St Charles Borromeo

St Charles Borromeo
Hampton-on-the-Hill Nr Warwick

The Church was built by the Dormer family of Grove Park, who owned most of the village. It is a T-plan church built in two phases. The current transepts represent the single cell church (started in 1807 but only completed in 1819) in a Georgian Perpendicular style, articulated by delicate clustered shafts, which continue above a cornice up to a ridge as ribs dividing the panels of the ceiling. The original altar was at the south end and behind this is a five-light Perpendicular window. In 1830 John Russell of Leamington Spa added a nave running from the centre of the first church and a shallow altar recess in the east wall. This addition is a heavier and more advanced style with two-light windows in the nave, depicting the Annunciation and the Nativity scenes. In the interior these are straight-headed but on the outside of the church the mullions continue in the Perpendicular pointed style!) There is also a big perpendicular window above the west entrance with significantly thicker mullions, depicting Christ the King with the Virgin Many at St Charles on either side. The paintings above the altar table are on paper mounted on board and show St Sebastian, St Charles, St Augustine of Canterbury and St George. Above the present north transept is the Dormer tribune (now the organ and choir loft) for the use of the Dormer family.

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St Mary the Virgin Astley

One of the most remarkable churches in our Diocese is St Mary the Virgin Astley. This grade I listed building is now much smaller than the original, cross shaped church that graced this site. What remains was once just the chancel and choir of the collegiate church that had two chapels containing monuments and memorials to the great and the good. The original length of the church would have reached the gateway at the edge of what is now the churchyard. The tower, boasting a lead covered spire until 1600, was lit from within by a large lantern that could be seen from miles around.

The church, whose first origins are recorded in 1285, would have been quite isolated sitting deep in the forest surrounded by dense woodland. In 1343 Sir Thomas Astley built a grand, cathedral- like church calling it “my fair and beautiful Collegiate church”

Close to the church, on the north side, you’ll find the recently restored Astley Castle – now a Landmark Trust property. This was once the home of Thomas Astley and priests would have sung a daily Mass for him and his family to aid their souls through purgatory.


In time the church passed through other grand and wealthy families, particularly the Chamberlaynes and the Newdegates, many of whom are interred here.

The church would once have been smothered in brightly coloured wall paintings, all of which were covered over with lime wash during the Reformation. Recent extensive restoration reveals some of them – faded but still magnificent. The interior would have shone with colour at one time, bright blues, reds and golds complimenting the stained glass in the windows. Fragments of the glass have been gathered and reinstalled in some of the Nave windows creating contemporary looking collages. The Warwickshire and Coventry Historic Churches Trust were vey glad to give a small grant towards the wall painting restoration here.

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There is so much to see in this place - it’s a casket of jewels. Fascinating effigies, carved oak choir stalls; quirky, unexpected details like the fireplace close to the altar and the strange date on the memorial to Lettice Bolton on the North Wall – an Example of the times when the legal year ran from 25th March - Lady Day- rather than the New Year we know and love nowadays.


There are some pretty important, historical and literary figures associated with this church too. If you are a George Eliot fan you might have read ‘Scenes of Clerical Life’. She describes the interior of this church in her book and bases the Rev Gilfil on Rev Bernard Gilpin who was the Vicar of Astley when she lived her. She was born just a mile away from this church and her parents were married here.

The other startling association is Lady Jane Grey who was a member of the Grey family who owned Astley Castle in the 1500s. Her father, the Duke of Suffolk, fled to Astley during a rebellion and is said to have hidden in the hollows of an oak tree in the park for three days and nights. He was finally betrayed and was executed on Tower Hill in 1554.

Do try and visit this special place. You won’t regret it! There are interpretation boards around the site explaining the context of church and castle and on the recent visit we made to church we stumbled across the Astley Book Farm – the largest second hand book shop in the Midlands. Awesome!

Church is open to visitors on the first Saturday of the month from 10.30am to 2pm from March to November and Bank Holiday Mondays 11am to 1pm. Also after Sunday service at 4.30pm. Other times are by arrangement through the churchwardens.

Astley Church always takes an active part in the Heritage Open Days events in September.

St Nicholas Warwick

ST. NICHOLAS, Warwick - Church of the Month - May 2012

Helen McGowan and James Kerr report on St Nicholas, Warwick, a recent recipient of a grant from the WCHCT.

“Lots of visitors go to Warwick to see the castle. They usually take in the grandeur of St Mary’s while they’re in the vicinity. However, there is a third attraction to explore in Warwick. The present church of St Nicholas, sited in the popular St. Nicholas Park and facing one of the Warwick Castle gates, is a descendent of a much older church found on this site many centuries before the building you see today.

