the tops of the angle turrets. All its stages have windows in each exposed face, but many are blocked. On each face of the third stage a shaft rising from a carved figure supports a canopied niche placed between small windows; the niche on the south is covered by the clock-dial. The tower`s crowning glory is the pierced embattled parapet, stepped in the centre of each side to culminate in delicate pinnacles; at the angles rise pierced square turrets capped by ogival cupolas with finials. Two elaborate gargoyles project from the parapet base on each side (one on the south is lacking). This wonderful structure had a marked resemblance to the church towers of Dundry and St. Stephen`s, Bristol, but the source of its inspiration was Gloucester Cathedral.

Entering the church by the south porch the visitor will be impressed by the length of the church and the graceful lightness of the naive arches. The chancel walls and the east window, date from the Decorated rebuilding; the north and south windows were reconstructed in 1848, when also the present high chancel arch replaced a depressed four-centred arch, about the height of the nave arches and the clergy vestry was added on the north side. The stone corbels which support the nave roof timbers date from the restoration in 1848. They are emblazoned with the arms, on the north side, of William Rufus, FitzHamon, Robert of Gloucester, De Clare, De Audley, Stafford and Howard; and on the south side, England, Tewkesbury Abbey, See of Canterbury, See of Gloucester, See of Bristol, Christ Church, Oxford, and Townsend of Castle Townsend (the last of those of the family of the Vicar in 1848).

In 1938, the altar was extended to its original length of 10 feet in memory of Edith Emily Williams and her daughter, Edith Joyce Williams, and rich hangings of gold and silver were provided. One of the five new altar frontals is made of gold and blue crocatelle used at the Coronation of King George VI and was presented by the Hon. Lady Howard, wife of Major Sir Algar Howard, K.C.B., K.C.V.O., M.C. At the same time new baluster-pattern altar rails of oak were erected in memory of Sir Edward Stafford Howard by his widow and five children.

In the south wall of the chancel are a picina under a cinquefoiled arch, and triple sedilia under similar arches, with narrow-lobed trefoils in the spandrels. The chancel floor was raised early in the eighteenth century and in consequence the sedilia and piscina are now too low for convenient use. The two western bays of this (south) wall are almost entirely occupied by the wide arch into the Stafford Chapel. The north chancel window is filled with armorial glass erected by Henry Howard, Esq., of Greystoke Castle, Cumberland, and Thornbury Castle,to two of his forbears, one of them the ninth Duke of Norfolk. Thomas, eighth Duke of Norfolk, acquired the estate by purchase in 1727; he was a cousin of the Earl of Stafford from whom he purchased it. Henry Howard himself (died 1875), is commemorated by the north aisle west window.

In the chancel floor, before the altar, is a slab that once bore two effigy-brasses - of - Thomas Tyndall (died 1571), and his wife. The man`s figure is now represented by an empty matrix, but the wife`s remains, as well as a rhymed moralising inscription of twelve lines. The seats for the choir have good poppy-head bench ends.

The north chapel is now occupied by the organ.

The south chapel, known as the Stafford Chapel since it occupies the site of that built by Hugh, Lord Stafford, has in the south wall a piscina under a heavily moulded arch, and next to it, below the Thurston window, a deep recess under a wide depressed arch, crocketed and pinnacled. Within this is a typical seventeenth-century monument, coloured and embellished with cherubs and coat of arms, to a brother and sister who died in their youth. The Stafford Chapel is now fitted as a side chapel, with altar seats and memorial lectern. Above the altar and panels inscribed in gilt with the names of Thornbury men who felll in the Great War. Many parishioners gifts embellish the chapel. The arch opening to the aisle is a modern reproduction of an arch removed in 1848, Notice how the jamb shafts are not continued to the floor, but terminate on carved pendants some six feet above it. Above the arch is an open graduated arcade. The Perpendicular-style screen filling this arch was erected in 1914 to the memory of Lady Howard (see inscribed brass tablet adjacent). The old roof of the chapel was richly panelled, and the panelling continued over the eastern bay of the south aisle. The eastern arch of the nave south arcade is higher and more richly moulded than the rest (another possible reason why the adjacent arches are out of alignment with the clerestory windows), and on its western pier is an angel bearing a shield carved with the arms of Berkeley. The special treatment indicates that this eastern bay of the aisle was a chantry chapel - probably of the Berkeleys, who for three centuries held lands in Thornbury. 

