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St Barnabas Church, Brampton Bryan
About the Church
St Barnabas is a Grade I listed building and an integral part of the small village of Brampton Bryan, both of which have considerable historic importance.
It is believed to be one of only six English churches built or rebuilt during the Commonwealth Period (1649–1660), after being destroyed together with much of the adjoining castle and the majority of the village during the Civil War.
Read on to find out what you can see when you visit.
Brampton Bryan church is one of 8 churches in Wigmore Abbey Parish: the others are Adforton, Downton, Elton, Leinthall Starkes, Leintwardine, Pipe Aston and Wigmore.
For details of services for all churches, go to: www.wigmore-abbey.org.uk
Following the retirement of the Revd. Mike Catling, the Parish is currently in an inter regnum. Contact Churchwardens:-
How to find us
The church is set in the centre of Brampton Bryan village, in Herefordshire's Teme valley, just off the A4113, adjoining Brampton Bryan Hall and its ancient castle. It is surrounded by one of the finest yew hedges in the country and a listed stone wall. Many visitors come just to look at the yew hedge. The postcode is SY7 0DH. Our what3words are: also.grounding.thousands
Accessibility and opening times
The church is normally open daily during reasonable daylight hours.
- Free roadside parking outside church
- Wheelchair friendly (the only steps are to the altar)
- WC for disabled off the vestry
There is a café at Aardvark Books in the village. This bookshop is renowned throughout the borders and beyond.
What to See
Triple hammerbeam roof
The first thing you will notice when you enter the church is the wide nave, with an absence of pillars. Overhead is a remarkable triple hammerbeam roof, but because of the Victorian boarding you have to look very carefully to spot signs of the third hammerbeams.
Effigy of Margaret de Brampton
The oldest item in the church, which survived the destruction of the church in the Civil War during the siege of the castle, is the stone effigy of Margaret de Brampton set into the south wall of the nave. She was the daughter of Lord Brian de Brampton of Kinlet and Eleanor de Hereford. Margaret married the first Sir Robert Harley in 1309 and died about 1350, which means the surrounding estate has been in the same family for over 700 years.
Margaret and her sister were the last of the line of the de Brampton family who had owned Brampton Bryan since the Domesday book.
According to the Royal Commission of Historical Monuments 1934, this stone monument is a 'freestone effigy wearing a side less cote-hardie, holding heart, head on 2 cushions dog at feet, arms missing'. The tiles in the recess are believed to be 14th and 15th century slip tiles with geometrical patterns, foliage, a stag and the arms of Clare. Architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, in his series of books ‘Buildings of England’, notes that the external projection is twice as long, suggesting that there may have been two monument recesses here.
Memorial to the 1st Earl of Oxford and Mortimer
On the south wall, further to the east, you will find the memorial to Robert Harley, the 1st Earl of Oxford and Mortimer.
The 1st Earl was MP for the Borough of Radnor, and speaker of the House of Commons for three successive Parliaments in the reigns of both King William and Queen Anne. He was made Secretary of State by Queen Anne in 1710, and advanced to the Title of Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer in 1711 and later made Lord High Treasurer, effectively Prime Minister, of Great Britain. In 1712 he was installed Knight of the Garter. In 1715 Harley was impeached for High Treason, relating amongst other charges to his negotiation of the Treaty of Utrecht, and committed to the Tower. After 2 years he appealed and was acquitted of all charges. He died in 1724 aged 62 from ill health caused by his imprisonment.
The final verse on the memorial tablet was written by Alexander Pope (1688-1744) as a tribute to Harley.
A soul supreme in each hard instance tried.
Above all fear, all anger and all Pride.
The rage of power, the blast of publick breath,
The lust of Lucre and the dread of Death.
Robert Harley’s successor, Edward Harley, the 2nd Earl of Oxford, owned and developed the Marylebone Estate in London including Oxford Street, Harley Street and Wigmore Street.
