Wednesday, July 27, 2016

St Andrew's Church, Wanborough

Another day, another churchyard.

The Grade I listed St Andrew's Church in Wanborough is famous for being one of only *three churches to boast a tower and a spire. (Another is at nearby Purton and the third one in Ormskirk, Lancashire.)

Legend has it that the two founding sisters couldn't agree upon a tower or a spire, so they built both. Unfortunately this story has been discredited as the tower was built long before the spire.

In 1888 William Morris, founder of the Swindon Advertiser, published a slim volume entitled Wanborough - Roman & Otherwise, in which he devotes a couple of chapters to the history of the church and monuments. This was the year after the church had undergone a major restoration and Morris was able to consult E.C. Ponting, the diocesan architect and surveyor.

At the time Morris was writing it remained unknown how many churches had stood on this site and in his book he debates the history of St Katherine's Chapel, a small building attached to the chancel on the north side.

Records exist concerning the founding of a chantry in the Chapel of St Katherine by Emmeline, Countess of Ulster, the widow of Stephen Longespee, who died in 1276 but the antiquarian Canon Jackson was of the opinion that St Katherine must have been a distinct and independent building, in a different part of the parish, while Mr Ponting remarked:

"Is it not possible that the chapel known as St Katherine's was the one last referred to, that it stood on the site of the present chancel, that the 'body of the church' was added to it at about 1400, making it the chancel of the parish church, and that it (the chapel) was pulled down on the suppression of the chantries in 1483, the present chancel being erected in its place.?'

Anyway, the debate obviously continues as the kindly couple who let me into the church confirmed. Sadly the church has recently been subject to random acts of vandalism and has to remain locked, so it was fortunate I arrived just as they were about to water and refresh the church flowers.

Returning to Morris' book and the then recent restoration he writes:

'There has probably been no instance in North Wilts in which the term 'restoration' meant so much as it did in connection with this latter restoration in 1887 under Mr Ponting, for it included a total change in the appearance of the place - the pulling down, and carting away of very many tons' weight of churchwardens' improvements which successive generation had succeeded in 'piling up' on each other, and through which the original design of the builders had become totally obliterated. So thick, indeed, had the plaster and lime-wash been laid on the walls that when the time came for removing the rubbish it was found to make several good waggon loads.'

Mr Ponting described how the perished plasterwork was 'stripped off and the defective pointing renewed.' During this work a 15th century fresco was revealed depicting Christ's entry into Jerusalem. How fortunate that this was saved, but it does make you wonder what else was lost.

So what did I like best about the church? Was it the beautiful interior and the stained glass windows? Maybe it was the setting and the fantastic views across the Wiltshire countryside. Or was it the neglected piece of the churchyard with many hidden gravestones. Well you know me ...

More blogposts will follow.

remains of 15th century fresco

*I stand corrected - reader Loraine Jones has just pointed out that St Andrew's Church, Rugby also has a tower and a spire. Any advances on four churches?


  1. Oh! Thank you so much for sharing this, long been on my list of places to visit, and so useful to know more before I see it. I too wonder what has been lost, though it is wonderful that so much was saved too. Really enjoyed your photographs.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  3. Great blog and helps shine light on a church my ancestors have been involved in. Was there not an 'Arman' Churchwarden? Was it my 3 times great granfather Thomas Arman? Great work Frances.