Church of St Andrew Gloucester
Nr Blakeney
Gloucestershire, GL14 1EW
 

 

It is amazing what treasures can be found in humble country churches. They are always worth visiting and St Andrew’s in Awre is no exception.

The church lies among scattered farms in an isolated little village, plumb in the middle of one of the River Severn’s great horseshoe bends, between Newnham-on-Severn and Blakeney in Gloucestershire.

St Andrew’s was the mother church of an extremely large Parish, stretching from the banks of the River Severn right up into the heart of the Forest of Dean. It now incorporates the villages of Newnham, Blakeney and Awre.

The original Saxon wooden church on the site was replaced with the current stone building in 1200. There is nothing left from Saxon times except a remarkable wooden chest – more of this later.

Church Interior
This is a lovely but modest church – no fancy masonry tricks, just solid Norman pillars and Early English lancet windows. However, the pillars have been cleverly decorated by building them out of different coloured local stone blocks, so they look horizontally striped in red, cream and grey. The cream stone is Cotswold, the red is Forest and Blakeney sandstone, and the grey is mudstone from the River Severn.
 
It has a battlemented 14th century west tower with three stages divided by string courses and diagonal buttresses. A 13th century doorway has been reset within the tower as well as a window in the porch. The tower houses a ring of six bells. The views across the river meadows from the top of the tower are quite spectacular.
 
St Andrew’s proximity to the river has meant that it has always suffered problems with damp. Dry rot got into some of the pews and they have been replaced with comfortable modern chairs. The remaining original pews can be seen to the west of the 15th century font.
 
There is a delightful Rood Screen, delicately carved with old and new tracery and vine ornament. At one time, a musicians’ gallery ran across the top of the screen. The interior is whitewashed and a number of the windows have plain glass, giving the space a light and welcoming feel.
 
In 2003, the villagers carried out a massive restoration and waterproofing of the floor. They cleared the area and in-filled with about 20 tons of stone, all carried in by wheelbarrow from the road outside. A lime washed solid floor with a breathable membrane was laid, and finished off with carpet.
 
Thanks to modern technology and a committed vicar and parishioners, St Andrew’s has been saved to stand for another 800 years.
 
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Astonishing History
The village is extremely proud of the fact that in 1562, two members of their congregation, John Hopkins and Thomas Sternhold, prepared the first metrical version of the psalms for music, and the singing of the Psalms of David, set to music, was first heard in Awre church.
 
This momentous event is recorded in the Parish Register of 1579:
“Let it be remembered for the honour of this parish of Awre that from it first sounded out the Psalms of David in English Metre.”
 
Unfortunately, we cannot see the cottage where John Hopkins lived. His hamlet of Woodend was washed away by the river in the ‘Great Floods’ of 1741. (Woodend Lane leads to the site of the lost village). But Thomas Sternhold’s house (The Hawfield) still can be seen in Blakeney.
 
The Mortuary Chest
The other remarkable thing about St Andnrew’s is a massive wooden chest, believed to be over 1,000 years old. The chest is of elm and roughly hewn from one big tree. The chest is 8 feet long by 3 feet high (2.4 x 0.9 metres), and the inside has been roughly hollowed out with a Saxon adze. It has the remains of 3 hefty iron locks on it.
 
The local villages have always maintained that dead bodies were kept in the chest awaiting burial. These were bodies of people who had tragically drowned in the river. Other people say that the chest dates from 1290 when a synod was held ordering every Parish to provide a chest for storing valuable books and vestments.
 
This writer is inclined to believe that the chest was used as a mortuary in very early days, but was subsequently used as required by the 13th century synod. Local villager, Andy Cadogan, whose ancestors came to Awre in 1675, states that ...[the chest] had 3 locks, the Vicar and the 2 Church Wardens would have been the keepers of the keys it would have taken all three of them not only to unlock the chest but to lift the extremely heavy lid to reveal all the church valuables.
 
This splendid relic is to be found in the tower’s bell ringing chamber.
 
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The Churchyard

The graveyard contains a hollow, 1,000 year old yew tree near the church. Under this tree there are graves of fishermen who drowned in the River Severn in the days of the old Severn Trow sailing ships.

As can be imagined, a church of this age has many interesting tombstones standing in its graveyard. Like most country churchyards, the grass is left long so native wildflowers can flourish throughout the spring and summer months.

In 1348 Awre was hit by Plague and large pits had to be dug for disposal of the highly infectious bodies. These pits were dug to the east of the church, in a field called 'Church Hays' next to Marsh Lane. It is said that the outlines of the pits can still be seen.

The delightful church of St Andrew is a real gathering place for the community – not only serving the ecclesiastical needs of the Parish but also hosting classical and modern concerts, plays and other festivities. A kitchen and toilet have been added to the facilities.

Contact & Further Information

 
Getting There
- From Gloucester by Car: 
Take the A48 South through Westbury-on-Severn. Then take the narrow lane on the left signposted Awre, a distance of about 2 miles (3 km).
 
Google Maps - Church of St Andrew, Awre