Woodchester - The Annunciation

St Mary’s Hill, Inchbrook, Woodchester, Stroud, Gloucestershire GL5

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A magnificent church of the 1840s, by a major Catholic architect and a testament to the deep faith of its founder. There is a fine collection of fittings and furnishings, and the building is little altered. It was the centrepiece of a complex of priory buildings, sadly mostly demolished in 1970. On the approach to the church a wayside cross of 1917 is an early example of a permanent memorial to the dead of the Great War. The church occupies a commanding position overlooking the main road.  

William Leigh was a landowner from Staffordshire with lucrative property interests in Australia. Disillusioned with the Established Church, he converted to Catholicism in 1844. In 1845 he bought the Woodchester estate from Lord Ducie and, as a thank-offering for his conversion, and guided by the Superior of the Passionists, the charismatic Italian Fr Dominic Barberi, he planned to finance a new religious community at the east end of his property. Pugin was invited to make designs but withdrew when Leigh decided to scale down the church. The commission then passed to Charles Francis Hansom. The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Ullathorne, Vicar Apostolic of the Western District, on 26 November 1846 and the church was consecrated by the Bishop Hendren, Vicar Apostolic on 10 October 1849, when the monastery was also inaugurated.

In 1850 the Dominicans took over from the Passionists. The priory buildings were completed in 1853, also to Hansom’s designs (figure 1). The establishment was canonically raised to priory status in 1854 and became the novitiate for the English Province of the Order. Several well-known figures in English Catholicism studied here, including Cardinal Bourne of Westminster, Vincent McNabb and Bede Jarrett, and several local missions and parishes were served from here.

From 1855 Leigh’s own house, Woodcheste Mansion, was under construction. Designed by Benjamin Bucknall, who had worked in Charles Hansom’s office, this was unfinished at the time of Leigh’s death in 1873. Long abandoned, it is now in the care of the Woodchester Mansion Trust.

In 1917 a memorial to the dead of the First World War was erected on the hillside in front of the priory (figure 3). A simple wooden cross funded through public subscription, this is an early example of a permanent memorial to the dead of the Great War; most were commissioned after November 1918. Before this, it was the anniversary of the outbreak of war (4 August) which was known as Remembrance Day, and it was on this day in 1918 that Cardinal Bourne preached at the ‘wayside cross’ (as described in The Tablet, which published the sermon). The names recorded on the memorial are not just those of Catholics, but of local people generally. Amongst the Catholics recorded is George Archer-Shee, ‘The Winslow Boy’ (see report for St Mary-on-the-Quay, Bristol). 

 

The priory buildings closed in 1966 and, grievously, were mostly demolished in 1970. The remaining friars moved to St Mary’s Hill House (now the presbytery) until 1985, when care of the parish passed to the diocese. Extensive works of repair and restoration took place in 1989. Today the church is served from Stonehouse and the presbytery at Woodchester is let.

 

The church receives a very full description in the listing entry (below) and repetition is unnecessary. However, a few additional points may be noted:

  • Hansom’s rood screen remains in situ, and a sanctuary platform and stone forward altar have been placed in front.
  • William Leigh is buried in the (south) chapel of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (Leigh had been received into the Catholic Church on their feast day, 10 March). His memorial was erected by his widow; Leigh is shown vested in the robes of a Knight of St Gregory. Beneath the chapel is a crypt containing the family vault.
  • The Last Judgement painting over the sanctuary arch dates from 1849. It is by Henry Doyle (uncle of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), and is influenced by the work of William Dyce. Its restoration was completed this year (2015) and now may be properly seen once again.
  • Stained glass: the original windows are by William Wailes of Newcastle. Three in the aisles are by Hardman from the late 1890s. More interesting are two in the north aisle, one a rare signed work by Saunders, the other apparently Continental work of c.1884. In the south aisle is a reset window of 1936 by Henry and Edward Payne from the former chapel at Hampton Green near Box.

