Will you become a Friend?
Over the years this charming village church has seen many people come and go. It has meant such a lot to so many: weddings, christenings, funerals, along with the weekly services and annual festivals, Christmas, Easter and harvest. Family services are a regular monthly event and well supported. So too is an annual pet service.
There has been a church in Upton since at least 1092, when it was recorded that the tithes were given to the Cluniac Priory of Bermondsey. Perhaps the present building is the church mentioned: some of its features point to an even earlier date. Its simple structure has never been drastically enlarged. It still consists basically of a nave and chancel which communicate through a round chancel arch.
Imagine what Upton must have been like in those early days – no more than a hamlet.
A major restoration however was undertaken in 1885.The porch was added early in the 20th century; the vestry in 1934-5.
The doorways, north and south, vestry and entrance – are both narrow and round-headed. They are also opposite each other, an arrangement common before the Norman Conquest. On the outside, the entrance door has a Vandyke pattern round the arch, a late 12th century decoration. The arch itself seems to have been re-set at some time and the stones displaced – the keystone appears to be at the side. There are two scratch dials (sundials), one dated 1629 on the east side of the doorway, with signs of knife-sharpening on the outside. On the inside of the south door, the arch has been flattened to allow the door to open.
The fine timber roof is probably 15th century; what the original roof was like we do not know. A ceiling which hid the rafters, box pews, a three-decker pulpit and a gallery at the west end were all removed at the restoration. A gallery, would that have been for musicians?
The walls are of chalk rubble and are very thick, with a pronounced batter, ie, they are thicker at the base than at the top. But chalk can dissolve if wet so the surface has to be covered. The present flint was applied when the church was restored; an old framed water colour shows that previously there were at any rate patches of brick. Originally the walls were probably covered with mud and lime. The picture also shows the roof to be thatch. The interior walls remain lime-washed.
The stonework around the chancel arch doors and windows could be Beer or Caen stone (a very fine relatively soft limestone). The font also would have been entirely of the same limestone. At the moment only the base can be seen to be original. The font itself is lead lined and underwent repairs in 1800s so is not of the same stone. It is again is in need of repair and on recent inspection was found to have some of the original stone still inside.
The Chamber Organ was given to the church at the turn of the century and for many years it stood by the chancel arch. One of the keys was dated 1777. Sadly the inscription was removed by the organ builder during the 1980 renovation. An opinion was given that the instrument was a mix of two organs, and that some of the pipework was 17th century in origin, probably around 1680.
Let’s just go back again to the church as was. We now have wood block and tile flooring but surely it would have originally been very basic with earth strewn with straw. The lighting would have been by tallow and oil lamps. Electric lighting was installed in 1938, but not what you see now. The up lighting reflecting off the inside of the roof was installed the late 1960s in memory of the Rector Derwas Chitty and further down-spots installed in 2002. We know that early churches did not have seating. Perhaps they took their own cushions or stools or had hay bales around the edge. It would certainly have allowed for a more flexible use of the space.
Can you become a friend?
A Friends scheme is being launched to help raise funds for the conservation and ongoing maintenance of Upton’s church, to ensure it remains an asset and an active element in the village community for another thousand years. St Mary’s, in common with most other churches, receives no financial support from the Church of England or any other source – if it is to remain for the benefit of the community as a whole, it needs the support of our community – hence the Friends scheme.
As a community initiative, the Friends scheme aims to do more than just raise money. Friends events will be organised on a regular basis, and may be artistic, educational or just for fun – look out for musical events, talks, quiz nights and more.
A little from many adds up to a lot! If you feel able to become a Friend by donating a regular amount to the scheme, we would be delighted!
See the Friends of St Mary’s leaflet.