The Old Church Tower at Shenstone

When does the history of Shenstone church begin?
A church existed in Shenstone before the Norman Conquest in 1066.
Who was the first person we know of who was living on this land?

Godwin, a Saxon and a free man, held the Manor of Shenstone at the time of Edward the Confessor.

Was there a church on the hill in Godwin’s time?

Yes. A grant of two virgates (about 60 acres) of land had been given by Godwin, son of Ernwi to Shenstone Church, and a further two virgates came from Robert d’Oilly. (12th century charter) St Chad was preaching in Lichfield in 669 and his influence was felt all around the area, perhaps leading to the building of a church here.

What was the first Shenstone church like?

There may have been a wooden church on the hill and its tallow candles would have been seen for miles around, as a shining light.

Was the first stone church a Saxon or a Norman church?

Architecturally, there has always been an understanding that the church was at least Norman. There was a tentative acceptance of the potential for a Saxon footprint when in 1973, archaeologists from Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society excavated the site and found evidence of earlier Saxon workmanship on the chancel foundations.

Why is the old tower important to Shenstone?

The old tower stands 100 yards from the present church and marks the site of Shenstone’s former church. You can trace the outline of the old walls of the church which stood east to west as does the Victorian church. The tower is a rare survival of Medieval Shenstone.

Why was the Tower left standing when the Church was pulled down?

When the Victorian Church was built 1852/3 it did not include a bell tower. Therefore, for the following ten years, the old bell tower continued to house the five bells to call parishioners to prayer.

What features of the old tower should we particularly look at?
The old church was built east to west as was the Victorian church and the tower was sited at the west end. The north side faces the village and the path from Church Road. The south side faces our present church.

The Belfry
The bells were hung in the belfry which is located at the top of the tower between the projecting courses of stones. The belfry has windows on each side of the tower and small sound holes above. The sound hole on the north side was bricked up to accommodate the clock. Bell ropes hung down through a hatch to where the bell ringers were gathered.

The South Archway
This is set in a length of wall that can be seen from the pathway which lies between the new church and the old tower. It has a rounded, Norman style shape, with a slight rising point at its centre. The archway’s hood is recessed and decorative, with capitals and markings on each pillar.

The Sandstone Block Walls.
The tower was built in layers of local sandstone rock. In design it is square and reaches upwards through four stages of stonework.

The Buttresses (structure to strengthen a wall)
From the pathway and from several vantage points we can see a pair of stepped buttresses, rising distinctly in four stages. The buttresses are marked by a sloping roof top which adjoins the square tower proper and was possibly edged in a stepped pattern.

The Old Chancel Wall
This stands in the west overlooking the old vicarage, and it is a very important and interesting discovery. It is the old chancel arch, but it is in the wrong place. Moved here possibly in the 18th century, the measurements match it to the foundations in the chancel area at the east end. (At present it is not possible to view this)

The Northern Side of the Tower
This was strengthened and the height seems to have been raised, perhaps to shore up the walls of the tower from the danger of collapse. The wall here is stout and wide. The outline of the old church roofline is clearly visible.

The Clock
The Samuel Hill clock, presented in memory of his wife Elizabeth in 1727, faced the village from the north wall of the tower and was removed and relocated to the Victorian church. The outline of the position of the clock, after removal, can be seen in the title photograph.

Sepia drawing John Buckler 1838

The Tower never had a stone staircase but was climbed by means of a wooden ladder.
The Windows
The small, narrow Lancet windows with rounded tops were edged with intricate, decorative 14th century tracery in ribs of stone. This tracery has gone but can be seen in the Buckler drawing.
The Lost Pinnacles.
Above the sound holes, there is a projecting course of stones and above that is the parapet. On top of the parapet, the four pinnacles stood at each corner and these can be seen in various paintings of the tower. They were an elongated pyramid shape with balls and pennants, seemingly flying.

The Arched Doorway

On the east side of the tower is an attractive arched doorway. On both sides of the stone door pillars is a decorative band of early 13th century capitals crowned
with a pointed arch. It is thought to be the best example of such work of this period in a church in Staffordshire.

Carved Tablet or Sculpture
Beside this doorway is a fascinating carved sandstone tablet.
In 1770 the Rev. Henry Sanders described the carving-“ it stood near the North Door, against the wall on the left-hand. Over it stood a figure of a lamb cut in stone, with other ornaments; and there is yet a carving much like the half of a wheel in stone.”
The tablet measures 49 centimetres by 91centimetres. The carving is eroded but recognisable as the Arms of the Merchant Taylors Company. (a London livery company of the fraternity of St. John the Baptist). NB. Robert Ducie Lord of the Manor of Shenstone was a Merchant Taylor?
Central is a tent; the most lucrative activity in medieval times was the making of tents and also padded linen tunics worn under armour or even instead of armour.
There are two triangular bands of Ermine – here is another link to the taylor or the tailors’ trade, the making of robes and cloaks.
Above that is a carving of the rays of the sun, the symbol of Christ’s power to overcome evil and within the sun is a lamb, the representation of St. John the Baptist.