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Hulcote Church Repairs and Alterations

Hulcote church from the north-west December 2011
Hulcote church from the north-west December 2011

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 H to H, put together by former County Archivist Chris Pickford from numerous sources some held by Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service and some held elsewhere or published.

Hulcote church about 1820 by G Sheppard [Z765]
Hulcote church about 1820 by G Sheppard [Z765]

A west gallery was built in the church in the 17th century and skylights in the roof were built to light it. The benefices of Hulcote and Salford were united in 1750 and G. Boissier described the building as "a small, poor Elizabethan Church with a low tower" in his Notes on Churches in the Diocese of Lincoln on a Four Month Walking Tour in 1827.

Hulcote church Feb 2007
Hulcote church February 2007

Between 1836 and 1839 the archdeacon urged that alterations take place. These included the placing of pews in the nave. It was also at this date that a number of 16th and 17th century oak carvings in the chancel were installed. They almost look as if they might have come from a domestic setting, perhaps the nearby manor house which was in a dilapidated state by 1812 [CRT180/537]. The roof was repaired in 1842 and further roof work carried out five years later [P113/5/1].

 Hulcote church from the north east December 2011
Hulcote church from the north east December 2011

John Martin, the librarian of Woburn Abbey wrote pieces on Bedfordshire churches for the Northampton Mercury between 1845 and 1854. These are hard-hitting, opinionated and often rather pompous. He wrote of Hulcote, in 1845: "This church stands in a very secluded but beautiful situation, approached by an avenue of noble trees, which indeed abound in its vicinity. It is, however, rendered almost inaccessible, and there is no entrance into the church yard without the keys, which are not obtained without exercising some degree of patience".

The approach to Hulcote church December 2011
The approach to Hulcote church December 2011

"This practice of rendering our churches incapable of approach to the traveller or the parishioner, except on the day when Divine service is performed, appears to be very objectionable. The contrast between out custom and that on the continent is very striking; and I have never heard that this freedom has ever been abused".

The path through the graveyard January 2008
The path through the graveyard January 2008

"The interior of the church was remarkable for its extreme cleanliness, and there was an air of attention to what was proper pervading the whole that rendered the incongruities in other respects only the more to be regretted. The open seats were in excellent condition. The western entrance and light were blocked up by an organ and a gallery; the result of which was an ugly window pierced through the roof, to obtain the light so clumsily excluded. The old font did not exist, but a diminutive marble basin, hardly capacious enough to wash an infant's hands, was its substitute, and of course from what had happened to the western entrance in its wrong place. The roof was ceiled, as was also the case with that of the chancel, which, with this exception, and to square pews, was in good order".

The font December 2011
The font December 2011

"The churchyard was very well attended to. The lead remained on the nave of the church, but the chancel roof was tiled".

The church interior looking west December 2011
The church interior looking west December 2011

By 1848 the rural dean was able to note with satisfaction that the church was in very good order. He also noted that the rector, Edward Orlebar Smith, had paid for much of the work, had purchased an organ and collected the oak panelling [AB/RD/A0].

Window in the north wall of the nave December 2011
Window in the north wall of the nave December 2011

In 1867 the small pyramidal spire on top of the tower was removed [P113/5/1]. The tower was re-roofed and the corner pinnacles made higher. The newly acquired organ was sold to raise the money for these alterations – Rev. Smith had died in 1865. A harmonium was bought in its place.

Blocked up door in the north wall of the nave December 2011
Blocked up door in the north wall of the nave December 2011

In 1873 it was recorded that the church was overgrown with ivy and little used [ABE3] and closure was suggested two years later. In 1879 the archdeacon noted: 2The church is now practically shut up, with knowledge and consent of the Bishop but not in legal form". Repairs were carried out in 1880 but the archdeacon commented: "Nothing can be wisely done except as a special gift for sake of preserving an old church" [ABE3]. The church was closed from the 1930s until 1953 when it was re-roofed and also re-opened. It was at this date that the 17th century west gallery was removed.

Hulcote chancel from the north-west about 1900 [Z669/17]
Hulcote chancel from the north-west about 1900 [Z669/17]

Further repairs took place in 1971. It is good that this little gem of a church has been preserved but sad that it is not accessible. In the 1990s it was regularly open to visitors but it is now locked with no notice as to where the key can be obtained – a reminder of the state of affairs in 1845!

Hulcote church from the south-east December 2011
Hulcote church from the south-east December 2011