About St John’s

Aldford

A Short History of the Church in Aldford

by Ruth Clarke 2018

There has been a church of one sort or another in Aldford from early times, with records of at least two previous churches close to the present site.

The current church was consecrated by the Bishop of Chester in 1866 replacing a church that was considered beyond repair and within the church above the entrance from the porch is the old sandstone lintel which has welcomed the faithful from those two churches. 

Ecclesia quondam Ranulphus condidit istam pro se pro conjuge pro filius pro filiabus.

Pro quibus orantes sint omnes ingredients Ut coeli regnum intrare supernum.

Translated by a member of the Liverpool Victorian Society who visited in October 2010, it states “The Church was built by Ranulphus for his wife and his son and daughters. Those who worship here will enter into perfect life”.  (Perfect life as in eternity!)  (The stone further records that the stone had been taken from yet another church where it had been inverted because the stonemason had been unable to read!) 

V-C-LIRE-NV VALCANT INTARESVFNI

(Thus, making the current church building at least number three!)

In Aldford, there is little evidence of Christianity in Roman Times, but Roman sites were often reused by Norman builders and Aldford’s Norman Castle site and our church are close to the Roman Road and River it seems logical that there would be worship here at least from Norman times, but more probably from Anglo Saxon days. The manor of Farndon or Ferenstone included Aldford and belonged to the Church and there has always been a strong belief among antiquarians that there was a church somewhere in Ferenstone in Anglo-Saxon times. Higham (1993) suggests that there was an early minster parish based on Farndon which encompassed the medieval parishes of Farndon, Aldford, Tilston and Coddington. So, at the Norman Conquest there is presumed organised Christianity here.

Ormerod gives names of many ancient churches in Cheshire, listed in the domesday survey: ‘In Dudestan hundred Farndon had a church and two priests, one of whom doubtless related to the moiety of the manor, which subsequently constituted the village of Aldford”. The separation of the Aldford moiety into a distinct parish from Farndon probably took place early in the twelfth century and it was at this time that Churton was believed to have been divided by a parish boundary which remains to this present day, Until the early twentieth century the remains of steps of an ancient cross marking the boundary at the corner of Pump Lane could still be seen. It is significant that Aldford Church is so close to the castle indeed much of the current building is in the moat! The proximity of the church and castle is quite usual in early settlements, standing side by side as a sign of the powers of lord and priest, controlling most aspects of people’s lives. Archaeological excavations that took place in 1959 suggest that the current church building stands close to the site of the castle chapel serving Aldford Castle on Blobb Hill where the actual remains of a piscine found by two boys is on view in the Grosvenor Museum Chester. The castle may have had its own chapel, but probably there was no village church, for the Lords of Aldford paid for the living at St Bridget’s which had been founded by Vikings in Chester until 1224.

The Early Church

 A church at Aldford was first attested in the14th century when a cleric William of Aldford witnessed a charter of Earl Hugh Kevelioc 1153 -1181, 5th Earl of Chester, a great nephew of Hugh Lupus. The actual lists of Rectors at Aldford which date from before 1317 commence with Gilbertus Arderne an assumed relative of Sir John Arderne Lord of Aldford. Gilbertus is documented as Rector of Aldford in a grant of lands in Chorlton given to the abbey of St Werburgh.  Perhaps that coincides with a local church structure. 

In 1850, the local paper described the tower of the church at Aldford as being built in the reign of Edward 3rd (1317-1377). There is documented evidence of Rectors and Patrons, but no written evidence has yet been found of Priests, Clerks or Schoolmasters working in the parish only details of glebe, the dues of which would go to the Rectors.   

