Leamington Spa Discovered: The Parish Church


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A presentation by Alan Griffin of Leamington History Group about the history of Leamington's Parish Church.

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Leamington Spa Discovered: The Parish Church

  1. 1. Leamington History Group LEAMINGTON SPA DISCOVERED The Parish Church 1
  2. 2. 2 The earliest written record for Leamington in 1086 Above is the original Domesday (1086) entry for Lamintone with a translation below. There is mention of a priest living in the village which indicates the existence of a church building. EARL ROGER holds Lamintone of the king. There are 2 hides. There is land for 8 ploughs. In demesne are 2 [ploughs], and 3 slaves; and 5 villans with a priest and 3 bordars have 4 ploughs. There are 2 mills rendering 24s., and 26 acres of meadow. It was worth 50s.; and afterwards 25s.; now 4ls. Wulfwine held it freely TRE. ......
  3. 3. 3 Remains of Kenilworth Abbey In 1166 the manor of Lemynton with the church and mill was given to the Augustinian Priory of Kenilworth.The village became known as Lemynton Priors to reflect its monastic origins. The sandstone effigy of an Abbott was dug up near the parish church in Leamington in 1870. Far right is the seal of Kenilworth Abbey which had been raised in status from a Priory.
  4. 4. 4 The Lay Subsidy Roll of 1332 Lemynton Prior (Hundred of Knightlow) s. d. Richard Knappe 1 10 Juliana Erneys 2 3 Maud Kyng 1 2 Juliana le Fremon 6 0 Joh Newemon 1 9 Maud Prat 3 0 Roger de Craft 4 0 Simon son of the reeve 3 9 Henry le Carpenter 2 5 Agnes Baroun 2 2 Henry Austyn 1 7 Peter le Warde 2 4 Richard de Hulle 4 7 Peter le Ryche 2 0 Simon Prat 1 6 Robert de Podemor 1 6 Total 41s 10d On the left is a list of the householders who lived in Lemynton Priors when the Lay Subsidy, a form of taxation was collected in the reign of Edward III in 1332. On the right is a list of the Vicars of Lemynton compiled from the Registers of the Bishops of Worcester. 1349 was the year of the Black Death and three Vicars died in office in that year.
  5. 5. 5 King James 1 subsequently bestowed it on Sir Fulke Greville in 1605. Both men are buried in St Mary’s church in Warwick. Ambrose Dudley Sir Fulke Greville In 1564 Queen Elizabeth granted the manor of Lemynton to Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick
  6. 6. 6 This watercolour of 1810 is the earliest illustration of the old medieval church which was described as being ‘small and rude’ and resembling an Abbey Church in miniature. The tomb with the railings round marks the burial place of Ben Stachwell.
  7. 7. 7 This Engraving circa 1820 shows the old church and half-timbered cottages and shops near the West door.
  8. 8. 8 Revd Robert Downes came to Leamington as Vicar in 1823 and commenced a series of extensions to the Medieval church to accommodate the huge increase in the number of worshippers. The spire above the original tower is one of his additions.
  9. 9. 9 Apart from enlarging the church, Robert Downes also had burial vaults constructed in 1825 on the north side of the church to compensate for the loss of burial space in the churchyard. There was space in the vaults for 180 bodies and these spaces could be purchased by families or by individuals.
  10. 10. 10 The vaults under the North Transept are almost full, the last interment was in 1855. Many of the incised tablets on the vaults are now badly eroded. The cast iron gates and spikes were to deter body snatchers from removing corpses to sell to medical schools for dissection by students.
  11. 11. 11 Among those interred in the vaults are some of the town’s wealthier residents and benefactors of the new church. Behind this rusty, cast iron door are the remains of the five Manners-Sutton sisters, daughters of the Archbishop of Canterbury. ( See ‘People’ page on this website. )
  12. 12. 12 This is how the church probably looked when Revd. Robert Downes exchanged livings with Revd.Joh Craig in 1839. Downes continued to live in Leamington until his death in 1859 leaving his parish in Fetcham, Surrey in the care of curates.
  13. 13. 13 Revd John Craig John Craig arrived as vicar of All Saints in 1839 having paid his predecessor Robert Downes £1,000 principally to compensate him for his loss of income from renting pews. ‘Johnny’ Craig was an Irishman by birth and he had a considerable fortune which he planned to lavish on building projects in his new parish. A local journalist of the time George Morley reported that in a period of twelve months Craig had an income in excess of £100,000. Craig was variously described as learned, eloquent, generous and eccentric in mind and body. With his spare figure and rapid, tottering gait he was a familiar sight and one of the great characters of Victorian Leamington. He soon outlined plans to demolish the small Medieval church and to build, mainly at his own expense, one of the largest parish churches in England which he himself would design and that is what he did. Unsurprisingly, the project was dogged by controversy and by Craig’s insistence on being his own architect and clerk of works.The church was still not completed when he died in 1877.
  14. 14. CRAIG’S VISION FOR THE NEW CHURCH 14 These are two of Craig’s designs for the new All Saints which was to have a central tower and a spire almost three hundred feet tall with a separate angel tower and a campanile for the bells.
  15. 15. 15 Not long after his arrival, John Craig began something of a charm offensive in the town. In a series of meetings in the old town hall in 1842 he outlined his aspirations and showed drawings of the proposed new church. While the parishioners were not opposed to his ambitious plans, their main concern was to ensure that should funding fall short of his expectations, then the churchwardens would not be called on to make up any shortfall from the church rate. Such assurances were given and the required faculty was granted by the Bishop of Worcester. Construction work began in the late summer of 1843 when the foundation stone for the lantern tower was laid. Work also commenced on the nave with monies from pew rents covering some of the cost. The old church tower was left in situ as a support for the scaffolding required for the construction of the new nave roof. The nave opened for worship in May 1844 and work then began on the chancel and the east windows. ’Johnnie’ Craig’s publicity machine again went into overdrive in June 1846 when he laid on a dinner for 350 residents at Elliston’s Music Hall in Bath Street. Work then began on the north transept but the whole project ground to a halt in 1849 and for the next eighteen years no construction of any sort took place.
  16. 16. 16 Noted Leamington artist Fred Whitehead painted this scene in 1844 from the banks of the river Leam. It shows the nave of the new church rising above the north transept of the old church. The old tower was temporarily retained within the new nave to support scaffolding used to build the new roof.
  17. 17. 17 The 1850’s were difficult years for the irrepressible Craig. He had had to abandon his grandiose designs for a church with three towers when the nave columns were discovered not to be substantial enough to support the weight of a tower and spire over the crossing. Although the part-built church could now seat two thousand worshippers, parts of the building, mainly the south transept, were still far from finished and the nave roof let in the rain. Both Craig’s wife Helena and his only son Robert died and he was himself in poor health. He became embroiled in law suits relating to his handling of moneys for the church rebuilding and was imprisoned for a month in Warwick jail for alleged misappropriation. In spite of all these setbacks he still found time to indulge another of his interests astronomy, by building on Wandsworth Common in London one of the largest telescopes in the world.
  18. 18. 18 Although John Craig still legally held the living, his involvement in All Saints was greatly reduced and his curates were left to oversee the affairs of the parish. The parishioners had by this time become very fed up with having to attend divine worship in a building site for twenty years and they wanted to see the building finished. The church was closed for a period in 1866 as the temporary roof was found to be in a dangerous condition. A church completion committee was set up but its members couldn’t agree and replacements had to be found. Competitions were eventually held for schemes to finish the building. In 1870 John Craig’s third wife Jane died and he became seriously ill and died at the vicarage in 1877 after a long and painful illness which necessitated having one of his legs amputated. His funeral was the largest ever seen in Leamington and ten thousand people lined the roads to the cemetery in Tachbrook Road.
  19. 19. 19 This is how the church appeared when completed in the 1860’s. Craig’s lofty tower and spire were never built and there is still a raised square section of flat roof above the crossing where they should have been. The building in the centre is the vicarage built by Robert Downes and named The Priory.
  20. 20. 20 This engraving of the church interior at about the same date shows an organ on a balcony above the west door and galleries in the north transept (right) that were removed after the church was extended by Sir Arthur Blomfield in 1900.
