A History of St. Lawrence’s from the 9th Century to the Present Day:
The Parish Church of St Lawrence, Biddulph, has a very interesting history, dating back to pre-Norman times. The present structure stands on the site of an earlier church, originally a small oak built chantry, which is believed to have been destroyed by the Danes circa 850-900 AD. This was later replaced by a Saxon church, probably of stone, since the arch to the belfry is of Saxon type. On the wall of the West end of the present church can be seen the names of past incumbents of St Lawrence, dating back to 1274 but records show that there were others dating back to 1190. There is a gap between 1377 and 1535, when the Parish was administered by the Abbots of Hulton Abbey, and this may have been due to the possibility that many clergy perished during the Black Death. The arrangement with Hulton Abbey continued until the Abbey’s closure during the Reformation under Henry VIII. During the Civil War the church was badly damaged by Cromwell’s troops and the stained glass windows smashed but the vicar at that time collected the fragments and preserved them. They were later fitted into the East window where they can still be seen.
In 1824, James Bateman of Tolson Hall, Westmoreland (a former Vicar’s great-grandfather) bought the Biddulph and Knypersley estates, putting his only son John in possession, and the young man set about re-building the damaged church. In 1836 the church was re-opened looking (from the outside) very much as it is today. The Bateman and Heath families, both of whom at some time resided at Biddulph Grange, took a keen interest in the church and contributed much to its upkeep, adding and installing various articles and improvements.
There are many memorial tablets in the church at different points giving tribute to the generosity of the prominent members of the parish and the esteem in which they were held. There are also several coats-of-arms dating back to 1400, on either side of the aisles, showing the emblems of various families who were Overlords of Biddulph and Gillow Heath. At the South-east corner is the Heath Memorial which shows a carving in white marble depicting Christ and two angels, and on the walls are tablets to the memory of members of the Heath family some of whose ashes are contained in urns in recesses there.
At the back of the church in another recess is the tomb of Sir William Bowyer and on the sides of the tomb are coats-of-arms dating from 1270 onwards. On the wall above are the casque, crest, gauntlets and spurs which belonged to the same Sir William Bowyer who died in 1640. There is also a brass plate to another Sir William Bowyer who died in 1603. There are several fine stained glass windows in the church, the most notable being the one over the West entrance which shows portraits of Luther and Melancthon who were influential figures in the Reformation. The subject of the “picture” is – “Drinking Wine In the Kingdom of God” (Mark 14: 25). This beautiful glass was made in Munich, Germany, and was given by John Bateman of Knypersley Hall, who was patron of the Benefice. Also at the West end Is the remainder of the gallery in which the choir and orchestra supplied the church music. This consisted of a “sweet toned barrel organ” and flutes, fiddles etc. Strange that we now have an instrumental group to accompany the church organist; it seems the wheel has turned full circle! As Ecclesiastes says “There is nothing new under the sun”.
The Baptismal Font is three feet high and is situated towards the front of the church. It stands on four dwarf shafts with ornamentation consisting of 15 pillars and interlaced arches of the Transition (Norman) period. In front of the Heath Memorial stands the Roll of Honour which gives the names of Biddulph men who fell in the two World Wars.
The nave is clerestoried and has four bays, and over each bay is a window, by the side of which are old stone tablets to the memory of those who left legacies for the good of the parish. There are also memorial tablets to former Vicars of St Lawrence and coats-of-arms of the Bowyer and Bateman families, all of whom had great influence in the parish and the church. Other coats-of-arms in the church are those of the Bougheys (Lords of Gillow Heath), the Verdon “fret” shield and the shield of the Biddulphs, used for the past 300 years.
In the Chancel apse is the Lord’s Table and the Communion Rail, both of carved stone; the rail replaced the original wooden one 300 years ago.
The Old West doors were recently replaced by a handsome glassed entrance porch and the South porch was turned into a crèche for the benefit of parents with young children, who can still hear the service whilst tending to their children.
In early 2014, a major re-ordering project took place named ‘Fit for Service’. A new floor was laid, underfloor heating replaced the ancient cast iron pipework, lavatories were installed in the south porch area, a servery was fitted and audio-visual equipment updated.
The Tower and Bells
In 1872 the tower was partially destroyed by fire but was rebuilt and a new organ obtained by public subscription. Since then and up to the present time there have been many additions and improvements. In 1873 a peal of six bells was given by Robert Heath of Biddulph Grange, each of which bears an inscription, as follows:-
- My gentle voice shall lead the cheerful sound, Peace to this Parish; May goodwill abound.
- May all In truth and harmony rejoice, To honour Church and Queen with heart and voice.
- Prosperity attend Old England’s shore; Let Biddulph flourish, now and evermore.
- With loving voice I call to Church and Prayer, And bid the living for the grave prepare.
- For mercies undeserved this peal is raised, And may Thy Name, O God, through Christ be praised.
- To the Honour and Glory of God this peal of six bells was given to the Parish Church of Biddulph by Robert Heath Esq, of Biddulph Grange. 1873.
The bells were cast and hung by Mears & Stainbank of London who also carried out some repairs on them in 19l8. In 1948 further repairs were necessary but after that nothing more was done until in 1986 it was observed that the bells needed essential repairs which would have to be carried out within the next 5 years if they were to remain operative, the estimated cost being in the region of £30,000. This seemed a daunting task but fund-raising began in the Spring of 1990 commencing with a generous bequest by the late David Brodie (a former Vicar of St Lawrence), via a Trust made through his family. A further legacy was left by the late William Hazeldine who was a Bellringer for 65 years. Two troops of Biddulph Scouts did a sponsored abseil down the church tower and concerts were given by Biddulph Male Voice Choir and Hilltop Glee Singers to raise funds for the Appeal.
The people of Biddulph gave many donations and our own church fellowship were especially generous and helped with their own fund-raising events. In January 1991 the bells were removed and taken to John Taylor’s Bellfounders in Loughborough where repair work began and this was completed and the bells returned for Easter Day. Some work on the tower itself was necessary and a new steel bellframe was fitted to replace the old timber frame, assistance being given by our own people. The bells were re-dedicated on June 10th 1991 by the Bishop of Lichfield at a special service in the church.
In the Bell-chamber are memorials to various Bellringers and on the peal-boards it is recorded that Biddulph has its own name allocated to a well-known method of ringing, i.e. “Double Biddulph Surprise” rung in 2 hours 45 minutes! In pre-Norman days there was one bell in the belfry, possibly the one which rang out the Curfew some eight or nine hundred years ago.
The Parish Registers date back to 1558 and many of the names recorded there are still in existence today in Biddulph and Gillow Heath. These ancient records are now in the County Archives at Stafford for preservation and the old silver and pewter artefacts are deposited in the Bank. There were also over 30 Diaries of the Rev Jon Wilson, Vicar from 1775- 1810, and in the vestry there was an old tithe map of Biddulph dated 1840.
Outside the Church
Outside the church on the South side is the “Preaching Cross” dating from the time of the Black Death and there are eight stone coffin lids dating from the Crusades which bear carved symbols. Some believe these lids belong to men who fought in the Crusades, but others think the symbols are simply depicting the trade or profession of the men.
A Final Note
An old document ‘Brief History of Biddulph Parish Church 1918’, containing more of the History of St. Lawrence’s may be found HERE