Stained glass windows
The main east window by Powell & Sons was installed in 1888, and was dedicated at the Easter Service. It was funded by a successful wager at the 1887 Doncaster St Leger on a horse named Kilwarlin, which was owned by Robert William Daker Harley's brother-in-law The 7th Baron Rodney. It replaced an earlier Victorian window, which had been installed in 1857-8, and which was then moved to its present position, the west wall, in 1888.
East window description
At the top there are twelve angels in small individual panels: Two angels, far left and far right, each wear a sash inscribed Alleluia. The ten remaining, carry instruments of praise as in Psalm 150: trumpet, harp, lyre, tambourine, strings, flute and cymbals.
Next, the four evangelists are depicted in small panels across the width of the window and these are separated centrally by two of the ten angels carrying instruments: Matthew the Man, with book; Mark, the Lion; Luke the Ox; and John, the Eagle.
The central panel depicts the figure of the Risen Christ, and on either side are two large figures of kneeling angels. The New Testament authors represent Christ as surrounded by angels at the most important periods of His life. They announce His Incarnation, (Mt.1:20,24) and His Birth, (Lk.2.9-15); they minister to Him in the desert (Mt.4.11), strengthen Him in His agony (Lk.22.43), would be ready to defend Him when He is captured (Mt.26.53), and are the first witnesses of His Resurrection (Mt.28.2-7; Jn.20.12 f.).
A line beneath the entire central section represents the distinction between heaven and earth.
At level lower, on the far left, facing centre, is the figure of Mary Magdalene;
Next left but further towards the centre: Three women bearing vessels of anointing (Luke's gospel): Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (as recorded in the gospel according to St Mark).
Two angels in white as seen by the women bearing spices, sit beneath the feet of Jesus and bear witness to the empty tomb, (as recorded in the gospel according to St Luke).
On the right side, facing centre are the figures of the apostles John and Peter (as recorded in St John's gospel).
The figure holding a book, on the far right, is possibly Barnabas, since the church is dedicated to St Barnabas.
These figures constitute five large panels in total.
The wording: 'I Am the Resurrection and the Life' runs across the window beneath these figures and is spread across all five panels.
The final inscription at the bottom of the window also runs across all five panels and the dedication to memory is as follows: 'This window was placed here to the glory of God by Robert William Daker Harley and Patience Anne his wife - Easter 1888'
Organ by Bishop & Son
The organ by Bishop & Son, London and Ipswich, is still in good voice, and is used regularly during church services, and also for occasional recitals. The image below, showing an original service sheet for the dedication of the organ in 1907, includes a description of the organ.
Other Bishop organs which can be seen nearby include examples at:
- Llanfair Waterdine (a barrel and finger organ)
Look out for the kneelers along the Communion Rail. They were beautifully hand stitched between 1991 and 1993 by Di Withington, Joyce Jones, Mary Richards, Joan Wareham, Jean Hogg and Susan Harley. They depict notable buildings in Brampton Bryan, including the Church, Castle, Manor House, Hall, Blacksmiths Shop, Park House, and a range of black and white cottages.
Also the altar cloths which were designed by Sir Ninian Comper (1864-1960) in about 1890. The four cloths are displayed in rotation according to the church calendar. In 1907 Sir Ninian was invited to design 8 stained glass windows on the north side of the nave of Westminster Cathedral.
Examine the craftsmanship of the vestry door at the west end of the church. As part of our improvements to the church in 2020, it was designed, constructed and installed by Brampton Bryan craftsman Max McColl. The frame was made from a Victorian oak pew (removed to make space at the rear of the church) and the panels from burr oak from a nearby Shropshire estate. Max also made the matching altar frontal cabinet and the table in the vestry.
There are many memorials around the church, mostly of the Harley family, and of the Rogers family from nearby Stanage.
The First and Second World War memorials on the east and west walls remind us of sacrifices made by the Sons of Brampton Bryan. A huge number to come from such a small village.
First World War: Frederick Charles Jones, Geoffrey Richard Jones, George Lucas, George Hughes, William Henry Fishwick, Adrian Goodall, Harry Lewis, William Edwards, Richard Jones, Frank Jukes.
