The Church of St Mary the Virgin History
There are said to be records of an enclosure in the 9th century of the knoll bounded now by Church Hill, Vicarage Hill and Church Green. Reginald Lennard showed that peasants in Badby and Newnham made endowments for the church around 1190 and this was extremely rare.
In 1880, a religious relic was found in the garden of Ashworth Cottage some 95ft.west by north of the north west buttress of the tower. Sir Henry Dryden reported that it comprised human ribs on which was a lead seal of Pope Alexander III (1159 – 1181) and a barbed iron arrow head, buried above two horse bones. The relic was most likely buried to prevent its destruction by the protestant edicts of Edward VI’s authorities during 1547 – 1553.
These are the only clues about a place of worship in Badby before the present building was begun.
The church stands on the top of a knoll. It is dedicated to St Mary the Virgin and most likely was dedicated to Our Lady before the Reformation.
The Ordnance Survey reference is SP559587. The base of the tower was bench marked at a height of 475ft. above sea level. It is listed as a particularly important building of special interest, “grade II – star”, under the Town & Country Planning Act 1971 section 54.
The main structure of the Church dates from the early 14th century possibly incorporating a few earlier parts. The clerestory was added in the 15th century. At the Reformation, the north aisle chapel and the rood screen were removed. There was major building and roof work in the late 17th century and the tower was rebuilt in the early 18th century. In the late 18th century, the pews were changed and a west gallery installed. A north vestry was built in the 19th century and removed in major renovation of the building and fittings later that century. A kitchen and toilet were added, like a north porch, in the late 20th century.
The church is devoid of any large memorials because no major families have lived in the parish and the manor has been in the hands only of Evesham Abbey and the Knightley family. The latter used Fawsley church for most of their family memorials as it was their main seat.
The chancel arch springs low from the side walls and is practically as wide as the 14th entury chancel. There are repairs to the stonework of the arch on both sides which may indicate the fixing points for the rood screen. There is one step down into the chancel from the nave.
There are the usual 11th century requirements of a priest’s door, sedilia and piscina in the south wall. The altar rails are made of oak and have recently been dated as from the 1680s, or possibly from 1620s. The text boards on the east wall are surprisingly made of sheet metal. The window at the west end on the south side acts as the village war memorial.
The roof is a shallow pitched structure with origins in the early 19th century. The outside south chancel wall shows clearly that it was raised, making the pitch of the roof more shallow and suitable for lead cladding.
The red Flanders poppy at the top glass was donated by the Royal British Legion in 1981 when the original older glass bearing the initials TN (Abbot Thomas Newbold of Evesham 1491-1514) was reformed into the glazing of the north aisle eastern window together with the other ancient pieces of glass including the royal arms and those of Evesham Abbey.
All the other glass in the church dates from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The choir stalls were replaced and the passage between them made wider In 1980.
The vestry and organ space were built in 1880. There is a large stone slab built into the wall at the north east corner which may be the mediaeval stone altar slab.
After the building of the new organ chamber, a small organ by S. Atterton of Leighton Buzzard was obtained in 1893. In 1993, the poor state of the organ caused its replacement with an electronic instrument, made by Cathedral Organs of Maidenhead, with its console in the north aisle.
NAVE & AISLES
Above the chancel arch is the outline of what appears to be an earlier roof line, predating the clerestory windows. The pitch angle is about right for a thatched roof.
The presence of an inset nodding ogee-headed piscina, aumbry, niche and groove at the east end of the north aisle indicate that it was formerly a chapel, probably dedicated to St Catherine. It could be that the aumbry was instead a store for holy relics. In 1880, such a relic was found buried north west of the tower comprising human ribs on which was a lead seal of the Pope and a barbed iron arrow head, buried above two horse bones. The chapel and relics were most likely removed in the Protestant purge of symbols of Popery during 1547 – 1553.
Each of the two arcades supporting the nave roof comprise of four pillars and two responds supporting five arches.
The soaring archway into the tower was inserted in 1880-1 and glazed in 1933. The present west window was installed as a memorial in 1888. It has two planes of tracery and the wording carved into a circle at its inner peak reads: ‘What I Do Thou Knowest Not Now But Thou Shalt Know Hereafter’.
