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New Saint Marys Church Clophill

Clophill new church about 1900
Clophill new church about 1900.

The new church in Clophill was built in 1848-1849 at the foot of the hill on which the old church stands. The architect was Thomas Smith of Hertford, who had built a new church at nearby Silsoe (which shared the same patron of the living) in 1831.

The interior looking east about 1900 [Z50/31/151]
The interior looking east about 1900 [Z50/31/151]

The librarian of Woburn Abbey, John Martin, who styled himself WA, wrote a number of opinionated sketches of Bedfordshire churches for the Northampton Mercury. Here is the piece he wrote on Clopill, published on 5th February 1853: "The ancient fabric having bceome so decayed as to be unsafe for the purposes of public worship, it was wisely determined to erect a new building, instead of calling in the aid of some rural architect to disfigure and torture into a few years lengthened endurance, with his vile botchings, that which, like all other human efforts, cannot elude the stern decree".

The interior of Clophill church looking east March 2007
The interior of Clophill church looking east March 2007

"The new church has been erected, we believe, by the spontaneous goo feeling of the parishioners, greatly assisted by the noble patron of the living [Thomas Philip, Earl de Grey]"

"You too proceed! make falling arts your care,
Erect new wonders, and the old repair.
Jones and Palladio to themselves restore,
And be whate'er Vitruvius was before."

"It is a fit church for a rural village. Nothing ostentatious, but all in unison with the simplicity of the service of the Church of England. The whole of the sittings are uniform, and the effect palpable to all but the dozing occupants of square pews, the delight of our rural churchwardens. "Sunday must be a blessed day of rest to you, who work so hard all the week! And you make a good use of the day, for you are always to be seen at church". "Ay, sir", replied Jackson, "it is indeed a blessed day; I work hard enough all the week, and then I comes to church on Sundays, and sets me down, and lays my legs up, and thinks o' nothing" [Southey's novel, The Doctor]".

Clophill church east window March 2007
Clophill church east window March 2007

"Happily we never read an account now where church building or restoration is recorded, but we find that the practice of open sittings prevails. "All free and plain upon benches" is universally the language. The squire's hunge canticle gives way to the general good feeling, and wit hexception of some important rustic churchwarden the general wish is complied with. The regeneration of these gentlemen is only postponed; their dignity must at length yield to good sense and good taste".

"It would be well that no monet should be granted by the Church Building Society unless the condition of uniform open sittings is carried out".

"The stained glass is not very good, and the light generally would appear to require subduing. It is hardly necessary to say that the interior was clean beyond praise".

Clophill church interior looking west March 2007
Clophill church interior looking west March 2007

"We regretted to see a singing-loft [the west gallery]. We know not whether there is any instrumental music; we would hope not. far preferable is a well-trained and devout band of rural choristers; than led by a performer on the grinding organ and the harmonium; a violent passion just now prevailing for the introduction of one or other of these instruments".

East window detail March 2007
East window detail March 2007

Records deposited by Clophill Parochial Church Council indicate that the new church was repaired by builder John Day of Bedford in 1879 [P45/2/15] and again in 1920-21 [P45/2/16]. A new organ was installed in 1892 [P45/2/37]. Between 1956 and 1962 a number of alterations were made. A new altar rail  was inslatted in the chancel[P45/2/32/1, 4, 6], the orientation of the organ was altered and a new Memorial Chapel was created [P45/2/32/2-3], it was consecrated in June 1958 [P45/2/41], a choir vestry was created beneath the tower [P45/2/32/5], a new credence table was installed [P45/2/32/7] and an altar rail was created in the Memorial Chapel from an 18th century staircase from the old church [P45/2/32/8]. External repairs were also carried out, incuding to the south aisle roof [P45/2/40] and in May 1957 a bell was moved from the old church to the new [P45/2/40]. In 1964 dry rot was discovered and an extensive scheme of works over the next five years included re-roofing [P45/2/44]. A new meeting room was proposed in 1984 [P45/2/57-58] and further damp treatment work carried out in 1987 [P45/2/61].

