History of All Saints' Church
All Saints' Church Lilbourne is Grade-1 listed. It is one of the oldest in the area. A wood-built 'lesser minster' was probably on the site from the 8th century, as a base for priests who travelled into surrounding area, bringing converts for baptism in the nearby R.Avon. The church was re-built in ironstone during the Saxo-Norman period, and the earliest part of the building - the chancel - is late Saxon. The style of a blocked-in doorway (re-discovered in the 1970s) in its south wall is an indication of the period. The rest of the building was added over the next 300 years.
Lilbourne was a locally important market centre from Saxon to medieval times, and the church was built at its hub. Across the lane, very well-defined mounds are the remains of a Norman castle (probably partly wooden) built at a crossroads to overlook two through-routes, the village, and the market. A local legend says that when the castle was de-fortified in the 1200s, material from it was used in the church. This seems quite likely, as there was fairly continuous work on the building. When the market petered out in the late Middle Ages the village gradually moved up the hill, leaving the church isolated nearly half a mile from the main residential area.
It’s a lovely, simple little church. There is a very small amount of medieval stained glass, in the east window - another local legend says that there was more but that it was removed and hidden during the Civil War. If so, it remains hidden! Other than that, the windows (which are in several different styles) are plain glass, some of it very old. Windows to the south side were blocked at the bottom at some point to stop animals grazing in the churchyard being able to reach them.
Major restoration work was carried out in 1908-1909, and a meticulous list (following) shows all that was done. In addition to a lot of remedial work, the height of the 18th-century pews was reduced, the pulpit was moved, and it was probably then that a Victorian font replaced the medieval one (which is still in the building.) Further work went on at intervals, and major restoration was again carried out in the 1980s /1990s, with the help of English Heritage. Two tombs were discovered under the chancel floor. The last phase of work on the building made the tower structurally sound, which meant that the bells too could be restored, and that was completed in time for their 250th anniversary in 2012.
The organ is Grade 2 listed. Made by Henry Bryceson, a very successful organ-builder, in the mid-1800s, it was installed in the church shortly afterwards. It was a barrel-and-finger instrument, but sadly the barrel has gone. Our plans include moving it back to its original site in the chancel, from its current position at the other end of the building, and in the course of the move we hope to have it fully restored.
Throughout its 1000-year history the church building has been adapted to meet the changing needs of the community it serves, and there is always maintenance work to be done. This continues. Lead from the nave roof was stolen in 2015, and the building is now protected by an accredited security system. A new and efficient (though unfortunately rather noisy) heater replaced one of the three 1970s heaters in 2016. We have plans underway to put in a WC and servery area, which could include reordering various aspects of the church interior.
There are several listed tombs in the churchyard. All the extant gravestones have been catalogued and a professional survey has been made so that we now have an accurate plan.
We started a Wildlife Trust nature conservation project in the Churchyard in 2013, winning a Gold Award in 2016. An area in the SW corner was specifically designated 'conservation' and is mown at the end of the growing season. Yellow rattle is now established in it, to reduce the vigour of the grasses and give other plants more chance. Several nest-boxes and insect boxes have been put in.
in 2019 a further are for conservation was established, along the north and east boundaries, and work was done to thin out the scrub growth around the north and west boundaries and where the footpath crosses a ditch in the NW corner. This should encourage greater biodiversity in those areas.
The churchyard has a lot of trees, both coniferous and deciduous, and these are regularly reviewed for safety. There's a magnificent specimen of black poplar in the NW corner. The churchyard is seen at its best in the spring months, when it's full of a variety of spring flowers. We hope to improve the range of summer-flowering wildflowers gradually. We try to achieve a balance between 'tidy' and 'natural' - this is, after all, a place sacred to the memory of Lilbourne villagers over hundreds of years - and we think we achieve this fairly well.
"Shakespeare's Avon Way", an 88-mile-long footpath, passes through the churchyard. This path follows the course of the River Avon, from its source at Naseby to its confluence with the River Severn at Tewkesbury. Walkers in the churchyard should be aware that there are many rabbit-holes!
While it's accepted that the thriving rabbit population has a bad effect on flowers placed on graves, we do ask that people don't use artificial ones, which are out of place in this churchyard. Any Remembrance poppies or Christmas wreaths still on the graves at the beginning of Lent are removed at that point.
