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THE CHURCH GUIDE
The Parish Church in Ebrington stands in a commanding position in one of the highest parts of the village. It looks over a fertile vale to the hills of the Cotswold borderland. Despite being now almost encircled by trees, its short and sturdy Tower is still a landmark for miles around.
ST. EADBURGHA is the patron saint. Not much is known of this Saxon saint, but what little we know is of great interest. She is patron of Pershore Abbey and, more locally, of the ‘old’ Church at Broadway and a few others in the Worcestershire / Gloucestershire area. It is known that Eadburgha was a daughter of King Edward the Elder – a son of King Alfred the Great and, at an early age, she was sent to the Abbey in Winchester founded by King Alfred’s widow. In due course she became an Abbess, and therefore a woman of great power and prestige in her day. Her relics were preserved at Pershore. St. Eadburgha’s patronal festival is held annually on the Sunday nearest to the 15th of June.
Like most ancient Churches, St. Eadburgha’s in Ebrington has been altered, enlarged and restored many times. It is believed that the Tower and the south (main internal) doorway of the present building date from the 13th century. The Church consists of a chancel, a nave and three bays with a south transept aisle, south doorway porch, a blocked north door and an embattled west Tower.
THE SOUTH DOORWAY PORCH is now the main entrance to the Church. Inside this porch lies a stone coffin, without its lid – probably belonging to the Saxon period. Opposite, below the quatrefoil window, there is a leper’s seat offering a view into the south aisle. There was originally a view to the chancel through a squint, or hagioscope, but this was blocked up in the course of the Victorian restoration.
THE SOUTH DOORWAY is Norman and shows three rows of chevrons supported on pillars. On one of the capitals a manikin with outstretched arms is carved and, on another, a much worn head wearing a crown. The diaper pattern of the tympanum is as clear today as when it was first carved some nine centuries ago. In the drastic restoration of 1875-6, the jamb shafts were renewed by masonry of inferior workmanship.
THE SOUTH DOOR is of oak, hardened and blackened with age and is held on iron hinges of great antiquity. It is held fast on the inside by an oak beam some six feet in length and, when not in use, this mighty bolt slides accommodatingly into a slot in the masonry.
On entering the Church, the now bricked up arch of the former, north door, often called the ‘Devil's doorway', is clearly visible straight ahead.
The worn steps and pedestal of the STONE FONT are 13th century and the bowl has a carved rose on each of the eight panels.
Immediately above the font hangs our 2002 chandelier, which came from China, and is in memory of a former Ebrington villager.
To the left of the font on the west wall, on either side of the doorway to the Tower, can be seen ST. PAUL’S ADMONITIONS TO HUSBANDS AND WIVES. These make interesting reading. The plaster base on which these are applied was becoming badly decayed and recently was the subject of a Parish restoration project.
Proceeding forward down the aisle, on the left (north) wall, is the restored 1725 ROYAL COAT OF ARMS. Originally this was hung high up on the west wall above the doorway to the Tower. A carved plaque commemorates the fact that this restoration took place to celebrate the Golden Wedding year of HM Queen Elizabeth II in 1997.
A translation of the Greek inscription in the Coat of Arms, which is from the Septuagint version of Isaiah 49 v. 23, and was offered recently by a visitor to our Church as “And kings shall be your nursing fathers …“., alternatively a more literal translation is "there will be kings for our foster-fathers". The mystery remains however, exactly why this quotation is part of this Royal Coat of Arms ?
Further, on the left, stands the canopied OAK PULPIT. This is ornamented with simple flower and leaf designs and is notable for its fine sounding board. An inscription under the canopy tells that it was a gift of John Arras of Charringworth in 1679.
Proceeding into the Chancel and within the communion rail standing on the north side of the Sanctuary is the freestone TOMB of SIR JOHN FORTESCUE, LORD CHANCELLOR, which dates back to the beginning of the 16th century. It is one of the historical features of the county and was restored in 1765 and again in 1861. The painted effigy presents him as Lord Chief Justice in a long full robe with wide sleeves and narrow upright collar with the Official cloak fastened on the left shoulder beneath the ermine tippet and hood. The head lies on a square tasselled cushion set diagonally with a supporting angel at each side. The feet, in pointed shoes, rest on a lion – a symbol of the British Constitution – for Sir John Fortescue, appointed Lord Chief Justice because of his loyalty to the House of Lancaster, wrote several learned books on the Law. Sir John suffered attainder for treason, but, at 80 years of age, after the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471, he was pardoned by King Edward IV, the attainder reversed and he returned to live out the rest of his days at Ebrington where he died in 1484. This is the earliest authenticated record of Ebrington’s reputation for the longevity of its inhabitants !
