St Mary's Church

In one building or another, St Mary’s Church has been the spiritual centre of the village for over a thousand years, and continues to be a home for those who want to practice their faith, or simply find out more.  Sunday services are at 11am, and on the first Sunday of the month there is a children’s club (St Mary’s Stars) at the school. Midweek Communion is on a Wednesday morning at 10am, followed by coffee. For more information, please visit their website

The Church is one of the largest in the county, being no less than 119 feet long with a square Norman Tower dating about the early half of the twelfth century, to which sometime in the l5th century the shingled oak spire was added. The founding of the Church has been ascribed to the Chandos family but as the patronage of the living did not pass into the hands of Sir Robert Chandos until the year A.D. 1300 it is probable that the Tower and some other parts of the church were built whilst the patronage was in the hands of the Abbot of Lyre and when, too, the Earls of Berkeley were Lords of the Manor. This view is strengthened by the fact that William de Wotton, who was appointed by the Bishop in A.D. 1286 as Incumbent (following a lapse of which we have no record), suggests that a Priest or succession of Priests must have held office under the Abbot of Lyre for a considerable period before A.D. 1300 and that during that period much church work had been done. There is, however, no doubt but that the Chandos family as soon as the patronage of the living came into their hands in A.D. 1300 did a great deal to enlarge and complete the building, and that the skew chancel (skew to correct the Eastern position) was built by that famous family 

Fownhope church generally is of much interest and the building includes architecture of the Norman, semi-Norman, Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular periods. The interior is handsome and lofty, and contains Chancel, Nave, South Aisle, and a Chantry now used as a vestry, which was described in a Mr. Gwatkins' will in A.D. 1789 as Colliers' Chapel. 

An ambry hollowed out of the wall, and a piscina in a most perfect state, are to be found in the chancel and two other piscina in excellent preservation are to be found respectively one close to the north door, and the other at the eastern end of the south aisle, which prior to the erection of the vestry was probably used as a chantry. In the belfry chamber there is a fourth piscina and a cupboard, which was probably an ambry, and also an ancient chest or coffer carved out of a solid oak tree with a ponderous lid on hinges which was popularly believed at one time to have been the Parish Deed Chest, but, as a pair of silver candlesticks were found in it (which were probably taken to East Shene Priory) it is much more likely that, from the construction of the interior of the chest, the larger part was used for priests' vestments and the smaller for Church plate. 

These dugout chests from the order of Henry II in A.D. I I66, and later the Order of Pope Innocent III, were the subject of a petition by the Guild of Cofferers to Richard III in A.D. 1483 so that the age of this chest in the belfry of Fownhope Church is probably as early as the l3th century. The fact that this belfry chamber has in each of its four sides a beautiful Norman double window, three of which have been blocked up, there is ground for the supposition that in the early Saxon-Norman period of unrest, this chamber in the tower was used as a chapel for the defenders of this  place of the Flag. This view is strengthened by the fact that in the stone stairway are to be found two doorways, long since blocked up, leading into the church, the upper one possibly gave access to a rood loft and the lower one probably connected with the subway which extended to what is now the Stone House where remains of the other end of the subway are still in evidence, which subway was no doubt used by the priest at the Stonehouse in passing to and from the chapel in the Tower in these turbulent times.  

Perhaps the most interesting feature in the Church is the Tympanum about which there has been much controversy both as to its significance and its original position, but broadly it depicts the Virgin seated holding the infant Jesus whose fingers are upraised in blessing with lion and eagle on either side signifying the  second person of the Trinity with scroll decorating representing the True Vine. Generally the work is so altogether different to the crude Norman work that comparison with the Tympanum at Kilpeck is most instructive. As to its original situation some authorities assert that before the Chandos family erected the present skew chancel, access to a small Norman Chapel was made from a doorway in the east side of the tower over which the Tympanum was in situ. Others assert that before the nave was lengthened by two bays, there was a western door over which the Tympanum was affixed (which was why it was placed under the west window of the nave before it was in recent years removed to the interior for preservation), and a third theory is that it was in situ over the north door, but the view is that before the skew chancel was erected there was a much smaller chancel or apse and that it occupied the place of honour over the Altar of that building. Be all that as it may, the Tympanum of Fownhope Church is pure l2th century Norman and one of the finest examples in the country. 
Other matters of interest in Fownhope Church include the Carolian Font which was reclaimed from rubble in the Vicarage garden by the late Mr. Herbert Averay Jones. This font is a relic of the period when it was customary for the baptism of a child to take place in the porch so that the child may enter the church as a member of the congregation (of the faithful) and until the fine old Tudor Font now in the Church (which was also reclaimed from some neighbouring ruins in A.D. 1858) was reinstated, this Carolian Font seems to have been in constant use. The Norman font, decorated with the Fleur de Leys, was probably discarded in puritanical times as a relic of days when the baptismal ceremony probably savoured of high-church ritual! These puritan influences were no doubt responsible for the plastering up of the walls and roofing of the church so that good whitewash may make it more suitable for worship by persons imbued with the idea that the plainer and simpler the surroundings the less would their attention be distracted from the thunderous sermons of those times. In this direction the great restoration of the Church in 1882 stripped away these plasterings, and laid bare the piscinæ and other items of interest, not the least of which was the opening up of the beautiful timbered roofing of the Nave. This 1882  restoration , however, did away with the ‘Minstrels' gallery under the west window, and with the exquisite lancet west window in the south aisle which was replaced,  to give more light  by the present copy of the west window of the Nave (complete with  ball flower decoration) as it also substituted the present ugly and uncomfortable pitch-pine benches for the ancient oak-panelled box pews which could so well have been re-modelled as in many other churches, and enhanced rather than disfigured the character of a noble old Norman Church which ranks as one of the finest in the country.  

