Although the present church was constructed in the late 13th or early 14th century it is certain that there was an earlier church in Cromhall. The advowson (the right to appoint a rector) of Cromhall church was granted by Robert Fitzharding, together with others in the Berkeley district, to his newly founded Abbey of St Augustine near Bristol (now Bristol Cathedral) some time in the period 1152 -4. We do not know when the first church was built but there seems to have been a Christian presence in Cromhall as early as the Dark Ages if the tradition of the Cromhall hermit is correct. Such a hermit or anchorite would have been trained in one of the Welsh schools such as that at Llantwit Major and would have lived in a crude cell, possibly a cave, and have constructed a small oratory nearby. According to the tradition the cell was at Abbotside where the traces of many old ruins can still be seen. In the year 603 when the Roman emissary Archbishop Augustine met a deputation of the Celtic Church to discuss the differences between the Roman and Celtic Churches, the Celtic deputation consulted the famous hermit as to what they should do. He advised them that they should listen to Augustine if he showed patience and humility.
The name Cromhall is derived from the Old English words crumb (or crumbe) meaning `bent' or `crooked' and halh, a `nook or corner of land' and probably refers to the crooked course of the stream to the west of the church. The name thus probably means 'a piece of land almost enclosed by a bend in a river'.
The early settlement must have been near this bend, but over the centuries, as farming practices have changed, the old village has almost disappeared. Today it consists of four scattered hamlets, with the church left seemingly isolated. The old village was probably not big by modem standards, though it was sufficient to have an annual fair on St Andrew's Day, 30th November, the Patronal festival of the parish church. By the 18'" century the population was a mere 300 odd and thereafter it rose very little. It was still only 500 before the Second World War, but now that figure has doubled.
Anciently there were two manors in the parish. One was called Cromhall Abbots, because it was granted by Robert, Lord Berkeley, to the Abbey of St Augustine’s in Bristol about the year 1150; the other was known as Cromhall Lygon„ from the Lygon family who purchased the manor from the Crown in the reign of Henry VI. Cromhall Abbots remained in the possession of the monastery until the Dissolution and eventually passed into the ownership of the Ducie family. The two manors survived as separate tithings, each of which elected its own churchwarden.
The present church remains structurally, very much as the medieval builders left it, although parts have been altered and rebuilt. We enter through the 14th century porch, with its ancient weathered doors and the great oaken inner door, as solid and sound as the day it was made, perhaps 500 years ago.
Inside the church, almost nothing, apart for the stonework and a few fragments of woodwork, is older than 1846, for like so many village churches Cromhall lost its old furniture and fittings in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The arches between nave and aisle remain very much as they were built while the roof, though not old, has some fine carved wooden ribs and bosses at the estern end. The whole structure is simple but well made. Possibly some of the money for the building may have come from St Augustine’s Abbey, or more likely, from the Lygon family. We know from Rudder's "New History of Gloucestershire” (1779) that there was a monument to a Crusader in the south aisle, but in 1770 this monument was built into the south wall. There is no sign of it now. It is possible that the south aisle may have been built as a chapel to house the Crusader’s monument, by the Lygon family.
The medieval church probably had as many as three altars — the high altar, an altar at the east end of the south aisle and maybe our Lady's altar where the pulpit now stands. This last is uncertain but there exists in the north wall just to the left of the pulpit, a recess which may have been an aumbry, or cupboard for keeping the sacred vessels. Alternatively, and perhaps more likely, this may have been a candle cupboard and there may have been a statue of our Lady here, with its pricket of constantly burning candles. All this of course disappeared at the time of the Reformation, though some of the old benches, with carved poppy heads at their ends survived until much later. They were moved between 1769 and 1771, when the church was extensively repaired and altered. The east end was largely rebuilt, the whole of the roof renewed and the inside of the roof plastered. New pews were made and a new mahogany pulpit provided; the tower was re-roofed and the whole church re-paved. All this work cost £353.1s 9d. and the churchwardens' accounts meticulously record every single item of expenditure. It was at this time that the Crusader's monument was destroyed. The relevant entries in the accounts are probably these:
To Thos. Arthurs one day to assist in moving the Tomb stones 1s 2d
To 3 men more, half a day 1s 9d
In 1823 there was put up a gallery for the musicians and singers at the west end of the church. The singing at this period would have been accompanied by a band probably consisting of clarinet, bassoon and 'cello, perhaps also with a flute or oboe. The parish certainly possessed a 'cello, for in 1833 the accounts record an item of 13 shillings for "repair of Violoncello”.
