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A Short History of the Chapelry of St. Nicholas, by Dr. Christopher Kent, F.S.A.

The hamlet of Tytherton Lucas lies some three miles North-East of Chippenham in the valley of the Bristol Avon near its confluence with its tributary, the Marden. The earliest evidence of a church on this site stems from the oval shape of much of the churchyard wall (disregarding the rectangular extension on the South side which is a 19th century enlargement), which may suggest that the present largely medieval building may have been on the site of a Saxon precursor.

It is documented in the Domesday Survey of 1086 which records that Burghelm (Borel) held two hides of land, and that William Hard held four hides in Terintone or Tedlintone. The term hide first referred to the amount of land that could be ploughed annually by eight oxen. This was reckoned to be between 160 and 180 acres, and was used as a unit of tax in the Domesday Book. Hard stemmed from the Lucas family, who in 1202, owned one Knight’s fee, under the aegis of the Barons Tregoz. A ‘Knight’s Fee’, sometimes termed ‘Knight’s service’, was a feudal obligation to provide the Sovereign with an armed Knight plus retainers for forty two days per year. This form of reserve military service had been introduced by Henry II in 1181 in return for the occupation of lands.

In the fourteenth century the owners of the Tytherton Knight's Fee included William Percelay, John Turpyn and Walter Scudamore. Sir John Delamare also held land here in addition to that at Leigh Delemare and Langley Burrel where his tomb can be seen in the church. Of the medieval village little remains, although Field's and Gaston's farms can trace their names to this period. Some recent archaeological research has revealed evidence of post holes, possibly associated with dwellings, and aerial photography has shown land contours which may also relate to former structures. The undulations of some fields in the environs of the hamlet are vestiges of medieval ridge and furrow cultivations.

The history of the chapelry has been closely connected with St. Andrew's Parish Church, Chippenham. About 1150 the tithes of Chippenham and Tytherton Lucas were granted by Empress Matilda to the Cluniac Priory of Monkton Farleigh. After 1272 the tithes no longer passed to the Prior but to the Vicar of Chippenham who was required to pay the Prior 40 shillings per annum and provide for services at St. Nicholas at his own cost.

In 1553 the Priory drew an income of £43 18s. from eight churches in Wiltshire and one in Somerset, and £11 15s. 8d. in pensions or portions from 14 churches in Wiltshire. It received £162 1s 8.5d. from nine manors in Wiltshire, one in Gloucestershire, and other properties in Wiltshire, Somerset and Lincolnshire. All the demesnes except Farleigh were leased. The lease of Chippenham rectory had recently led to an auction in Chancery by the lessee in which the Prior was in effect charged with fraud. Out of a gross revenue of £218: £42 was paid in rents, £18 in fees, £3 13s. 4d. in alms, and £1 16s. 6d. in other dues. The clear income was therefore £154 [= ca. £50,000 today]; the Priory was dissolved in February 1536. [1]

Certain parts of the fabric of the medieval chapel remain: the trefoil-cusped doorway, the Y tracery of some windows, the East window with intersected lacery and the octagonal pillars with their stiff-leaf capitals. The squint to the left of the chancel arch is unusual and both may also stem from this period. The Norman tub-shaped font is of mid-12th century and bears signs of temporary removal and reinstatement and possibly some evidence of retooling. It also shows signs of having possibly used at some time as an animal drinking trough, was subsequently reinstated on a new pedestal. The base was cleaned in 2000. The long waisted bell which hangs in an open cot, one of the oldest in Wiltshire, dates from the 13th century. There is an indentation in the stonework of the cote which suggests that the bell had become dislocated from the supporting beam. Another smaller open cote on the South gable may possibly have housed a 'Sanctus' bell, given that two bells are recorded in a survey record of 1553. [2]

Surprisingly, the Wiltshire-born antiquary and historian John Aubrey (1626-1697) found 'nothing of antiquity' when he visited the building. Indeed, by 1650, the chapel was in such bad repair that the parishioners wished to unite with East Tytherton, Bremhill and Langley Burrell to form an independent parish.

The eventual repair and restoration of St. Nicholas took place in 1802, incorporating the remaining medieval materials through the generosity of Thomas Crook, a pioneer in agricultural and a successful equine breeder, who owned much of the land in the hamlet. The flat corniced ceiling of the Nave also dates from this period, paralleling a similar addition to the parish church in Chippenham. A tablet on the wall of the North aisle, among many others to members of his family, relates his munificence as follows:
‘…..THOMAS CROOK/ who during the time of his possessing and/ occupying the greater part of the Land / in the Tything of Tytherton/ (and being Church Warden) caused this church to be rebuilt A.D 1802…..’

