Christ Church


 

Christ Church, Hilderstone, was built on the initiative of the local squire, Ralph Bourne. Mr. Bourne was able to persuade the first Earl of Harrowby, who was a Church Commissioner, to support the founding of the church.

The building was partially funded by the Church Commissioners and so is one of many known as Commissioners Churches or Waterloo Churches. The reference to Waterloo arises from the grant of £1,000,000 made to the Church Commissioners to assist with church building as a thanksgiving for the success of the British in the battle of Waterloo.

The designs of Commissioners Churches had to be approved by the Commissioners and they were keen to ensure that the maximum of space for worship was attained for the money expended on the churches supported by them. As a result of this requirement and the liturgy of the time such churches prior to 1835 have a rectangular nave with one shallow sanctuary. The were usually plain and functional. The seat all face towards the sanctuary which is not obscured by the reading desk or pulpit.

This style of church architecture was not popular with the Victorians who, in response to changes in churchmanship and with new found wealth, set about modifying Commissioners churches. Thus by the end of the nineteenth century most Commissioners Churches had acquired a chancel, an organ had been installed in the East end and one or more galleries removed. The plain obscured glass in the windows in the south and north walls had been replaced by stained glass of variable quality.

Christ Church, Hilderstone, is believed to be the only rural Commissioners Church which is almost untouched since its construction. It is through this good fortune that the Concerts in Christ Church, Hilderstone, has such a lovely venue for its performances. The West Gallery Quire, known as the John Moore Quire have given a concert here.
 

Picture

The interior of Christ Church, as it is today.
 

Picture

and as it was in 1953
 


 

Picture

Christ Church, Hilderstone from a drawing of the 1830s. It is surprising how little has changed today. Compare with the photograph above.

The church has a low tower with a spire 40 feet tall. The tower has one bell, which is tolled each Sunday. The interior of the church is 72 feet long and 32 feet wide. Christ Church has a central aisle and two side aisles. The gargoyles on the outside of the building are said to depict the workmen involved in the construction of the church and, generally speaking, are in excellent condition. The corbels inside are representations of the founder, the first incumbent and the architect.

Christ Church, Hilderstone was built with the aid of funds made available under the Church Building Acts, the first of which was in 1818. Churches built with the assistance of those funds are known as "Commissioners churches", or "Waterloo churches", since the Church Building Act 1818 was passed in part to commemorate the success in the Battle of Waterloo. Other reasons for the Acts were said to be an attempt to stem the tide of Dissent and bringing the established church to those who were not served by Church of England churches, often those affected by industrialization or living in small poorer villages.

The Lords Commissioner of the Treasury, administered the monies provided under the Acts to assist the building of Commissionersí churches. The churches built using their funds had to represent good value for money. They were to be built "with a view to accommodating the greatest number of persons at the smallest expense within the compass of an ordinary voice, one half of the number to be free seats for the poor".

The Commissioners laid down specific stipulations as to design and personally approved the pans of all churches funded by them. Examples of requirements are "the windows ought not to resemble modern sashes; but whether Grecian or Gothic, should be in small panes and not costly" and "The pulpit should not intercept a view of the altar, but all seats should be placed so as to face the preacher". The application of these requirements can be seen in Christ Church, Hilderstone. Commissionerís churches (and others built at the same time) have characteristic features. They have lean proportions. A large rectangle with the altar at the end set in a short chancel. There is often a pulpit on one side of the chancel, with a reading desk at a lower level on the other. The organ is in a West gallery. Beneath the West gallery is the font. Windows were long and pointed. Often they have lancet windows with shallow buttresses between. Each of these features may been seen in Christ Church.

The Victorians did not favour Commissioners churches. They regarded them as cheap and unworthy. The design and structure of Commissioners churches did not lie easily with developments in the Anglican liturgy and theology in Victorian England. Victorian architects despoiled the vast majority of them. Betjeman says (in the Collins Guide to Parish Churches of England and Wales, London 1980, p 61) that he is aware of only one Commissioners church which has survived exactly as its architect designed it. He refers to Christ Church, Acton Square, Salford. Christ Church, Hilderstone, is another. Good fortune, and a lack of funds, has meant that Christ Church Hilderstone is very much as Thomas Trubshaw designed it. There have been only minor changes to the furnishings. Although the building has been lit by electricity since 1947, the original candlesticks are in place at the pew ends!

In his "Buildings of England: Staffordshire", Sir Nikolaus Pevsner says

"Christ Church (1827-29) by Thomas Trubshaw. Commissionersí type, but with a North West steeple carrying a recessed spire. The church has lancets, with flattish buttresses between, and typically clumsy pinnacles. The interior has originality - ignorance breeding originality - with its octagonal piers, each side carrying fluting or a sunken panel, and its leaf capitals. Angel corbels for the roof inform us of the people connected with the new building (Ralph Bourne, the donor, the parson at the time, and the architect). Box Pews. Stained Glass. The east window with its glaring colours typical of its date: 1829 by Collins of London (CPDD)."

Pevsner is unduly harsh. The charm of the church arises from the fact that it is a local work, little changed from the time when it was first built.

ACCESS

Map reference  :  


Information and pictures from the Church web site at 
http://www.hilderstonecc.freeuk.com/html/more.html

See also reference to the John Moore Quire at  http://www.wgma.org.uk/Quires/jmc.html

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