Please note that there are regulations governing all forms of memorial within the churchyard. Any proposed installations must be taken through the proper channels to gain permission.
Various research has furnished us with a lot of details concerning the history of its church and its people. Some of this follows:
There have been four Vicars of Lilbourne who ministered here for more than 45 years, but the longest serving was John Green in the 17th century.
In 1610, Thomas Williams was appointed vicar, and on his death in 1640 his son, also called Thomas, succeeded him, although he was not licensed to preach and his other credentials were in some doubt. In 1647, at the end of the first Civil War period, the living was officially given to John Greene, who, it would seem, had already been doing the job unofficially for seven years. (This 'intrusion' into livings was very common during the Commonwealth, and it was a practical attempt to improve the low standard of the clergy by substituting a competent man where the resident clergyman was inadequate.) The date of his appointment was recorded as as 1640. Thomas Williams junior, although still clinging to his title of ‘Clerk’ or ‘Vicar’, turned his attention to his farm at The Moor, near to the Clay Coton boundary, where he died in 1682. Thus, for 35 years, Lilbourne had two vicars, one preaching, the other farming.
During the Commonwealth, the registration of marriages, births and deaths was made a civil duty and in many cases a layman was made registrar. in Lilbourne, however, John Greene was elected so there was no serious lapse in the continuity of the church registers.
He seems to have been well-liked, and he was certainly very active in the community. He was deeply involved when Enclosures came to Lilbourne, doing his best to get a good deal for his church and for the people of the village. Despite this he was called before the Church authorities for having allowed the vicarage to become almost derelict, but he said in his defence that its condition had been even worse when he moved in. Towards the end of his long life his health began to fail. He became very frail, absent-minded and nearly blind, and was unable or unwilling to appoint a curate to help. Services became chaotic as he stumbled through readings and lost track of proceedings. He was obliged to retire in 1696, notwithstanding the good-natured forbearance of his churchwardens and parishioners, and a year later he died at the age of 85 and was buried under the nave of the Church.
John Robinson served almost as long. His tomb can be seen close to the opening of the tower, inside the church. The current bells were probably put in to mark his 40th anniversary as vicar of Lilbourne. A lot of things went into the church interior during his tenure - pews, pulpit, chancel rail, etc - and records suggest that he helped to fund these by taking a fairly relaxed attitude to marriages in the church - a lot of people from outside the parish were married here in the earlier years of his tenure, until regulations were tightened!
The Revd Bowen Lynch came to Lilbourne from living in Jamaica.
Vicars of Lilbourne, 1160 to present day
c.1160 Gilbert the Chaplain
1218-20 Ordination of the 'Vicarage' by Hugh de Welles, Bishop of Lincoln.
1250 Hugh de Beynton
1270 Thomas de Campesey
1287 Roger de Kirkeby
1302 Henry de Laughtone
1335 William Harin de Kibbeworthe
1346 John de Swynforde
1346 John Umfrey
1349 Richard de Melbourne
1351 Ralph la Zouche
1352 Geoffrey Dyve
1361 Roger Hankok
1375 William de Seyton
1401 John Wright
1402 William Waryng
1405 John Martyn
1411 John Welby
1414 William Gerard
1416 John Ecton
1419 John Lounde
1420 William Lyndeley
1439 Richard Hayward
1461 Thomas Barbour
1464 Thomas Blaklowe
1469 Nicholas Furth
1493 Robert Browne
1538 Ralph Wilcoks
1558 Matthew Leche
1567 Elias Okeden
1569 John Gee
1573 Timothy Raffe
1591 Richard Lee
1605 Timothy Whiteinge
1610 Thomas Williams
1640 Thomas Williams (Junior)
1647 John Greene (intruded: tenure dated at 1640)
1696 Joseph Acres
1699 Edmund Killingworth
1704 Thomas Green
1722 John Robinson
1771 John Astell
1777 Christopher Moor
1804 Thomas Smith
1852 Thomas Gurney
1853 Richard W. Needham
1858 William E. Jackson
1872 Charles R. Evors
1875 Robert Bowen Lynch
1901 Joseph J. Davies
1906 Thomas R. Price
1913 Clement A. Neve
1914 Benjamin W. Adams
1918 Robert H. B. Crossthwaite
1944 William H. Jenkins
1954 B. Alfred Tomkins
1969 John Sewell M.B.E.
1975 Hon J. Malcolm A. Kenworthy
1983 John Spilman
1984 Simon H. M. Godfrey
1991 Robert M. Barlow
2006 David Lake
Record compiled by E. W. Timmins, 1970 and updated in 2006.