  21. 21. 21 The building that emerged towards the end of the 19 th century was of impressive proportions but there was no provision for the church bells which had hung in mute silence in a temporary wooden belfry in a corner of the churchyard for over fifty years. The church was hemmed in by houses built in Church Walk and by a row of terraced shops within feet of the west door. The old well house also seen had been erected by the Earl of Aylesford in 1813 but was demolished in the 1960’s.
  22. 22. 22 In the 1890‘s the church purchased the shops in front of the west door and had them demolished. The Church Walk properties were also demolished This lantern slide shows the newly-cleared area in front of the church with The Priory just visible on the left.
  23. 23. 23 The church is completed In 1898 the eminent architect Sir Arthur Blomfield (above) was commissioned to draw up designs for the completion of the church almost fifty years after construction work had first begun. The work involved adding two additional bays at the west end of the nave and building a linked bell tower 145 feet tall. The enlarged nave was dedicated on All Saints Day (November 1st) 1900 and the bell tower on October 30th 1902. The 1905 postcard (right) clearly indicates the porous quality of the earlier sandstone used by Craig which has turned quite black due to atmospheric pollution.
  24. 24. 24 This photograph taken at the west end of the church in October 1902 shows Mr G F Smith the local builder who carried out Blomfield’s extensions with seventy of his workmen who had worked on the building all dressed in their ‘Sunday best’. G F Smith is the bearded man holding the top hat (seated centre), on his immediate right is the vicar Canon Cecil Hook and to his right Alderman Sidney Flavel the vicar’s churchwarden (with walking cane).
  25. 25. 25 The photograph (above) of Rev Cecil Hook’s staff in 1900 reflects the level of church going in Leamington in the late Victorian period. Both Cecil Hook (above left) and his successor Rev W Armstrong Buck (left) had the task of furnishing the church and carrying out essential and urgent repairs to the fabric.
  26. 26. 26 This 2013 photograph of the nave shows the difference between the clerestory windows and the nave arches of Craig’s design and those nearest to the camera added by Arthur Blomfield in 1900.
  27. 27. 27 The three tall windows in the apse, said to be the tallest in any parish church in England were made by Chance brothers of Smethwick and given in memory of the five Manners-Sutton sisters who lived in Leamington. See also the Manners-Sutton sisters page on this website. The chancel screen was designed by Blomfield and given by Alderman Sidney Flavel.
  28. 28. 28 The carved stone reredos behind the high altar was given by the Willes family from Newbold Comyn and is based on Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of the Last Supper.
  29. 29. 29 A look around All Saints
  30. 30. 30 John Craig’s legacy John Craig had many endearing qualities, unfortunately his greatest failing was his arrogance. There was scarcely a subject about which Craig didn’t hold an opinion or express expertise in and that included buildings and architecture. Many of his design ideas for the new church were not carried out because they were quite impractical. He is said to have employed and sacked eleven different architects during the building of the church and at length appointed himself Clerk of Works for the project. Of his many misjudgments due to a lack of professional advice, by far and away the biggest mistake was in his choice of local Warwick sandstone for the building. Warwick sandstone is very soft and one of the poorest building stones available. Within thirty years the local newspaper was reporting on the ‘lamentably decayed condition’ of the church stonework. Rev Armstrong Buck had the difficult task of having to raise over £3,000 for urgent repairs to the fabric in 1907 and he is on record as saying that in his opinion the best solution to the problem would be to pull the entire building down. Over the years, huge sums have been expended and continue to be spent on the fabric of the church which currently requires several million pounds for urgent repairs and is likely to be included in the English Heritage ‘Buildings at Risk’ register for 2013. Craig silhouette Brighton 1833
  31. 31. 31 This presentation has been compiled for the Leamington History Group by member Alan Griffin a former verger of All Saints church The original photographs and most of the illustrations are from his archive but he also thanks the following for additional copyright material included here:- Vicar and churchwardens of All Saints’ church, Leamington Art Gallery & Museum (Warwick District Council) Guildhall Museum, London.
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