Visitors’ Guide to St Michael & All Angels Church, in the Parish of Lyonshall.
This brief guide has been prepared in order to assist visitors to this parish in appreciating something of the church and its environs.
It has been prepared and adapted from a number of sources, foremost amongst which are the following:-
• Lyonshall Church. A short Guide and History, by Brian David Lillistone MA (who was the incumbent of the parish between 1970 and 1977) of unknown date (c.early 1970s)
• The History of Lyonshall – prepared by Roger Pye, also of unknown date (c.1980). Roger used to live in the house next to the Baptist Chapel in Lyonshall, and now runs a nursery on the road between Kington and Titley.
• LYONSHALL 2000, The story so far – prepared by Shan Preddy in 1999 as part of the parish’s millenium celebrations.
The parish has around 280 households in which about 750 people live. Lyonshall is one of the largest parishes in Herefordshire, covering approximately 5,000 acres (just under 2,000 Hectares, or around 7 square miles). The church plays an important role in the social fabric of the community, as well as being there for baptisms, marriages, and burials as required.
The Church, dedicated to St. Michael and all Angels, stands in the middle of the parish, although not in the middle of the village which is some half a mile to the south. The Church shares the elevated position of the Castle, and the chancel is very near the moat. The Church is built of local sandstone rubble with dressings of the same material. The main outline of the Church as we see it today was constructed roughly in the century after about 1250. It was restored in 1870-1873 and most of the internal fittings, modern windows and the stained glass are of that date. The ornate south porch was added in the 1870 restoration.
The Church plate includes an Elizabethan cup and cover from 1571. There is also a Victorian copy of this cup and cover.
The Parish Registers date from 1682. Most of the early registers are deposited in the County Library for safe custody, where they can be inspected on request.
The oldest part of the present church is the west wall of the nave. This dates from the 12th century when it appears to have formed the west wall of the tower - the tall Norman window being then an external tower window. The earlier tower arch has been reset in this wall. One of the most pleasing features of the church is the arcades of pillars and arches each side of the nave. The north arcade with its quatrefoil columns with slim shafts, moulded capitals and some with foliage, dates from about 1250. The final west bay is slightly later with modified columns. This later west bay was added when the earliest tower was removed. Notice the thick last pillar, which supported the tower.
The south arcade dates from about 1350. The arrangements are similar to the north arcade but the pillars are octagonal with moulded capitals and chamfered bases. Again, the west bay points to the earlier tower by the thick last pillar. In fact the last bay was only opened up in the 1870 restoration, before that it was solid and the south aisle was one bay shorter than it is now. The 14th century clerestory has on each side 4 restored windows, and there are 2 high square windows on the east wall of the nave. It is interesting to note that the whole of the arcade was taken down and rebuilt during the 1870 restoration. The final late 18th century and early 19th century memorials, high on the nave walls were placed there at the time of the restoration, being removed from the lower walls where new windows were inserted. Above the first column of the south arcade is a grotesque man’s head, perhaps from an earlier church. The font is 13th century but on a modern base.
The north transept is of late 13th century date with a 14th century trussed-rafter type roof. The windows are the same date (but not the glass). The north transept contains one of the earliest memorials in the church, a stone and marble tablet to James Lloyd who died in 1693. The north aisle has mostly modern windows except the single light 13th century one in the west wall.
The south aisle incorporates the south transept; the outline of this may be seen in the south exterior wall. This old gable contains a 13th century window, partly restored. The south doorway is 14th century. Against the wall is a moulded 14th century beam in the roof. There is a piscina in the south east corner suggesting that there was at one time an altar here in a side chapel. Against the east wall is a headless effigy of a civilian probably 13th century. There is also a small metal plate in the floor of the second bay of the arcade to John Cheese who died in 1795 aged 7 months.
