Nether Whitacre

Warwickshire

St Giles

Serving the tiny hamlet of Nether Whitacre and its scattered rural community, St Giles’ church was probably founded in the Norman period. It must have been altered many times over the centuries and a major rebuilding in 1870 largely created the gothic church we see now.

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Documentary evidence takes the history of St Giles’ church back to 1280 when the advowson of the chapel of Nether Whitacre was appropriated to Markyate Priory in Bedfordshire. Over Whitacre had already been given in 1203, Lea Marston in 1252.

 

However, the church is certainly of earlier foundation. A priest at nearby Coleshill is recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086. In the Anglo-Saxon period St Peter & St Paul at Coleshill was a minster church with a parish covering an extensive area with a daughter chapels at Nether Whitacre, Over Whitacre and Lea Marston, probably also at Maxstoke, Shustoke, and Bentley.

 

The earliest part of the present building is probably the tower which dates from either the early or middle of the 16th century. The tower is built of locally-sourced red sandstone ashlar and is of two stages.

 

The west window is not central but set north of centre because of the tower stair-vice. It is of two plain pointed lights and spandrel. In the south wall of the tower is a doorway, probably late-19th-century, although the wide inner splays suggest that there was previously an earlier doorway or window here.

The shorter second stage has two-light windows to bell-chamber on each side of the tower like the lower west window. Reset into the walls of the tower are a number of 14th-century stone gargoyles and grotesques as well as carved human-heads, one of them a woman's head with a 14th-century head-dress, another a monk's head and shoulders. It is not known when these were put here, though it has been suggested that they come from a 14th-century tower which was replaced by the present 16th-century structure. 

Before 1977 there were three bells: the treble and tenor by Thomas Hedderley of Nottingham 1783 and 1785, and the 2nd by Newcome of Leicester 1612. They hung in a frame which had been fitted in 1640. The present bells are a complete ring of 6 by Smith of Edgbaston which came from Hampton-in-Arden when a new ring of eight was hung there in 1976. The bells were retuned, fitted with standard fittings and hung in a new frame.

 

The old 2nd bell was kept for use as a clock bell; the other two being sold to Coleshill as part of their augmentation to 10. Previously a ground-floor ring, a new upstairs ringing chamber was built in 2002 on a balcony in the tower arch with the ringers visible from the nave.

 

Surviving from the 14th century are the rubble walls of the chancel and the jambs of the east window. In 1870 a major rebuilding of the church saw the nave either completely rebuilt or refaced, the renovation of all the windows and doorways in the nave and the chancel, as well as new roofs and furniture. 

The chancel has medieval rubble walls of red sandstone; internally the walls are plastered. The east window is of three trefoiled lights. While the tracery was replaced during the 19th-century rebuilding, the jambs of one chamfer are probably 14th-century. The window is filled with Victorian stained glass by an unknown maker depicting Christ carrying the cross in the centre panel, with the symbols of the Evangelists in the side panels. The south window of the chancel has a piece of 14th-century glass depicting an angel with a censer.

 

In the north wall of the chancel is an archway to the organ-chamber and vestry. In the vestry is an elaborate wall tablet, a memorial to Charles Jennens. The vestry was formerly the Jennens’ family chapel. This was a family who had made their fortune as iron founders in Birmingham. They had a foundry at nearby Furnace End, hence its name, and one of their residences was Whitacre Hall. Many of the Jennens are buried in this churchyard. The large marble tablet by Richard Hayward commemorates Charles Jennens 1700-1773 and depicts a classical scene of a ruined chapel with a woman weeping over a tomb which bears the Jennens coat of arms. Charles Jennens is noteworthy for, among other things, having provided Handel with the libretto of ‘The Messiah’.

 

The pointed chancel arch dates from the 1870 rebuilding. The external walls on the south side of the nave were also completely rebuilt in a coursed yellow-grey stone which matches neither the stone of the tower or the chancel. All the stonework of the windows was replaced at this time in a simple gothic styles and some are filled with Victorian stained glass.

The south porch in yellow stone also dates from 1870. Filling its east window is the stained glass Millennium window by local craftsman Gideon Howell showing the church in its rural setting.

 

The external north rubble wall of the chancel is probably 14th-century. Just west of the third window a straight joint is evidence of the jamb of a former north doorway. The roofs, font, furniture and fittings date from 1870. 

Nether Whitacre Gallery

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=42691.


Nether Whitacre Bellringershttp://www.whitacrebells.co.uk. Also includes information about Lea Marston and Over Whitacre bells.

See also Warwickshire Museum Timetrail - http://timetrail.warwickshire.gov.uk/detail.aspx?monuid=WA69.  

William Dargue 12.10.2011