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ELMLEY CASTLE St Mary the Virgin

Worcestershire, UK

In the former county of Worcestershire, on the northern slopes of Bredon Hill stands the delightful village of Elmley Castle. The name records the former C11 stronghold of the Beauchamp family which was already in ruins by the C13. Refortified in the C14 it has virtually disappeared by the end of the C17. The village is the epitome of England, black and white cottages, some thatched, delightful gardens, a wide main street and a Tudor Inn. This street ends at the churchyard gates, but the church is hardly visible among the huge trees.

The churchyard is notably large and in spring there are a large number of daffodils. It contains two C16 sundials, one to be seen in the centre of the above photograph, as well as the expected tombstones.


The church itself also dates back to the C11 as can be seen by the herringbone masonry in the chancel wall. Broad three-staged unbuttressed west tower of the C13, the top stage c1340 and with later Perpendicular Doorway and west window. Original internally splayed S lancet window. Four bayed nave, without clerestory, and south aisle, three bayed N aisle and N transept, N porch and aisleless chancel. The tower, porch N aisle and transept have embattled parapets. The transept, originally Decorated, was altered in the C16 when it became a chapel for the Savage family, new windows being inserted and walls heightened. The large square-headed E window was blocked in the early C18 but its handsome appearance can still be seen outside. The porch has an ancient outside door and reset into the walls some ancient carved stones, including an enchanting hare and pieces of interlace.


Inside the walls are scraped (unplastered - scraped because plaster has often been removed). Big broad double chamfered tower arch, filled by glazed C19 screen to create a vestry under the tower. The west two bays of the S arcade have crude piers, formed by cutting through the original wall: the pointed arches die into the plain imposts. The next two bays match the north arcade with octagonal piers. Arch from aisle into transept. Roofs appear to be Victorian, like the nasty chancel arch and the E window of the chancel. Some of the pews are of great antiquity, and those at the west end of the S aisle have balusters and hat-pegs, although are not quite so old as others. The FONT is notable, being a Tudor bowl (early C16 see the portcullis, rose and ostrich feathers) on an older Norman base with dragons and serpents.

The transept contains two remarkable monuments. To the west is the large tomb chest with three effigies - Sir William Savage d1616 (N), Sir Giles (son, centre) d1631 and Lady Catherine (son's wife, S) d1674. Lady Catherine, who is not buried here but at Malvern Priory Church, carries an infant daughter born after the death of her father. At her feet is the head of a unicorn, at the men's feet lions. Four sons kneel on an "extension" to the tomb at their parents' feet. The detail is wonderfully preserved, in alabaster which seems to flow like the cloth it is carved to represent.

The feud

The second monument should not be in this church, but was made for the church at Croome d'Abitot nearby, the seat of the Coventry family. It is to the First Earl of Coventry who died in 1699 and is evidence of a bitter feud between the 2nd Earl and his step-mother. It is a fine monument of its period, with a canopy supported on four Ionic columns, flanking figures of standing angels, and effigy of the Earl in wig. The lower parts were intended to commemorate the Countess-dowager and like her husband above she is eulogised in Latin. She is described as of noble family,being the daughter of a Richard Graham of Norfolk, and a coat of arms is shown accordingly. However the second Earl declared his step-mother's pedigree to be false, she being supposedly a servant in the household and daughter of "Richard Grimes, a mean person, by trade a turner" who had married his father in his dotage. Action was taken in the courts against the herald who had "contrived" the pedigree and false arms, but it seems that no decision was made and the action petered out. However the monument was refused entry into Croome church and was erected here at Elmley Castle by Mr Thomas Savage whom the Countess-dowager had then married. The date on the inscription for her death is left blank, she has no other memorial and is only recorded in the Elmley Castle parish register as being buried on April 10th 1724.

The Coventry family went on themselves to erect a series of splendid monuments in their church which they also rebuilt and resited within the grounds of their mansion at Croome. The latter, now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, is also well worth a visit. The family monuments themselves survive as a record of a piece of C18 social history which has been repeated many many times by other families even today, golddigger or genuine love and companionship, the fight over money.

A bit of trivia from Bob Meades via Email "You may be interested to know, this church was featured in the 1975 TV classic Terry Nation's Survivors, in fact the very first episode: The fourth horseman."

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page updated 12th December 2003