09-MAR-70 CHURCH OF ST MARY
Parish church, built from C12 onwards. Early English chancel, restored in the late C19; south chapel of C14; upper part of tower and battlements c.1779; and late C19 south porch. Restored in 1878-79 by Sir A.W. Blomfield.
MATERIALS: Tufa (a soft, porous limestone rock) evident in the early masonry and sandstone ashlar.
PLAN: Nave of four bays with aisles and south chapel, chancel, west tower and south porch.
EXTERIOR: Tower to west end. C12 lower part with thin pilaster buttresses in the north and south walls. The west lancet windows appear to be C13 insertions, and the segmental-headed three-light west window is early C16. The diagonal buttresses, upper battlemented part and belfry windows are later. There is a stone memorial set into the south wall of the tower which is probably C18, and also fragments of carved masonry. Late Norman style doorway to C19 south porch. The early C13 south aisle was partly rebuilt in the C14 as a chapel. It has one early C16 window; the rest are Decorated and appear to be late C19 replacements. The battlemented clerestory retains Perpendicular square-headed two-light windows; some containing C15 coloured glass. The chancel is mid C13 but has undergone renewal by Blomfield, including the east window which has stained glass by C.E. Kempe; the priest's doorway in the south wall; and string courses. In the side walls are lancet windows, probably C13 date, although the roll mouldings have been renewed. The north wall of the north aisle retains some C12 fabric but was largely rebuilt in the C16. The two windows with reticulated tracery are late C19, but earlier wooden lintels survive. A kitchen extension built against the north aisle in the late C20 is not of special interest.
INTERIOR: The Norman tower arch is round; the inner order square, the outer with roll and hood. The west window is Perpendicular and has three cusped lights with a four-centred arch. It retains three grisaille roundels of painted glass. A cast-iron spiral staircase leads to the belfry. The nave was originally aisle-less, but aisles were added between c.1180 and c.1200. The arcades are of four bays, each is very different in style. The north has round recessed arches of two square orders and circular columns with square, flat capitals decorated with leaf motifs and square abaci. The east and west responds appear to have been remodelled in c.1200 with triple shafts; the central west shaft is keeled. There are scallops on the west capitals and shallow foliage on those to the east. The south arcade has similar triple-shafted east and west responds, but with fully developed stiff leaf foliage to the capitals. It also has circular columns but here the capitals are circular and carved into upright crockets, showing more Early English character. The nave has a late C15 roof with arched braces and rests on decorative stone corbels, some of which take the form of grotesque heads. The pews are probably late C18. In the north east angle of the north aisle is the stair to the former rood loft, with a four-centred arch to the lower doorway. The organ occupies part of the eastern bay of the north aisle. The south chapel retains some medieval floor tiles with heraldic designs and a mid C14 trefoil-headed piscina with stone shelf. The east window is late C19 and contains stained glass by Kempe. The chapel roof has moulded beams and is nearly flat. Against the north wall are some corbels which supported the lower roof of the aisle before the chapel was built. The chancel is Early English and underwent restoration in the late C19; the east window, triple sedilia and piscina date from this period. The reredos has a carving of the Last Supper. The late C19 pointed chancel arch, which is C14 in character, springs from clustered columns with moulded capitals and the trussed-rafter roof with collar braces resting on brackets, is of the same date.
FITTINGS: C14 wall painting on south wall of south chapel; much faded but interpreted as an allegory of the Deadly Sins; C15 embroidered altar frontal in case on north wall of north aisle; and commemorative brass of 1616 to John Grove, founder of the Alveley Church School, in west end of nave. There are numerous wall monuments of the C18 and C19 including a hanging monument with Corinthian side columns and entablature of 1723. Reredos, painted on zinc, in the south chapel by C.E. Kempe, 1887. Stone font incised with Greek baptismal palindrome; and stone pulpit and carved timber lectern, both with thick foliage bands, all probably contemporary with late C19 restoration.
HISTORY: Dedicated to St Mary, the Virgin and constructed from 1140. The lower part of the tower, nave and aisles are principally of Norman construction. The chancel is mid C13, but was heavily restored in the late C19, whilst the south aisle was remodelled for a chantry chapel in 1353 by Sir Thomas Astley of Coton Hall. In 1779 the original timber steeple was taken down and the battlemented upper part of the tower was erected in stone. In 1878-79 the church was restored by Sir Arthur William Blomfield (1829-1899) who was one of the last great Gothic revivalists and was also a prolific architect whose primary activity was church building and restoration. Blomfield's work was largely limited to the exterior of the church, including the addition of the south porch; whilst the interior has undergone only limited restoration; concentrated largely on the chancel.
SUMMARY OF IMPORTANCE: The Church of St Mary the Virgin is a fine example of an English parish church with a high survival of Norman and medieval fabric that is complemented by the late C19 restoration work by the eminent church architect Sir A.W. Blomfield. The Norman work includes the lower part of the tower, the nave and the arcades; the later building campaigns, principally in the C13 and C14, are of a similar quality. The richness of architectural detail throughout the church is noteworthy. Considerable additional interest is found in the variety of fittings and monuments in the church, particularly the C14 wall painting, the late C15 altar frontal, the painted reredos of 1887 by C.E. Kempe, and a number of C18 and C19 memorial plaques.
SOURCES: N. Pevsner & J. Newman, `Buildings of England, Shropshire' (2006); J. Leonard, `Churches of Shropshire and their Treasures' (1997); Rev. D.H.S. Cranage, `The Churches of Shropshire' (1912)
Listing NGR: SO7595884543