Churchend, Eastington GL10 3SB
The 13th century church of St Michael and All Angels lies in the county of Gloucestershire. It serves the Parish of Eastington which is close to junction 13 of the M5 motorway.
The parish covers 2040 acres (815 hectares) of which most, other than a small percentage, is agricultural land. There are currently about 650 households in the Parish; half of these are within Eastington village centre (Alkerton): the remaining dwellings are situated in the nine satellite hamlets of Churchend, Claypits, Cress Green, Middle Street, Millend, Nastend, Newtown, Nupend and Westend. A new housing development to the north of the parish is now swelling the housing and population numbers somewhat.
The church is located in the hamlet of Churchend (GL10 3SB) and is open daily from 08:30 – 17:00 hrs.
St Michael and All Angels is an active and welcoming church which holds regular services on alternate Sundays. It has the traditional Church of England services of communion and non-communion, Palm Sunday, Easter Day, Harvest Festival, Mothering Sunday and Christingle/Christmas services.
The church is a popular venue for weddings, offering a traditional Church of England marriage service with organist, church bells peal on the bride’s arrival and again on the newly married couple’s emergence to the well-kept churchyard for the traditional wedding photographs.
St Michaels is additionally used for small theatrical performances, musical recitals and regular bellringers’ practice. The adjacent parish primary school also uses the church, for example, its Harvest Festival; the school has also used the church for the setting for its Nativity play and Easter.
The lady chapel at the eastern end of the south aisle provides an area for quiet reflection. It houses a prayer/memory tree where one may leave prayers or a memorial to a loved one on the tree’s leaves.
The main structure of the present building came into existence in the 13th century and the tower a little later. It was probably built on the site of an earlier church (11th century?), which would account for the presence of the unusual Norman font to be found at the west end of the south aisle.
The church was originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but this was changed during the Reformation in the 16th century.
The nave has six pointed arches of late Norman or Early English pattern, whilst the windows are of Tudor design. These were probably inserted in place of the smaller decorated windows, two of which still exist at the west end of the north and south aisles. It is thought that this work was done by the Duke of Stafford and Buckingham who was Lord of the Manor in the early 16th century. He was building Thornbury Castle at the time, but it was never completed because he was accused of plotting regicide and executed by beheading on Tower Hill on 17 May 1521 at the age of 43.
The church was originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but this was changed during the Reformation in the 16th Century.
The oldest glass is in the 15th century centre section of the right window of the north aisle. It shows a figure of St Matthew (holding a screed scroll?). There are also fragments of the same, above, and behind, in the south clerestory windows.
The newest glass is at the west end of the north aisle. The windows and the glass panel above the tower room are the bequest of Kathleen Heywood as a memorial to her husband, Frank, and her parents, Mary and Walter Tanner. The stained glass in these two windows was designed by Thomas Denny and Richard Web and made by them in in the winter of 1992-93.
The windows are known locally as The Heywood windows but are sometimes referred to nationally as The Denny windows.
The oldest memorial is a fine brass on a granite slab to be found to the right of the vestry door. This is a memorial to Mistress Knevet who died in 1518.
Mural tablets in the Sanctuary and on the south wall mostly commemorate members of the Stephens family who were Lords of the Manor during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Edward Stephens and his wife are in effigy at the west end of the south aisle.
The belfry contains six bells which were brought from St Peter’s Church in nearby Frocester and re-hung here in 1953. * See below
There is a burial ground for the Stanton family at the east end of the churchyard in which each grave has a Celtic cross.
Some of the monuments in the burial ground are listed. The war memorial (WW1 and WW2) stands on the site of the first Eastington Schoolroom (1824-1859).
Twenty-nine souls are commemorated on this monument, 22 from WWI and seven from WWII. The memorial was unveiled by Brigadier J E Bush CB in August 1920.
The weathercock is Elizabethan (1558-1603) or earlier. It bears the date 1673, when it was repaired. It was restored in 1992. A new flagpole was erected in 1992.
The sundial, which was over the south door, is dated 1737 and bears the inscription ‘Dum spectas fugit hora’ (‘whilst thou lookest the hour flies’). It is now inside the church beside the Stephens effigy at the west end of the south aisle.
The lychgate was erected in 1955 in memory of Major Claude de Lisle Bush who was Lord of the Manor at that time.
*The bells have an interesting history of their own:
History hints that in earlier years, Eastington may once have had a peal of bells - the records for St Cyr’s church, just outside Stonehouse, suggest that by 1703, it had a total of six bells. Four of these were dated 1636 and said to have come from St Michaels in Eastington. However, it was not until 1953 that Eastington once again had a peal of bells. In that year, St Peters church in Frocester was in the process of being demolished. Fortunately, the tower was retained, and a new home found for the peal of six bells that was re-hung in the tower of St Michaels. Work was undertaken by local builder Mr L W Clutterbuck and Whites of Appleton. Along with the bells, Mr Clutterbuck adapted the 1850 bell frame from St Peter’s. The Frocester bells replaced the existing single one known locally as ‘Mournful Minnie’.
The ’new’ bells had a long and interesting history before starting their new life in Eastington. Four of the six had been cast by William Wettmore (or Whitmore) in Frocester way back in 1639, one by Abraham Rudhall in 1743, and another by John Rudhall in 1794; two were recast in 1892. The rehomed bells continued to give sterling service up to the mid-1980s at which point it was considered that remedial work was needed. The bell frame had decayed to the point that it was no longer strong enough for safe bell ringing and in 1987, a fund-raising appeal was started to raise the estimated £20,000 needed for the modernisation and repair work. A major part was for a new steel and cast-iron bell frame, needed to replace the rickety wooden one. Money was also needed for wheels and wheel assemblies, pulley box and rollers, ropes, headstocks, bearings and so on.
In 1989, after a period of silence, following a tremendous amount of hard work (both physical and fund raising), the peal of six bells rang out once again. The bells were re-dedicated by the Rt. Rev. Jeremy Walsh, Bishop of Tewkesbury. In an interview with The Citizen at the time, Tower Captain Celia Harris commented that the final bill might be more than £20,000, but costs had been saved through the stalwart efforts of volunteers undertaking some of the work themselves. Funds for the restoration had been raised through a series of waste recycling schemes, coffee mornings, dances, and concerts.
[Dr Stephen Mills, November 2022]
Mike Naylor, Church Warden