St Michael’s Parish Church, Warmington
St Michael’s Parish Church, Warmington
Warmington was already an established farming community when its assets were recorded in Domesday Book. Shortly afterwards, its Norman owner, the Earl of Warwick, gave the manor of Warmington to the Benedictine Abbey which his father had endowed in Normandy, St.Peter’s at Preaux. Warmington was to remain in monastic hands, with one short break, for about 450 years. Monks were sent over from Preaux who built a small Priory. Its foundations were discovered when houses were built in Court Close in the 1950s. The Priory has disappeared, but the splendid church built under the monks’ supervision, mainly in the early medieval period, remains.
The church stands high above the village, close to the summit of Warmington Hill. Tradition tells us that the stone for building it was dug close by, in the area known as Catpits, or Churchpits. The stone for the tower was brought from a field known as Turpits, or Towerpits, a quarter of a mile away along the Hornton road. The churchyard is entered either by the lych-gate from the main road, or from the village by two long flights of steps. A diagonal line of pine trees marks the former boundary of the churchyard which was extended in the 1850s. In the older part, and especially near the south porch, are gravestones of exceptionally fine workmanship dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. About eighty of these are ‘listed’ by the Department of the Environment. All the inscribed memorials were recorded in 1981.
An admirable and detailed architectural description of the church is available in the Victoria County History. These notes are intended rather as a ‘layman’s conducted tour’. The church was purpose-built and used for the first half of its long life for forms of worship very different from our own. It was also the village meeting place for many secular purposes The church comprises north and south porches, nave with north and south aisles, a west tower and chancel with two-storey vestry adjoining.
As you enter the church by the south porch you walk forward into the nave. This area, with the first three pillars on each side, is where Warmington people have met and worshipped since the twelfth century. The area was extended by the addition of the aisles a century later. Today the overwhelming impression is a sense of simplicity, of space and of strength. Imagine the scene in the medieval period: no pews but white-washed walls covered with paintings, images of the saints in stone, on wood and painted cloths, the whole lit by the sunlight through stained glass and by candles and lamps burning before every image. On Sundays before Mass, at special festivals and for some fifty saints’ days in the year, a procession would form, with banners and hand bells, winding its way around the church and churchyard, and stopping at various points for particular acts of worship. The north and west doors, so rarely used today, had significance in these processions.
Before leaving this area of the church, notice the variety of windows, almost all of early date, but now mostly with clear glass. The ones at the east ends of the aisles, where the stone plate is pierced with roundels and a five-pointed star, are unusual. Considerable work has been undertaken in recent years in renewing the stone mullions, worn by the weather over time. The early Norman tub font of simple design is large enough for infant immersion. The aisles both taper by a foot, one to the east, and one to the west. The nave and chancel are slightly out of alignment, perhaps symbolic of Christ’s drooping head on the cross.
Before stepping down into the chancel, run your hand along the wooden screen under the chancel arch. This is all that remains of the great rood-screen which would have dominated the medieval church. The screen was hacked through quite roughly when the church was stripped of its ‘idolatrous’ treasures at the Reformation. Just to the right of the chancel arch is the doorway and stair which used to lead to the rood-screen loft.
The stained glass and memorial tablets in the chancel all commemorate the family of the Victorian rector during whose incumbency the church was restored. On the south wall are a richly decorated triple sedilia and piscina, dating from the fifteenth century when Warmington manor had newly passed to the Carthusian monks of Wytham in Somerset.
A door from the chancel leads into the vestry, built about 1340. The lower room was a chapel, dedicated to St Thomas. The stone altar shows four of its five original crosses cut in the top. An altar would have a piscina nearby for washing the vessels used at Mass. The piscina here has a trefoiled ogee-head and quartrefoil basin. On the opposite wall is a blocked fireplace.
The oak doors and stairway are delightful and a testament to the skills of local carpenters, smiths and masons. The upper room was the priest’s home complete with windows, commanding extensive views, fireplace, lavatory and a shuttered opening for keeping watch over the main alter. The exterior walls of the vestry are extraordinarily thick. One Warmington tradition was that it was used as a prison for recalcitrant monks!
A more credible and interesting suggestion is that the walls were so constructed to carry the weight of a tower. If this was indeed the plan, it was quickly abandoned, for soon after the vestry was built work started on the tower in the usual Warwickshire position at the west end of the nave.