The earliest properly recorded church on the current site was decorated and endowed by local families, possibly to display their wealth and influence in the locality. Church notes describe church windows and fittings at Aldford with Arderne connections: “In an old window on the north side of the church, a very ancient representation of a female figure kneeling, her surcoat emblazoned with the arms of Arderne, and before her the figure of a bishop. In the steeple window the arms of Arderne, the cross lets botonee”

Arderne

The Calveley family who lived at Lea Hall from the fourteenth century were also benefactors of this early church in Aldford as exampled on the window (described in 1629) glazed in 1533. The Charity Board re-sited in the present church also mentions Dame Calveley. The middle window on the south side of that early building displayed the arms of the Calveleys and Duttons … There was also an armed figure kneeling before a desk, habited in a surcoat emblazoned with the arms before-mentioned, ‘behind whom were the figures of his four sons also kneeling; and the two divisions on the left, with those of a female before a desk, with six daughters behind her all kneeling: the surcoat of the lady emblazoned with the arms of Dutton. Under the whole line of figures: “Of your charity pray for the good estate of Sir George Calveley and Elisabeth his wife, daughter of Piers Dutton of Hatton who was at the cost of this glasinge this window anno M CCCCC XXX 111” (1533) This Dutton family lived at Hatton are buried inside Waverton Church. In the east window of the choir were the arms of Fitton of Gawsworth. In the churchyard a recumbent figure of a female the hands clasped in prayer, the head resting on an oblong cushion is clearly visible today on the right of the church path close to the memorial steps where the sundial was formerly placed. The steps and sundial close to the tower are described as medieval. Fragments of carved masonry and part of the base of what may have been a font in this medieval church were dug up in 1970. 

Although there was a church, in Aldford from the 14th century which can be seen in early engravings, there are no known maps of Aldford before that of 1728 (drawn by Thomas Badeslade) which shows the church and unwalled churchyard outside the bailey ditch of the castle. 

A description of that church can be found in Ormerod’s History of Chester published in 1819. “The church of Aldford stands on the verge of the castle moat, and consists of a nave without side-aisles, a chancel, and steeple, very picturesque, but now ruinous. The church has been repaired in various styles and ages”. And it had a tower. There is a delightful watercolour of that old church in the vestry

In 1850 the local paper had reported that “the dial of the clock in the beautiful tower (of the date of Edward 3rd) of this church had been repaired and regilded and a minute hand added, with the necessary work for its movement at the sole expense of Mr. Sherlock of Churton Lodge”. You will note from the picture that the clock was diamond in shape. Vestry Minutes from November 1   1747 state” It is agreed at a vestry meeting this day that the new clerk shall have twenty shillings a. year, and ten shillings for winding up and looking after ye clock, which we finde to be ye antient custome according to ye Church Book.”

The previous church had a gallery at the West End where musicians and singers would assemble to accompany the services as best they could. There was apparently some competition among would-be choristers: February 8, 1743 again from the Vestry Minutes:  “The singers names who are hereunder written to fill up the numbers of them that are vacant in a former writing, and to pay their twelve pence a piece and to sit in the singer’s seats and the said singers not to neglect their singing on any frivolous excuse except nessessity sake for if they neglect upon any other account their seats to be void for others.”

There were some bells:  In 1811 two quarts of Ale were paid for “putting up bell ropes “And in 1819 payment was made to those who “ tolled the bell for his late majesty”.     

From 1797 there was payment of 2d per dozen to those who could catch the sparrows and on June 12th, 1798 a payment was made by the churchwardens of 7s .6d for the catching of over 43 dozen by 1810 payment was made for over 62 dozen sparrows 46 adders (15s.4d) and 36 urchings or hedgehogs (12s.0d). By 1864 it became clear The church apparently had become in great need of repair and was in constant need of the extermination of vermin. Indeed, Church Records including Churchwardens accounts at The County Record Office from this time show many entries of purchases of building materials for the old church and descriptions of its poor state of repair abound. There are stone relics in many gardens in the village.

It was obvious  to the Church Authorities that the Church in Aldford was in a “ruinous state” and at a vestry meeting in March it was agreed that a rate of 3/4d in the pound in addition to the rate of 11 1/4d should be collected to meet the expenses of fitting up the Boys School for divine service. 

The ecclesiastical authorities felt compelled to do something, so advised the patron of the living Sir Richard Grosvenor, 2nd Marquis of Westminster, that the church was unfit to hold services in and Sir Richard engaged the architect John Douglas to draw up plans for a new church. And so, it was demolished and in the spring of 1864 church records show that Divine Service was taking place in the Boys School, the Parish Church having been “taken down”.

