The Parish Church of St Laurence, Alvechurch
There is little doubt that there was a church here in Saxon times. The mention of a priest in Domesday Book confirms this. The church was probably built of wood and no trace of the Saxon church remains. Nor is anything known about Aelgiva, the Saxon lady who is presumed to have founded the church and so given the village the name it has held for over a thousand years.
The village was important in medieval times. The Bishop of Worcester, who was Lord of the Manor, had a palace here, and many bishops down to the sixteenth century lived here and conducted their business from the palace. Perhaps because of the frequent presence of the bishop and his court, in the thirteenth century, Alvechurch was granted a weekly market, an annual fair, and later the status of a borough. The dedication of the church to St Laurence dates back at least to 1239, since the annual fair was to be held "on the vigil, the day and the morrow of St Laurence"
The present church consists of a west tower, a nave with a broad north aisle and a narrow south aisle, a south porch, and a chancel.
The earliest feature remaining in the church is the late Norman surround to the south doorway, which was dismantled and re-erected in its present position during the nineteenth century.
The chancel retains parts of a sedilia of 13th century date, and at the east end of the north aisle is the re-set priest' s door to the chancel, also of 13th century date.
The north aisle has windows of 14th and 15th century design.
The tower was probably built in the 15th century, although the diagonal buttresses could indicate a rather earlier date. The upper part of the tower was partly rebuilt following storm damage in 1676 (a date inscribed on a stone set into the west face of the tower below the belfry windows). The only part of the tower avowedly 17th century in appearance is the balustraded parapet.
In 1858 an ambitious rebuilding programme was undertaken under the direction of the well-known 19th century church architect, William Butterfield. The work included taking down and rebuilding the chancel, nave and south porch as well as building a new south aisle and re-roofing the north aisle. Red and white patterned brickwork was incorporated into the work and the nave roof was raised considerably and clerestory windows added. The restored church was dedicated in 1861.
The external walls of the rebuilt church, with the exception of the porch, are built of a combination of sandstone from Bromsgrove and Alvechurch, skilfully combined to produce a patterning of diapers and lines of buff stone against a pink background. But the interior of the nave and chancel, although having arcades of sandstone, use vivid red brick walls relieved by white brick diapering in a style much favoured by Butterfield. The steep pitched roofs have elegant trusses and exposed rafters.
The altar, standing on an encaustic tiled pavement, has a reredos of flat sheets of alabaster set in tile work. above which is a stained glass window illustrating six scenes from the Passion narrative designed by a local architect, Preedy.
Medieval monuments in the church include a tomb slab in the chancel with a floriated cross and arms of Bishop Carpenter 1443-1476, who is buried at Westbury, Bristol.
In the north aisle is a recess containing an effigy of a cross-legged knight, probably Sir John Blanchfront. The armour dates the figure to the mid 14th century.
Fifteen years after the church had been rebuilt, an organ was installed in the north aisle. In 1971 the organ was rebuilt by Thomas Sheffield of Solihull and placed on a free standing gallery in the north aisle. This instrument replaced an earlier one built by the Hill Organ Company at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The present organ has 1,348 pipes of which 180 came from the old instrument.
The Specification of the organ is:-
The organ was dedicated on 28 February 1971 and an inaugural recital was given that day by Christopher Robinson, MA, B.Mus, FRCO, Organist of Worcester Cathedral.
Reset in the northwest corner of the north aisle is the brass of Philip Chatwyn, 1524, Gentleman Usher to Henry VIII and a leading tenant in Alvechurch at that time.
Also in the north aisle is a handsome mural monument to Edward Moore, who died in 1746.
The tower houses a complete peal of eight bells. Originally there was a peal of six, of unknown date, but they were recast in 1711. The inscription on one these bells reads "If you would know when we ware run It was March 22 1711" and another "Joseph Smith of Edgbaston made me 1711". The remaining two bells, to complete the peal, were added in 1891.
A complete list of Rectors from 1290 to the present day is recorded on a board near the south porch door.
Both before and after the Reformation the living - a valuable one - was often held by absentees and at times in plurality, so that, until the 19th century the church was often served by a curate.
Many of the rectors have been men of importance in their time, including a Chancellor of England, the notable antiquary Charles Lyttleton later Bishop of Carlisle, and the nonconformist divine Richard Moore who held the living during the Protectorate. Less reputable characters were Robert de Wych (1290) who was deprived of the living for public concubinage, amongst other faults, and William Hollington, who was chaplain to Charles I, and whose Puritan enemies accused him of being a frequenter of alehouses, and of incontinency with neighbours' wives.
The Stained Glass Windows
During the Gothic Revival (by architect William Butterfield 1814-1900) a number of stained glass windows were erected by the Worcester architect and stained glass maker Frederick Preedy. It was unusually for an architect to design and make stained glass windows – many architects designed but few actually made windows. Frederick Preedy was born in Offenham, Worcestershire. The family later moved to the village of Fladbury, near Evesham, where St John the Baptist’s Church contains a number of his windows. Preedy probably trained as an architect in Worcester and later he set up his office there in Foregate Street, later in Sansome Walk, before moving to London in 1859.
The four windows at St Laurence’s Church made by Preedy are somewhat unusual for this period in that his figures are not set beneath architectural canopies. Three have borders of stems and three-petalled flowers against a red background, and all four windows have a characteristic blue background.
The single-light window of 1861 in the south wall of the nave depicts St John the Baptist wearing a stylised camel hair robe and pointing to the lamb, representing Christ, which he holds in his right hand. The inscription at the base of the window, in alternate lines of white and orange capital letters, tells us that the window was given by Charlotte Woodmass in memory of her daughter Emma who died in 1858 aged fifteen years.
The thee-light window in the tower, unveiled by Lady Plymouth of Hewell Grange on the 4th October 1899, commemorates the ‘sixtieth anniversary of the long, noble wise reign of Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, and Empress of India, A.D. 1897’. The window was a result of subscriptions by parishioners.
Christ is depicted in the centre light.
In the left light a young Queen Victoria is illustrated in the gold embroidered cloak over a white robe which she wore when taking her coronation oath.
A Bishop of Worcester is shown in the right light, a reference to the fact that the See of Worcester had a palace in Alvechurch in former times. The window was made by William Pearce of Birmingham.
The font of Caen stone on marble columns commemorates Elizabeth Sandford, the wife of the Rector at the time of the restoration.