Opposite, on the south wall of the Sanctuary, is the ALTAR TOMB of SIR WILLIAM KEYTE. It shows five Coats of Arms. Lower along the Chancel, also against the south wall, are the marble busts of Sir John Keyte (died 1662) and his wife Margaret. During the civil War, Sir John raised a troop of horse at his own expense for King Charles I. Following the Restoration of the Monarchy, in 1660, he was created a Baronet by King Charles II.
THE EAST WINDOW dates from 1964. It was designed by Christopher Webb of St. Albans in Hertfordshire and is signed by him in the lower right hand corner. The centre depicts our Lord in the countryside; the outer panels, a shepherd, carpenter and other workers - including a man with a tractor - thus carrying the countryside into more contemporary times.
Fragments of ENGLISH and FLEMISH GLASS from the 16th century can be seen in the south window of the Chancel. One shows Joseph and his brethren, another a delightfully free representation of a man sowing with a bird flying by his side.
The elaborately carved (singing) LECTERN came from Germany and is a relatively recent acquisition. It dates from the 17th century.
In the SOUTH TRANSEPT there are other memorials to the Keyte (or Keyt) family - who held a manor in the Parish of Ebrington for three centuries. They include an ancient defaced tomb in the south aisle with a coat of arms on the front. In the stained glass window above are the Keyt and Coventry arms. Nearby is the location of the hagioscope, close to the now blocked-up doorway to the former rood loft.
Returning toward the south door, on the wall to the left is a tablet commemorating the unique EBRINGTON COW CHARITY. A bequest dating from 1632 was made by William Keyte whose Will stated that 'the milk of ten good and sufficient milch kine to the poor of Ebrington from May 10th to November 1st annually forever'. The milking was so arranged that two families shared the milk of ten cows every tenth day. The bequest was confirmed by a Deed executed in 1747 by Sir Thomas Charles Keyte, Baronet, lineal descendant and representative of the original donor. However, milk rationing in the 1939-45 War made the charity difficult to administer and in 1952, by general consent, it was commuted and transferred into a money trust which exists to this day. A plaque is placed to this effect. The Vicar and Churchwardens are among those appointed as Trustees.
THE TOWER holds a peal of six bells. Of the six bells, five are 17th century originals and cast by the Bagley family of itinerant bell-founders - the earliest of which is inscribed 'William Bagley made mee - 1642'. The Treble weighs some 5 Cwt and the Tenor over 12 Cwt. The bells continue to be rung regularly for Services by the current generation of local ringers, as well as being rung to celebrate the dawn on the shortest day (St. Thomas' Day) - another local tradition. Visitors are also welcome to watch the Monday evening practice.
Also in the Tower is Ebrington's 'faceless', or 'blind' clock that chimes the hours. There are very few clocks without hands or face in the country and according to local tradition, supported by more recent research, it was made by a village blacksmith around 1748. The mechanism is on the first floor and has a novel crown escapement. Both the clock and the chiming mechanism have to be wound daily by hand with some 100 pulls on each windlass - a heavy task undertaken by a long and continuing succession of villagers.
In common with other bell towers it is hazardous to allow unsupervised visits. Unless ringing is taking place the door to the narrow spiral belfry staircase is kept locked.
Once a year, visitors are allowed to ascend to the roof and enjoy one of the best views of the village.
High up on the west door in the Tower are FOUR CARVED HEADS which may have well belonged to the Norman church. A well-worn fifth head was recently discovered buried in the churchyard and now is positioned high on the south side of the nave.
The CHURCHYARD has several ancient yews and tall dark trees sheltering a good collection of headstones, many hoary with lichen. Some date back to the 17th century. There is a right-of-way through the churchyard leading to Campden Road.
Outside the Church, above the chancel door on the south side is a SUNDIAL dated 1625 next to a heraldic tablet carved with the Keyte arms. There are also a number of Mass dials and several memorial tablets, the lettering of which has been nearly obliterated by the passage of the centuries.
Under the East Window lies a 14th century STONE COFFIN LID. The cross, carved on it, suggests that it commemorated an important religious figure. It has been suggested that this may be the burial place of a Knight Crusader.
This 2014 guide, re-edited by Peter Banton, updates previous work by the late David Lambert-Humble in 1998, and is based on the 1969 edition written by the late Ebrington author and historian, EDITH BRILL.
© Ebrington Parochial Church Council 2024
- St Eadburgha's Church
- Chipping Campden
- GL55 6NG