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Roman Catholic Church of OUR LADY OF THE ANNUNCIATION, boundary walls and railings

LIST DESCRIPTION:

Name: CHURCH OF OUR LADY OF THE ANNUNCIATION

List entry Number: 1340700

Location: CHURCH OF OUR LADY OF THE ANNUNCIATION, ST MARY’S HILL

Grade: I

Date first listed: 23-Jan-1985

Date of most recent amendment: 21-Sep-2017

 

Summary of Building

A Roman Catholic parish church, built in 1846-9 to designs by Charles Hansom as a Dominican priory church, endowed by William Leigh; with associated boundary walls and railings.

Reasons for Designation

The Church of the Annunciation, a Roman Catholic monastic church of 1846-9 by Charles Hansom, is listed at Grade I, for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: the church is a fine piece of mid-Victorian Catholic church building, its restrained, Decorated Gothic style handled with his customary lightness and precision by Hansom; * Historic interest: the church formed the centrepiece of a priory constructed by Charles Hansom for William Leigh in the early 1850s, one of the very earliest to be built after the Emancipation; the priory then served as the Novitiate for the English Province of the Dominican Order for over a century; * Degree of Survival: the building has remained almost entirely unaltered since its completion, save for the addition of further glass and additional fittings, and the creation of a sympathetic dais for the forward altar; * Interior: the interior is of high quality in its design and execution, and is richly decorated for a former monastic church; * Fittings: the fittings are extensive and remarkably lavish, particularly in the context of a monastic church; those designed by the architect for their respective positions are of very high quality in design and craftsmanship.

History

The religious communities at Woodchester were founded and largely funded by William Leigh, a landowner from Staffordshire with lucrative property interests in Australia. Disillusioned with the Established Church, he converted to Catholicism in 1844. In 1845 he bought the Woodchester estate from Lord Ducie; from 1855, he began to build on the estate his own house, designed by Benjamin Bucknall; the house, known as Woodchester Mansion, was left unfinished at his death in 1873. In thanks for his conversion, and guided by the charismatic Italian Fr Dominic Barberi, the Superior of the Passionists, he planned to finance a new religious community at the E end of his property. AWN Pugin was invited to make designs but withdrew when Leigh decided to scale down the church. The commission then passed to Charles Francis Hansom, the eminent Catholic architect, son of Joseph Hansom. His church was built at a cost of £9,000. The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Ullathorne, Vicar Apostolic of the Western District, on 26 November 1846 and the church was consecrated by the Bishop Hendren, Vicar Apostolic on 10 October 1849, when the monastery was also inaugurated. In 1850 the Dominicans took over from the Passionists. The priory buildings were completed in 1853, also to Hansom’s designs. A model of Hansom’s priory is preserved within the church. The establishment was canonically raised to priory status in 1854, and became the novitiate for the English Province of the Order. William Leigh, on his death in 1873, was buried in the crypt, and an elaborate tomb was erected by his widow in the south chapel of the church; his effigy shows him holding a model of the priory church. Other family members are also interred in the crypt. A Franciscan convent, later occupied by the Poor Clares, was built in 1861-9 a short distance to the N, also designed by Charles Hansom. The convent closed in 2011. 
The priory buildings closed in 1966 and were mostly demolished in 1970, leaving the church as the parish church, standing in partly-cleared grounds. The remaining friars moved to St Mary’s Hill House (now the presbytery) until 1985, when care of the parish passed to the diocese. Extensive works of repair and restoration took place in 1989. In 2000, the interior was reordered, with the temporary forward altar replaced with a new, permanent stone altar on a shallow sanctuary platform. The floor was tiled with Minton tiles manufactured to match the originals in the chancel. The painting of the Last Judgement over the chancel arch, by Henry Doyle, was cleaned and restored in 2015.

Details

A Roman Catholic parish church, built in 1846-9 to designs by Charles Hansom as a Dominican priory church, endowed by William Leigh; with associated boundary walls and railings.
MATERIALS: Local limestone with Cotswold limestone slates.
PLAN: The building is orientated NE-SW, but liturgical compass points are used in the remainder of this description. The church has nave with N and S aisles, and N and S porches; chancel with S chapel; crypt; and part of the E range of the former priory cloister to N, housing vestry, sacristy and meeting room. 
EXTERIOR: The church is in Decorated Gothic style, set on ground which slopes steeply to the E, allowing a crypt under the eastern end. Entrance is via the moulded, pointed S doorway, the porch arch having attached octagonal column shafts in the parapet gabled end, and quatrefoil side openings. The buttressed aisles have two-light windows with Decorated tracery; there are similar, smaller two-light windows to the nave clerestorey. The offset buttressed W end has a heavily-moulded pointed doorway, and a four-light W window with Decorated tracery. Chancel and chapel windows are each of three lights. The large five-light E window has elaborate tracery including a rose containing three spherical triangles. Part of the former priory range to the N has trefoil-headed casements with narrow trefoil lancets to the lower floor. The tower is set in the angle with the priory range; it has clasping buttresses, and an octagonal belfry with broaching to the short spire, brought down below the belfry openings, resulting in spherical triangle openings to each face, and trefoil-headed openings with pierced screens below those, on the cardinal faces only. The striking design is emphasised by the positioning of the octagonal stair turret in the NW corner. The small, cross-gabled N porch was formerly linked with the W range of the priory buildings.
INTERIOR: The nave arcades are of six bays, having octagonal columns with moulded feet and capitals, and pointed arches. The wall shafts are set between, with carved head stops and foliage capitals, each one different, supporting the scissor-braced-trussed nave roof. The pews date from the C20. At the W end of the nave is an elaborate chest tomb with the robed effigy of Francis Nicholson, Archbishop of Corfu (d 1855). The large, octagonal stone pulpit with stone steps has carved symbols of the Evangelists in painted and gilded quatrefoils matching those on the screens. The high-relief Stations of the Cross are in panels set into the walls of the aisles and W end of the nave. Tall, canopied statue niches with ornate decoration are set at either side of the E end of the nave; that to the N houses a statue of St Dominic, that to the S a statue of the Virgin. 
The high, moulded chancel arch has a wall painting by Henry Doyle (1827-92) above, depicting the Last Judgement. The five-bay stone rood screen, by Charles Hansom, has cusped and crocketed tracery and carved angel enrichment to the string moulding, and trefoil piercing above. The lower panels have sculpted demi-angels in quatrefoils, painted and gilded, holding shields and symbols of the Passion. Above is the rood, a large painted and gilded Crucifixion flanked by statues of the Virgin Mary and St John. The chancel has a six-sided, painted, panelled ceiling which includes religious symbols. The floor is tiled with richly-coloured Minton tiles in various geometric designs; marble steps ascend towards the high altar, which remains in situ. The altar and reredos are painted and extensively gilded; the reredos has sculpted angels in crocketed niches to either side; the altar front has figurative scenes including the Crucifixion at the centre, in quatrefoil panels matching those on the screens. The triple-arched sedilia to the S side steps down towards the W. At its E side is a shouldered-arched piscina. The C19 choir stalls have carved head ends. A pointed-arched doorway to the N, with head stops, gives access to the remaining part of the former monastic buildings, which include the sacristy and a first-floor meeting room.
In the S aisle, the W end is screened off with a low, Gothic timber balustrade, to create a baptistery; the stone font is octagonal, with panels with symbols of the Evangelists, similar to those on the screen. The floor has polychrome Minton tiles. The E end of the aisle forms the Chapel of the Forty Martyrs of St Sebaste, divided from the aisle by a three-bay stone screen matching that in the nave. Set under the arch between the chapel and the choir is the elaborate alabaster tomb of William Leigh (d 1873) by Richard Boulton, his effigy attended by an angel, with a lion at his feet; he holds a model of the church. The N aisle has an altar at its W end, against the W wall, a relatively simple stone table with stencilled decoration. Against the N wall is the altar of the Rosary, added circa 1894; in stone, the reredos has a high, canopied niche at the centre.
The original stained glass windows are by William Wailes of Newcastle. Three in the aisles are by Hardman, installed in the late 1890s. In the N aisle is a rare signed work by WG Saunders, and a continental window of circa 1884. In the S aisle is a reset window of 1936 by Edward Payne, Arts and Crafts designers, brought here from the former chapel at Hampton Green near Box.
The crypt, accessed from the outside of the church on the S side, runs under the E end of the nave and chancel, and the remaining part of the E range of the monastic buildings. The crypt is vaulted, the ceiling carried on robust stone piers of square section with chamfers. At the E end, directly under the high altar, is a simple altar table carried on three slender piers, with foliate carving to the capitals. Under the S aisle chapel is the Leigh family vault, with burials in a stone matrix behind closing stones with carved inscriptions. The crypt continues under the stub of the monastic range, which has vaulted storage. 
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: The churchyard has a public access from the S, through a gateway in the boundary wall. The path to the S porch is flanked by wrought iron RAILINGS of unusual design: widely-spaced barley-twist uprights support a continuous top rail with scrolled ends, from which rise tapering finials with ball tops. 
The BOUNDARY WALLS of the present churchyard are a mixture of the original boundary walls and the remains of the monastic buildings demolished in 1970. They surround the space on two sides, and are irregular in their height, layout and construction. The original boundary walls have angled coping stones. There is a stretch of high retaining wall to the W.

 

 
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WAYSIDE CROSS War Memorial east of the Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation

 

LIST DESCRIPTION:

Name: WAR MEMORIAL TO EAST OF CHURCH OF OUR LADY OF THE ANNUNCIATION

List entry Number: 1359595

Location: WAR MEMORIAL TO EAST OF CHURCH OF OUR LADY OF THE ANNUNCIATION, BATH ROAD

Grade: II

Date first listed: 27-Feb-2002

Date of most recent amendment: 01-Dec-2017

Summary of Building

A First World War memorial in the form of a wayside cross, dedicated in 1917.

Reasons for Designation

The wayside cross war memorial at Woodchester, erected in 1917, is listed at Grade II, for the following principal reasons:
Historic interest:
* as an eloquent witness to the tragic impact of world events on the local community, and the sacrifice it made in the conflicts of the C20; * for its relatively early date, as one of a group erected across the country before the end of the First World War.
Architectural interest:
* for its design, in particular the well-executed cruciform stone plinth with good quality inscriptions to the panels.
Group value:
* with the Grade I-listed Church of the Annunciation.

History

This war memorial is prominently located on a hillside below the Grade I-listed Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation, built in 1846-1847 to the designs of Charles Hansom as a church for the Dominican Priory at Woodchester. The Priory was responsible for the memorial's erection in 1917. The memorial was conceived by Father Hugh Pope, Prior of Woodchester, in 1915, following the deaths of Maurice Dease and George Archer-Shee (see below). Father Hugh wanted a tangible way to commemorate their deaths, and that of the garden boy from the Priory, Jack Quinn, who died in conflict shortly after. He felt that a wayside cross like those set up as shrines in contintental Europe would be a suitable memorial, set up on the high ground by the roadside below the priory. The memorial was funded by public subscriptions from members of all faiths and classes from across the Stroud valleys, with contributions from subscribers across the country and others from elsewhere in the world. By July 1916 an initial £100 had been collected, and the work was put in the hands of a sculptor. A figure intended for the memorial was carved in London, but was lost during the railway journey towards Woodchester. The memorial was completed in 1917 and was dedicated on 3 June 1917 by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clifton, in front of a crowd of up to 5,000 people. The first service of remembrance was held at the cross on 4 August 1918, attended by various dignitaries including Cardinal Bourne, the then Catholic Primate.
Among those commemorated is George Archer-Shee, who went missing in action, presumed dead, on 31 October 1914 at the First Battle of Ypres, at the age of nineteen. Of particular historic note is the false accusation of theft and forgery that was made against him (relating to a five-shilling postal order), while a 13 year old cadet at the Royal Naval College at Osborne, which resulted in his expulsion in 1908. This eventually resulted in a sensational High Court case in July 1910, at which he was cleared of any wrongdoing. Substantial damages were eventually paid to Archer-Shee’s father, but only following a forced House of Commons debate. It has been claimed that the opposition to the granting of compensation was probably due in part to a prejudicial attitude to the Catholic faith of the family. The acquittal followed a successful defence mounted by Sir Edward Carson and became a cause célèbre for the protection of human rights (especially those of a minor) from harsh and unfair treatment by the establishment. The case was dramatised, and Archer-Shee himself immortalised, by Terence Rattigan in his play ‘The Winslow Boy’ in 1946, which was filmed by Anthony Asquith in 1948 starring Robert Donat. The play has been regularly produced ever since, and further television and film versions made. 