In 1800, the artist John Buckler (1770-1851) was commissioned by Sir Richard Colt Hoare of Stourhead to produce paintings and drawings of churches and other historic buildings in Wiltshire. His pencil sketchbook of 1808 contains drawings of Tytherton Chapel. [3] These comprise the exterior from the North, the Font, the Nave colonnade of arches and a ground plan to which he annotated with dimensions. The exterior sketch relates to the finished watercolour painting in the Wiltshire Heritage Museum. This shows the building very much as we see it today; the churchyard wall was presumably omitted to give a clearer view. These pencil sketches of the Font and interior ground plan give precise dimensions, which reflect Buckler as an architect. [4]

The boxed communion service of two pattens and chalice (by Rebecca Emes and John Barnard of London), were the gift of The Revd. Edward Ellis in 1817 who was Vicar of Chippenham from 1815 until his death in 1825 at the age of 38.

During the Victorian period there would appear to have been little intervention until the incumbency of Canon John Rich (1861-1904) when the present pews and plinths were installed and part of the Nave floor tiled. A curtained Vestry area was provided in the NW corner. The returns of the Chippenham Deanery collated by Lord Hampton in 1875 record that the above work initiated by Rich had cost £300 including a grant of £20 from the Church Building Society. [4]

The Chancel was also refurnished by Canon Rich in 1907 with an oak reredos, communion rails and choir and clergy stalls. A window was added in place of the Priest’s Door in the South wall of the Chancel. This can be seen on the Buckler drawing above. He also donated the oak pulpit and sounding board, and his family’s tomb can be seen in the churchyard. Two other incumbents are interred here: Rich’s predecessor the Revd. Lewis Purbrick; and the longest serving priest in the 20th century Canon Philip Snow (1946-1978), in whose memory there is a flower shelf beneath the West window of the Nave.

There is little stained glass in the building: that in the East window was the gift of Canon Rich. The Awdry Memorial windows in the Chancel are by N.H.J. Westlake of London 1869 and that in the West Window was the gift of the Wood family. This is possibly the work of Frampton, also of London.

The most imposing is arguably that in the North Aisle windows by Franz Mayer & Co. of Munich. This famous German stained glass design and manufacturing company has been active throughout the world for over 150 years. Their work was very popular during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Oil lighting was replaced by electricity in 1938, but the Chancel oil lamp remains in situ. A solid fuel heating stove stood against the North wall of the Nave, and was in use until 1950. Since 1955 the Quinquennial Inspections of Churches Measure has secured the fabric. The main actions have included the recasting and rehanging of the bell in 1966 by Taylor’s of Loughborough and the redecoration of the interior in 1982. Substantial repairs were carried out to the roofs in 1987: all were re-laid, felt lined and the timbers treated against infestation and replaced where necessary. Six air vents were cut into the walls to ventilate the roof voids. In 1988 the building and some churchyard tombs were accorded Grade II listed status by English Heritage.

The patterns of services at St. Nicholas during the 20th century reflect the many changes of population and resources. For example, at the beginning of the century the large agricultural population frequently necessitated two Harvest Festival services. Whereas, in April 1924 the Parish Magazine noted that ‘Services [were] liable to change.’ Today, weekly service are maintained offering a balance of worship on both The Book of Common Prayer andCommon Worship; the support from the village is now very modest.

The first record of music in worship is found in the diary of Revd. Francis Kilvert who visited members of the Crook family at Gaston’s Farm on 24th March 1876: ‘…..there was the patriarchal grandfather, Robert Crook, with his white smock-frock, rosy face, and the sweet kindly benevolent look in his eyes…..The old man took up a sheet of music and looked at it. He is a musician, and used to play the flute at Tytherton Church…..’ The church band had by then been replaced by the first of two Harmoniums: the first ca.1870, replaced the present one ca.1920, is by Christophe and Etienne, of Paris. It was professionally cleaned and overhauled in 1995. The Chamber Organ, acquired after a historically informed restoration in 1987, was originally built by John Clark of Bath in 1937. Since the early 1990s at major festivals, the music is augmented by the mainly professional voices and instruments of The St. Nicholas Consort coordinated by Dr Christopher Kent.

In the early 21st century, an Area of Remembrance for the interment of ashes was set aside in the Churchyard indicated by a somewhat singular obelisk. In 2006, the Font Cover (ca.18th century) was treated and restored after damage by deathwatch beetle and woodworm. In 2011 two plain pews, added in 1907, were removed from the North Aisle to enable an insecure plinth to be renewed. The wall of the NE corner of the Chancel was extensively repaired in 2012, where instability would appear to have been a consequence of the removal of an exterior buttress. On the recommendation of the Inspecting Architect, inspection hatches were cut into the roof voids in view of some recent cracks in the ceiling above the Pulpit.

Visitors to the Chapel and the Services are always most welcome. Please contact 01249 740294 for admission, or further information.

[1] ‘House of Cluniac monks: Priory of Monkton Farleigh’, A History of the County of Wiltshire : Volume 3 (1956), pp, 262-268.
[2] WANS vol. XXII (1870) p.368.
[3] B.L. Add Ms. 26408 ff. 22-33v.
[4] W.R.O. 4157/1 p.28.

The author extends sincere thanks to The British Library, The Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, The Wiltshire Heritage Museum, and The National Portrait Gallery for both their assistance and for permission to reproduce items from their collections. Publication of this booklet has been possible through the generosity of ‘The Friends of St. Nicholas.’

© Christopher Kent 2013

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