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Church of St Michael, Blewbury

The following script is taken from a small booklet found amongst the items left to BLHG by the family of Doreen Welch, former resident of the village. The booklet itself is bound in parchment and bears no authors name nor date, but by the fact it does not mention the memorial to those fallen in the Great War, it is supposed to be pre 1920 and more likely around 1911. Photographs have been added for the benefit of the reader.

Notes on the Prebendal Church of St Michael Blewbury

Blewbury – The origin of the name is lost in antiquity. It has been suggested that it is possibly derived from the Anglo-Saxon 'Bleo', livid and 'Byrig', earthwork: 'the dark earthwork'. On the grounds of Blewbury Farm, north of the church are remains of a moat and earthworks and the road leading to them is still called 'Bury Lane'. 'Byrig Lane'?

Variations of the spelling of name

Bloebirg, Bleoburg, Bleoburig: Charter of King Edmund AD 944

Bleobyrig: Saxon description of parish boundaries

Blitberie, Blidberia: Domesday AD1086

Blebire, Bleobir, Bleobyria: Other ancient documenst

Blewberey: Communion plate AD 1663

Blubery, Blueberry, Blewberry, Blewbury: Modern times

The early church in Wessex

After the primitive British Church had been driven westward by the Saxon invaders, Christianity was reintroduced into this part of the country (Wessex) in AD 634 by St Birinus, who sailed from Genoa, being sent by Pope Honorius to evangalize those interior parts of Britain which St Augustine’s mission (AD 579) had not reached. He landed on the Hampshire coast and proceeded northward. There is a tradition that he first met Cynegils, the King of Wessex (who had his court probably at Cholsey) on the downs in Blewbury parish.

At this time Oswald, the Christian King of Northumbria, had come to Wessex to marry the daughter of Cynegils. He added his entreaties to the preaching of St Birinus, with the result that Cynegils was converted and baptised at Dorchester (AD 635) his son in law standing as his Godfather. Cynegils gave St Birinus a grant of land at Dorchester, which place became for a time the See of Wessex.

The Saxon Church at Blewbury

There was a Saxon church at Blewbury, possibly built during the episcopate of St Birinus, perhaps a little later; but all traces of its structure seem to have disappeared. Domesday book speaks of the church at Blitberie and the land attached to it, as having been held by one Aluric, in the time of Edward the confessor, and as being held by William Befou, when Domesday was drawn up.

The Norman Church

The Church appears to have been rebuilt by the Normans in the 12th century. At first it consisted of the present Nave, with probably a small square shaped Sanctuary at the east end. The little window on the north side (near the west end) is the only original Norman window left. The portion of the wall on which it is placed is the original Norman wall.

Transition Period

About 1145 or 1150 the Manor of Blewbury and the vicarage came into the possession of Reading Abbey. Most probably the Abbey, as 'Lord of the Manor', proceeded to carry out the following enlargements during the transition period (1145-90). Two transepts and the Chancel were added and apparently a central tower the lower walls of which, and the four bell rope holes remain, was built over the spot where the ancient Sanctuary stood. The Church at this time was a cruciform structure. A chamber still remaining was built over by the beautiful vaulted chancel, and it is thought by some that the steps, afterwards leading to the Rood Loft, were erected as a means of access to the chamber. One transition window remains on the north side of the Chancel, originally there were probably two on either side.

The South aisle

This was probably added in the early part of the 13th century, the arcade being cut out of the external wall of the Nave. It will be noticed that the two western arches are larger than the other three. Two reasons have been hazarded: i-It was the original intention to finish the aisle at the third pillar but while it was being built it was determined to produce it to the western extremity of the Nave. Three more arches could not, however, be included, so two larger ones were made; or ii-the centre arch marks the spot where was the ancient South door, the opening being enlarged to make it. It was then found impossible to make two equal arches on either side.

The South Chapel

The South Chapel dates from about 1350, and it is an extensive piece of work, possibly contributed by a founder. An old stone coffin found where the Alter stands, and now let into the pavement of the South Transept, may very likely have been the founders tomb. The carving is much worn, but it seems to represent a man holding a building, probably the Chapel, in his hands.

The two arches of the north side were cut out of the external wall of the Chancel, the old outside buttress still remaining. At this time one of the transition windows of the Chancel was replaced by a decorated one.

The North Aisle

The North Aisle is decorated, and was probably added soon after the middle of the 14th century. It was evidently built as a Chapel. The ancient stone Alter at its east end was discovered buried at the time of the restoration (1875) and replaced in its original position. The remains of the old Reredos are apparent.

The window at the east end of the Chancel is said to date from about 1350. The glass, with the exception of the top left hand pane, is modern. There is an ancient stone Alter under the present wooden High Alter.

The West Tower

The fate of the original central tower is wrapped in obscurity. The west tower, the most modern portion of the whole building, was erected in the perpendicular period, probably in the early part of the 15th century. In order to provide for its north east buttress, the west end of the south aisle was taken down and rebuilt some feet eastwards. The space beneath this tower is used as a vestry.

Points of special interest

Doorway and steps to the ancient Rood Loft. The door is  a fine specimen of craving. There was evidently an Alter in the Rood Loft. The Piscina may be seen let into the wall on the north side.

Curious horse shoe arch at east end of south aisle-origin unknown

Double Aumbry (for keeping the sacred vessels) behind the High Alter

Ring on the north wall of the Sanctuary; for hanging the Lenten Veil in pre-Reformation times. The niche for the corresponding ring can be seen on the opposite side.

