Old St Giles Church, Uley
The following articles are taken from
Gloucestershire Notes and Queries, Volume 5, 1891-1893, Edited by W. P. W. Phillimore,
M.A., B.C.L. The original was printed in London in 1894.
Part 1 is taken from pages 103-105, part 2 from pages 401-4.
The present church at Uley was built in the year 1858, on the site of an older and less pretentious building, which was then entirely swept away, and no relics of it left, save a few monuments now placed away in the tower out of sight. Fortunately the late Mrs. Browne, of Stoutshill, had a photograph taken of old St Giles, and now by the kindness of her daughter, Miss Browne, of Uley, we are enabled to present the reader of an engraving of it. It will be seen that it was a building of some interest, and we may be permitted to regret that it was not found possible to preserve it, or at least to rebuild it on the same lines, a course which would have been better than the erection of a building which seems more suited for a town than for a retired country village.
The old church of St. Giles appears to have consisted of a nave with north aisle, a porch on the south side of the church with a parvise over, and a chancel with a chapel on the north. The tower, it will be seen, was placed against the north aisle near the east end, and this unusual arrangement has been perpetuated in the modern church. The low battlemented tower reminds one, in its general proportions, of the towers of Nimpsfield and Kingscote churches, and no doubt was of much the same date.
From a very rough sketch in the Editor's possession, there were but two windows on the south side of the knave, which was much disfigured by two outside staircases leading to the galleries or private pews. The only decorative feature of the nave, if such it can be termed, was a plain buttress. Two plain pointed windows and doorway of the churchwarden order of gothic are shown on the south side of the chancel, which, like the nave, was also disfigured by a private staircase. Two of these were of the present century, and respecting them, records are to be found in the churchwardens' accounts.
At a parish meeting held on the 3rd of June, 1820, the necessity of providing accommodation for Mr. Edward Shepherd, Mr. William Hinton, and Mr. Richard Blagden was considered, and it agreed that they should be allowed to obtain a faculty for erecting three pews adjoining the organ gallery. A sketch plan of the pews was given. At apparently a latter date, a faculty was granted when Mr. Timbrell was archdeacon, to the Rev. William Lloyd Baker, to enlarge the chancel on the south, and to erect a gallery in the south-west corner of the enlargement, with staircase on the outside, to serve as a pew for Mr. Baker, his family, and servants, and all future occupiers of Stoutshill.
This alteration, it may be noted, necessitated the removal of an east window, presumably the east window of the chancel was one of good proportion. But the most interesting feature of the church was the north chapel. This, no doubt, was Bassett's chapel, the burying place of that ancient family. Here, according to Sir Robert Atkyns, existed in his time, i.e., about 1709, the monument of Robert Bassett, Esq. who died in 1572. The inscription does not appear to have been preserved, nor does there appear to be any record of other monuments to the Bassett family, and it is certainly remarkable that the church does not possess a single memorial of this once important Gloucestershire family. Even their burial-place was wholely swept away at the rebuilding of the church. It is worthy of remark that Bassett's chapel possessed a somewhat rare dedication, for we learn from the will of Robert Bassett, Esq., who died in 1492, that he directed that he should be be buried in the Chapel of St. Godbold the Abbott. We are unable, however, to give any further particulars of this little-known saint, and should welcome information on the point.
The old church, with the high pitched roof of the knave, the well-proportioned tower, and its pointed roof, and the chancel with the adjacent chapel of St. Godbold, as seen from the village green, must have formed a very picturesque composition.
In the peculiar position of the church, situated on the side of the hill, the low height of the tower must certainly have been seen on approaching the church from the west by the road from Dursley, thus avoiding the not altogether pleasing effect of the present tower as it appears rising just behind the ridge of the nave roof.
The only relic of the old church besides the monuments appears to be a large and very fine-toned tenor bell, which bears the following inscription:-
THE LIVING I TO CHURCH DO CALL, & TO THE GRAVE DO SVMON ALL;
ABR: RVDHALL, OF GLOUCESTER BELLFOVNDER CAST ME 1715.
There is ample room in the bell-chamber, and it certainly seems a pity that Uley church, which in every way is so admirably situated for the purpose, should be without a good ring of bells.
In a previous number we were able to give a view of the old church at Uley, taken shortly before its demolition, and reference was made on page 104 ante, to a rough sketch of it from another point of view. The original of this we have since learned was a pencil sketch made by Mr. B. W. Leach, of Uley, and by his courtesy it is here reproduced. Some additional particulars have been collected since the publication of our former article.
