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Bolnhurst Church Alterations and Additions

The church from the south-east February 2016
The church from the south-east February 2016

Most of the structural history of the church can be found in detail in Bedfordshire Historical Record Society Volume number 73 of 1994 Bedfordshire Churches in the Nineteenth Century: Part I: Parishes A to G, put together by former County Archivist Chris Pickford from numerous sources some held by Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service and some held elsewhere or published.

The nave roof October 2016
The nave roof October 2016

A beam in the roof has the date 1666 carved on it. This suggests that roof repairs might have taken place in the year. The parish register [P46/1/1] tells us that more roof repairs were undertaken in 1714.

The pulpit October 2016
The pulpit October 2016

More roof repairs were carried out between 1753 and 1755. In 1754 the pulpit and reading desk were repaired.

The west tower February 2016
The west tower February 2016

In 1806 the small spire, covered in lead, which had adorned the tower roof was removed. A new roof for the tower was also provided [P46/5/1].

 The south porch February 2016
The south porch February 2016

Repairs to the masonry of the church were carried out in 1827. The porch was repaired in 1838 and the nave roof was re-covered in 1840 [P46/5/1]. A font basin was purchased in 1831, costing 1½d. (see below).

The east window October 2016
The east window October 2016

Between 1850 and 1854 James Tacy Wing of Bedford undertook a partial restoration of the church. He built a new vestry on the north side of the nave, installed new carved wooden stalls in the chancel, re-floored the chancel with new tiles and filled the east window with stained glass by Holland of Warwick in memory of the rector’s wife. He also undertook work in the nave.

 The exterior of the vestry February 2016
The exterior of the vestry February 2016

John Martin was the librarian of Woburn Abbey and wrote under the initals WA. Either side of the year 1850 he wrote reviews of Bedfordshire churches for the Northampton Mercury. These are usually dripping with sarcasm and vituperation in equal measure and were clearly a way of easing his unhappiness with the state the various churches were in and the way they were used. His review of Bolnhurst is certainly mixed, but the church fares better than many from his pen. It appeared in the newspaper of 18 September 1852: “the church-yard is open, in decent order, and the exterior of the church in good repair. A small building has been recently erected on the south side [sic – this would be the north vestry mentioned above], which, though in tolerable keeping with the original, interferes with the general effect. You must wait a considerable time to obtain admission, as the clerk resides at a distance”.

The chancel roof October 2016
The chancel roof October 2016

“The chancel is ceiled, a clumsy and inelegant substitute for the open roof. The whole is very clean. Ugly square pews have been removed, and good oak stalled seats replace them. We wish this example was more generally followed, when the necessity exists for having any sittings at all in the chancel. Those disposed to effect this desirable improvement may see specimens in that most useful work Instrumenta Ecclesiastica, to which we refer all who are desirous of appropriate decoration for church purposes, so defined that, in most instances, the village carpenter may be employed. It has been the case, we believe, in this church. The floor is well tiled”.

The rood screen October 2016
The rood screen October 2016

“The wooden rood screen remains in tolerable order, and has been recently cleansed from the impurities in the shape of paint which disfigured it. We saw with regret a space, like a large zoological cage, enclosed by iron rails, for a performer on the harmonia, with the instrument itself, a more indecorous invasion we have rarely seen, and we regret this the more, as the church in general is in such good order. The seats are al open and, for the most part, the original benches. There is a most ugly sounding board”.

remains of the railings around the Francklin memorial October 2016
Remains of the railings around the Francklin memorial October 2015

Martin’s comments about the cage were disputed almost immediately, in Bedfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society notes for January 1853 where his account is lambasted because it “furnishes an instance of the ignorance, or want of candour, whichever it may be, so prevalent in the letters … under the signature ‘WA’. The writer states that a large space in front of the desk has been inclosed with an iron railing for the convenience of the performer on the harmonium. Now it is quite impossible to suppose that anyone with common eyesight could not perceive at once that the iron railing in question surrounds the monument of Sir John Francklyn, who died in 1707, and from its style and general appearance is evidently of the same date. Whether a faculty was obtained for its erection, or whether its right to remain is prescriptive, the parish authorities, however desirous, have not hitehrto been able to demolish it; but that the space may not be lost, they have made an entrance through the rails, and appropriated it for the parish choir. So much for WA’s truthfulness”.

The west tower arch October 2016
The west tower arch October 2016

To return to WA’s review: “The belfry arch is open, but the western window is concealed by some common boarding, and the rays of the sun thus prevented irradiating the building with its setting splendour. The font is not used, but a paltry tea-cup, that would discredit a cottage, is adopted instead”.

The parish chest October 2016
The parish chest October 2016

“We were glad to see the alms-chest, a rare occurrence in the churches in this county; they were most probably swept away by “No Goth’s” ultra-Protestant friends in the days of Puritanic folly. They ought to be restored in which the visitor could deposit his humble offering, instead of placing it in hands from whence it passes too frequently to the beershop. Throughout the Archdeaconry of Richmond, in Yorkshire, they are found. John Dowsing was not there. The porch windows are open, but there is a wicket”.

The organ October 2016
The organ October 2016

In 1884 the chancel was completely restored. The roof was re-covered with oak and lead and the walls and porch were also repaired. The organ from Keysoe church was moved to Bolnhurst in 1908.

The interior looking east October 2016
The interior looking east October 2016