The slightly different stonework on the exterior indicates the stages of its building. The tower is recessed slightly into the nave, presumably to accommodate it in the very limited land there was available for extending the church at the west end. A stair within the thickness of the wall gives access to the bell chamber and the roof. The flight is steep and the treads are worn down to the bottom of the risers. The present bells are dated 1602, 1613 and 1811.
There are many interesting gravestones in the churchyard, which were recorded by members of Warmington WI in a 1981 survey.
VICTORIA COUNTY HISTORY
This extract from the Victoria County History gives a very detailed description of the parish church.
The church stands directly on the east side of the main road from Banbury to Warwick at the top of a steep gradient and the village lies mostly to the northeast of it at a lower level. The parish church of ST. MICHAEL, or ST. NICHOLAS, consists of a chancel, north chapel with a priest’s chamber above it, nave, north and south aisles and porches and a west tower.
The nave dates from the 12th century; no detail is left to indicate its original date but it was of the proportion of two squares, common in the early 12th century. A north aisle was added first, about the middle of the 12th century, with an arcade of three bays; a south aisle followed, near the end of the 12th century, also with a three-bay arcade. After about a century a considerable enlargement was begun and continued over a period of half a century or more; the nave was lengthened eastwards about 10 ft. and a new chancel built. The extra length of the side walls added to the nave perhaps remained unpierced at first.
Although there is a general sameness in the Hornton stone ashlar walling throughout, all the various parts—chancel, chapel, aisles, and tower—have different plinths, &c., and there is a great variation in the elevations and details of the windows, showing constant changes from the 14th century, when there was much activity, onwards, probably because of decay and need for repair caused by the church’s exposed position on the brow of a hill.
The south aisle was widened to its present limits about 1290, on the evidence of the wide splays and other details of its windows; but an early-13th-century doorway was re-used. It is possible that the east part of the north aisle followed soon afterwards, c. 1300, as a kind of transeptal chapel, on the evidence of its east window, which differs from the other aisle windows. From c. 1330–40 much was done. The chancel arch was widened, new bays to match were inserted in the east lengths of the nave walls, making both arcades now of four bays, the widening of the whole of the north aisle was completed with the addition of the north porch. The 12th-century north arcade, which seems to have lost its inner order, was probably rebuilt. There is a curious distortion about both aisles, perhaps only explained by the widenings being made in more than one period; the north aisle tapers from west to east and the south aisle tapers from east to west, about a foot each, as compared with the lines of the arcades. The south porch was probably added about 1330.
About 1340 came also the addition of the chapel with the priest’s chamber above it. The north wall of the chancel, probably of the 13th century and thinner than any of the other walls, was kept to form the south wall of the chapel, but the other walls were made unusually thick, as though it was at first intended to raise a higher superstructure than was actually carried out, perhaps even a tower. If such was the intention it was quickly abandoned and the west tower was begun about 1340–5 and carried up to some two-thirds of its present height. There was not much room above the road-side and it had to encroach 2 or 3 ft. into the west end of the nave. The top stage was added or completed in the 15th century.
With the addition of the chapel, alterations were made to the chancel windows, but its south wall had to be rebuilt in the 15th century, when new and larger windows were inserted and the piscina and sedilia constructed.
There have been many repairs and renovations, notably in 1867 to the chancel and 1871 for the rest of the church, and others since then. The roofs have been entirely renewed, though probably more or less of the original forms of the 14th or 15th centuries.
The chancel (about 30½ft. by 16½ft.) has an east window of four trefoiled pointed lights and modern tracery of 14th-century character in a two-centred head with an external hood-mould having head-stops. The jambs and arch, of two moulded orders, and the hood-mould are early-14th-century. In the north wall is a 14th-century doorway into the chapel with jambs and ogee head of three moulded orders and a hoodmould with head-stops, the eastern a cowled man’s, the western a woman’s. It contains an ancient oak door, with stout diagonal framing at the back and hung with plain strap-hinges. At the west end of the wall are two windows close together; the eastern, of c. 1340, of two trefoiled ogee-headed lights and cusped piercings in a square head with an external label having decayed head-stops. It has a shouldered internal lintel which is carved with grotesque faces. The western is a narrower and earlier 14th-century window of two trefoiled ogee-headed lights and a quatrefoil, &c., in a square head with an external label.