Clophill church Mar 2007
new St.Mary's in March 2007

The story, in brief, of the way the new church came about is recorded in notes on events in the parish in the rear of one of the parish registers [P45/1/4]. The appropriate sections are transcribed below:

  • July 9 [1845]: Met at my house to consult about the building of a new Church Messrs Crouch, Borne, R. Lowe, Squires and L. Burrowes. Mr. Burrowes requested to draw out a plan to submit to Mr. Wing and to enquire as to estimate of expence [sic].
  • July 21: Second meeting only Mr. Crouch and Mr. Burrowes nothing satisfactory.
  • October 1: First public meeting at the School rooms about the intended Church. Present Archdeacon, in the Chair, T. Browne Esquire, Silsoe, Mr. Crouch, R. Lowe, George Borne, Mr. Burroughs, Mr. J. Burrows, Mr, Stevens and the Rector. Meeting adjourned from the Church to the Schoolroom. Mr. James Crouch strong in opposition but solely on the ground of expence. Dr. Tattam [the Archdeacon] brought forward a plan and estimate, cost £1600. Agreed to have another meeting about this business.
  • November 7: Another meeting was held at the Schoolroom about the building of a new Church at Clophill. Present Earl de Grey in the Chair, The Rector, Mr. Crouch, Borne, R. Lowe, John Lowe, Burroughs, Mr. Squires, Pickering, John Burrows, Stevens, Sharp baker and Sharp the gardener. No very determined opposition. Sharp the gardener raised a question about the altering of the rate. His Lordship promised the Stone and £200 besides. He promised to consult Mr. Smith. He also surveyed the proposed site and seemed much pleased with it.
  • November 7 [1847] - 23rd Sunday after Trinity. A notice was posted on the Church door of a meeting to be held on Saturday Nov 13 to consider the erection of a New Church instead of the present on a site more convenient to the inhabitants.
  • November 13 Saturday was held pursuant to Notice the Sunday previous a meeting of the Parishioners at the School room. Present the Rector in the Chair, Mr. Crouch Churchwarden, Mr. George Crouch, Mr. H. Sharp, Mr. George Borne, Mr. Chipperfield, Mr. Parish, Mr. John Burrowes, Mr. Burroughs, Mr, Stevens, Mr. R. Lowe. At this meeting the necessity and advantage of a new Church to be erected in the field opposite to the Rectory having been set forth, the probable prospects of the sum necessary for such purpose was laid before the meeting which was as follows: Earl de Grey £200 also all the Stone valued at [blank], Rev. J. Mendham and Mrs. Mendham £500, J. Mendham, esquire £100, G. B. Hart, esquire £200, Rev. W. T. Turner £50, Mr, Shears £10, Mr. D. Mason £10, Mr. N. Mason £10, Mrs. C. Turner £10, REv. R. R. Mendham £5, Rev, R. Lindsell £5, sum to be obtained from Church Building Society £150, raised by Collection at opening £50. Raising of the Stone valued at [blank] also by application of materials of the old Church. The meeting came to the Resolution to borrow  acording to sums prepared £700 to be paid back in 20 years from the Public Works Loan office. This resolution duly proposed and seconded was carried without any opposition. Correspondence was entered into with Earl de Grey in consequence of which Mr. Smith of Hertford, architect, was invited by the Rector to come and view the ground proposed for the New Church and to furnish plans to be made against the next meeting of the Parishioners
  • 1848 June 19: First Stone of the New Church laid by the Archdeacon Tattam. Rev. J. Mendham, Mr. Crouch, Mr. J. Burroughs churchwardens.
  • 1849: The New Church having been brought to a happy completion was consecrated on July 10th by the Right Rev. D. Turton, Bishop of Ely.
  • 1851: A wall abutting south of the New Churchyard erected and iron gates set up at the Rectors expence. Expences of consecration defrayed by the Rector amounting to £21.