Hungerford, Berkshire – St Lawrence

We have headed south for a few days – the inside of the first week of October 2015 – and went to Hungerford. Many years ago, when Hannah was little, we used to drive from Cambridge to Bristol via the A4 and we would visit the Tutti Pole café. Today we parked on the main drag, just to the south of the railway bridge, and went into the Tutti Pole café. I remembered poached egg on toast – and they still do an excellent poached egg. They also do meringues, but I carry more weight than I did 25 years ago, so meringues are off the menu.

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The main street of the town has Georgian shops, and a railway bridge painted in Great Western colours. St Lawrence church is quarter of a mile off to the west, SU334687. They have this website. It is a pleasant churchyard, with the Kennett and Avon canal running beside it.

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The church has a 23 page guide book, which adverts helped to finance – on the back cover we have Camp Hopson Funerals and the Tutti Pole (so if you eat too many meringues the undertakers will come and get you). The first mention of a church here is in 1108 and a 1232 document refers to “The Leprous Sisters of St Lawrence” – Lawrence is the patron saint of lepers and, more recently, those with AIDS (which says far more about how Society and the Church see AIDS than it says about the love of St Lawrence.) The first recorded Vicar is Radulfus in 1148.

The second church on the site was C14. In 1325 Sir Robert de Hungerford was granted the right “to found a Chantry Chapel to the Holy Trinity, to maintain a Chantry priest and Obit, for his wife Geva, his friends and himself on the South side of the Chancel”. Apparently the Chantry priest should celebrate divine service “daily before sunrise” in honour of the Holy Trinity and should pray for the souls of himself, Geva, his ancestors, and all the faithful departed. Sir Robert was an extremely wealthy man, and his effigy remains in church. He died in 1352. Next to this is an inscription tablet which promises on the word of fourteen bishops that whosoever shall pray for the soul of Sir Robert shall have while he lives and for his soul after death, 550 days of pardon. By the Reformation there were three Chantry chapels and three priests, as well as the Vicar. You can imagine the potential for territorial disputes! I wonder how much of a new church Sir Robert had paid for.

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In 1301 Walter Job of Hungerford was Vicar. He was taken to court, charged with neglecting his duties to his flock and “he has and open and uncontrollable intimacy with loose women and others, with whom it is proved that he spends several days of wickedness and nights of infamy, there are people here who declare that he is their father.” The outcome of the trial is unknown, but he disappears from the records! A reputable Vicar was Henry William Majendie, from 1793 to 1798. He was educated at Charterhouse and Christ’s College Cambridge, and in 1779 was appointed by George III to teach and supervise Prince William aboard HMS Prince George. Then Canon of Windsor, Vicar of Hungerford, Canon of St Paul’s, Bishop of Chester, then Bishop of Bangor. It is rather hard to match this successful gentleman, who was Vicar here at the very end of the eighteenth century, with the line in the guidebook “At the beginning of the nineteenth century the church of St Lawrence had become so dilapidated that parts of it were threatening to collapse”!

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Parts of the tower collapsed in 1811, and that was the catalyst for a building programme. Plans were drawn up by James Pinch of Bath, the builders were appointed, there were disputes about the costs, and then the main body of the church also started to collapse! Plans for drawn up for a major rebuild, there were arguments with the Patrons (Dean and Chapter of Windsor) about the cost of rebuilding the Chancel (what Chancel??). Despite all of this, the church was open for divine worship on Sunday 30 August 1816, but without any pews. The minutes say that “The whole of the church will be used promiscuously in the same way as the Town Hall” – which gets the imagination going!

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It seems that the new church was not seen as a huge success. Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, wrote in 1844 that it was “inconvenient and un-ecclesiastical”. He was also the bishop who led the church’s fight against Charles Darwin – one of the nicest English Heritage properties is Darwin’s Down House. Disraeli described him as “unctuous, oleaginous, saponaceous”.

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In 1879 there was a programme for re-ordering. These angels were carved by Monsier Devine, a French artist residing in Reading.

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The organ, which cost £540, was installed by Forster and Andrews of Hull – here is some information about them. Nice pulpit and font too.

october a 130october a 158october a 129The East window is dedicated to the Reverend Joseph Ball Anstice, Vicar 1866-94. Towards the end of this time he lost his sight, and then regained it – I wonder how? In the 214 years between 1798 and 1818 only nine men were installed as Vicars of St Lawrence.

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There is a nice Transfiguration window, but the one I liked most is this one which shows the Wedding at Cana. I love the bride and groom, and the costume of the others.

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There are quite a few interesting memorials – some of them no doubt bought from the old church – and some WW1 commemorations.

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october a 137There is also a commemoration of a more recent horrendous event.

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The stone used for the church came from Bath and was transported along the Kennett and Avon canal. This canal was opened in 1810, and reopened a few years ago. I have had a walk along the Caen Hill flight and want to visit the Crofton beam engine – website – which was installed two years later to help with water supply. At the end of the churchyard there is a lovely swing bridge with a 3 ton weight limit. I would like a voyage down the canal and I see that the Rose of Hungerford has a disabled lift onto the boat – website. There are lots of websites about the canal – here is one, and two.  It is many years since we had a narrowboat holiday, and I would like another one – one day!

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One Response to Hungerford, Berkshire – St Lawrence

  1. Christopher Haines says:

    Thank you, Peter – my late parents spent their last days within a stone’s throw of the Kennett and Avon canal further west, in Wiltshire. As a biologist, I distrust anything that ‘Soapy’ Sam Wilberforce might have said about the ‘inconvenience’ and ‘un-ecclesiatical nature’ of the 1816 Hungerford church renovation! Though I don’t think I’ve ever visited St Lawrence.

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