The window at the west end of the south wall is similar. The other two are 15th-century insertions, each of two wide cinquefoiled three-centred lights under a square head with head-stops, one a cowled human head, the other beast-heads. The jambs and lintel of two sunk-chamfered orders are old, the rest restored. The rear lintel is also sunk-chamfered and is supported in the middle by a shaped stone bracket from the mullion.
The 14th-century priest’s doorway has jambs and two-centred ogee head of two ovolo-moulded orders and a cambered internal lintel; it has no hood-mould.
Below the south-east window is a 15th-century piscina with small side pilasters that have embattled heads, and a trefoiled ogee head enriched with crockets. The sill, which projects partly as a moulded corbel, has a round basin. West of it are three sedilia of the same character with cinquefoiled ogee heads also crocketed and with finials. At the springing level are carved human-head corbels: the cusp-points are variously carved, an acorn, a snake’s head, a skull, and foliage. The two outer are surmounted by crocketed and finialled gables and all are flanked and divided by pilasters with embattled heads and crocketed pinnacles.
The east wall is built of yellow-grey ashlar with a projecting splayed plinth; the gable-head has been rebuilt. At the south-east angle is a pair of square buttresses of two stages, probably later additions, as the plinth is not carried round them. Another at the former north-east angle has been restored. The south wall is of yellow ashlar but has a moulded plinth of the 15th century. The eaves have a hollow-moulded course with which the uprights of the 15th-century window-labels are mitred.
The 14th-century chancel arch has responds and pointed head of two ovolo-moulded orders interrupted at the springing line by the abacus.
The roof with arched trusses is modern and is covered with tiles.
The north chapel (about 12 ft. east to west by 17 ft. deep) is now used as the vestry, and dates from c. 1340. In its south wall, the thin north wall of the chancel, is a straight joint 3¼ft. from the east wall probably marking the east jamb of a former 13th-century window, and below it is the remnant of an early stringcourse that is chamfered on its upper edge. The east wall is 3 ft. 10 in. thick and the north wall 4 ft. 6 in. In the middle of each is a rectangular one-light window with moulded jambs and head of two orders and an external label; the internal reveals are half splayed and part squared at the inner edges and have a flat stone lintel. The lights were probably cusped originally. In the west wall is a filled-in square-headed fire-place, perhaps original. Partly in the recess of the east window and partly projecting is an ancient thick stone altarslab showing four of the original five crosses cut in the top. It has a hollow-chamfered lower edge and is supported by moulded stone corbels. South of it in the east wall is a piscina with a trefoiled ogee-head and hood-mould and a quatrefoil basin.
The stair-vice that leads up to the story above is in the south-west angle, its doorway being splayed westwards to avoid the doorway to the chancel. In it is an ancient oak door with one-way diagonal framing on the back. The turret projects externally to the west in the angle with the chancel wall; it is square in the lower part but higher is broadened northwards with a splay that is corbelled out below in three courses, the lowest corbel having a trefoiled ogee or blind arch cut in it. The top is tabled back up to the eaves of the chapel west wall. A moulded string-course passes round the projection and there is another half-way up the tabling. The doorway at the top of the spiral stair leading into the upper chamber has an ancient oak door hung with three strap-hinges.
The upper priest’s chamber has an east window of two plain square-headed lights, probably altered. In the north wall is a rectangular window that was of two lights but has lost its mullion. Outside it has a false pointed head of two trefoiled ogee-headed lights and leaf tracery, all of it blank, and a hood-mould with human-head stops, one cowled. Apparently this treatment was purely for decorative purposes, like the square-headed windows at Shotteswell and elsewhere. The south wall is pierced by a watching-hole into the chancel, which is fitted with an iron grill and oak shutter: it has been reduced from a larger opening that had an ogee head and hood-mould. There is a square-headed fire-place in the west wall and in the splayed north-west angle is the entrance to a garderobe or latrine, which is lighted by a north loop.
The walls are of yellow ashlar and have a plinth of two courses, the upper moulded, a moulded stringcourse at first-floor level, and moulded eaves-courses at the sides. The north wall is gabled and has a parapet with string-course and coping. At the angles are diagonal buttresses of two stages; the lower stage is 2½ft. broad up to the first-floor level, above this the upper stage is reduced to about half the breadth. They support square diagonal pinnacles with restored crocketed finials. The west wall is unpierced but above it is a plain square chimney-shaft with an open-side hood on top. Internally the walls are faced with whitish-brown ashlar. The gabled roof is modern and of two bays.