The chancel is mostly 13th century with windows and south doorway of this date. The arch to the organ chamber is modern, but the chamber is 14th century, including the roof. The chancel arch is late 13th century and there is a 13th century piscina in the sanctuary. The west tower is of 4 stages with an embattled parapet. The lowest stage with a high battering next stage above the tower door is
Victorian Restoration of The Church
The Church and surroundings seem to have fallen into decay by the middle of the 19th century.
The Rev. Charles Edward Maddison Green was appointed vicar in 1866 and he wrote then: “The Vicarage House I find to be utterly uninhabitable. The Church is in a deplorable condition and sadly in need of restoration. The school is in the churchyard (which serves as a playground) and is in every way inefficient for the requirements of a population of 960”. Within the next 10 years the school was rebuilt and the Church building was restored.
By 1869 “the fabric of the Church having fallen into such utter decay as to render unsafe for public worship” (quotations from the 1874 Restoration Report), a committee was appointed and Messrs Bodley and Gardner of Harley Street, London were commissioned to draw up plans.
On July 18th 1870 the work of clearing away decayed seats, reading desk, pews and galleries was commenced. As proof of the dangerous condition of the nave roof, though every precaution was taken to remove it rafter by rafter, the whole lot fell in instantaneously with an awful crash. Fortunately only one workman was slightly injured. For 2 years the services were held in the school and the work was not finally completed until 1873.
The Restoration Festival was held on Saturday August 2nd 1873 with the Bishop preaching in the morning and the Archdeacon in the afternoon. The Festival continued the next day. A new piece of burial ground was consecrated, formerly the site of a cottage and garden. The collections for the 2 days amounted to £351. The cost of the whole restoration was £3,215.13s.11d.
In addition to addressing the condition of the church, Charles Maddison Green turned his attentions to the school, which had been built some thirty years before his arrival in 1866. A fine new National School was soon built opposite the church on land provided by the Robinson family; it opened in 1868.
The school was run as a Voluntary Aided School, which meant that the Diocese funded it in part - some of the fabric and equipment, for example - and had a say in its admissions and administration. Lyonshall school closed in 1962, due to a reorganisation of junior schools and admissions in the area. The 38 remaining pupils aged 5-11 moved to Kington Junior School, now called Kington Primary. You can see the school records at the Herefordshire Record Office: it has the log books from 1882-1962 (with some gaps in the 20s) and admission registers from 1863-1962. The entries are kept confidential for fifty years but, with a reader’s ticket, you can look up dates before 1950.
Littlebury’s Directory & Gazetteer of Herefordshire 1867-8:-
‘The National School for boys and girls, supported by voluntary contributions, is a neat stone building, erected in the churchyard in 1832. It is small and utterly incapable of holding the 80 scholars now in daily attendance. The first stone of a new school for 130 scholars is shortly to be laid on a site near the church given by Stephen Robinson Esq of The Moor. It is to be a substantial stone building erected by voluntary contributions.'
After the completion of his good works for the community Charles Edward Maddison Green and his wife, Ella, whose brother was the author Henry Rider Haggard, built a new vicarage and had moved in by 1881. Prior to this they had been living in The Laurels, immediately opposite the church. For their new vicarage, the cost of construction was £3,400 plus £400 for a stables block - more than had been spent on the church restoration! It was situated about ¼ mile (0.4km) west of the church. It is now, of course, The Old Vicarage, and is a private house.
The most recently used vicarage was vacated by the Revd. David Lowe in 2000, and it is now a private house called The Angels. It is situated near to the church, on the left at the top of the drive.
In common with all churches, St Michael & All Angels spends a lot of time nowadays in fundraising and community activities. It regularly holds fetes and other events and has held a series of Flower Festivals in the Church, the latest being in 1991: the cup originally awarded in the 1960s was lost until 1989, when it was bought for 10p at a jumble sale in Kent, by then heavily tarnished. The purchaser brought it back to the village on a holiday trip, to see if he could trace its history. In the hot summer of 1976, a Son et Lumière show was held outside the church, with everyone sitting on bales of hay; it ran for three nights. The Harvest Festival supper, held each Autumn in the Memorial Hall, is always well-attended.