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Church of St. Laurence, Hilmarton

Church of St. Laurence, Hilmarton Date Photo Taken 2010
Uploaded 22/06/2011 16:23:08
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Map Latitude 51.47697283653304 : Longitude -1.972770094871521
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

The main place of worship in Hilmarton is the parish church of St. Laurence. It is situated in the main village in Church Road, not far from the main A3102.
The church was first documented in 1291, when it was valued for the taxation of Pope Nicholas. It was not until the early 15th century that the building was dedicated to the 3rd century saint, St. Laurence or St. Lawrence. Laurence was a martyr who met his fate, bound to a gridiron and slowly burned to death in Rome in 258 A.D. He is commemorated on 10th August.

The church has been through several major renovations over the last 150 years. The first was between 1848 and 1850 and the architect was Shaw. The whole enterprise cost about £600 and included the partial re-building of the bell tower and the renovation of the chancel. This was later criticised as unsuccessful.
In 1879, a more comprehensive renovation was undertaken by William Henry Poynder and a famous designer, Edmund Street.

The church building is in the Late Perpendicular style, except for the Early English aisle arches. It was built using ashlar and rubble stone with stone slate roofs and coped gables. It consists of a chancel with vestry on the north side and organ chamber on the south side. The organ chamber was built in 1879 during major alterations and the chancel walls are thought to date from the 14th century. There is also a nave of four bays, a north aisle, south porch and an embattled square west tower.
The earliest surviving visible part of the church is believed to be the north arcade, the series of arches separating the Lady Chapel from the main part of the church possibly date from around 1200. The columns are in the Early English style (1190-1275), although according to building reports in the 19th century, the 'columns of the aisle were forced mechanically from a reclining angle to a perpendicular position'.
The little passage that leads from the chancel arch is believed to date from the 14th century. Bremhill and Avebury churches contain a similar feature.

The chancel arch still bears fragments of what is thought to be original paint and dates from the 15th century. The arch incorporates a stone screen which is headed by a carved wooden beam originally belonging to Highway church, which was closed in 1955. The altar was also brought from there and placed in the Lady Chapel in 1954.

The nave, with its fine oak, wagon-type roof dates from the 15th century. During one of the major renovations in 1879, it was stripped of plaster, removed, replaced and braced with iron to prevent further spread. Other works included a new stained glass east window, made by Clayton & Bell, which involved relocating the window so that it was placed higher above the main altar. This window contains a depiction of St. Laurence's demise. A brand new chancel ceiling was also put in during the renovation of 1879. This consists of an elaborate timber roof.

There are six bells at the church of St. Laurence.
Bell no.1 was given by William Henry Poynder in 1879. The inscription reads; 'Sabbata Pango Funera Plango Solemnia Clango' which loosely translates as 'I ring on the Sabbath, I toll for funerals, I sound for solemn services'.
Bell no. 2 (previously no.1) was made by William Purdue and Edward Hopkins. The inscription reads; 'I am the first although but small, yet will be heard above you all'.
Bell no.3 has the inscription; Anno Domini 1631.
Bell no.4 was a pre-Reformation bell dating from around 1400. It is inscribed with 'In the name of the Trinite Laurns bel cal me' (call me St. Laurence's bell). This bell came from the Bristol foundry.
Bell no.5 'John Hopkins and Robert Seager ch:wardens 1735'.
Bell no.6 was cast at Gloucester by Abel Rudhall in 1738.
The bells were tuned and re-hung in 1885, 1933 and more recently in 2005/06. The most recent overhaul also included major alterations to the bell tower to improve access and safety.

Also of interest is the chained bible dated 1611. Until very recently it was thought to have been the second edition of the authorised version. It has now been confirmed as being a rare first edition and has received worldwide attention and funds are being raised to provide the Bible with the secure display case it deserves. It was originally discovered in an old chest by the vicar, Francis Fisher, who re-covered it.

There are five hatchments (armorial shields) adorning the walls in the church. These black boards contain coats of arms for the following local families; Berkeley, Norborne, Calley, Jacob and Poynder. Hatchments were fixed to the front of the dwelling of the deceased to inform local people of their death. After a few months, the hatchment was removed and placed into the parish church.

The war memorial window on the north side of the church was almost entirely funded by donations and cost £180. It was placed there in 1920 and commissioned by William Morris and Co. This window depicts George slaying the dragon in one section and General Gordon in the other. The names of the fallen men of Hilmarton parish during World War I are listed on a plaque next to the window. The other commemorative windows are dedicated to the memory of William Henry Poynder, Isabelle Poynder, Mrs Elizabeth Goddard and the Reverend Francis Fisher.

There are two war graves in the rear graveyard commemorating two sailors lost during WWII. The graveyard was extended here in the 1920s.

The parish records of christenings, marriages and burials date back to 1645 and the Bishop's Transcripts are from 1605. There are also church accounts dating from 1669 which have detailed information including names of churchwardens, overseers of the poor and income/expenditure. These, apart registers currently in use in the church, are all held in the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre at Chippenham.

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