One can hardly imagine a more peaceful or delightful place for the worship of God than the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Hawkesbury. It is an ancient building, enshrining in Cotswold stone a thousand years of English craftsmanship going back to Saxon times. The late Bishop of Gloucester, on a recent visit, described the church as a “precious treasure” and “one of his favourite churches”.
The coming of Christianity to Hawkesbury is lost in the mists of antiquity. However, the original charter covering the parish dates from AD972, when a large area was granted to the Benedictine Abbey of Pershore by King Edgar. The charter confirmed to the Abbot and Convent of Pershore the same privileges that had been granted some two hundred years earlier by King Cenwulf (AD 796-821). Stonework reused in the church would seem to support the existence of a Saxon stone building on the site from an even earlier date but no documentary evidence survives to confirm it. The current parish boundary, over thirty miles in length, follows much of the original 972 delineation
The Deanery, as it became, was under the Bishop of Worcester, although the manor itself was held by the Abbot of Pershore. The Abbey established a manorial centre, a few hundred yards to the west of the church, with a staff of clergy and lay brothers drawn from the Abbey. The Manor of Hawkesbury is mentioned in the Domesday Book under the landholdings of St Mary’s at Pershore. Thus Hawkesbury was a significant centre for Christian teaching in its own right and controlled a large estate, which has given rise to the large scale of the current church with the nave and chancel easily able to accomodate over 300 people.
The most distinguished of all the incumbents of Hawkesbury was Wulfstan. He was a man renowned for his learning and sanctity who became a Saint. He was born on or about 1008 and following education at Pershore Abbey, he became a priest at Hawkesbury. Wulfstan did the Church and his country the great service of supressing the slave traffic with Ireland by inducing the merchants of Bristol to abandon it. He became Bishop of Worcester in 1062 and was one of the few Saxon bishops to retain his post following the Norman invasion. He was responsible for laying down the foundations of Worcester Cathedral and although he died in 1095. he was eventually buried in 1218 in the Cathedral in the presence of Henry III. In 2011 a stained glass window was commissioned from local artist Caroline Pederick by the Parish of St Mary’s Hawkesbury to celebrate the life of Wulstan, and installed a year later.
The church yard is roughly an oval plot and is planted with yew, forming a continuous band around the south eastern boundary.The burial ground contains one hundred and seventy standing monuments, of which eighty seven are chest tombs of which fifty four currently appear on the schedule of listed buildings and monuments. In 1880 a new cementry was created joined to the original churchyard through the lych gate.
The Chancel is predomanatly Early English in style with some windows inserted later. A priest’s door with a typical sixteenth century head to the arch and a later door hood has been inserted at the western end of the chancel. The walls of the chancel show a large number of commemoration plaques to the Jenkinson family, who owned the manor from 1621 to the present day, including Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool, who was Prime Minister from 1812 to 1827.
The large nave, now distinctly perpendicular in outline and fronted by a large two storey porch, houses Perpendicular windows in a much older wall. The remaining older window lintels, formed by arches of small elongated stones set on edge, can be seen over the newer square headed openings. It is possible that the wall is from the 12th century. The base of the pulpit contains some re-used Saxon stonework. The font in the southwestern corner of the church is Jacobean.
The Tower has a base and west door of Early English work (approx 13th Century) rising to a square tower with a Perpendicular west window. A spirelet over the south east stair turret was added in the 19th century. Unfortunately there is no public access to the tower, which contains a 14th century bell and medieval three pit bell frame.
St Mary’s has a thriving SATB choir which sings the major services and which is affiliated to the Royal School of Church Music. The choir always welcomes new members. If you are interested in joining, please contact The Vicar.
Friends of St. Mary's
For more information about St Mary’s and the events and fundraisers we hold, please visit www.fosmhawkesbury.co.uk.