Yesterday, I cycled over St. John’s hill in Shenstone, and up through the churchyard and down into the village. Shenstone is a remarkable church, but never one of my favourites, as I find it’s dark, Victorian gothic to be overdramatic and rather severe, but I’ve always recognised the incredible drama of it. The real joy of this church and it’s grounds for me is the feeling of antiquity – you see, Shenstone, when viewed from a distance, exhibits not one, but two church towers, old and new. By some twist of fate, the ‘new’ church – built in 1852 – sits just south of the ruins of a much older church and tower, parts of which are thought to be Saxon in origin.
Staffordshire Places, website of the Staffordshire Archive Service, has this to say on the subject:
The parish church is dedicated to St John. The present church building was designed by John Gibson, architect of London and built in 1852-53. The remains of the former mediaeval church building are to the north west of the present church. In 1740 the former church building was extended by the building of a south transept to accommodate the people of Stonnall when their chapel was pulled down. St Peter’s Church at Stonnall was rebuilt in 1823. There was also a Wesleyan Methodist chapel at Littlehay.
Further, the church website itself, notes:
The first vicar of Shenstone to appear in the Bishops’ Register was Adam de Lynde. There is a reference to him in another document in 1274 but the register notes his death in 1323.
From that date to the present day there is a near-unbroken succession of priests in Shenstone church. The Old Church, which was pulled down when the new one was built in 1854, consisted of a nave and two transepts with a chancel and a north aisle. The tower originally in the centre, was rebuilt, probably in the 16th Century, at the west end of the nave compass. The exact date of construction of the old church is difficult to estimate but Sanders, curate of Shenstone in the mid 18th Century reckons it to have been in the reign of Henry VI although many alterations and additions had been made since that time.
The old church at Shenstone was, however, much more ancient than Henry Sanders has estimated. The recent excavations have not only confirmed the evidence of the Norman arch at the west base of the old tower but also suggested an even earlier, Saxon foundation date.
The foundation stone of the new church was laid on a new site, well to the south of the old one but still, of course, on church land. The only remains of the old building are the tower and the south door, though the foundations of the old church were partly revealed just over 30 years ago when the churchyard was cleared.
I’ve been passing these remains now for over thirty years and never really given them much thought until yesterday. How many of us know that there are religious ruins of such antiquity on our doorstep, just crumbling to dust? I’ve observed the state of the old tower deteriorate for decades, and now, the gate that used to seal the old tower from public access is swinging open and explorers seem to be trying to find a way in. When I was a lad, they kept goats to ‘maintain’ the graveyard in that enclosure. It’s sad to see such a site so neglected.
If you do nothing else this week, do pop up and check the place out. It’s an imposing, classical church, atop a hill. The grounds are leafy, green and shady, surrounded by mature beech, sweet chestnut and yew trees. Buried amongst all this is a place so old, that it must have seen thousands of villages cross it’s pathways; christened, married and buried.
I swear that if you stand still long enough and listen carefully, you can hear their voices…
Sorry for the awful quality photos; I left my camera behind yesterday, and had to rely on my phone. Pillock, so I am.