Driving from Much Wenlock to Ironbridge we saw a National Trust sign to Benthall Hall – I hadn’t even noticed this in the handbook (£6.40 each saved) – here is the Trust’s website. The car park surface and gravelled path to the Hall were horrendous for us wheelchair pushers – one hopes that the Trust’s disability advisor was not involved. Reception is in the church of St Bartholomew, so I can blog this one too (although my camera has died so it’s a phone camera job, plus a few photos from the www – if I have offended anyone’s copyright, I apologise; let me know and I will sort it). The church is at SJ657026.
The NT guidebook tells me that a church existed before 1221 (I don’t know why they chose this date), but it did not become a separate parish until the reign of Elizabeth I – presumably before then it had been a private chapel for the Hall. For 400 years or so it continued serving Hall and village, but has now been declared redundant, handed (sold?) to the NT, and the parish amalgamated with Broseley.
During the Civil War the church was badly damaged. Colonel Lawrence Benthall had fortified his house for the King, but the Royalist garrison in Shrewsbury fell in February 1645. The surrounding countryside became Parliamentary too, and the house was taken in July. At this time the neighbourhood of Benthall and Broseley was one of the most important coalfields of England, and the garrison based in Benthall could control the Severn. Later in 1645 the Royalists tried to take control, and failed. The village near the hall was razed to the ground, and was later rebuilt nearer the mine. The Benthall family were fined, and faced large bills for repairing and rebuilding.
On its rebuilding in 1667, the dedication of the church was changed from St Brice, an early Welsh missionary, to St Bartholomew. Apparently there is only one other St Brice’s church (at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire). Sadly both saints are associated with massacres. The St Bartholomew’s day massacre was in France on 24 August 1572. 500 years earlier, on St Brice’s day 13 November 1002, King Ethelred ordered a slaughter of the Danes, hence William the Conqueror’s battle cry at Hastings “Remember St Brice”.
The present porch and apsidal extension at the west end were added in 1893. I missed the C19 sundial with the stone head of a lion, whose mouth forms the entrance to a beehive in a gallery of the church.
Hatchments of the Benthall and Browne families hang in the nave. The new memorial to members of the Benthall family was designed and made by Richard Kindersley. I came across his work at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge (where I have spent many hours with Theo and with my parents). There is a beautiful plaque in the reception designed and engraved by them – “It will pass, whatever it is”.
We then walked along to the Hall and they got the ramp out to get us in. Julie could only do the main room, but the staff were lovely and kept her entertained while I did the rest of the house. We then had tea – served in the main hall as we couldn’t get into the café. I did a quick trot round the house, and liked this Crucifixion (Flemish, circa 1600).
The gardens are supposed to be lovely, but the weather was getting grotty by now. We made our farewells and continued to Ironbridge. I went for a walk in the Gorge (lots of steps) and we returned to sunny Shrewsbury where we are enjoying the delights of the “Holiday Inn” for a few days.