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Shelton Church Alterations and Repairs

Shelton church about 1900
Shelton church about 1900

Most of the structural history of the church can be found in detail in Bedfordshire Historical Record Society Volume number 79 of 2000 Bedfordshire Churches in the Nineteenth Century: Part III: Parishes S to Y 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.

The north aisle east window May 2011
The north aisle east window May 2011

A note in a parish register for Saint Mary’s, Shelton [P941/4] states that in 1823: “the floor of the Chancel was levelled, and raised at the Altar, and a new pew erected”. The archdeacon ordered a number of minor repairs in 1823 and in 1826 ordered that a partition between the chancel and the north chapel, then used as a vestry, be repaired. In 1833 he ordered the tower to be repaired and it was later strengthened with iron bands. The church contains mid 19th century boards for the Ten Commandments, Lord ’s Prayer and creed.

The south aisle looking east May 2011
The south aisle looking east May 2011

The church contains a Victorian lectern which may be the work of a curate named Robert Sibley Baker. He carved a lectern which he sold to New College, Oxford, the money going to the church restoration fund.

Capital of a pillar at the west end of the south arcade May 2011
Capital of a pillar at the west end of the south arcade May 2011

John Martin, librarian of Woburn Abbey, wrote a number of pieces on Bedfordshire churches for the Northampton Mercury in the mid 19th century. These are usually highly opinionated and critical but give a fair idea of the state of the churches at the time. Shelton’s turn came on 6th November 1852 and he wrote as follows.

Niche in the north wall of the chancel May 2011
Niche in the north wall of the chancel May 2011

“The chancel has an open roof, besmeared with the usual application. A stove seems here utterly unnecessary, unless it is for the sole benefit of the occupants of the two pews”.

 Piscina in the south wall of the chancel May 2011
Piscina in the south wall of the chancel May 2011

“The decorations of a piscina, quite choked up with plaster. A frightful wooden framing vainly attempts to conceal a portion of the building [presumably the north chapel used as a vestry] set apart for the reception of all manner of filth; anything so disgraceful in a church we have never before witnessed”.

The interior looking east May 2011
The interior looking east May 2011

“Portions of the rood screen remain, for the most part hidden by a miserable arrangement of pulpit, reading desk, and a very comfortably cushioned and carpeted square box”.

The nave roof May 2011
The nave roof May 2011

“The nave and aisles preserve their open roofs; where whitewash did not abound, paint did; the latter application is used elsewhere, leading us to believe that the practice of this art divides the palm with the lime brush. The columns are painted; one appears an interesting example”.

 The benches May 2011
The benches May 2011

“The old open benches remain, but two particular boxes have been manufactured, well covered with matting to preserve the sitters from the contagion of the columns, for which, in their eyes, painting is no security”.

The interior looking west May 2011
The interior looking west May 2011

“The western arch is boarded up, forming, as usual, a receptacle for various uncleanly affairs. In this instance it would appear unnecessary, since there is ample space in the dirty corner by the chancel”.

Piscina in the north arcade May 2011
Piscina in the north arcade May 2011

“Some of the open benches have been used as a foundation for miserable wainscoting, that the choristers might be more elevated”.

The font May 2011
The font May 2011

“The font is painted, has its leaden lining, but no drain; this matters not – it is not used. In fact, we much wonder why churchwardens do not turn out these useless appendages. They might adorn the incumbent’s or their own gardens, or be turned into a horse-trough. See one so appropriated at the Swan Inn yard, Bedford. We would wish to see the worthy proprietor turn this to at least a better use, as a receptacle for flowers in his beautifully arranged garden. It would be a graceful ornament, and a grateful act”.

 Saint Christopher wall painting on the north wall of the north aisle May 2011
Saint Christopher wall painting on the north wall of the north aisle May 2011

“A small portion of some early frescoe painting is left exposed to view; how this ancient memorial has been suffered to remain we cannot explain. The alarmed churchwardens of a county parish, when they uncovered in the process of cleaning, a representation of Purgatory, Paradise, and Saint Peter, on the chancel wall, took good care it should very speedily return to that concealment whence their care had unintentionally dragged it [something not dissimilar later happened at Bletsoe]. We are no advocates for the worship of images, but surely these decorations are more harmless than the weeping cupids, urns, and other pagan ornaments which are allowed to be introduced, without any remonstrance; these, at least, should receive the same punishment. “I am no advocate” says a writer whom we have often quoted, “for image worship; but I am very sure that the Protestation of London would have found itself quite as secure in a cathedral decorated with the statues of good men, as in one hung round with bunches of Ripston pippins”.

Saint Michael and the Virgin on the north wall of the north aisle May 2011
Saint Michael and the Virgin on the north wall of the north aisle May 2011

“From the architectural remains in the dirty corner already mentioned, it was most likely the site of a chantry chapel, now so ignominiously perverted”.

 The south porch May 2011
The south porch May 2011

“The porch is in bad condition, and has been sadly tampered with; the only wonder is to find the windows not blocked up, and no wicket”.

The south door May 2011
The south door May 2011

“The churchyard is kept locked, “because things get in it”. The pedestrian can, however, with little difficulty, jump the barrier”.

The chancel from the south May 2011
The chancel from the south May 2011

“The external part of the church exhibits decayed and decaying remains of its former beauty”.

Shelton church from the north-east May 2011
Shelton church from the north-east May 2011

“We omitted to mention that the stump supporting an alms chest remains. Admirable satire on the state of the whole fabric”.

The church from the south west May 2011
The church from the south-west May 2011

The archdeacon noted that the church was decayed in 1874 [ABE3] and a visitor of 1887 that the tower was “very much dilapidated”. The archdeacon noted in 1894 that it was “most unsatisfactory as to reverent state of inside” [ABE3]. He added that the churchwardens had promised to give £500 for the church to be pulled down and replaced by a smaller building but nothing for the repair of the medieval structure. Thankfully their offer was rejected.

Head on a south aisle window May 2011
Head on a south aisle window May 2011

A new concrete floor was laid in the north chapel in 1908 and the church was cleaned and colour washed in 1910 [P94/0/1]. A major restoration was carried out by Professor Albert Richardson in 1931. He deliberately avoided the excesses of Victorian restorers, being content with a conservative job in  accordance with principles laid down by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

Design on a pillar separating the nave from the south aisle May 2011
Design on a pillar separating the nave from the south aisle May 2011

Since then the church has been carefully maintained and a further programme of restoration was completed at the end of the 20th century. The church is a hidden gem and a delight to visit.

South chancel wall east window May 2011
South chancel wall east window May 2011