The nave (about 41½ft. by 16½ft.) has north and south arcades of four bays. The easternmost bay on each side, with the first pillar, is of the same detail and date as the chancel arch. They vary in span, the north being about 9 ft. and the south about 10 ft., and in both cases the span is less than those of the older bays. Those on the north side are of 11–12 ft. span and date from the middle of the 12th century. The pillars are circular, the west respond a half-circle, with scalloped capitals, 6 in. high and square in the deep-browed upper part and with a 4½in. grooved and hollowchamfered abacus. The bases are chamfered and stand on square sub-bases. The arches are pointed and of one square order with a plain square hood-mould, The voussoirs are small. The middle parts of the soffits are plastered between the flush inner ends of the voussoirs, suggesting a former inner order, abolished perhaps in a rebuilding of the heads.
The same three bays of the south side are of 11 ft. span and of late-12th-century date. The round pillars are rather more slender than the northern, and the capitals are taller, 12 in. high, with long and shallow scallops, and have 4 in. abaci like the northern. The bases are taller and moulded in forms approaching those of the 13th century, on chamfered square sub-bases.
The pointed arches are of one chamfered order and their hood-moulds are now flush with the plastered wall-faces above.
The half-round west responds of both arcades have been overlapped on the nave side by the east wall of the tower.
High above the 14th-century south-east respond is a 15th-century four-centred doorway to the former rood-loft. The stair-vice leading up to it is entered by a four-centred doorway in the east wall of the south aisle.
The north aisle (11½ft. wide at the east end and 12½ft. at the west) has an uncommon east window of c. 1300. It is of three plain-pointed rather narrow lights; above the middle light, which has a shorter pointed head than the others, is a circle enclosing a pierced five-pointed star, all in a two-centred head with an external hood-mould having defaced head-stops, and with a chamfered rear-arch.
Set fairly close together at the east end of the north wall are two tall windows of c. 1340, each of two trefoiled round-headed lights and foiled leaf-tracery below a segmental-pointed head with an ogee apex, the tracery coming well below the arch. The jambs are of two orders, the outer sunk-chamfered. The lights are wider and the splays of ashlar are more acute than those of the east window.
The third window near the west end is narrower and shorter and of two plain-pointed lights and an uncusped spandrel in a two-centred head: it is of much the same date as the east window. The jambs and head are of two hollow-chamfered orders and the fairly obtuse plastered splays have old angle-dressings. The segmental-pointed rear-arch is chamfered.
The north doorway, also of c. 1340, has jambs and two-centred head without a hood-mould; the segmental rear-arch is of square section. In it is an 18th-century oak door.
The three-light window in the west wall has jambs and splays like those of the north-west but its head has been altered; it is now of three trefoiled ogee-headed lights below a four-centred arch. The chamfered reararch is elliptical.
The walls are yellow ashlar with a chamfered plinth and parapets with moulded string-courses and copings that are continued over the east and west gables. Below the sills of the two north-east windows is a plain stringcourse. At the east angle is a pair of shallow square buttresses and a diagonal buttress at the west, all ancient. White ashlar facing is exposed inside between the two north-east windows only, the remainder being plastered. The gabled roof of trussed-rafter type is modern and covered with tiles.
The south aisle (13 ft. wide at the east end and 12 ft. at the west) has an east window of three plain-pointed lights, and three plain circles in plate tracery form, in a two-centred head with an external hood-mould having mask stops. The yellow stone jambs and head of two chamfered orders and the wide ashlar splays are probably of the late 13th century; the grey stone mullions and tracery are apparently old restorations but are probably reproductions of the original forms.
There are two south windows: the eastern is of two wide cinquefoiled elliptical-headed lights under a square main head with an external label with return stops. The jambs are of two moulded orders, the inner (and the mullion) with small roll-moulds, probably of the 13th century re-used when the window was refashioned in the 15th century. The wide splays are of rubble-work and there is a chamfered segmental reararch. The western is a narrower opening of two trefoiled-pointed lights, with the early form of soffit cusping, and early-14th-century tracery in a twocentred head: the jambs are of two chamfered orders and the wide splays are plastered, with ashlar dressings: the chamfered rear-arch is segmental pointed.