This drawing, it will be seen, shows the south side of the Church, and the reader will readily notice how much the old building had been pulled about. There were three external staircases leading to the galleries ; one at the west end of the nave, of this, only the back can be seen in the engraving. Another, east of the porch, led to a gallery on the south side of the nave ; and a third to the gallery, erected by the Rev. W. Ll. Baker, for the use of Stoutshill, when he enlarged the chancel. Over the porch, as at Cam, was a parvise, in which vestry meetings were held. It was a very small room, with a fire-place in the north-eastern corner, which more often than not, to the discomfort of the village fathers when in council assembled, was apt to smoke. The entrance to the parvise was by an external staircase, which evidently was of modem construction. The nave was remarkable for its width ; there was no aisle, and the wide coved ceiling was a noticeable feature of the interior. Whether there ever existed an aisle seems doubtful; one, however, was erected at the building of the present church. As we have already said, there was a gallery at the west end, extending the whole width of the nave, and another against the south wall of the nave. In this the organ was placed, though this was afterwards removed, and fixed on the ground, near the schoolchildren's seats. The Stoutshill gallery was in the modern addition to the south side of the chancel, which was erected by Mr. Baker early in this century. It did not improve the appearance of the church, but in those days architecture was little regarded, and Mr. Baker was perhaps in advance of his time in adding to the church at all. In this addition, under the Stoutshill gallery, were placed the seats for the schoolchildren, as Mr. Baker was desirous that they should have good places.
The pulpit occupied the position it now does against the north wall of the nave, and the font, like its successor, was at the entrance to the tower. The remains of this old font are still in Uley churchyard. It is an octagonal basin, twenty-three inches across, inside measurement; its inside depth is eight inches, but outside it is eleven inclusive ; there is a fillet round the upper edge, and on each face of the octagon are two shallow plain-pointed arches. No fragment of the stem remains.
The addition of the Stoutshill enlargement of the chancel, it is said, rendered the church in plan an oblong, with a tower on the north, and a porch on the south. As to the chapel of St. Godbold, which was early appropriated by the Bassett family as their burying place, and hence known as Bassett's chapel, no tradition remains, and it is uncertain if it was pulled down, or if it formed the northern part of the chancel shown in the photograph of the exterior [see p. 103, ante]. It may be that it was only a small portion of the chancel screened off to form a chapel, and not an annexed building with a separate roof. However this may be, every trace of it seem to have been swept away before the end of the last century, and with it the monuments of the Bassetts, for it is singular that no reference to them occurs in Bigland's Collections, although Atkyns, who wrote some 70 or 80 years earlier, specifically mentions a sixteenth -century monument belonging to the family, and we know from their wills that others must have been erected subsequently.
The Stoutshill aisle was separated from the chancel by three or four pillars, and the communion table was placed in the old or north part of the chancel. Anciently there were many monuments and inscribed floor stones in the church. None of the latter, and only a few of the former have been preserved. Many were doubtless destroyed prior to the re-building, but more must have disappeared at the demolition of the old church. The monument of John Eyles, "the first that ever made Spanish cloth in this parish," formerly was on the south wall of the nave, and informed the reader that his remains lay behind it. Some fifty years ago it was removed, and fixed near the pulpit against the south wall. At the re-building, it was fixed against the west wall of the tower, high up, and almost out of sight. The few other monuments which have escaped destruction, like the Eyles tablet, are now in the tower, hidden away in deference to a sentiment which seems to stigmatize the existence of tablets on the walls of a church, commemorative of the departed, as a kind of desecration, and a species of dishonour to the house of God.
This mistaken feeling, fostered in great measure we suspect by architects, who dread the introduction of anything likely to clash with the style of their own designs, has led in recent years to many of our churches resembling what some with much reason have satirically called ecclesiastical barns, which contain nothing, after they have been denuded of plaster and monuments, to relieve the cold bareness in many instances of mere pointed rubble walls. The pious commemoration of the dead should be encouraged, and this can scarcely be done more appropriately than in the church which is constantly filled with worshippers to whom often the tablets on the walls must prove veritable "sermons in stones." That good taste and propriety have before now been violated in foolish laudatory epitaphs is true, but that is no sufficient reason for that wholesale destruction of the monuments of the dead, which has taken place during the last half century. The walls of Uley church now appear singularly bare, and since its rebuilding, no monuments have been placed within it save two or three small brasses, and three or four stained glass windows.