The nave arcades manifest the airy gracefulness of good Perpendicular work; the two centred moulded arches rest on piers consisting each of a central core with four slender attached shafts having moulded caps and bases. The clerestory has in each bay a window of four cinquefoiled lights above a blind arcade of similar pattern. The present nave seats, largely constructed from the material of ancient pews once relegated to a lumber room, were substituted in 1848 for cumbrous eighteenth-century high pews of unvarnished deal dating from the time when the size and location of one`s pew indicatedone`s social importance. The Transitional Norman font, placed at the west end, consists of a square bowl placed on a massive clawed pedestal and carved in relief, on two sides with the three-lobed flower arranged in a circle, on north and south with crosses. The perpendicular pulpit is embellished with panelling typical of its period. The lectern, wrought of historic timber from Salisbury Cathedral displays rich carvings, the work of Harry Hems of Exeter.

The west window and two south windows of the south aisle have in their head-tracery fragments of ancient painted glass. The other south window, and all the north aisle windows, are filled with modern stained glass: the names of those whom the windows commemorate are recorded on or near the windows, and need not be repeated here. Antiquaries who study these, and the neighbouring mural monuments, may trace out interesting genealogical connections, as between the families of Baker and Newman (south Wall), or between the families of Raymond, Cullimore, Gingell and Vaudrey (north wall). Notice the curious wording of the inscription on the tablet to Thomas Smith (south wall), and the monument on the chancel north wall to Sir John Stafford (died 1624), gentleman pensioner to Queen Elizabeth and James I, and Constable of Bristol Castle, who though he had long "lived in the fraile and slippery course of a souldier" died with a conscience at rest.

There are no De Clare or Stafford tombs in the church. The great men of the former family lie in Tewkesbury Abbey and of the latter Buckingham was buried after his execution in the Austin Friary in London, and the other Stafford tombs in the Priory of Stone in Staffordshire were taken to the Austin Friary in Stafford and then, after its dissolution, "miserably torn to pieces."

The children`s Chapel in the north aisle was dedicated by the Bishop of Gloucester in 1949. The oak screen on which is carved the names of the twenty-seven men of the parish who gave their lives in the war of 1939 - 45 and the coloured reredos were given by the parishioners as a war memorial. The altar table was given in memory of the 241 men of the 6th Regiment of the Maritime Royal Artillery who gave their lives in the Second Great War, and whose Regimental Headquarters was at Thornbury from 1942 - 1945. The carved oak kneeler was given in memory of Archdeacon Cornwall (Vicar 1899 - 1924) and Mrs. Cornwall by their seven children, and the carved oak credence table, the handicraft of a local craftsman, Robert Eddington, was given in memory of Lionel Henry Williams and his son, Geoffrey Commeline Williams.

To conclude as we began, with the tower: in 1889 the parapet and its turrets, then in serious desrepair, were taken down and rebuilt exactly after the original design and mainly with the old materials the cost (988) being largely defrayed by voluntary subscriptions. Of the peal of eight bells - rehung in 1893, and again in 1938 - two were cast by William Evans in 1760; the remainder came, at various dates between 1698 and 1828, from the famous Rudhall foundry at Gloucester. One of the Evans bells, recast in 1938, now bears the inscription, "God is our Hope and Strength" - a sentiment with which this brief account of a beautiful and historic place of worship may fittingly close.

The author is unknown.


First World War `Roll of Honour`

Second World War `Roll of Honour`


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