A very beautiful church in a very nice village, please visit it!!!
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.ashleyvillage.co.uk
Little definite information is available about the early history, but support for the existence of a building of quite early date is found in the records. In 1189 AD in the reign of Richard I, 'half of the patronage of Ashley Church was given to Pipewell Abbey' by Peter de Ashley. This indicates the existence of a church in the 12th century. According to Pevsner, material re-used in Gilbert-Scott's re-modelling in the 19th century would suggest a date of around 1300. However, taking into account the siting of the church on the highest point of the village, an earlier building, perhaps of wood with a thatched roof may have stood in late Saxon or early Norman times, later to be re-built in stone.
The church is a Grade I Listed Building. It is built of ironstone and grey limestone in courses, with dressings and quoins. It is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and today consists of chancel, vestry, and nave with north and south aisles, south porch and tower surmounted by a lofty and graceful broach spire. The tower has a corbel-table of seven heads, beneath which are displayed stone tablets containing coats of arms, one of which is that of the Bassett family. Richard Bassett was Chief Judiciar of England in the 12th century, being second only to the King. He founded Launde Abbey in 1119 and was associated with the neighbouring village of Sutton Bassett.
The oldest surviving part of the church is thought to be the south doorway and here the typically Norman decoration of dog's-tooth moulding can be seen in the hood-mould over the door-way. Inside there is evidence of a lady- chapel (1) or confessional in the south transept of the nave, which has a wide east-facing window in the Decorated style, flanked by two early carved heads, which may have been supports for some structure now lost. There is a small piscina close by, in the south wall of the aisle. The windows of the nave and clerestory are in decorated style, and the piers are of quatre-foil form, simple and undecorated.
The decoration of the nave is starkly plain with an unrelieved harled finish (fibre of flax or hemp) to the walls. The flooring is plain tiles, laid in a diaper pattern of red and black.
The font (2) is situated in the usual place, near the main door of the church. It is a rather heavy, ponderous affair of pink-mottled Italian marble, hexagonal in form and raised on short marble pillars with gilded bases and capitals. It was given to the church by the rector of the time,
Rev Richard Thomas Pulteney and is said to have cost £2000 in 1857! An earlier, simple but elegant font (3) now stands in the chancel.
19th century restoration
Restoration and refurbishment took place in 1864 when the wealthy rector, Rev Richard Thomas Pulteney, called in the eminent architect Sir George Gilbert Scott. Pre-restoration drawings by George Clark suggest that, chancel apart, Sir George followed closely what was already there, confining himself to repair and restoration, re-flooring the nave, replacing box pews with benches, and providing new heating and lighting systems. But for the chancel it was a different story, and today the chief glory and interest of the church lies in the work which was done in this 1864-66 transformation. The exterior was almost entirely re-built, re-using much of the ancient stone and at the same time the chancel was lengthened and heightened, thus creating large wall and ceiling areas to take the decoration planned for it. The designs were the work of Messrs Clayton and Bell and the theme was the Te Deum Laudamus. Groups of figures taken from this anthem and illustrating verses from it, cover the walls.
Thus the north wall depicts "The glorious company of the noble apostles" and the south wall has "The goodly fellowship of the prophets. On the west wall are depicted the "Saints" and "The noble army of Martyrs"
The barrel-vaulted ceiling is divided into two sections, that immediately above the altar being painted in blue with silver stars, representing the vault of heaven, while the larger western part is divided into large patterned squares reminiscent of the style of decoration found in many mediaeval buildings. The whole is lavishly enhanced with gold-leaf and emphasised by wide ribbon-like borders in many colours, producing an effect of sumptuous richness and splendour. The triple-arched opening in the north wall (4) has pillars of grey-pink marble, their bases and capitals highlighted in gold leaf. The treatment of the sanctuary area is particularly lavish. The reredos (5) of carved and inlaid alabaster is composed of five cusped arches, surmounted by tall pointed canopies with gilded crockets.
The central space is inlaid with a cross of blue enamel and the whole is lavishly ornamented with gold-leaf. On either side of the altar-table the walls are faced with twin-arched panels of alabaster with slender columns painted and gilded. The flooring of the sanctuary is in a pattern of various coloured marble tiles and that of the main part of the chancel is in encaustic tiles of dark red and green. There is a piscina and triple-arched sedilia (6) on the south wall, both having received similar decorative treatment. There are also brass chancel screens and decorative chancel rail. The fine oak choir stalls were introduced into the chancel at this time. Originally both the vestry and the organ loft were decorated in the same way, but owing to the high cost of the restoration of the chancel in 1973, it was decided not to try to restore them but to treat them only to simple repainting. A fragment of the original patterning can still be seen however on the north wall of the organ-loft, behind where the organ originally stood, before being moved to its present position.
