History

St. Cyr’s Church

 Stonehouse

[For local history, please check this site: http://www.stonehousehistorygroup.org.uk]

A History of the Parish Church


Saint who?

            Saint Cyr .... (we say “sigher”) was a child martyr at the time of the Diocletian persecution in A.D.303. His widowed mother, Julitta, had taken Cyr and fled  to Tarsus, but they were betrayed and arrested.  When questioned by the governor Alexander, Julitta replied “I am a Christian”.  The governor tried to nurse the child and play with him but Cyr said “I am a Christian too” which so enraged the heathen governor that he threw Cyr down some steps and so killed him.  Julitta was also martyred.  It is an uncommon dedication in this country, there being perhaps seven, but is well known in France.

            The earliest mention is in a will dated 1543, when one John Dangerfield asks tobe buryed in ye churchyard of saint Cyere”.

Congratulations and WELCOME.

            You have found Saint Cyr’s church, so hidden by trees and a new development. You may well ask why here, tucked away from the rest of Stonehouse?

            The reason would seem to lie in the proximity of Stonehouse Court, which is an ancient site; the very name would suggest a house built of stone, something to be remarked upon centuries ago and at the time of the Doomsday Survey.  It does seem likely that the church would be quite close to the manor house, for most of the inhabitants would have lived here too.  When we understand that the parish of Stonehouse, until 1837, was bounded as today by Eastington, Standish and Randwick, and then the boundary ran roughly past Puckshole, down the Ruscombe Brook to Cainscross Roundabout, thence to the Frome at Dudbridge and followed the  river to Eastington again .... the church seems even further from the parish, but all paths lead here and St. Cyr’s is here for all.

 

THE CHURCH.

                There are clues as to the existence of a church on this site.  The advowson was vested in the Abbey and Nunnery at Elstow near Bedford; William De Ow, at Stonehouse Manor in the Doomsday record, numbered among his “cousins” not only William the Conqueror, but one, Judith, who founded the Elstow abbey in 1078, so it is reasonable to assume that De Ow offered the advowson of Stonehouse to his cousin to help benefit her abbey.  The earliest recorded vicar is Sir Geoffrey here in 1225, 'sir' being the equivalent of Reverend, not a title. We do not know what his church looked like, but some say that there was a Norman style church.  The church tower, as it stands today, was built during the fourteenth century so the church must have had a rebuilding then.

            At the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, Elstow Abbey, in common with many others, passed to the crown and all the privileges attached; this included the advowson of St. Cyr’s and it remains a Crown Living to this day.

            By the early eighteenth century the population had grown so that a south aisle was added.  By 1850 the building was in a poor state and parishioners came to the conclusion that it would be better to pull down the old and rebuild on the same site.  Permission was obtained.  A design by Henry Crisp of Bristol was chosen and organisation of the work seems to have gone ahead with speed and efficiency, and in the meanwhile, worship was held in the hall of the day school.  The design was in “a chaste perpendicular style” with the chancel raised on the foundations of the former one, the tower retained, but with the addition of north and south aisles.  The new church was opened for worship with special services on January 4th, 1855. There were oil lamps, an harmonium / organ, no heating and pews made to allow twenty inches per adult and fourteen per child.  The masons copied the design of the old Norman north doorway and the font from the old building.

             Since 1855 the two side chapels have been added (formerly, the organ area and Vicar's vestry) and the present Vicar’s vestry attached later on. Gas lighting was installed, since changed to electric; heating was put in - then coke - later oil, now gas.  The choir stalls, not part of Crisp’s plan, were put in the chancel and then removed to their present place; there have been three different organs, the first a Liddiatt, hand blown, the second a recycled war victim, electrically blown, and now a digital one .... magic.

            We have the original Parish Chest, but all the registers, dating from 1558, are in the permanent care of the County Records Office.

            A number of the memorials inside the building are to members of the Davis Family, formerly of Upper Mills.  They were in succeeding generations members of this church and great benefactors in works and in kind.  The memorial panels in the sanctuary are an arrangement of the old pew doors to form records of parishioners.

            The East Window is by Wailes, the gift of the vicar of Eastington at the rebuilding. The modern sanctuary windows are the work of Edward Payne of Minchinhampton.

 

THE CHURCHYARD.

            For centuries, interments would have been on the south in accordance with custom, but this seems to have changed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In 1908, a new extension was given, on the opposite side of Church Lane, which by 1960, or so, was full.  The P.C.C. had asked the Parish Council to consider providing a cemetery in 1940, but none was forthcoming. However, in 1981, another area, the gift of Mrs Winterbotham was consecrated and even more ground dedicated in 1997.

