Glos.
Tetbury

St Mary the Virgin

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Tetbury exterior at night

 

Tetbury exterior at night

 

Tetbury exterior at night

 

Three views of the floodlit church, taken in the early evening. The tower with its beautiful slender spire is 186 ft high (57m)., and the fourth highest in the country. This is all that remains of the old church which stood on the same spot.


Dove's reference for the bells:

Tetbury, Glos, S Mary, 8, 16¾cwt in Eflat. Fri. ST891929

 

From Father John Hawthorne's introduction to the church guide:

"It [the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin, Tetbury] is the oldest site of Christian worship in Gloucestershire - worshippers have been praising God here since 681 - and the present building is the only Georgian church in the county"

As you can see, it is an extraordinary building, with its tall slender columns, shallow Sanctuary, high box pews (with which parishioners enjoy a love-hate relationship) and ambulatories, or passages, round it. With its enormous windows it has been described as being "like a lantern".

It was built in the tradition of preaching, or auditory, churches, at a time when pulpit and reading desk dominated and the altar took second place. But for the last fifty years the Holy Eucharist has been at the centre of our worship, and the Church is now ordered to reflect that. So in re-ordering it in 1992/93 we were able, also, to rid the Church of many of its Victorian accretions and, so far as was compatible with the demands of flexibility, restore its interior lines to the Georgian original in terms of clarity and light."

 This was written in April 1998

 

interior looking east

 

interior looking west, and galleries

 

Looking towards the Sanctuary and Altar, taken in the evening and lit only by the church lighting. Note the box pews, dating from the late eighteenth century.

 

There is a gallery not only at the west end of the church, but also continuations of it on both north and south walls. Note the chandelier, one of two - each with 36 candles - which date from c. 1781.

 

Prior to the building of this church, townspeople worshipped in a mediaeval church on the same site.

This old church is recorded as being of complicated plan, with three aisles and three chancels, various chantries and chapels, and a room over the south porch which housed the grammar school. Sadly it fell into decay, with disputes in the fifteenth century about who was responsible for the repair of certain parts of the building. In 1662 there is a report that the church was shaken by a great tempest, and by the beginning of the eighteenth century the church was in such a state that the then incumbent wrote to the Chancellor that the church was open to the wind almost on every side.

Following an Act of Parliament in 1765 allowing for the church to be completely rebuilt, eventually, in 1777, the church was demolished, apart from its tower and spire, which were judged to be safe.

The new church was built under the supervision of its architect, Francis Hiorne of Warwick, and was completed in 1781 at a total cost of £5,059. 12s. 0d.


organ on west gallery

 

The Nave area is completely filled by the original, high, box pews of dark oak, which are most uncommon. . . . Some of the pews have been 'customised' by their previous regular users,in the past, with a prayer book drawer under th seat, a lock on the door, or extra depth added to the seat. A great deal of self discipline must have been exercised by church goers of the old 'preaching church' days, when they would have t o sit in the not too comfortable pews through extremely long sermons. There would be no escape in slumping down in the seat, as the original high canopied pulpit, (unfortunately lost in earlier changes to the church) gave good visibility all round.

Old wooden rails, rescued from the Vicarage stables, separate the Sanctuary, which is raised a few steps above the remainder of the interior.

Dominating the west end of the church is the large gallery, fronted with dark panelling, and accessed by a staircase at each corner. (For safety reasons the gallery is not normally open to the public). The organ occupies a purpose built recess here, and the choir sits in front. Soon after the church was opened, more seating wa needed, so forward extensions, fitted with box pews of normal height, were installed.

The arms of George III hang on the front of the gallery.

hatchment on gallery

 

The vicissitudes of the Victoran reformers have all but been removed by the most recent of restorations in 1992/93. The organ had, in 1901, been removed from the gallery and placed upon high posts in front of the window in the first bay of the south side of the Chancel, new choir stalls were placed on a three foot high podium within the chancel (taking up about half its width), and the Sanctuary raised to suit. in 1917 a screen was also added at its western edge. The alteratins were subsequently described by a former vicar, Canon Michael Sherwood, as 'musically, æsthetically and liturgically unfortunate', something of an understatement.

The above extracts have been taken from various parts of the church guide, and acknowledgements are given to G Twigg, J K Bullock, G A Harvey, P Adkins and P Panton, its authors. Photographs © E M L Macadam, 2001.

 

ACCESS

Map reference : ST891929. The church is adjacent the A433 road to Chipping Sodbury on the south-west side of the town. Parking can be a problem as all the surrounding streets are narrow and what little parking there is, is quickly filled. The church was open at the time of our visit (30/10/2001), with a volunteer acting as "church-sitter".

 

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Edwin Macadam and Sheila Girling Smith, Shelwin, 30, Eynsham Road, Botley,
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July 2001 -

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