The reset south doorway has jambs and pointed head of two moulded orders with filleted rolls and undercut hollows of the early 13th century, divided by a three-quarter hollow more typical of a later period, and all are stopped on a single splayed base. The hoodmould has defaced shield-shaped head-stops. There are four steps down into the church through this doorway.
The window in the west wall is like that in the east but the three lights are trefoiled and the three circles in the two-centred head are quatrefoiled: the head is all restored work. The jambs are ancient and precisely like those of the square-headed south window, and the wide splays are of rubble-work.
The walls are of yellow fine-jointed ashlar and have plinths of two splayed courses, the upper projecting like that of the east chancel-wall, and plain parapets with restored copings. At the angles are old and rather shallow diagonal buttresses. There are three scratched sundials on the south wall, one, a complete circle, being on a west jambstone of the south-east window.
The gabled roof is modern like that of the north aisle.
The south porch is built of ashlar like that of the aisle but the courses do not tally and it has a different plinth, a plain hollow-chamfer. The gabled south wall has a parapet with a restored coping. The pointed entrance is of two orders, the inner ovolo-moulded, the outer hollow-chamfered, and has a hood-mould of 13thcentury form. There are side benches. The roof is modern but on the wall of the aisle are cemented lines marking the position of an earlier high-pitched roof at a lower level than the present one.
The north porch is of shallower projection. It has a gabled front with diagonal buttresses and coped parapet and a pointed entrance with jambs and head of two chamfered orders, the inner hollow, and a hood-mould with head-stops.
The west tower (about 9½ft. square) is of three stages divided by projecting splayed string-courses: it has a high plinth, with a moulded upper member and chamfered lower course, and a plain parapet. The walls are of yellow ashlar, that of the two upper stages being of rather rougher facing and in smaller courses than the lowest stage. At the west angles are diagonal buttresses reaching to the top of the second stage. There are no east buttresses but in the angle of the north wall with the end of the nave is a shallow buttress against the nave-wall. In the south-west angle, but not projecting, is a stair-vice with a pointed doorway in a splay, and lighted by a west loop. The archway to the nave has a two-centred head of two chamfered orders, the inner dying on the reveals, the outer mitring with the single chamfered order of the responds. It has large voussoirs. The wall on either side of the archway is of squared rough-tooled ashlar.
The 14th-century west doorway has jambs and pointed head of two wave-moulded orders divided by a three-quarter hollow, and a hood-mould with return stops. The head of the tall and narrow 14th-century west window is carried up into the second stage, its hood-mould springing from the string-course. It is of two trefoiled ogee-headed lights and a quatrefoil in a two-centred head: the jambs are of two chamfered orders.
There are no piercings in the second stage, but on the north side is a modern clock face.
The bell-chamber has 15th-century windows, each of two lights with depressed trefoiled ogee heads and uncusped tracery in which the mullion line is continued up to the apex of the two-centred head. The jambs are of two chamfered orders and there is no hood-mould.
The font is circular and dates probably from the 13th century. It has a plain tapering bowl, a short stem with a comparatively large 13th-century moulding at the top: a short base is also moulded.
In the vestry is an ancient iron-bound chest.
There are three bells, the first of 1811, the second of 1616, and the tenor of 1602 by Edward Newcombe.
The registers begin in 1636.
The church was valued at £8 6s. 8d. in 1291, and at £16 3s. 10d., in addition to a pension of 13s. 4d. payable to Witham Priory, in 1535. The advowson passed with the manor until 1602, when the patron was Richard Cooper. In 1628 William Hall and Edward Wotton, by concession of — Hill, the patron, presented Richard Wotton, who at the time of his wife’s death in 1637 was ‘rector and patron, of the church’. In 1681 and 1694 presentations were made by Thomas Farrer, and from 1726 till his death in 1764 the patronage was held by his son Thomas Farrer. His widow Alice held it in 1766, but by 1773 it had been divided between their two daughters, Mary wife of John Adams, and Elizabeth Farrer (1782) who afterwards married Hamlyn Harris. In 1802 Henry Bagshaw Harrison was patron and rector. He died in 1830, and by 1850 the advowson had been acquired by Hulme’s Trustees, in whose hands it has continued, so that they now present on two out of three turns to the combined living of Warmington and Shotteswell, which was annexed to it in 1927.
For a list of rectors and clergy of Warmington see the ‘trades and occupations’ section of the site.
For more information about the church bells click here.