Whitchurch, Shropshire – St Alkmund

When we are on holiday our blue astra doubles as a white van. Like an idiot I had buried the road atlas somewhere on the back seat, so it is a good thing I have a decent sense of direction. Eventually we ended up in Whitchurch, a nice little town, had coffee at Etzio – website – really a nice-looking pizza restaurant, but they quite understood when all we wanted was coffee. We got a nice welcome, and must go back for a proper meal sometime. Then we went and explored the church – well, to be honest, I explored the church. The steps in were too horrendous for Julie. There were portable ramps stored in the porch, but it would have been quite a performance.

august b 213august b 214august b 218It is the church of St Alkmund – with a good website. Apparently he is the patron saint of Derby and of a few parish churches – I bet they’re annoyed they didn’t get that ip address (one is .co.uk, another .org.uk, and another alkmundduffield – well done them). Although he was the son a Northumbrian King, this is his first mention on northernvicar. There is quite a lot about him on the website of St Alkmund’s Shrewsbury  – his sarcophagus is in Derby Museum. We visited the museum in 2012, but I remember their collection of paintings by Joseph Wright rather than Alkmund’s sarcophagus. We had previously visited in the late 90s and Hannah loved their collection of Egyptian mummies – perhaps that is why she is now training as a doctor. (We heard some comedian on Radio 4 the other day. “I’m a comedian. My parents are so proud. My sister’s a doctor”).

This is a lovely Queen Anne church dating from 1713. I couldn’t find a guidebook but the Shropshire Churches Tourism Group booklet describes it as “of majestic proportions and full of light due to its enormous windows and slender pillars.”

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They had lovely welcoming noticeboards, a table of publications, and a time line along one wall (what a brilliant idea – although us older churches would have to go several times round the walls).

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A nice Joseph window in the south aisle – as he greets his father, and then on his deathbed. Spot the camel and the hieroglyphics.

august b 183august b 184A nice tidy and used prayer corner, lovely chapel at the east end of the south aisle, with good interpretation board. The altar is a beautiful piece of woodwork, and I like the reredos.

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august b 186This is the tomb of Lord John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. He was born at Blakemere, just outside Whitchurch, in 1373. Shakespeare described him as “the scourge of France” in Henry VI part 1 (yes I checked this – I know Henry IV part 1, I didn’t know there was a Henry VI part 1). He died at Castillon after the Battle of Bordeaux in 1453. His heart was embalmed separately, bought home and placed under the church porch. His bones followed 50 years later – there must be a novel in that. No doubt, somewhere on the internet, I can find details of medieval embalming and where his bones were stored. His stone effigy was rescued from the old church and his canopied tomb restored in 1874, when his bones were found to have been individually wrapped in a strong box three feet long rather than a coffin. The plot thickens! One of his descendents was Sir John Talbot, Rector of Whitchurch in the 1540s. I missed his memorial plaque.

august b 187Lovely high altar and Ascension window (1858). The figures on the reredos are Alban, George, Chad and an angel. The green altar frontal was made for the Millennium.

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august b 190august b 205The Trafalgar Memorial is to Grace Pennell Graves La Penotiere and graddaughter of Captain John Richards La Penotiere who bought back the despatches from the Battle. The sword, worth 100 guineas, was presented to Captain La Penotiere by Lloyd’s Patriotic Fund after this act.

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I liked the Mossy Church display.

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“Here lies the body of Matthew Fowler, a most vigilant Priest of this Church for 22 years who, sprung from an ancient family in the area of Stafford, made his family yet more famous by his own merits. Firstly, an alumnus of Oxford University, then of Cambridge; he was a glory and an ornament to both. While still a young man when the Civil War was raging, from Kings College stirred up a host of students, he loyally and vigorously took the King’s side. He was as brave in mind as in body: with the Church ruined, the state overthrown, government seized by combatants, he exhibited an outstanding example of unbroken loyalty towards the Prince, unchallenged piety towards the Church. Fearless in action, unconquered in his suffering, after the happy return of King Charles II, he brilliantly governed this province, which he handed over to the noble lord John, Count of Bridgewater. A brilliant theologian, a man of shrewd judgement, of most blessed memory, of considerable eloquence he was so bound to the duties of his pastoral duty, that it is difficult to say whether he, while he was alive he won the love and respect of his people, more than whether when dying he left being a sad feeling of loss for himself. At length he died worn out by care and sleeplessness on the Feast of St. Stephen in the year 1683, in the 66th year of his life; Letitia survived him, his sorrowing wife, remembering their marriage, placed this tablet to a most worthy husband.”

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Lovely organ with cherubs. They have a choral service on a Sunday morning, but I can’t see any mention of a choir on the website.

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This piece of sculpture is on a pillar of the Nave. It is called “Lord of the dance” and is by John Sutch (1957-88). In the letter which accompanied it he wrote “Whitchurch is my home in every sense. I was born here, my ideas grew here, my musical/artistic life were trained within the walls of St Alkmund’s. … This piece is a development from the sculpture presented to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother this year (1983). This December I was honoured with a commission from the Prince and Princess of Wales: this sculpture is the duplicate of the piece that will be presented at Kensington Palace. The idea of the piece is to represent the spirit of mankind, swirling figures growing from a tree form, taking off into flight. Man striving to lift himself in spirit with nature.” The sculpture is carved in a sandstone clay. A quick google finds no mention of this gentleman.

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The font is in front of a large war memorial, with a very colourful St George.

august b 208Outside (I think) is a plaque noting the rebuilding of the church, and some interesting iron-lettered tombstones.

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I was glad we had stopped in Whitchurch as I had enjoyed my wander round this lovely church. I just wish they could get their access sorted, some sort of simple ramp up the side of the south aisle?

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