Our Current Church is dedicated to St John the Baptist

Sir Richard Grosvenor, 2nd Marquess of Westminster remembered as the restorer and builder of many churches throughout the County and immediately set about not only the rebuilding of the Church but the entire village. John Douglas was the architect and the building contractor was J Roberts of Chester

The ground was” broken” in1865 and The New Church consecrated May 1st, 1866

Mr Lloyd wrote an excellent centenary booklet of 1966 which is available in the church along with reference materials for the Charities Board, Patrons’ Board and Memorials all of which had been saved from the old church. 

The church was constructed of local red sandstone, with a grey-green slate roof and a tower. (The spire was added ten years later) Its   plan consists of a west tower, and a nave with three aisles the seats, (unlike the earlier church which had only one aisle) with a clerestory, a chancel a chapel, a south vestry, and a south porch. The east and west aisle windows have geometric tracery and the paired lancets to the clerestory have free standing dividing shafts internally. The shape of archways in the church are or early English gothic design. The tower was in three stages with a recessed octagonal spire and at the southwest was an octagonal stair turret with a small stone spire. Lancet windows were placed in the tower and paired bell openings with a central shaft and plate tracery to bell chamber. At the top was a corbelled open parapet.

In 1957 the spire was badly damaged by a lightning strike, and the cost of repair and recovering in wooden shingles was raised by public subscription remembered by a local farmer in his “day book”. 

“I was in the Shippen milking when there was a tremendous bang and the milking machine stopped. We knew it was close and were thankful that the church had not been set on fire!”

When the present bell tower replaced the 14th century tower there were four bells. In 1875 two smaller bells were added by Taylors of Loughborough. 

The new church wall was built in 1866 and like the church is a listed building. It is listed thus: “Wall and gates circa 1866. Red sandstone & oak ….. stone steps lead into churchyard in western part of wall”. An iron arch at the main gate was added in 2000 to celebrate the millennium

The interior   fittings of the church and roof are of oak, and the pulpit, font and nave pillars are of grey Derbyshire marble. The pulpit is beautifully inlaid with coloured marbles and carving.

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The choir stalls contain carved figures of angels and talbots (hunting dogs which form the supporters of the Westminster coat of arms. and the reredos is of carved sandstone adorned with five mosaic panels by Salviati depicting scenes from the crucifixion.

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The plaster ceiling of the chancel was given by the first Duke of Westminster in the early 1870s and he also paid for the oak spire. When the church was built, the vestry was on the south side of the chancel, and the organ was sited on the raised platform in the west of the building. The organ was by Norman Hill of London and was the gift of Mr Thomas Brassey the great railway engineer, a parishioner.

In 1938 John Scorah the blind organist with the help of local men moved the organ to be nearer the Choir The organ was initially placed at the back of the church where the vestry is today, then moved into the Grosvenor Chapel and in 1902 moved to its present location when the Rector expressed a wish to restore the Chapel for use. (See account of Mr John Scorah). The Grosvenor Chapel was refurnished at this time with a new altar etc. The illuminated glass in the church windows is interesting. There is a beautiful rose window in chapel and the window in the same chapel on the north side of the chancel is of Burne Jones design purchased from the William Morris Company. This chapel was originally known as the Grosvenor Chapel, but is often referred to nowadays as the Lady Chapel.

The north aisle of the church was built over the ditch which surrounded the bailey, and some slumping occurred. This has led to cracks in the fabric, and a decidedly nautical list to that side of the church. However, indications are that no further movement has taken place for many years.

The vestry, when the church was built was on the South side of the chancel, the oak panels can be seen behind the harmonium and between the choir stalls and the lady chapel. Heating was by hot air but was replaced with a hot water system in 1891.

The church was originally lit by lamps and candles, a gas lighting system was installed in the early 1900s.There were gasworks in the village by Parsonage Farm (now the Estate Yard). In February 1898 it was reported by the Rector in the Aldford columns of the Malpas Deanery Magazine:

“Notes and Notices.

We hope that before the issue of the magazine is in our readers’ hands the Church will have been lighted with gas. The design of the Standards is very beautiful, and we hope that the new light will prove a great comfort to the evening congregation. We must not forget that without the generous help of our Duke we must have remained in darkness for some time.”

The lectern was given by Mrs Maylor in memory of her late husband also the Linen Chest.

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