“The present church was opened in 1785 and little is known of the older religious houses that have occupied the site, although it is thought that a nunnery, destroyed in 1016, was built here. Frequent repairs to later buildings are mentioned in the churchwardens' accounts of the later 16th and early 17th centuries; in 1587, for example, a large number of shingles were bought for the roofs and work was done on 'the foundation of the bottoms of the windows'. There was a clock in the tower which may have been installed in 1562 when it is first mentioned in the accounts, and a cross stood in the churchyard.

“When a brief was issued in 1776 for its rebuilding, the church was described as very ancient, apart from the tower and spire; these had been rebuilt in 1750. The roof timbers were badly decayed and the north and south walls and pillars were moving and making the building unsafe.

“The new church that you see today was built by Thomas Johnson of Warwick. The build cost of about £1,500 came from private subscriptions, loans and the sale of pew rents.

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“There are illustrations of St Nicholas church to be found in paintings by Canaletto. The artist made at least two commissioned visits to Warwick, between 1748 and 1752, creating five paintings and three drawings of the castle. In one Canaletto paints the spire of St Nicolas's Church through the gatehouse arch, in life the spire is not visible from this view point so he was using artistic license here! Another view, of the South Front of the Castle – see above - contains a clear representation of the St Nicholas and surrounding buildings to the right of the canvas.
“St Nicholas has been a recent recipient of a grant from the Warwickshire and Coventry Historic Churches Trust. You can read an account of their extensive – and expensive! – repair project to make their tower and spire safe enough to ring the bells in the Spring Newsletter


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St John Baptist Berkswell - Church of the Month – April 2012

Visitors have been coming to St John Baptist in Berkswell for centuries. They still come in large numbers today to this remarkable Grade I village church, loved and beautifully cared for by those who keep it open to visitors every day of the week.

It is thought that the origins of the village name – Bercul’s Well – point to this being a place where pilgrims once came to be baptised. The Norman crypt – accessible to all who visit – was the original church building. The low step running around the walls allowed those who were elderly or infirm to take a break during the long services. It has a growing reputation as a place for healing peace for 21st century
pilgrims who find this spot spiritually refreshing.

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There is so much to see here apart from the crypt – children and grown ups alike love to see how many carved mice they can find on the wooden furniture inside. And there’s a crocodile too on the pulpit! The interesting graffiti carved on the front pew was perhaps made by the local carpenter who was working here in the 1700s. An example of early advertising!
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Inside, close to the altar, you’ll find some beautiful and notable carved marble and alabaster memorials to the great and the good who lived in Berkswell - the Eardley-Wilmots were generous benefactors of this church for generations.

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The timbered porch is of particular interest. Churches often hosted school rooms in places and a small school operated here for many years. You can still see the stairs
that the pupils would have used to access this.

Close to the churchyard you’ll find a gravestone to the Watson sisters, Lillian and Maud. They were the daughters of the Rector and were the Williams sisters of their day being Ladies Wimbledon Champions in the late 1800s!

The Heart of England Way and the Coventry Way meet here so there are plenty of options for walking from Berkswell village. The Bear is the excellent local pub and there is good parking in the centre of the village.

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St Giles, Chesterton- Church of the Month February 2012
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Take a look at an ordnance survey map of Chesterton, just off the Fosse Way, and you’ll notice that, unlike many rural parish churches, St. Giles is not at the heart of its community. The church is out on a limb close to an ancient fish pond that is a haven for wildlife and wildfowl. The noise from the M40 is evident when the wind is in the wrong direction but there is no doubting the real beauty and peaceful setting of this isolated place of worship.

There has been a place of worship here since the 12th century and at one time the settlement was a thriving agricultural community. It’s recorded in the Domesday Book and one theory suggests that the arrival of the plague may have decimated the population, hence its remote setting.

Above the porch an old sundial greets visitors with the odd words ‘See, and be gone about your business’ which somehow doesn’t encourage a stay - but this is a church worth exploring.

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Before you enter the church walk around the churchyard to the north side of the church where you’ll see a grand gateway, standing remote and alone, designed by Inigo Jones, that at one time would have led those attending worship at the church back to the now demolished manor house.

Inside the small interior is beautifully maintained and on the left of the porch you’ll find monuments dedicated to the Peyto family who set up house in Chesterton in the 14th century. They were a hugely successful family of lawyers, landowners and politicians and this is reflected in the grandeur of the memorials. The figures of their ten children around the base of the tomb to Humphrey Peyto and his wife are clothed in brightly coloured robes and armour and one – who probably didn’t survive – is wrapped in a shroud.

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St Giles sits on a network of footpaths that lead to surrounding villages and it’s also close to the Centenary Way. There is a small amount of parking at the church.

Further details from the DI website at

and at British History on-line at