ShrewsburyBattlefield Church
Battlefield
Shrewsbury
Shropshire SY4 3DB
 
 
 
 
The incongruous sight of a large grey stone church standing in open countryside is a reminder that the visitor is on the actual site of the ferocious Battle of Shrewsbury, which took place in 1403. The correct name of the church is the Anglican Church of St Mary Magdalene but it is always referred to as ‘Battlefield Church’.
 
Thousands of soldiers are thought to have died in the battle, and the church remains a quiet memorial to the 1,600 people who were said to have been buried there.
 
The church is now redundant and in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust and kept locked. However, prospective visitors can obtain the key from the Battlefield 1403 Visitor Centre.
 
History
The original limestone church was a chantry chapel built in 1406 at the request of King Henry IV. Its initial purpose was to sing masses for the souls of those killed in the battle. The church was completed in 1409, and in the following year its purpose was changed; it was re-founded by a royal charter as a college of priests and more buildings were constructed to house the college.
 
The charter established a community of six chaplains and a master to pray daily for the souls of the king, the Lord of the Manor (Richard Hussey) and his wife, and for those killed in the battle.
 
In 1547 the Chantries Act was passed and in the following year Battlefield College was closed. The church became the parish church of Albright Hussey. The college buildings were no longer used, and their fabric taken for other purposes.
 
In 1638 the ownership of the church passed from the Hussey family to the Corbet family.
 
The church continued to be used but its condition deteriorated. The roof was repaired in 1749, but later the nave roof completely collapsed. In the 18th century the nave was abandoned and the chancel was restored in neoclassical style, with four Doric columns forming a square.
 
It was the Corbett family who employed Pountney Smith to restore the church and to build a mortuary chapel. This was carried out between 1860 and 1862.
 
19th Century Restoration
Much of the church we see today is the result of an extensive restoration in the 1860s by the distinguished local architect S Pountney Smith, who saved the church from ruin.
 
Pountney Smith chose the Gothic Revival style for his restoration and although he kept the original shape, tower and walls, the magnificent hammerbeam roof, the reredos, and all the fittings and furniture were installed by him. He was also responsible for installing the fine stained glass typical of the 1860s.
 
The Building
The original limestone church started being built in 1406 but the tower was not started until the mid 1440s and not completed until later in the century. The roofs are covered in a mixture of tiles and Welsh slate.
 
The church is rectangular in plan with a five-bay chancel and a four-bay nave of equal width. In the body of the church the bays are separated by full-height buttresses. There is a west tower and a vestry (the former mortuary chapel) to the northeast.
 
The tower is almost as wide as the nave, and is in two stages. It has diagonal buttresses and a square southeast stair turret. The upper stage has paired bell openings on each side. At the top is a quatrefoil frieze, an embattled parapet with pinnacles at the corners.
 
Some of the windows have retained their original tracery. The east window is in Perpendicular style and has five lights. Above this window in a niche is a statue of King Henry IV. The vestry is battlemented and on its wall is the carved crest of the Corbet family (two crows).
 
Around the church are gargoyles representing mythical beasts and soldiers.
 
The Pietà
The greatest treasure in the church is a superb Pietà, carved in oak, showing the Virgin Mary holding Christ’s body. This remarkable and moving piece dating from the mid-15th century can be found in the chancel. It was moved to St Mary’s from the church at Albright Hussey.
 
The Interior
There is no structural division between the nave and the chancel. And the furnishings and fittings are mainly from the 19th century restoration.
 
The roof is a hammerbeam by Pountney Smith, which is supported on the original stone corbels. One of the corbels is carved with a Green Man. The roof is decorated with carved shields acting as bosses, pendants, and traceried panelling. Some of the shields are those of knights who actually fought in the battle with Henry IV.
 
Between the nave and chancel is a timber screen with traceried panels and an ogee central arch. This was also inserted at the restoration. Likewise, the wooden pews with their ends richly carved with birds and animals.
 
In the southeast part of the chancel is a triple sedilia, a piscina, and a blocked doorway that formerly led to the chaplains' quarters. The doorway on the north of the chancel leads to the vestry (the former Corbet mortuary).
 
The reredos was designed by Pountney Smith, and contains high relief sculptures depicting the Nativity, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. He was also responsible for the designs of the font and the pulpit.
 
The pulpit is in stone with a white marble panel depicting Moses striking the rock to produce water. The top of the font is octagonal and is carved with angels.
 
In the vestry is stained glass from a number of sources, including original glass from the church, possibly dating from about 1434–45, and some early 16th-century French glass brought from Normandy. However, the majority of the stained glass was inserted in the 19th century restoration.
 
The east window in the chancel contains a depiction of Mary Magdalene, and in the north and south windows are the twelve apostles. The west window of the tower depicts Christ and John the Baptist.
 
The church is paved with encaustic tiles made by Maw of Ironbridge, and under three ornate arches, hatchments and Victorian gas fitments, is a wall memorial to the Corbet family.
 
The Churchyard
On the southeast of the church are remains of the foundations of college buildings. Further away, to the south, are the footings of a former round tower. Some of the gravestones in the churchyard contain Victorian and Art Deco carving.
 
At the entrance to the churchyard is a lychgate which was moved from Upton Magna in 1861, but dates from an earlier period.
 
Contact & Further Information
The Churches Conservation Trust, Society Building, 8 All Saints Street London N1 9RL
Telephone   +44 (0)8453 032 760, Monday to Friday 09:00 – 17:00.
Mail   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Getting There
- By Car
Battlefield Church is 3 miles (4.8 km) north east of Shrewsbury. Access is off A49 Battlefield roundabout adjoining A5124 Battlefield Link Road. There is a brown 'Battlefield church' tourism sign on the roundabout opposite the livestock market.
 
Public transport information
Public transport stops deposit passengers approximately 1 mile away from the church.
 
- By Rail
Nearest railway station: Shrewsbury 3 miles (4.8 km).
 
- By Bus
Bus routes no 511 via Wem to Whitchurch, and 64 via Shawbury to Market Drayton. 
 
Google Map - Battlefield Church