The clerestory was erected in the late 15th century. There is no wall between the piers, so they provide an extraordinary glazed screen for the whole length of the nave on each side.
The nave roof is a shallow-pitch oak structure supported by six tie beams with central blocks up to the purlins and the ridge timber. The oldest tie beam is the western one, which has weakened ends and was bolted through to the tower in 2003. It probably dates from 1713.
The south aisle roof has its origins in the 17th century: All that remains of the original structure are three of the old tie beams, whilst much of the remainder was renewed in 1958.
The font has a 15th century octagonal “sample book” design pedestal. When it was moved from near the north door to the south aisle just west of the main door in 1880, a new stone bowl to match the base was fitted. The font was moved again in 2018 to its present position.
The octagonal pulpit is dated around 1620. The oak lectern was made in 1926. The pews all date from the 1880-1 restoration.
The south porch may be a late 16th century design. There were some fossiliferous slabs amongst the floor paving, the largest of which was removed during sloping of the porch floor in 2018 and now rests in the churchyard with the original threshold slab complete with foot scraper adjacent to the porch. During this work several skeletons were uncovered from immediately below the floor slabs and in layers below down at least three feet. Inscribed grave footstones look to have been reused during repairs in 1964 as they were on the north side of the tower.
The north doorway was reopened in 1997 to provide access to a new kitchen and toilet facility which was built as if it were a north porch. The western wall stands on the 19th century foundation of an earlier vestry.
The tower was reported to be cracked and crazy in 1631 and fell down in 1705. It was rebuilt by 1709 to a square style as wide as the nave to a height of 72ft to the top of the four pinnacles, with vertical sides concealing an internal spiral staircase. There are no records of this work which is thought to be by William & Francis Smith of Warwick. It is interesting to note that three of the present bells were installed in 1623, 8 years before the tower was condemned and survived the collapse to remain in use today. The tower is unusual in that its solid ground floor is over 6ft. above that of the nave.
The finial cross on the nave gable was new in 2001 and replaced a previous larger cross which broke off in the 19th century.
The churchyard was closed for burials in 1886, when a small cemetery was provided on the hillside facing the east end of the church. The churchyard wall features in records as far back as 1631 as needing repair! 19th and 20th century minutes often feature the matter! The height of the ground above surrounding pavements illustrates the re-use of the same area several times to cope with more than two thousand burials recorded in the registers over five centuries. Registers record that Simon Marriot, tailor, and his son Robert, Thomas Borros, weaner, and Richard Wills, shoemaker, were all buried the day after that they were “kild all together with thunder and lightning Julie the 27th in the year 1691”.
Four of the chest tombs are listed grade 2 as being of special architectural and historic interest in their own right (English Heritage ‘Building’ No: 360661 and 360662). Two of these are: the chest tomb 8ft. east of the chancel topped by a huge well weathered slab of red sandstone – a memorial to John Rushall who was buried on May 12, 1696; and the tilted chest tomb next south with a nice carving at its east end recording the burial of William Goodman, son of Richard and Catherine, on April 4, 1717.
The Watkins’ family and the related Uniackes, who lived at Badby House and funded much of the 1880-1 reconstruction, had the largest of the chest style monuments located outside the south east corner of the south aisle.
In the far south east corner of the churchyard are two slate headstones with fine engraving: one for Mary Pearson, who died 21st February 1770 and the other for William Pearson, died 6th October 1772.
A full listing of all the memorial inscriptions in the church, churchyard and cemetery was published in 2019 ISBN: 978-1-913157-00-5 by the Northamptonshire Family History Society and is obtainable from firstname.lastname@example.org .
In 2018, during the sloping of the south porch floor and the installation of increased soak-
away provision for rainwater in the east gate path, bones from many skeletons were
disturbed. These were all reinterred in the north of the kitchen / toilet extension.
During 2019 and 2020, the west and north boundary dry-stone walls of the churchyard
were rebuilt by the Parish Council.
The third edition of ‘A History of Badby Church’ gives much more detail. Usually available from the church during daylight hours for £3 which goes towards church funds.
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