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Church of St. Michael and All Angels, Figheldean

Church of St. Michael and All Angels, Figheldean Date Photo Taken 2012
Uploaded 27/05/2014 15:25:57
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Map Latitude 51.226399987743854 : Longitude -1.782558560371399
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

Viewed from the south east

Figheldean Church was mentioned in a Charter of Henry I (1100-1135AD). St. Edmund was invoked in a chapel in the church c.1251; the church itself was named in 1763.

The church has a chancel, aisled and clerestoried nave, with a south porch, west tower and north vestry. The west tower was built in the 13th century; the nave is also of this date. It is a 'good example of Gothic architecture'. Some tiles (possibly Roman), were still set in the base of the tower in the mid 20th century and could well remain. There is a date stone showing restoration of 1679 and the top of the tower is19th century in the Norman revival style. The chancel is early 15th century and the south porch is medieval, restored in 1902. There is a piscina in the south wall of the chancel opposite the altar and an ancient holy water stoop can be found on the right hand side of the doorway into the church. The knight effigies in the porch are thought to be 13th century and are said to have been found in a field nearby. They could have come from Ablington Church which has disappeared, along with those at Alton Magna, Knighton and Choulston (at about the time of Edward VI).

The church is built on a 'cleeve' or cliff sloping to the river; steps were needed leading from the nave to the chancel. The clerestory was built in the later 15th or early 16th century when the chancel and rood stair were also rebuilt. The steps in the east wall of the north aisle which led to the roof loft have been removed. The chancel roof was renewed in the 17th or 18th century. The restoration work was paid for by money raised from rates and pew rents. Ewan Christian restored the chancel in 1858/9. Funds were given by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The external parapets were removed, the east wall was rebuilt and the arch enlarged.

The c.1860 restorations included the roofs of the tower and south aisle being heightened, both aisles refenestrated, the west gallery removed and a new gallery formed. The font base was also restored. The vestry was built and the porch rebuilt. Original materials were reused for this 19th century work. The churchyard was extended in 1883 and was fenced by the parishioners.

In 1952, £1,250 was spent on restoration. £250 was given by the Historic Churches Preservation Trust, £150 by the Wiltshire Church Committee, £100 by RAF Netheravon, £75 by the Incorporated Building Society, £50 by the Secretary of State for War and the rest by parishioners. The church was re-seated with chairs. The restoration of the chancel was paid for by the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury Cathedral and took place at the same time.

In 1668 there were collections for the relief of 'poore sufferers by the fire in London', and in 1670 a list of persons was placed in the parish register who had contributed towards the redemption of the 'English captives under Turkish slavery': 50 names were on the list.

There were three bells in 1553. Three new ones were cast by John Wallis in 1581. One of these was recast by William Tosier, 1721. This bell bears the names of the churchwardens William Spencer, Thomas Pollein and Robert Rofe. The King's commissioners took 13 ounces of plate in 1553. They left a chalice of 14 ounces. In 1810 a paten was given, hallmarked 1787. A new chalice and flagon were provided in 1858. The organ was installed in 1881 by W. Swetland of Bath. It was a gift of Mr Knowles of Syrencot. The communion rail is 19th century and the pulpit and chancel fittings are oak and date from c.1930.

Before 1847 it appears that there had been no resident clergyman in Figheldean for quite some time. There is a monument to John Yorke, vicar of Figheldean, who died in 1740. His son William Yorke of New College, Oxford, died in 1753 aged 21, and is buried with him. William died of 'inoculation' and appears to have been a pioneer in modern preventative medicine with smallpox inoculations.

A clock was given by the vicar Henry Caswell (vicar from 1848-1867). Caswell was a huge critic of Mormonism and defended the Church of England against the Latter Day Saints. A booklet written by Craig Foster tells that Caswell travelled to Ohio as a missionary in c.1830, residing there until c.1838 when he moved to Canada. He moved back to the United States in 1841. On his return to England he had difficulty getting a permanent appointment as a vicar and began at Figheldean as a curate in 1843. He oversaw the building of the school and refurbishing the church. He collected 'monies for the Society for Propagating the Gospel', published religions tracts and provided financial support for the Anglican missions in America and other parts of the world. In 1853 he was part of a delegation of the Society for Propagating the Gospel visiting New York. In one of his books 'The City of the Mormons; or Three Days at Nauvoo' he exposed the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith as a fraud and his argument became the one most commonly used in Britain against the Mormons.

The churchwarden Thomas Ettwell Simpkins built the school and initiated the 1860 restoration. He gave a donation of £100. The total cost reached £1,100. On May 9th, 1860, forty clergy processed from the vicarage to hear the Bishop preach. 'There was a large gathering and church collections. In two days, 80 schoolchildren, 240 visitors and 400 parishioners were feasted'.

The Reverend Raikes was vicar in Figheldean from 1880-1895. Soon after he arrived he gave a confirmation and preached about it at church, asking people to come forward. Those that did were mostly young, but many were also over 70, including one elderly man who kept the village shop. Bishop Wordsworth came one Sunday morning to preach and on entering the pulpit said "The Vicar tells me you like a short sermon in the morning so that you can get back to your dinner at twelve"!

The notes of Reverend Unwin, Vicar in the 1950s, say that contained in the Altar Book are some statements: 'A Form of Thanksgiving, to be used yearly on the Fifth Day of November, for the happy deliverance of King James I, and the three estates of England, from the most traiterous and bloody-intended Massacre by GUNPOWDER; Also for the happy arrival of His Majesty King William on this Day, and for the Deliverance of Our Church and Nation'. The book also contained 'A Form of Prayer with Fasting, to be used yearly on 30th January, Being the Day of the Martyrdom of the Blessed King Charles I'. Next to it is 'A Form of Prayer with Thanksgiving to Almighty God for having put an end to the Great Rebellion, by the Restitution of the King and Royal Family, and the Restoration of the Government after many years of interruption, which unspeakable Mercies were wonderfully completed on the 29th of May, 1660'.

The Vicarage was built in 1872 and the old one was demolished. A Christy Minstrel entertainment was held at the vicar's house in the late 19th century. The room was so crowded and many had to be turned away. In the early 20th century there was an annual garden party at the vicarage.

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