 

            There is a great variety of fine seventeenth and eighteenth century tombstones around the church, a number of which were inside the old church and which were removed at the time of rebuilding, so their position does not necessarily bear any relation to the resting place of those commemorated.  Most are of limestone or sandstone and include chest tombs, pedestal tombs, lyre ended, Greek style and tea caddy style.

 

            The inscriptions are weathered but we do have a record of most, including those of Radcliffe, Samson Harris and the Pettat family.  The place names show the extent of the old parish, mentioning Ebley, “Cainescross”, Westrip and Stroud.  Sundry family members were “brought home” from further a-field, Cheltenham, Cirencester, Fretherne, London, Painswick, The Stanleys, Upton St. Leonards and Whaddon.

 

            The tomb with a tale, is that of a girl, who reputedly had a beautiful head of hair; one day as she brushed it went into a tangle, and in her exasperation she said “Oh, the devil take it” and promptly dropped dead.  There is a little model, now weathered, atop the tomb, a tale often quoted by desperate parents!


 

THE INCUMBENTS.

                Although we know the names of those who served in the early years, we know little of their personalities, but the last one appointed by Elstow Abbey was called Richard Brown and he resigned in 1556.  He had two benefices and managed to get married during the reign of Edward VI, but on the accession of Mary Tudor things were difficult for those clergy who had wed. Perhaps this, with his failure to distribute the correct moneys to the poor of the parish was the cause of his resignation.  The churchwardens Richard Bodynge and William Benett presented Edward Fowler, probably a member of the Court ‘Fowlers', to the living and this was accepted by the Crown.

               John Norris was here at the time of the Civil War and was ousted by Parliament in 1644.  Although dissenters were appointed, Norris managed to stay in the locality and was restored in 1661.  A new Vicarage was built for him and a crown carved in stone was placed over the main entrance.  This may still be seen in the eastern gable of the newer vicarage, now Quietways House.

               Robert Radcliffe (1690-1708) had been chaplain to the forces of Charles II and James II in America. He was then commissioned by the Bishop of London to found the first Episcopal church in Boston called Kings Chapel, this amid strong opposition from the mainly Puritan residents. John Hilton succeeded him moving from St. Nicholas Gloucester; during his office the whole church “was new roofed, leaded and otherwise beautified by 1713”.

              Samson Harris, the son of a mayor of Gloucester, was appointed in 1727, and appears to have lived up to his name, and the church flourished under his care. He provided a library of over five hundred books on all manner of subjects, for the use of parishioners. The numbers greatly increasing, the church became too small for the parish and so he decided to enlarge it, and he wrote in the register:

 

             “The congregation being much larger than the church could receive with convenience  and ye church darkened and deformed by two Gallereys in ye midst of it, in ye year 1746 I built a new Isle with stone from Dovro Wood, which was given by Robt. Ball esq.; and brought gratis to ye Ch yard by Mr. Richd. Merrett of Ebley; besides this I had great encouragement by fair promises, but no other assistance so that the Building cost me above one Hundred and fifty pounds, which I shall think well laid out, if it serv’d as I intended it sh’d, to ye Glory of God, the convenience of the people, and for ye benefit of my Successors”.

 

            The Faculty was lengthy! Harris' friend and locum was George Whitefield, who is noted elsewhere.  At a time when nearly all churches were closed to Whitefield and his followers, Harris invited him in to preach and to administer the Sacraments.  Harris died in 1763.

            John Pettat was here for the next twenty-five years, followed by his son Thomas, until he moved to Beverstone in 1803. John Pettat had the unenviable task of negotiating with the proprietors of the Stroudwater Navigation, who in the 1770's wanted some of the churchyard for 'the Cut'.  Dealings were protracted and a number of his landowning parishioners were also involved.; all seems to have been resolved by the company buying ground from Mrs Mary Ball, of the Court, replacing the churchyard lost.

            By 1835 the church was strong enough under the vicar Henry Cripps, to divide a portion, to form a new parish, Cainscross, to serve the increasing number of houses being built on the outskirts of Stroud, Stonehouse and Randwick.  They built a permanent church there, St. Matthew’s, and gave an endowment fund to help pay the vicar of this new independent parish.

            Cripps, who was rector of Preston, Cirencester was still non-resident vicar at the time of rebuilding of St. Cyr’s; however his curate-in-charge the Rev. W. L. Mills played a large part.  At about the same time, the vicarage was rebuilt.

            The next incumbent Farren White (1861-1899) was the first resident vicar for some years; he caused some surprise by announcing that he would insist on baptising infants at Morning and Evening prayer, instructions which had been allowed to lapse.  He was a wise man, having a hobby outside the church, having a great interest as a naturalist, and was an acknowledged expert on ants and their ways.

            William Phillips (1898-1911) was a man small of stature, but a great character; He conducted congregational hymn practices and spent Mondays chasing up the absentees from Sunday services. His successor was Mr. Waugh (1911-1920), who spent part of his time as a chaplain to the forces in the Great War.

