GNOSALL - St Lawrence Church

A Short History

There was certainly a Church in Gnosall before the Norman Conquest. The Dooms-day Book, compiled in 1086, refers to the possession of land by the Church.

There were four prebendaries, and this implies that Gnosall was already an important centre, serving a large area with a community of secular priests. Architectural proof remains of a Saxon minster Church - one of only six in England - in the Crossing, Transepts, and base of the Tower. Additions may have been made by masons from Lichfield after they had finished the Cathedral there. Note especially the Arcade in the South Transept and the inter-mural passage above. The typical zig-zag carving over the Chancel Arch is a Norman addition to earlier work. There is something to be seen of almost every period of English architecture. A Norman Chancel Arch dominates the nave. The West window is 13th century Early English, like the pillars and arches; the East window is 14th century Decorated. The magnificent tower, the clerestory windows and the Lady Chapel windows are late 15th century Perpendicular. The nave windows are 16th century. The South porch, pulpit and font date from the extensive restoration of 1888-1894, during which Galleries were removed and stonework Stripped of its early plaster and a 20th century vestry

The Tower Arches

This part of the Church, the earliest remaining, reveals some of the finest Norman work in the county. The bold orders of sculptured mouldings round the arch, and the carving round he piers include chevron, billet and less usual designs. These four arches carry the massive weight of the tower. The delicate interlaced patterns on the capitals are worth careful attention, and the quaint faces should be noticed. Re-used Norman carved stones are found In various parts of the building. Above the Chancel arch may be seen the original roof-line of the nave.

The South Transept

This transept is remarkably fine, with its circular staircase in the corner, a gallery leading to the belfry in the thickness of the wall, and part of the Nornan arcade. Looking up at the tower arch one sees the method of construction ; facing stones in-filled with rubble and cement. The transept is linked with the South aisle by an Early English arch, on one side of which is a Norman capital and on the other an Early English capital of "Wind-blown" foliage of exceptional simplicity and rigour. Through this arch one looks west to the Early English pillars and arches, made during the enlargement of the Church in the 13th century. In this transept is a splendid iron-bound chest, hewn from the solid trunk of an oak, with three locks added after a robbery in 1695. Notice also the door leading into the Churchyard. The holes cut into the jambs were to receive a massive wooden bolt.

Lady Chapel

This was probably re-constructed in the 15th century, possibly incorporating the 13th century Priests' lodging, raising and extending it Eastwards, and building the pillars and arches we now see opening into the Chancel. Traces remain of a blocked doorway and a painted inscription. On this wall, also, is a very realistic foliage corbel dating from the 14th century. The alabaster figure is of Sir John Knightly, about 1410-30. On his head is a woven band, worn to make the helmet fit more comfortably. Although damaged, the armour and especially the collar of chain-mail and the sword belt are of good workmanship. The figure of the child is dated about 1390 and has been moved here from its original position. On the Sanctuary floor is a stone coffin lid of the 13th century with a carved foilate cross and a pair of shears, in memory of a wool merchant. On the low wall near the High Altar are examples of decorated leadwork from the tower.

The Chancel

Its principal feature is the especially beautiful East window of Decorated tracery, made before 13q8 when the Black Death stopped such work. The glass is a splendid memorial to the fallen of the first World War, and repays a careful examination of the principal panels and rows of angels, Bible characters and Saints. The recess in the North wall may be an Easter Sepulchre, used in Holy Week ceremonies. The Victorian Choir Stalls have been removed, giving a sense of space. There are a few fragments of medieval glass preserved high up in the windows of both the Chancel and Lady Chapel.

Nave & North Transept

Returning westwards there is a simple but effective modern wrought-iron cross hanging over the Nave Altar. Nearby is a 17th century painted inscription on the wall. The North Transept contains the Organ and a small Chapel which is now the Vestry. The Parish Registers go back to 1572 and the Churchwardens' account books begin in 1669. There are a number of Educational and Charitable bequests recorded on painted boards. The filled-in archway near the pulpit originally led to the Rood Screen, but experts are puzzled by the half-arch leading into the transept. the Baptistry is a dramatic engraved glass window depicting St Lawrence, the Patron Saint. The recess by the main door is a Holy-water stoup.

Outside

Above the porch is a line of interesting corbels, one of which is a happily smiling face. On either side of the Transept door are grooves made by archers sharpening their arrows in the days when archery practice was held in churchyards after morning service. On an adjacent buttress is a Scratch Dial, used to tell the principal hours of the day; it is now nearly worn away by weather. There are fine Norman gargoyles and other carvings on the tower, which was raised to its present height about 1460. Below the parapet is a typical West Midland band of carving. There are shields, which may commemorate the patron, and a mason's hammer. Near the belfry window on the South, is inscribed a chalice, and the hood-mould of this window shows a woman in the horned head-dress of the late 15th century. From the outside can be seen more clearly the tracery of the East window: "One of the loveliest of the period in any Staffordshire church". Near this window is an interesting tomb with cherubs and children's heads. One has his hands to his mouth in an expression of astonishment. Continuing round, there are bold grotesques on the Chapel, which may be the Chantry mentioned in a will of 1517. Towards the west end of the North aisle there is a blocked round-headed Doorway which could just possibly have survived from a Saxon Church and been re-used. The flat buttresses are typical Norman. On the West end can clearly be seen the original roof-line and the simplicity of the West window. The Sundial may have registered centuries of sunshine. It stands on a medieval base. Now replaced by a modern equitorial sundial. The old one is presented in the vestry. An Inventory of 1553 records three bells and a Sanctus bell, one of which carries the Founder's mark of Henry Jordan 1450-1470. A bell recast in 1711 by Rudhall of Gloucester is inscribed, unusually for this time, in Latin:-

VIVAT ANNA: EXULTET ECCLESIA:

DISSIPENTUR INIMICI

"Long Live Queen Anne: Let the

Church Rejoice: Let her

enemies be scattered".

JOHN HOPE URWIN.

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