Nantwich, Cheshire – St Mary

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We last came to Nantwich when we were on a narrow boat in 1983 – I remembered that the church had lovely misericords. We drove from Little Moreton Hall and parked in the town centre, Julie had a wander round the shops, and I did the church. It is beautiful. Built mostly in the 14th century of “a warm, if crumbly, red sandstone” (what a poetic guidebook). The town’s prosperity comes from salt, and a castle and chapel were soon built after the Norman Conquest. There were two abbeys established nearby, Combermere and Vale Royal, the latter by Robert Burnell, Chancellor of England Bishop of Bath and Wells.

 

Bishop Burnell was probably responsible in the 1280s for beginning on the site of St Mary’s a church of a similar shape and size to the current one. In the 1340s rebuilding in the flowing, curvilinear Decorated style was begun by Yorkshire masons (associated with York and Beverley minsters). This was interrupted by the Black Death (twice), but the town’s prosperity recovered by the late 1380s. Building continued in the Perpendicular style was then carried out by master masons associated with Lichfield and Gloucester Cathedrals.

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The chantry chapels were removed in 1548. This South Porch was added in the late 15th or early 16th century, and more work was done at the end of that century. The church was briefly used as a prison for Royalist prisoners captured at the battles of Nantwich (1644) and Preston (1648). By 1789 the church was “so ruinous that the inhabitants cannot safely assembly”. George Gilbert Scott restoration 1855-1879. Flat access, small bookshop in the porch, ramp down into the Nave, and a friendly welcomer. They are one of the Greater Churches group – http://greaterchurches.org/ – like Hexham.

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On the left, covering the west door, are the “Queen’s Silver Jubilee Curtains” – I have this vision of Liz saying to her mum, “look mummy, new curtains for my Jubilee” (Trivial pursuit question, now sadly outdated, when does the Buckingham Palace switchboard operator say “Your Majesty, Her Majesty, Your Majesty”? Answer: When the Queen Mother phoned the Queen). I didn’t get a decent photo of the Nave, but it is rather dramatic having the white cloth down to the cross.

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There is a rather striking window on the north wall, west end of the nave. It went in in memory of Albert Bourne, a local farmer, and was designed by Michael Farrar-Bell. A bell and the date (1985) appear lower right. It depicts God’s creation, showing Cheshire and world wild-life, stars and Halley’s comet – which last came in 1986 (http://www.space.com/19878-halleys-comet.html). Mr Bourne is shown walking his dog. Rather lovely chair in the North Transept.

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In the North Transept they also have a Pebble Pool. My photo failed, but you can see it at http://stmarysnantwich.org.uk/prayer-requests/. It is simply a small water feature, with a constantly running stream, into which you can put a pebble for prayer. There is a leaflet which gives you a prayer you can use, and invites you to take it away as a reminder of who you have prayed for. Every Wednesday, presumably at their mid week Eucharist, all the pebbles are placed on the altar, the “Pebble Pool Prayer” is said, and the water (and supply) is replenished. It seems a very good way of bringing people’s prayers into the life of the church, and – a practical thing – removing the need for lighted candles and matches in our unattended churches. (In St Mary’s we don’t leave matches out during the week – we have had them used to set fire to things in the past – and the prayer stand tends to be rather unloved and unused. St Mary’s readers of northernvicar, is it worth investing in a pebble pool?). This is the Pebble Pool Prayer:

Loving Father, in whose hands we place ourselves day by day; we bring to you all those whom these pebbles represent, their needs or their remembrance, committing all things to your love. We know that we are all important to you, and so we pray also for your grace and blessing on those who used these pebbles in love and concern for others. We ask this in the name of your dear Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit, Blessed Trinity, be honour and glory, now and forever. Amen.

Looking up into the Crossing (our projector screen is better hidden than theirs’) we also have a Green Man. There is a rather nice Perpendicular style stone pulpit or Ambo.

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The Chancel was out of bounds due to building work, but you can look up and see the Lierne Vaulted ceiling, with its central historated bosses depicting the life of the Virgin Mary. “Historated” means “adorned with the figures of humans, animals or birds, often for narrative purposes” – like initial letters in illuminated manuscripts. The Monks stalls with triple canopies are said to be the most intricate Medieval carving in England, with lovely misericords. In the Sanctuary the communion table is Elizabethan, the reredos is 1921. My camera has a reasonable zoom, he says, impaling himself on the metal gates (ouch!) – the lengths I go to for this blog!

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In the South Transept is the handsome alabaster and limestone memorial of 1614 to Sir Thomas Smith of Hatherton, Mayor and Sheriff of Chester, and his wife Anne. It was transferred here from Wybunbury church in 1982. There is also one to a knight, probably Sir David Cradock, son of a Nantwich townsman, once Mayor of Bordeaux, Justiciar of Wales, and money-lender to Richard II. According to the guidebook “It is suggested that the figure was damaged by people believing that alabaster was an aphrodisiac and could cure sheep-rot.” (I love that – “Darling, I have some alabaster. Shall we go to bed?” “No, the sheep’s got rot”). The window is by William Wailes.

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This window, in the Nave, was designed by Henry Clarke (1889-1931), and installed in memory of Lt Richard Knowles, killed in 1918. The main figures are Richard Coeur-de-Lion, St Cecilia and St Mary. The octagonal font us 1855, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, made of Caen stone.

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All in all, a lovely church with a good welcome. It seems as if they have a good congregation, a wide variety of life and worship – http://stmarysnantwich.org.uk/

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2 Responses to Nantwich, Cheshire – St Mary

  1. phil porter says:

    Dear Northern Vicar, I really love the pictures that you’ve posted about your lovely church. I recently discovered that my great great great grandfather Josiah Baddeley was married to Eliza Cheney in Nantwich on the 14th of April in 1813. Could you tell me, please, who might be able to check the records to see if the marriage was at St. Mary’s Church? And if so, would the record mention anyone else attending the wedding, or any other details?
    Kind regards,
    Phil Porter
    2009 S 24th St
    Lincoln, NE. 68502
    USA

    • admin says:

      Dear Phil, Glad you liked the blog. It’s not my lovely church, just one I visited on my travels. Drop the church an email (I give their web address) and ask them nicely if they have anyone who can help. Failing that, church registers usually end up in County Record Offices – so that’s another way in. Best wishes, Peter

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