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The Collapse of Shillington Church Tower

The west tower seen from the south March 2014
The west tower seen from the south March 2014

In 1701 the upper stages of the tower of Shillington church collapsed. This did significant damage to the western end of the church and, following repairs in 1750, left us with the slightly incongruous tower we see today. Sources differ on when this collapse took place and evidence for why it happened is scant. We have a number of sources are these are set out below [CRT130Shillington13].

The earliest source is answers to a questionnaire of about 1705 or 1706 [CRT170/2/16]. This states: "The Church was founded so long ago that the steeple is fallen down & lies in ruins at this day".

The glebe terrier of 1708 states [ABE2]: "Since the fall of the Steeple (which was on the Evening of St Cecilia's Day in the year 1701) the Ring of five bells which hung in it are kept whole & entire in a Box on the north side of the church & one little Bell commonly called the Sts Bells is hung upon the Top of ye Church to give notice to Sinners of their Duties. The clock is taken in pieces & lies useless in the Vestry…" Saint Cecilia's day is 22nd November.

At the Quarter Sessions of 9th October 1745 [QSM8 pages 82-84] it was stated: "that due proofe hath been made unto us the said Justices in the Open Sessions of the Peace not only by several of the Inhabitants of the parish of Shitlington in the said County of Bedford, but also by and upon the oaths of Samuel Rickard, Edward Dear and Samuel Circuit, able and experienced workmen, that the parish church of Shitlington aforesaid is a very Ancient Structure, that the steeple belonging to the said parish Church was by reason of a very great Tempest of Wind which happened on or about the twenty fifth day of  December in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and one blown down. That the Inhabitants of the said parish have for a great many years last past raised amongst themselves large sums of money and actually laid out the same in repairing and endeavouring to support the said Church. That the same is by length of time and by reason of the said steeple being fallen down as aforesaid become so ruinous and decayed that great part of this aid Church must be taken down and Rebuilt. That until the same be done the Inhabitants cannot without manifest danger of their Lives assemble therein for the publick Worship of Almighty God. That they the said Samuel Rickard, Edward Dear and Samuel Circuit have carefully viewed the said Church and made an estimate of the Charge of taking down, Rebuilding and Repairing the same which upon a Moderate Computation amounts to the sum of two Thousand and Eighty seven pounds thirteen shillings and Upwards. And that the said Inhabitants are not able to raise the said sum amongst themselves being Farmers at rack rents and being Burthened with a very Numerous poor and unable to undertake so great a Work without the Charitable Assistance of well disposed Christians".

The tower was eventually repaired as seen today [2015] in 1750. The plaque on the tower reads: "The Ancient Steeple of this Church fell down in 1701 was rebuilt 1750 by a Brief Rate and Subscription collected by the Rev Geo Story faithful Curate of this Parish 37 Years who died much respected May 13 1765 Aged 63".

Plaque on the west tower March 2014
Plaque on the west tower March 2014