            During the reign of Leonard Dawson (1920-1937), the new church hall was built and fully used.

            Geoffrey Highmore (1937-1949) saw the parish through the difficult days of the war, with blackouts, shortages, and the influx of evacuees and specialised workers from other parts of Britain, as well as refugees from all over Europe who were housed at a hostel in Bridgend.

            Frank Springford (1949-1954) introduced Sung Eucharist as the central act of worship, and was renowned for his Children's Services and flourishing Sunday School.

            Hilary Way (1954-1968) came to a lively parish, and it was in his time that the old Liddiatt organ was removed and another one installed at the West End of the church.  The vicarage became Quietways House and an older house acquired as a vicarage, later replaced by the present modern house.

            Lionel Ford (1968-1982), the first to move into this new house, exercised a firm, gentle ministry, was an excellent chairman, and had the amazing gift of a faultless memory, he was never seen with a paper or notes of any kind.

             James Harris (1982-2002), came to St. Cyr’s from St. Cyr’s Stinchcombe.  Once in office he had any Saint, worthy of the title, commemorated.  Jim did not spare himself working for his parishioners, especially the sick, housebound, bereaved and those in any kind of difficulty.  In 1989 his wife, Pat, was chosen as Worldwide President of the Mothers’ Union; this resulted in a stream of the most interesting overseas visitors from Archbishop down, which in turn, led to our greater awareness and interest in the church across the world. The honour of being made a Canon of Antsiranana, by his lifetime friend, the late Bishop Keith Benzies, was a great happiness to Jim; this was in recognition of the work done to help the Malagasy people.

 

            For the first time in the history of St Cyr’s, we presently have a ‘Priest in Charge’, Rev. Charles Minchin, who came to us from his previous parish of Brierley Hill in 2003. Charles began his ministry, reading Theology at Cambridge, having started there by reading Mathematics.

            Coincidentally, when Charles came to St Cyr’s, the parish became home to both of the two “Minchins” in Crockford’s Clerical Directory (Rev. Tony Minchin (no known relation) had retired to Stonehouse a few years earlier).

 

THE BELLS

            There is a ring of six bells; the treble has no marking and is the oldest. Two, three, four, and five are all marked 1636. The tenor was recast in 1768 by Thomas Rudhall, the Gloucester bellfounders; it weighs 17 cwt, 1 qtr. and cost 3d. per pound to recast. There had always been one bell, when ... so the story goes ... the four 1636 bells arrived from Eastington church, not stolen, just appearing mysteriously, with no report of the occurrence in the records of either church. Tradition says that the owners of Eastington Manor (long since gone), which stood very close to Eastington church, disliked the noise, and assisted in the removal of the bells. We have long appreciated their joyful noise whilst Eastington now have the ring from St. Peter’s, Frocester.

GEORGE WHITEFIELD and STONEHOUSE.

            Whitefield was born at the Bell Inn, Southgate, Gloucester, in 1714; he attended King’s School and The Crypt School before going to Pembroke College, Oxford. Whilst there he formed a lifelong friendship with John and Charles Wesley, although they did not always agree on points of doctrine.  In 1736 he was ordained at Gloucester Cathedral, but unlike the Wesleys, he later left the Church of England.  In early 1737 he came to St. Cyr’s as locum to take care while the Vicar, Samson Harris was away; his duties ended on Ascension Day, May 10th. Harris and Whitefield became firm friends.

          On leaving Stonehouse he travelled to London where he gained a reputation as a preacher, he drew such great crowds, that he preached out of doors. Whitefield travelled all over England and Scotland but was determined to go to America which he did on many occasions in his ministry.  On his return he found that he had been denounced by the Bishop of London because of his connection with 'Dissenters' which led to Anglican pulpits being denied him.  He returned to Gloucestershire and came to visit Stonehouse, as the Gloucester Journal, 24th April 1739 reported " ... preached on Sunday afternoon (although raining) to a very crowded audience in Stonehouse churchyard, the church being too small to contain the congregation".

            After further travels, Whitefield was here again in April 1743, when he read prayers, preached on the text “I am the Resurrection and the Life”  and helped to administer the Sacrament.  His last visit was in 1747 when, no doubt, he was pleased to see Harris' new extension.  He died in America in 1770.  This extraordinary man held Stonehouse in great affection, regarding it as “the fairest place” and had respect too for Vicar Samson Harris, quoting “the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose”.

 

 

            St. Cyr’s parish church now serves a large community of over 7000 in a lively small town, a far cry from the time of Elizabeth I when there were 52 households.  There have been good times and difficult, both locally and nationally, but this church has been well served by its priests and laity. Many still care for this ancient place of worship, and echo with conviction the words of their patron ……

                                                                         “I am a Christian too”.

 

 

 

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