The organ (7), whose decorative painted and gilded case is in the same High Victorian style as the chancel decoration, was made by Bryceson of London and installed in 1867. For long it was thought to be the work of Sir George Gilbert Scott himself, but is more likely to be the work of his son George Gilbert Scott.
In 1973 the wall-paintings and ceiling of the chancel were cleaned and repainted where necessary, using identical paints, and much of the gold-leaf was restored. The work was carried out by Peter Larkworthy of Baldock, great grandson of Arthur Bell. At this time also the chandeliers (Bodley) in the nave were re-painted in a colour which blended with that of the chancel walls, the vestry and organ loft. They were converted to electricity in 1993 when the re-wiring of the church was undertaken.
In 1991 the Quinquennial Survey conducted by Gotch Saunders and Surridge indicated that the stonework of the tower and spire had deteriorated and E. Bowman & Sons of Stamford carried out the necessary work during 1994.
Inside to the left of the entrance door hangs a board (8) containing a list of patrons and incumbents from 1220. Incumbents were under the patronage of the Abbots of Pipewell Abbey, who were patrons of Ashley church on and off until 1504. Friars from the abbey would be sent to conduct services. The patron of the church in 1329 was the king himself, King Edward III.
After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, around 1538, the moiety of the church was divided between Sir Ralph Sadler and Lawrence Wymington (Knight). This later passed to the Templer family.
Rev R Farrer died 1852 - within the altar precincts on north wall
Richard Farrer, Rector for 36 years died 1809 on north wall of chancel
Arthur Wykeham Pulteney (son of Rev R T Pulteney) Rector for 43 years, died 1927. This is a painted and decorated stone plaque.
A companion plaque has George Reg Lascelles CVO QBE Lt Col, Coldstream Guards died 1939 aged 41 years.
In the organ loft on the north wall is a brass plaque to Ann died 1828, John died 1889, Joseph died 1871 and Thomas Elliott.
Running down the centre aisle of the nave, let into the tiled floor diamond-wise, to echo the diaper pattern of the tiling, is a series of brass memorial plates. They are all of one size pattern and style and have obviously been made as a set for the purpose of decoration as well as memorials, being evenly spaced from the chancel step to the tower opening. These are engraved with the names of John Maidwell 1695, Elizabeth Mason, his daughter 1760, Edward Maidwell 1698, Wm Wade and wife Mary 1779 and 1800, George Wignell 1685 and Grace Wignell 1653. They were no doubt introduced by Gilbert Scott in the 1865 re-flooring of the nave.
On the south wall of the south aisle is a marble plaque dedicated to the memory of William Berry of the 7th Company of Yeomanry who was killed in action near Biddulphsberg, Orange River Colony on 29th May 1900, aged 22 years.
The War Memorial (9) is on the south wall of the south aisle and bears the names of five Ashley men killed in the Great War of 1914-1918: Otho Crain, Omar Gray, Albert Hammond, Frederick Neal and William Payne. Below on the same memorial is the name of Alistair Slater of the SAS, who was killed in Northern Ireland on 2nd December 1984.
The east window of the south aisle of the nave depicts the story of Cain and Abel and also the re-naming of Jacob as "Israel"'. It is dedicated to Richard Pulteney.
In the vestry is a 'musical' window which shows David with his harp and St Cecilia at the organ.
In the sanctuary, the east window has scenes from the life of Christ, including his crucifixion.
On the north wall of the chancel the window has scenes showing the raising of Lazarus and other miracles.
On the south wall of the chancel are scenes depicting the "Upper Room" and St Peter's communion.
All these windows were designed by Messrs Clayton and Bell working under the direction of Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1867.
Lastly the colourful west window in the tower, showing the Purification of
the Virgin Mary, was given by Henry Morgan Vane in memory of his wife
who died on 16th December 1878.
As the year 2000 approached and it was announced that the new millennium would be ushered in by the ringing of church bells, attention turned to the bells which had not been rung "full-circle" for many years.
Again grants were sought and fund-raising took place so that the five bells could be over-hauled and re-hung by Hayward Mills & Associates of Nottingham. Three of the five bells were cast by Robert Taylor of St Neots in 1796, the tenor bell was cast by John Taylor of Loughborough in 1848, and number three bell is a rare alphabet bell cast in 1595 by Hugh Watts of Leicester. A Service of Rededication of the bells was held on Sunday 4th February 2001, conducted by the Bishop of Brixworth, and followed by a full peal.
At this time also it was decided to electrify the clock which for many years had been wound by hand on a weekly basis. The clock was made by J B Joyce & Co of Whitchurch in 1866 and the work to convert it to an auto- wind system was carried out by John Smith & Sons of Derby in September 2001