Second World War: Robert John Mortimer Harley.
Clock by John Moore & Sons
The clock over the porch was installed in 1859 by the renowned London clockmakers John Moore & Sons, 38-39 Clerkenwell Close, who made over 100 clocks for churches. This clock is still keeping extremely accurate time 150 years later.
John Moore & Sons made over 15,000 domestic clocks, and nearly 1,000 turret and musical clocks, also supplying clocks to Emperors of Russia, China and The Brazils.
Also of interest, but not on display: church silver
Please note that the silver is neither displayed nor stored in the church.
Brampton Bryan Church: Silver Chalice, Standing Paten, Alms Dish and Flagon. London Hallmarks 1724, Maker's mark GS (for Gabriel Sleath).
All pieces carry the inscription: “The gift of Reverend Dr Humphry Gower, the late Master of St John's Colledge (sic) in Cambridge”
Humphry Gower (b.1638 at Brampton Bryan — d.1711) was the son of Stanley Gower, Rector of Brampton Bryan during the Civil War. In the Parish Minute Book, it is recorded that, on December 11th 1724, "the sum of forty pounds, being a legacy left by the said Dr. to this Church, to be laid out in some useful and lasting ornament, and part of the said money was immediately laid out in the Communion Plate, Viz. One Quart Flagon, a pint Chalice, and a basin. The Plate in all amounting to £26/8/00".
First records of a church at Brampton Bryan date back to 10th July 1275 in the Cantilupe Register of Thomas de Cantilupe, Bishop of Hereford 1275-1282. Following destruction in the Civil War, the current building was commissioned and paid for in 1656, by Sir Robert Harley. The first service to take place was Sir Robert’s funeral.
Architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, in his series of books ‘Buildings of England’, describes the first building as 'aisled' but there is still uncertainty as to its full footprint. It was all but destroyed in the Civil War sieges of the adjacent castle, with which the name of Brilliana Harley is irrevocably linked. Sections of the west and south walls survived to be incorporated in the present listed church. There is no trace of the tower on which a cannon was apparently placed to bombard the castle - though a cannonball has recently been found in the Hall gardens!
The present church of St. Barnabas dates from 1656 and is notable for being one of only half a dozen churches in England allowed to be built, or rebuilt, in the eleven-year period of English history known as the Commonwealth. In the interregnum between the execution of Charles I in 1649, and the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II in 1660, Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector, and the country governed as a republic. This unusual church, commissioned by Sir Robert Harley and paid for by him and/or his son Edward, was originally a straightforward Puritan 'preaching box' - i.e. a broad nave and chancel in one. That simplicity was however covered with a remarkable triple hammerbeam roof structure, which tradition suggests was retrieved from the adjacent castle ruins.
The building appears to have been virtually untouched until the nineteenth century when it was twice reordered. Alterations in the early 1830s seem to have been primarily driven by a desire to increase free seating. The box pews were somewhat re-organised and a west gallery inserted, with access to the latter from a small narthex/tower on the west wall. That also provided a new entrance to the church, and the existing door in the south wall was closed up. At the same time a small Priest's Vestry was built at the northeast corner. The work was to the design of, and supervised by, Edward Blakeway Smith of Ludlow, who returned in 1857 to add a Belfry with Memorial Clock at the southwest corner and also to install a Decorated East Window, to replace a small oriel window high in the east wall with two other Jacobean lights below.
Further and more significant reordering came in 1887/8, under the direction of JS Crowther (Cheshire based and by that time Architect of Manchester Cathedral). The south west door was reinstated with a porch added, the gallery removed, all pews replaced, and a new raised ‘Sacrarium’ created at the east end. This last incorporated in the floor and new pulpit much fine parquetry woodwork by the then Rector, F Sheffield. The original Jacobean nave windows were replaced in Decorated Perpendicular style, the nave floor renewed and the building re-roofed, the hammerbeam structure being to a regrettable extent concealed by internal boarding. But Crowther also supervised the installation of a striking new east window (by Powell & Sons), with the 1857 one moved to the west wall. The entrance to the north (Priests) Vestry was reconfigured and the Victorian Font – not shown in the 1831 design, but appearing in Crowther’s “as is” plan - moved northwards along the west wall. Though the substantial new oak pews for the nave were obviously specially commissioned, clergy and choir seating in the 'Sacrarium' appear to have been re-used from elsewhere.
