The village in Worcestershire where I live has a beautiful church, St Michaels and All Angels, of which parts date back to the 12th century. It’s a wonderful building, as well as a place of worship, and one which the vicar would like to see becoming more of a social hub for Stoke Prior. Not only is the building attractive and Grade I listed, but the ancient graveyard is full of wild flowers and contains areas reserved for wildlife, which is rampant among the illegible gravestones. I spend quite a lot of my time exploring the church and grounds with my small son, and it’s a place of which I’m very fond. Every day when I come down the hill into the village on my way home from work, I look across the field of sheep to the church and sigh with thankfulness that I can look at this scene which can barely have changed in centuries. It’s sad, then, to see the tower covered with scaffolding and part of the grounds out of bounds due to the crumbling tower.
I’m not an ecclesiologist (unlike my father!) but, briefly, the chancel is 13th century, while the north chapel and the south aisle were added in the 13th and 14th centuries. Decorated windows were installed at the same time, with further Victorian renovations. There is much more information here and here if you’re interested.
In the nineteenth century the church was renovated with funds provided by the ‘Salt King’, John Corbett, a local man who made his money in salt-mining, and is best known now for building Chateau Impney in Droitwich Spa. He was also a very charitable man, it seems, and used him money for good, building almshouses, renovating churches and, I think, also paying for the school master’s house for the Reform School, which is now my house.
Now, the church is fundraising, with the hope that when fully renovated (which will cost around £150,000) the building will continue to be an integral part of village life. If you can donate anything at all to this fundraising effort, please visit their JustGiving page. There is also a facebook group at http://www.facebook.com/StokePriorChurchTowerFund
John Betjeman, that great preserver of English buildings, had a deep affinity for country churches, even writing poems as fundraisers (something I would love to do, but I’ll spare you). You can listen to him reading his comic ‘Diary of a Church Mouse’ here. He wrote that: ‘When a church has been pulled down the country seems empty or is like a necklace with a jewel missing.’ I’m sure it won’t come to that for St Michael’s, but perhaps we should all follow Betjeman’s lead and think about the spiritual, architectural, social, historical aspects of the heritage represented by our church buildings. Like Betjeman, I can’t walk past a church without popping in for a look, and the peace and beauty always makes it worth it.
If you have any bright ideas about fundraising, or want to know more, please feel free to contact me.
There is a lovely video of the church and its surroundings on Youtube: