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.
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.
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.
ANCIENT AND MODERN CHURCH MUSIC
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