Two Hagioscopes, one at each side of the western angles of the Chancel. Evidently placed through the old masonry after the completion of the south and north aisles. Purpose;- to enable people in the aisles to see the Priest at the alter.

Perpendicular carved oak screen and Prayer desks in Chancel.

Fine old door and oak porch at south entrance. The corresponding wooden north porch was unfortunately destroyed in 1875 to make room for the modern stone one.

Ancient brasses. John Balam, Vicar of Blewbury, died May 25, 1495. On Purbeck slab in south east pier, at end of Chancel. He is depicted in Eucharistic vestments and gothic chasuble.

A Knight and his wife and children, about 1500, north side of Chancel. The brass of the second wife (which should be attached) is on the east side of the south west pier of the central tower.

Sir John Daunce (Councillor and Surveyor General to Henry VIII) and Dame Alice, his wife, on tomb in south Chapel.

John Latten and Anne, his wife, 1548. north side of Chancel.

Memorial to John Casberde ‘one of the good benefactors to this Church’ beneath Alter in north aisle.

Chained books (1) The paraphrase of Erasmus on the New Testament. Translated into English at the charge and with the help of Queen Catherine, widow of Henry VIII.

(2) Bishop Jewel’s ‘Defence of the apology of the Church of England’ and other writings.

Black letter Bible AD 1613 in desk

The ancient Church chest, containing many valuable records, including registers dating from 1588.

Carolean Royal Arms over north door. Rescued from destruction by Mr W H Richardson in 1875 and restored in 1907.

Consecration cross, outside on buttress west of south door.

Ancient fragments of tomb, outside, on north of Church. Unknown. Crusader and his wife.

Bells in west tower – Inscriptions as follows

Treble – Victor L Whitechurch, Vicar. Eli Caudwell and L G Slade, Churchwardens 1906. In populo gravi laudabo te.

2nd Victor L Whitechurch. Vicar. Eli Caudwell and L G Slade, Churchwardens 1906. Domine in coelo misericordia Tua.

3rd Henry Knight made mee 1663

4th Thomas Lyford, Henry Butler, CW, 1689, Samuel Knight

5th John Keate Cw 1704

6th Blessed be the name of the Lorde, Joseph Carter 1586

7th Edward Read, of Albourne, Wilts, Fecit 1752

Tenor. John Hunt, Founder, Cholsey, Berks 1825 Nil desperandum

Recent restoration work etc

Previous to 1875, the church was in a very bad condition and the roof was unsafe. The Rev JH Burgess initiated the work of restoration. In the above year, the Nave, Chancel and north aisle were restored, the old ‘three decker’ pulpit, the high pews and galaries on the south, west and north being demolished. Under the same Vicar the organ was erected. In 1890 the south aisle and Chapel were restored and the modern Alter placed in the Chapel, the Rev Arthur Fearon being Vicar.1904-1910. Chapel seated and lighted. Tower restored and its roof renewed. Two new bells added, completing the octave. Oak screen erected at west end. Church re-seated with new chairs. Oak choir stalls and Alter rails erected. Organ restored and enlarged, and sundry minor additions and improvements.

Work remaining to be done

Proper heating apparatus. Seating of the church with oak pews and many minor details.

Additional brief historical notes

In 1075 Blewbury became incorporated in the See of Sarum. The Church, with many others in the Diocese, was made a Prebend of Salisbury. It remained a Prebend after the Manor and vicarage were presented to Reading Abbey. Blewbury was a Priest Prebend, and had to maintain a priest vicar in Salisbury Cathedral. The names of 28 of the Prebendaries of Blewbury are recorded. The Prebendary of Blewbury being a Canon of Salisbury Cathedral, and having to reside a great part of the year at Salisbury, seems to have placed the Church under a Curate in charge, and in 1225 Tithes were apportioned for the latter, i.e. the Church was endowed. It would seem that the Prebendaries of Blewbury were for some time the Patrons of the Living. In 1836 Berkshire, and Blewbury with it, was united to the Diocese of Oxford. The Chapelries of Upton and Aston Upthorpe, formerly attached to Blewbury, were separated as a distinct Benfice in 1862.

'Blewbury Jones'

The Rev Morgan Jones, Curate in charge of Blewbury 1781-1824, was a celebrated character, and is mentioned by Dickens in 'Our mutual Friend' as a miser. The coat which he wore constantly for 42 years, a thing literally of 'shreds and patches', is still preserved in the village. He robbed a scarecrow of a hat to better his own! He lived on half a crown a week, spending it on two 'necessities', bread and bacon, and one 'luxury', tea. He bought his bacon at a farm house in Blewbury, 4lb at a time, paying three visits for each piece, one to order it, one to fetch it and one to pay for it. On each of these occasions he stayed for dinner and tea, for he was fond of gratuitous good cheer. He wrote his sermons on odd scraps of paper, and might be seen on wintry days picking up stocks in the Churchyard for his fire. By careful saving and investment he died worth £18,000, which went to a distant relative. In spite of his extreme meanness and other eccentricities he appears to have been an excellent parish priest, much respected by his parishioners, and at times giving generously to missionary societies.

Other works on the Church

An eight page detailed booklet was also produced by Peter Northeast sometime in the 1960’s. More than one edition exists, the foreword in them being written by Sir John Betjeman, with one dated 1964. Here are two of the editions from our research library: