St Lawrence Church, Gnosall, Stafford, Staffs, UK
In the year 669 AD, St. Chad was sent to be the first Bishop of the newly established Kingdom of Mercia. He had been brought up in the Celtic traditions of Lindisfarne, but, following the Synod of Whitby, he accepted the authority of Rome. He established his Bishopric at Lichfield and, for three years, until his death, he travelled throughout the area. He is recalled through many local place names such as Chadwell, Great Chatwell and St. Chad’s Well. He must also have trodden our local pathways.
To maintain and spread the Christian faith, the Saxon Church set up Monasteries, Minster churches and mendicant Friars. In this area Stafford, Penkridge and “Geneshall” had Minster churches, which were of a collegiate nature.
For well over a thousand years, perhaps as many as 1200 years and despite visitations from Vikings, Danes, vandals such as the more extreme Cromwellians, and a few latter day misguided individuals, a great building, dedicated to Christian worship, has stood on the sandstone outcrop, overlooking the Doley brook. This ancient Minster has become the Parish Church of St. Lawrence, Gnosall. Wherever you are in the Church, you can look across years of history, of change and of effort. It is recorded in the will and testament of Roger de Pershale, Lord of Knyghtley, who died in the 15th century, that the church was once referred to as “The Blessed Peter and Paul of Gnosall”. (This information was taken from a paper by the late Geoffrey Robotham)
Imagine, if you can, a small stone “chapel” in the area of what is now called ” the crossing”,- rather dark, lit by candles and probably cold and draughty. Outside, near the churchyard would have been a few thatched houses, single storied, and, very close to the “chapel”, a dwelling for the four “monks” who served the place of worship and the local community. They were financed by the income from four “small holdings” or “prebendal manors”, owned by the Church.
These were called Chilternhalle, Morehalle, Sukarshalle and Merehalle. These names are still associated with certain places in the area. They were owned by the Cathedral. The “four clerks” recorded were the “Prebends of Gnosall”.
A plan view of the Church as it may well have looked in the 12th Century, illustrated below, it shows the nave, the chancel, the transepts and “the crossing.
The Norman Era
The Norman Conquest made little immediate difference to village life or to the way in which the Church was organized. In the Domesday Book, we have the first written records of Gnosall. The community flourished and a second building phase was undertaken, resulting in the Saxon church being over-built in the new, Norman, style. This had a tower, supported by massive piers with rounded arches, a nave, a chancel and transepts.
Aisles were added to the nave, possibly to improve the lighting. If you look up from the outside or the inside of the building you can see the old lines of the 13th century roof and the height of the added aisles.
Outside and inside views showing the lines of the 13th century roof. The fine Gothic style three stepped West lancet window was also installed in the 13th century. This west window lets in the rosy light of the setting sun, to bathe the church and dazzle the Vicar in his/her stall under the Chancel arch
The tower was heightened to 22 metres (72 feet). More space was required for a growing population who in turn, needed more light; new thinking in the Church generally laid more emphasis on Christianity as a “bringer of light” and this was reflected locally as the roof was raised to make way for clerestory (upper storey) windows and Gothic style West window the side aisles heightened and enlarged.
Most of the windows have ogee-headed lights under a segmented arch and are glazed with clear glass; earlier there would have been fine mediaeval stained glass. However, if you look carefully at the windows in the Chancel and the Lady Chapel you can still see odd pieces of this mediaeval stained glass.
The next major change was that which took place during the Reformation, when the rood screen was removed and the church “re-ordered” to fit in, once more, with developments in theological thinking and the demands of a changing population. Until this time, the services had been conducted, in Latin, behind the screen, between the nave and the chancel; after the Reformation, the whole church was more “open” in an architectural and liturgical sense.
In the early 19th century, the walls were all plastered and a gallery inserted with an external stairway through the west lancet windows. Improving texts on the walls were in vogue: an example of this can be seen under the tower by the pulpit -(station 3). The gallery was needed to accommodate the increase in population and the fact that they were all required to attend church regularly. The pews were all box pews and the preacher, high in the old three decker pulpit, could see who was asleep, and signal to one of the churchwardens to wake the siumberer with a tap from the warden’s stave – you can see the two staves at the rear of the nave.
In the late 1870’s, all the plaster was scraped or hacked off, destroying many of the old mediaeval frescoes; the gallery was removed, the pulpit replaced and the pews, as we see them today, installed. At the same time the old organ was removed and the present one installed. Records show that there had been an organ in the church as early as 1553.
Further developments in liturgical thinking brought more changes; the “Nave” altar (actually sited in the crossing beneath the tower); the baptistry; choir stalls; electric lights; central heating.
This gives you a general introduction to the church and a sketch of its long and varied history.
For details re graveyard and grave stones please see the links tab to www.gnosallhistory.co.uk