A few years later, in 1839, the Revd W J Copleston was instituted as rector. He was fresh from Oxford, which was then in ferment, with the Oxford Movement beginning to shake the Church out of some of its lethargy. In Copleston's time Cromhall was drastically altered. As he was by no means a poor man, many of the alterations were paid for out of his own pocket. The very first thing to which he contributed was a stove for the church. Next, in 1842, he gave a barrel organ, which cost him £145. This was put into the west gallery, which had to be extended for the purpose. Barrel organs were coming into fashion at this time in village churches. Men like Copleston, accustomed to the rather refined music of universities, must have found the home-made village musical efforts very irritating. So barrel organs, playing a limited number of tunes, were an alternative. Generally these organs had a keyboard as well as the barrel mechanism, but few people could play at that time. The Cromhall organ had three barrels, each of which could play ten tunes. We know exactly what these tunes were because we still have this list written on the home-made case which contained the barrels.
In 1851 began what Copleston himself called the "great work” on the church. The walls of the south west of the church were rebuilt and a new buttress added; the vestry was built to replace an old schoolroom; the chancel roof was entirely rebuilt (The ribs, with their carved flower bosses, are of solid oak). The old east window was removed and the present stonework constructed, as was the south window in the chancel - this window now contains some pleasant stained glass which commemorates Copleston. At this time were also made the iron communion rails.
Next, the old galleries at the back of the church were removed and the organ placed in a chamber half way up the tower - a somewhat dangerous alteration because it left the great weight of the tower without support on one side. No doubt the organ looked and sounded very well there. The handsome carved gallery front still remains, but the arch has long since been filled in. Sadly the organ too has gone. The present instrument which fills up the south chapel, dates only from 1911.
In 1852 the mahogany pulpit, which was probably a "three-decker", was removed and the present one was made in carved Caen stone in 15th century "wine-glass" style. At the same time the whole of the seating was removed and the present pews made. The font was moved to its present position and provided with an oak cover suspended on a very fine wrought iron bracket, which was made and presented by the village blacksmith, William Hale. There are various other wrought iron furnishings, like the chandelier, which may have been made by him.
Two years later was installed the present east-window (by Bell of Bristol) and the present stalls in the chancel were put in - some of these replaced an old family pew, whose removal had been stoutly resisted by its owner. The existing altar was made at this time and the old one, a fine Jacobean oak table, was relegated to the vestry. Since that time there have been few internal alterations though the walls have been repainted in lighter colours and new furnishings have added to the dignity of the church, which retains a simple homely beauty of its own.
The church owns two rather unique treasures. One of these is an original copy of the "Paraphrases of Erasmus" (now lodged in a secure place). It is the result of an injunction of 1547 which ordered that "within one twelvemonth the Paraphrases of Erasmus be sette up in some convenient place" in every parish church. The Paraphrases are in fact a very poor English translation of the Bible.
The other treasure is a bell of pre-Reformation date This bell hung in the tower until 1958. It was cast by Robert Hendley circa 1450. The bell bears the inscription "Sancte Michael ora pro nobis” (Blessed Michael pray for us). Before 1948, there were but two bells in the tower; in that year thanks to the enthusiasm of the then rector, the Revd A D H Allan, the newer of the two was cast into two new bells and a further four new ones added, making a ring of six. Later, in 1954, the medieval bell became cracked and was replaced in 1958 by a new bell commemorating the Revd A D H Allen, who was a ringing enthusiast.
The church has long since lost the ancient plate it once had. In 1821 there is record of an item of expense for "repairing the silver cup”. This would have been an Elizabethan chalice, but it has disappeared. The oldest plate existing is a pair of silver chalices of rather indifferent design given in 1791 by Joseph Daniel Matthews, who served as churchwarden. There are two patens of 1850 and a plated flagon given by Revd W J Copleston in 1850, as well as a particularly good modern chalice and paten.
The Parish registers run intact from 1653 onwards and there is a transcript of earlier registers from 1571 to 1608. Few other parish records survive, apart from the Churchwardens' accounts from 1724 onwards. There is however a good collection of medieval deeds of church land.
(Revised August 2000)