Lilbourne Church Restoration, 1909
This was a very far-reaching project and was documented as follows
The work in connection with Lilbourne church was started 10th December 1906; the last payment was made 8th November 1909. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings was responsible for the very comprehensive and able scheme. This was drawn up by the Society’s architect (Mr William Weir), who also took entire charge.
The work done may be briefly summarised: the south wall, loose and bulging, being without foundation on a soft surface was underpinned, the concrete base being placed on the ‘lower lias’ about five feet below the floor level. The wall was reset and three unnecessary brick buttresses removed. The porch also was underpinned and repaired. The north wall, in better condition, was underpinned at the angles and buttresses, all loose parts of the wall taken out and the solid portions well-bonded together. The south arcade was in a dangerous condition and out of the perpendicular. Here again, there being no foundation, underpinning was necessary, and the wall above, which was badly cracked, made solid. This work was made more difficult by water flowing under the piers from west to east. The west pier was moved, without being taken down, to a more upright position. The north arcade was found with good foundations. The wall above the chancel arch, cracked by the settlement of the building, was substantially repaired; and a fragment of an ancient fresco, ‘The Resurrection of the Unjust’, uncovered. Traces of three floors were found: the present floor, of concrete, has been sunk to the original level, the passages and tower floor relaid, and such of the ancient tiles as were found used again.
Pews have been adapted to modern requirements and placed on new oak flooring, over coke breeze. The pulpit, with the old sounding board, was lowered in height, and moved to the chancel arch. A modern deal gallery at the west, quite rotten, was taken away and the tower opened into the Church. The interior walls, being too soft for exposure, were lime-washed throughout. The tower walls, four to five feet in thickness, were badly cracked on two sides. These have been made good; and a modern, ill-made doorway, under the west window, closed up. Behind a lath and plaster doorway on the north side a pointed archway was found. This has been opened out, and a new oak door fitted. The south door, half oak and half elm, was scraped, and the fastenings strengthened. The two east-most windows in the north and south walls, retaining their arched heads and tracery, were refitted with stone mullions and reglazed in leaded lights. The east window in the south aisle was fitted with a new oak frame. All windows were repaired, and five casement ventilators inserted. The external stonework was repaired or pointed up, and decayed portions brushed over with baryta solution.
The lead on the roof of the nave and south aisle was recast on the spot, and the lead on the tower and north aisle repaired. All downpipes, gutters etc. were renewed as required. The timbers of the roof were repaired and a new ridge-piece fitted in the east-most bay.
The bells were rehung, refitted and quarter turned, by Messrs Geo. Day and Son, of Eye; three additional oak beams (one twelve inch and two ten inch) were placed underneath, making four altogether, and the bell-frame bolted to them in eight places. The frame was strengthened and repaired. A two inch floor was laid down, the floor of the ringing chamber underneath repaired, and a new window inserted. The tower stairs, badly worn, were levelled up with granite dust and cement, several openings closed on louvre windows repaired and wire-netted. A new trapdoor was made to the roof, and a flag staff erected on the tower.
Hangings and carpets had been purchased, and the heating arrangements improved by No. 4A Musgrave stove placed against the chancel arch. A corrugated shed was erected for a church stores, and a noticeboard and alms-box provided.
Our thanks are due to all, and they are many, who have helped us. Without the assistance of sympathisers outside the parish, the work could never have been carried to a successful conclusion. We owe a debt of gratitude to the arch-deacon of Northampton (the Right Rev. Bishop Thicknesse) and the rural dean, Canon Hichens, for a steady and unfailing support, to Lady Muntz for organising the bazaar, Mrs Arthur James and Mrs Cross, now Mrs H Fair, for many acts of kindness, and to all subscribers and workers, and to Mr Walter G Howkins for kindly auditing the accounts.
The Vicarage, Lilbourne
December 23rd, 1909.