In the blocked-up south doorway is the lid of the stone coffin of the last priest to be presented with the living of Fownhope by the Abbot of Lyre, one John Shanon (actually Sherman ) who died in 1490. Another stone coffin lid is now standing near the Vestry door at the end of the south aisle. During the 1882 restoration the remains of a man about 8 ft. in height were unearthed in the floor of the Tower now used as Choir Stalls, but there is no record of who this was. Flagstones with which the church was paved prior to 1882 showed amongst others that Robert Gregory who was Vicar of Fownhope from 1619  to 1643 was buried in the Chancel, as were four others of the Gregory family, whilst four members of the Kidley family were buried in the Chantry  (? now the Vestry). The Memorial tablet to the family of Jacobus Kidley, who was Vicar in 1839, is to be found over the door of the Vestry in the Eastern end of the South Aisle. A rubbing of a stone in 1882 showed that John Felyte, Surgeon and Apothecary, was buried in the church on Sept. 29th, 1748, aged 42 years, and another stone, a portion of which is now to be found in the entrance to the heating chamber, is to the memory of Robert Phillips who was vicar of Fownhope 1696-1723. The rest of the memorial tablets in the Church are chiefly to members of the Lechmere family of Fownhope Court. In the Chancel walls are recesses under pointed arches which it is supposed contained effigies of members of the Chandos family but there is no record in support of this supposition. 

The three buttresses supporting the south wall of the aisle were erected by Thomas Stone in 1844, and it was his four sons, Stone Brothers, who were responsible for all the work done in the restoration of the Church in 1882. The ancient northern stone built porch, which had fallen into serious decay, was replaced by the present handsome oak structure in 1873. The Norman Cross in the churchyard was restored during the Incumbency of the Revd. F. G. Nott (who was Vicar for 32 years) as a memorial to the Fownhope men who fell in First World War. The well-preserved stocks outside the churchyard wall, which were also used for whipping, were last used for one named Winter for drunkenness. These stocks were instituted by Edward III in 1376 and confirmed respectively by Henry IV' (Henry of Hereford), 1405, and James I, 1623. Whipping was forbidden by Statute in 1791.

In generations gone by the singing in most country Churches was supported by musicians, and in Fownhope Church the minstrels' gallery, to which was previously referred, was occupied by choir and orchestra. The Church accounts for the earlier part of the l9th century refer to repair of the instruments used by the musicians, the bass viol, having pre-eminence for new strings! An old lady who sang in the choir recorded that on one occasion when the congregation stood up and turned towards the gallery, as was the custom for the anthem, and the orchestra struck up the opening chords, discordant sounds from the wind instruments caused consternation, and though they tried to remedy the trouble nothing happened except that the anthem was abandoned and the congregation sat down. This was due to the fact that this old lady, then a girl who was walking out  with one of the musicians, had been told off by the conductor and  to spite him had stuffed all the wind instruments prior to the service with sheets of an old hymn book ! In April, 1845, from one cause or another the orchestra and choir had got into such an unsatisfactory state that it was decided to purchase a barrel-organ playing thirty tunes to lead the singing, the organ was played by one James Bailey·, a wheelwright and builder of flat-bottomed boats (a descendant of one Thomas Bailey who was a tenant of Anna Lechmere of Fownhope Court in 1667). But times changed with the railways, and the 1851 Exhibition and the more educated decided the barrel organ had had its day so that before the Church was restored in 1882 they had a church harmonium played by a Miss Apperley and a ladies' choir to lead the singing. But alas members of the old choir with no orchestra still held office in the minstrels' gallery, and on great occasions the congregation heard these two choirs compete to lead the congregation with results perhaps better left to the imagination. The Singers in 1861 numbered 15 men and women and the Choir Supper which took place at the Green Man, when it was rented by William Dawe in 1862, cost the wardens £2 18s. 0d to include the glass of grog to the menfolk to help them along their way home !  However, after 1882, a small church organ was purchased (since replaced by the present organ) and a choir was fully trained by a lady (the late Miss Florence Evans) which took part in choral festivals. The coming of the late Mr. F. G. Nott brought into being the surplice choir supported by the excellent organ given by the late Mrs. Frank Evans (formerly Lechmere) in memory of her husband. 
Extracts from the booklet  "Fownhope - Its Church and Its People" by Edmund Fortescue Gange with help from Mr Herbert Averay-Jones and Rev. E D Preston former vicar of Fownhope