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St Mary's Church, Shipton Sollars, Gloucestershire

31 July 2007

Vested 15 July 2005

St Mary’s is a fine medieval church in a pretty Cotswold village that, with Shipton Oliffe, forms a continuous strip of typical stone-built cottages in the uplands just east of Cheltenham.

ShiptonSollarsOutsideA chapel at Shipton Sollars was recorded in 1236 (and Shipton Oliffe has evidence of an even earlier church, with a priest and a church dedicated to St Oswald of Northumbria being recorded in Domesday Book). However, during the 17th century Shipton Sollars gradually fell into decay. In 1884 the Rector Charles Pugh and his wife repaired and reopened the church. Sixty years later the church was again in disrepair. The patron
of the united benefice, E F Fieldhouse, restored the church in 1929, using the architect W Ellery Anderson.

The church continued to be in use during the late 20th centurybut the burden of responsibility for two medieval churches was becoming too much for a small village. St Mary’s was declared redundant and vested in the Trust in the summer of 2005.

Architectural charms

The church stands in a small, roughly square churchyard raised above a narrow lane and enclosed by drystone walls. Nearly all the fabric of the church appears to be 13th century: the chancel arch has the date 1212 inscribed above it. A straight joint with a chamfered edge in the south wall of the chancel is evidence of a blocked doorway into the chancel, confirmed by the worn stone floor on the chancel’s south side; it is believed that this doorway was blocked at the time of Rector Pugh’s repairs.

The roofs are covered with local Cotswold stone slates. The gables have limestone copings and at the west end there is a stone bell-cote, also thought to have been rebuilt by Rector Pugh. The roof structure forms a barrel vault datable to the 15th century.

The church comprises a simple nave and chancel built of coursed local limestone rubble with limestone dressing which was originally rendered over. On the north wall of the nave are two rare survivals of incised consecration crosses. The rest of the exposed decoration is post-Reformation and of varying dates. However, there is a possibility that medieval painting survives behind these texts because, on the north wall of the nave, between the door and the window, there are at least three areas of post-Reformation text (the Ten Commandments) with traces of something earlier on the
base plaster.

ShiptonSollarsInsideOn the north wall of the nave is a monument dedicated to John Powell and family (1734), and a bronze memorial dedicated to Joseph Walker (1706). Opposite there are two further monuments, the first dedicated to Sarah Roberts (1671) and a second with dedication indecipherable and
of unknown date.

Some windows in St Mary’s were added or modified in the 15th century. Those in the nave have some fragments of early glass in the tracery and all of the windows in the chancel have 20th-century stained glass.

The fixtures and fittings in the church include an early 13th-century stone altar, a Jacobean pulpit, a 15th-century font, and a reredos and other fittings from the restoration carried out in 1929.

Care and attention

At the time of vesting the church appeared to be in reasonably good condition. However, internally there
were signs of excessive moisture levels, affecting one of the wall monuments. The plasterwork, particularly on
the south side of the nave and consequently the wall paintings on this plasterwork, had also been affected.

Under the direction of John Goom RIBA a programme of repairs was completed by June 2006, allowing us to maintain the building in a wind- and watertight condition, to reduce the moisture content levels and
repair those areas affected. The work included replacing dense and damaged plasterwork; repointing open joints and movement cracks; repairs to the drainage channel; limited replacement of broken and laminated roof slates; overhaul of the rainwater goods; minor repair of glazing and ferramenta; repairs to the south door; overhauling and redecorating ironmongery, and conservation of wall monument and consolidation of wall paintings.

The church has long been left unlocked daily and it is intended that this should remain so. The locals will continue to clean and generally look after the church – one is the daughter of the Fieldhouses who were responsible for the major repairs in the 1920s and 1930s, representing a pleasing continuity of care.

The Shiptons form part of a large benefice comprising eight parishes, and it is envisaged that occasional services at St Mary’s will continue to be held on major festivals. However, parking in the vicinity of the church – the village road is quite narrow – is a problem, so use of the church is likely to be restricted. Disabled access is not easy either, with steps and a slope up to the church from the road, and it is difficult to see how this might be improved.

Despite these restrictions, with local publicity and the addition in due course of the church in the Trust’s county leaflet and other publications, it is hoped to attract a number of visitors – the church is no more than 100 yards from the A40 and close to the Cotswolds’ major tourist attractions. A number of footpaths pass close to the church, while the long-distance Cotswold Way runs about 2½ miles to the west. A guidebook to the church is in production