20th and 21st Century
In 1907 a choir vestry was added at the west end, effectively obliterating evidence of the previous external structures. It was dedicated at the same time as the new Bishop & Son organ.
In 2020, as part of a major repair and renewal project (Forward St Barnabas) the heating system was upgraded, a WC (to Disabled specifications) and a small catering facility installed, and social space created at the west end of the nave.
Restoration & Research
With the award of Heritage Lottery funding, a major programme of repairs, including complete reroofing, stonework, rainwater goods and drainage started in spring 2021, and finished in 2022. This work has removed the church from the "Heritage at Risk Register".
The repair programme enabled dendrochronological research, aiming to discover the provenance of the present roof structure. An edited film of the lecture about this work is included on this website.
There is also a school information package being prepared which will explain about how Brampton Bryan was involved in the Civil War.
Last re-roofed over 100 years ago, the roof has been re-tiled to hopefully last another 100 years, with insulation to save heating costs. In order to protect the shallow foundations, tiles were stripped and repairs carried out in sections. This was done to avoid causing damage by uneven weight on the shallow foundations.
A new lighting system now shows off the remarkable hammerbeam roof.
Roof space and beams
Inside the church the hammerbeam roof structure is to a marked extent obscured by the boarding added in 1887-8. Some initial limited dendrochronological research (sponsored by Historic England) was carried out on the pillars and lower structure accessible from within the church in 2017-8, but evaluation 'topside' was restricted.
When the roof was stripped for retiling, core samples were taken from previously hidden timbers, and these were researched and photographed. This research has disproved the long-standing assumption that the roof structure was built with timbers salvaged from the ruins of the castle banqueting hall. It has not, however, provided a definitive judgment as to whether the 'King's Carpenter' — John Abel — was involved in the roof's construction.
What can the church roof tell us?
Tree ring dating at St Barnabas Church
As part of the restoration project at St Barnabas Church, an investigation was made into the timbers of the beautiful roof.
Robert Howard, from the Nottingham Tree Ring Dating Laboratory took samples from a number of the larger pieces of wood, and used them to discover how old the roof is, and when the trees were felled.
This science is called dendrochronology, and it analyses the spaces between the tree rings in the wood to date the timbers. Robert gave a talk at the church in March 2022. In it, he not only explained how the science works, but also revealed some challenging new facts about the roof itself. Watch the video to find out more.
(Many thanks to the person who stepped in at the last minute to record the talk, after the cameraman we were expecting had to drop out due to illness! The quality of the film is not perfect, but it doesn't stop you finding out some really interesting facts.)
Encouraged by the experience of the Leintwardine History Society, we arranged for the University of Worcester to use Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to try to establish the footprint of the original Norman church. A talk was given at the end of May 2022, in which the findings were explained. The talk was filmed, and the video will be available to view on the website in due course.
Missing Brilliana vault
With GPR on site, we had hoped to discover a vault, possibly in the substructure of the 'Sacrarium' at the east end of the church. The findings were interesting but not conclusive and further research will definitely be needed before we can resolve the long-debated question as to whether Brilliana Harley's remains were interred there after her death at the end of the first Civil War siege of the Castle.
Supporting St Barnabas church
It costs £1600 per month to run our church.
Please support us by giving time as a volunteer, making a donation (there will be a card machine installed by the vestry door) or remembering St Barnabas in your will. Alternatively, for regular donations, please donate to Brampton Bryan Church through the Parish Giving Scheme at www.parishgiving.org.uk
Our main fundraiser is Scarecrow Sunday, usually held on the first Sunday in August.
The church can be made available for displaying locally made artwork, crafts and jewellery etc. Contact the Churchwarden: email@example.com