Following the completion of his education at Stonyhurst College in 1912, George Archer-Shee travelled to America to work for Wall Street firm Fisk and Robinson. He returned to England in 1913 to enlist in the army, and on 3 May was commissioned into the Special Reserve of Officers as a Second Lieutenant with the Third Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment. A few days before Archer-Shee went missing in action at Ypres, Sir Edward Carson’s nephew, Francis E Robinson, fell on the same battlefield. Both are among those commemorated on the Menin Gate at Ypres, and Archer-Shee is included on the Roll of Honour at the Church of St Mary on the Quay, Bristol. Archer-Shee’s widowed mother and sister lived in Woodchester at the time of his death, in a house called Littleholme that has since been renamed Winslow House. 
Maurice Dease (1889-1914), recipient of the first posthumously-awarded Victoria Cross, is also commemorated. Dease was decorated for his actions on 23 August 1914, at the Nimy Bridge at Mons in Belgium, which was being defended by a single company of the 4th Royal Fusiliers, and a machine-gun section with Dease in command. Under intense gunfire during which his company took heavy casualties, Dease continued firing on the enemy despite being repeatedly wounded. After his fifth wound, he was too badly injured to continue and was removed. The London Gazette reported the circumstances of his death: “Though two or three times badly wounded he continued to control the fire of his machine guns at Mons on 23rd Aug., until all his men were shot. He died of his wounds.” (London Gazette, 16 November 1914). 
The other lives commemorated on the memorial were of local men of all classes and creeds, whose sacrifice was no less tragic than that of George Archer-Shee and Maurice Dease. Any local family could request the addition of a name, regardless of whether or not they were able to contribute to the cost of the memorial. 
The Calvary portion of the memorial has been altered several times since its completion. The original figure of the crucified Christ was removed by the mid-C20, and replaced by another, much smaller, in the 1960s, donated by Newman Henders, a large manufacturer whose factory was situated on the opposite side of the road from the cross. This figure was lost by the 1990s, together with the canopy over the timber cross, whose arms have also been shortened in length. The place of the figure was taken by a ceramic floral wreath in the late C20. From 2014-2017, the stone elements were repaired, and the inscriptions recut. The repaired memorial was re-dedicated by Bishop Declan of Clifton on 10 June 2017 to mark the centenary of its original dedication, in a service attended by the Princess Royal and other local dignitaries.

Details

A First World War memorial in the form of a wayside cross, dedicated in 1917.
MATERIALS: limestone for the plinth, with a timber cross.
PLAN: the plinth is aligned as a cross with equal length arms.
DESCRIPTION: the memorial stands on a terrace on steeply sloping land below the Church of the Annunciation, the last remaining element of the former Priory at Woodchester. It takes the form of a timber wayside cross, set at the centre of a stone plinth aligned as a cross. The latter is built of coursed limestone rubble with ashlar coping, with the names of the fallen inscribed on ashlar panels to each face of the walls. A flight of steps leads down to a path, the later C20 wooden gate onto Bath Road having ashlar piers extending to stone-coped rubble dwarf walls and similar outer piers.

 

 

Last updated: 4.12.17.

Diocese: Clifton

Architect: Charles F. Hansom

Original Date: 1849

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade I