Coleshill

Warwickshire

St Peter & St Paul

The oldest part of Coleshill church dates from the 14th century, but the Norman font is a clue to an earlier foundation. A priest at Coleshill is mentioned in the Domesday Book pointing to the existence of a church here in Anglo-Saxon times. 

Coleshill Parish Church website

See Coleshill Church website - http://www.coleshillparishchurch.org.uk/

and A Church near You - http://www.achurchnearyou.com/coleshill-st-peter-st-paul/.

 

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In the Anglo-Saxon period Coleshill church was a minster church serving a wide area. A minster was the centre for a number of monks and priests who would travel into the surrounding area to tend to the needs of villages where the spiritual focus would have usually been a timber or stone preaching cross. Coleshill lies between Lichfield and Coventry, two important early centre of Anglo-Saxon Christianity.

 

Coleshill’s minster parish would have covered an extensive area with daughter chapels being set up at Lea Marston, Nether Whitacre, Over Whiatcre probably also at Bentley, Maxstoke and Shustoke.

 

The development of Coleshill as a market town is certainly due to the importance of the church’s presence here.

 

There must have been an Anglo-Saxon church building here, without doubt on the same site as the present church. In this area of woodland, it may well have been a timber chapel. A priest is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086.

 

Coleshill was a royal manor for most of the Norman period. At some time the Anglo-Saxon church as replaced by a Norman one, probably in stone. Nothing visible survives of this building except for the font. This is a substantial piece of work, a large cylindrical bowl standing on a later octagonal base. It is thought to be made in limestone from Caen in Normandy. The main feature is a relief of the Crucifixion with St John and the Blessed Virgin Mary standing on either side of the Cross. The rest of the bowl is decorated with arcading alternately filled with foliage decoration and full-length reliefs of figures, presumably saints and probably including St Peter and St Paul. The age of the font is disputed but it certainly dates from before 1200 or possibly as early as 1150. The panels of the font were plastered over probably with the rise of Puritanism in the 17th century and were rediscovered in 1859 by the vicar, Rev J D Wingfield-Digby.

 

The manor of Coleshill had been bought bought from the King by Geoffrey de Clinton probably before 1135. In 1207 Osbert de Clinton bought a royal charter to hold a weekly Sunday market in Coleshill and an annual fair on the eve and festival of St Peter & St Paul, 28 and 29 June. A thriving local market was very profitable for the lord of the manor and was instrumental in turning a village into a town. Clearly the church was already here at that time, but it may be that the elaborate Norman font made of French stone is indicative that the rest of the church was a also rebuilt at this time to replace its Anglo-Saxon predecessor.

 

The north aisle (west end) and north porch
The north aisle (west end) and north porch

The nave of the Norman church was extended by the addition of a north and a south aisle c1340 accessed from the nave via an arcade of four arches supported on octagonal pillars.

 

The nave was extended westwards by another three bays a hundred years later almost doubling its length and the aisles similarly extended, though originally narrower at the west end than at the east. The arches here are wider and higher than the earlier ones east of them. The windows are in Decorated English gothic. The west tower was also built at about the same time. Late in the 15th century the chancel was rebuilt in Perpendicular style taking away the last vestiges of the Norman building. 

The south aisle (left of photograph) and chancel (right)
The south aisle (left of photograph) and chancel (right)

The building was extensively restored in 1868. All the external masonry was renewed and the plaster of the internal stonework was either scraped or replaced. Although all the roofs were replaced with tiles, the timbers of the wagon roof of the nave and aisles date from the 14th and 15th centuries. The east wall, including the east window, of the chancel was restored in 1907.

 

Some of the interesting carved stonework, especially round the outside of the chancel and the tower, dates from the 19th-century restoration. The porches and north vestry and octagonal pulpit are 19th-century. The work was carried out by William Slater, who had restored Sheldon church the previous year. 

 

The Digby window, stained glass in the south west corner of the church by Thomas William Camm of Smethwick depicts the Adoration of the Magi and commemorates the part played by George Digby Wingfield Digby of Sherborne Castle, lord of the manor of Coleshill in restoring the church.

 

It is thought that there were eight bells in the medieval tower. When the spire was struck by lightning in 1550 two bells were sold to pay for repairs.  The spire was rebuilt some 5 metres shorter; it was rebuilt again in 1888.  In 1720 Joseph Smith of Edgbaston recast the old ring of six bells as a five and added a new treble. These was augmented to eight by Taylors of Loughborough in 1923 by the addition of two new trebles. Until 1977 the ring was anti-clockwise when 8 new bells were cast around the  newest two trebles, which then became the 3 and the 4, and the whole ring rehung in a new frame.

 

The church has a number of monuments including eight recumbent effigies. The two oldest are set in 15th-century recesses in the north and south aisles and represent knights of c1300, dressed in mail coifs and hauberks, long surcoats, and leather breeches, or knee-caps. Their feet rest on lions or hounds. On their left sides are swords. The one in the north aisle, which has suffered some damage, bears a shield with the arms of Clinton of Coleshill, lords of the manor. This is almost certainly Sir John de Clinton I. The effigy in the south aisle is better preserved and bears a small blank shield and is probably Sir Jon de Clinton II.

 

In the chancel are four altar tombs to members of the manorial Digby family. The oldest is to Simon Digby d.1520 and Alice his wife. The depiction of the clothing gives a very clear idea of contemporary dress. Reginald Digby d.1549, son of Simon, and Anne his wife rest beneath an alabaster slab incised with their effigies in outline again very clearly depicted. Below them are the figures of eight sons and four daughters. John Digby d.1558, and Anne his wife are commemorated in a third altar tomb in the chancel. They are attended by standing figures of four sons, one in armour, two in boys' gowns and the fourth a swaddled baby. John’s son, George d1587 and Abigail his wife are depicted in Elizabethan costume typical of the nobility of the time. There are the kneeling figures of four sons, the first an infant, the others with beards or moustaches and wearing armour and the figure of a daughter. Also in the chancel are tablets to Sir Robert Digby, son of Sir George d.1614, and his son Robert, d.1642, both of whom are buried in St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.

 

In the chancel floor are four brass memorials including the figure of a priest in mass vestments, William Abell d1500; Alice Clifton of Coleshill Hall d.1506, daughter of Simon Digby, and a priest wearing a cassock, Sir John Fenton d.1566. The latter, the first vicar after the Reformation is shown wearing a Geneva gown, a feature of reformed churches, and holding a a Bible, another device to emphasise the role of Scripture in the protestant church. The hand in which he holds the Bible is depicted with five fingers and a thumb. 

 

In the churchyard by the south porch is the base and part of the shaft of a medieval cross of uncertain date. 

Weblinks

Acknowledgement - See British History Online - Victoria County History of Warwick Volume 4 Hemlingford Hundred ed. L F Salzman 1947 - http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42654.

 

For more images of the church see Ragged Robin’s blog - and Lionel Wall’s website Great English Churches - http://greatenglishchurches.co.uk/html/coleshill.html.   

 

See also Warwickshire Museum Timetrailhttp://timetrail.warwickshire.gov.uk/detail.aspx?monuid=WA286.

 

This is a Grade I listed building whose record can be found on the

Historic England website - https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1034697.

 

William Dargue 19.10.2011/ 07.05.2013