A History of St. Nicholas Church

The Building

It is recorded that in 1155, a survey showed two monks living in Winsley, although they may have been farm labourers, but an even earlier survey of 1135 did not mention the monks. According to the records of Shaftesbury Abbey a monk lived in or nearby in 1170. The vicarage in Bradford on Avon has a record dated 1349 mentioning a chapel in Winsley.

At the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, the chapel was granted to the Dean and Chapter of Bristol in 1542.

Winsley had a Curate in 1628 and he enjoyed small tithes.

As the population of Winsley grew, so did the Church membership and in 1841 a new Church was built, still keeping the 16th century tower which now joins the Church by a little arch.

The new Church was one of a number rebuilt by the order of Rev. Harvey of Bradford on Avon. This action created employment at the time the weaving and quarrying went into decline and served to replace the original building which had fallen into disrepair.

One of the basement stones on the tower is referred to have been dated 1161 but this information is dismissed and more correctly stated 1761 or 1765.

The Tower houses 3 bells which were installed in 1951 and today are used for “swing chiming”. The Church clock dates from the late 18th century (although some information suggests it might be 100 years earlier) and was converted to an electric movement in 2004 following a generous donation in memory of Capt. Edward Harrison Johnson R.N.

A stool was made from the original Church Doors and was in the possession of the late Mrs Baker whose husband was Vicar of Winsley (1922 – 1961)

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Inside the Church

The interior of the Church is very interesting, the gallery now houses the organ, above the medieval font and the altar between the Ten Commandments below which the Lord’s Prayer and the Nicene Creed. The church kneelers are very colourful and include the Magi, Samson and Lion, Lifeboat Institute, Mothers Union Lilly, copy of the Church porch, Five Loaves and Three Fishes, Penguin and Puffin, Noah’s Ark, the Wise Men, Tree of Life, Cross and Tudor – Rose. They were made by Parishioners and dedicated in 1969. The Altar kneelers were also made by Parishioners and dedicated in 1992.

A plaque on the wall opposite the door records the building of the new Church in 1841 although with less seating than the original. At this time pew rents were payable being abolished in 1889.

The coat of arms on the gallery front is from the time of one of the Georges.

The reordering of the East End of the Church was completed in 1990. This involved the removal of stonework and brass rails and replacing with a modular polished wooden platform system. This adds to the flexibility of the Church by way of accommodating alternative styles of worship. It also allows the Church to be used for music performances.

At the Chancel area a Bishop’s chair can be seen, in memory of Charles Sylvanus Meech, inscribed on it is:-

Latin                 Aalbet cum Deus            MDCCXLI Paroch Winsluens

English            God saved him                 1841     Parish of Winsley

Latin                 Dapacem Domine Vicar Bradfordens

English            Give peace on earth            Vicar of Bradford

Charles Sylvanus Meech was a Curate of Winsley

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In 1984  St. Nicholas Winsley combined with  St James, South Wraxall and St Peters Monkton Farleigh to become the Benefice of St. Nicholas, St. James and St. Peter.

In 2010, the “Benefice of North Bradford on Avon and Villages” was formed and St. Nicholas,  St James, South Wraxall and St Peters Monkton Farleigh were joined by Christ Church Bradford on Avon.

The following is a summary from the vestry and Parochial Church Council Minutes and Account Books.

  • 1844 Trees planted round edge of “Chapel” yard
  • 1846 Organ installed
  • 1877 Church first insured for £800
  • 1889  Church reseated with pitch pine pews, kneeling boards etc. and restored at a cost of £408.4.6
  • 1898 Choir stalls of pitch pine placed in Church £8
  • 1904 A flag staff erected on the Tower, not on the top, but at an angle through the dormer door with base inside the Tower
  • 1923 Oak Eagle Lectern given to the Church in memory of Miss Cornwall. It was carved during the First World War by a Belgian refugee
  • 1924 Solid fuel boiler and hot water pipes installed
  • 1924 Folding wire gates installed at outer entrance or porch to keep out dogs and enable Church doors to remain open in summer
  • 1924 Electric light installed to replace oil lamps, 19 lights in total cost £52
  • 1926 Stained glass window at East given in memory of the late Rev. R.W. Angelsmith, former Vicar of the Parish
  • 1947 Electric blower for organ installed
  • 1956 New copper weathervane in the form of an arrow erected on the Tower
  • 1967 Oil fired central heating installed
  • 1971 Mains water connected
  • 1973  Interior of Church redecorated
  • 1981 Church re-roofed
  • 1982 Church rewired
  • 1987 Gas fired central heating installed
  • 1988 Tower re-roofed
  • 1988 14 Japanese oak candle holders mounted on walls
  • 1990 Monthly “Parish News” introduced
  • 1990 East End of Church reordered. Wooden modular platforms installed to replace stone and brass chancel structures. Church redecorated.
  • 1998 Rebuilding of organ
  • 2004 Front rows of pews removed and replaced with chairs
  • 2007 Churchyard grass cutting contracted out and funded by Parish Council.
  • 2009 Church redecortaed and new lighting system installed.

The Churchyard

In the Churchyard yew trees can be seen, one was taken from what is now Dorothy House Hospice (formerly Sutcliffe School) and planted in its present position along with a number of others in 1844 at the cost of the Church by a William Stone.

St. Nicholas Churchyard contains the mortal remains of residents going back some 400 years. In addition there are three World War 2 “war graves”.

During the course of every year visitors from far and wide come to the Churchyard seeking out the graves of long passed relatives or friends. These are in addition to the more local who visit regularly to tend the graves of their more recent lost loved ones.

Today the Churchyard grassed areas are maintained under a contract funded by Winsley Parish Council. Regular working parties helping with general maintenance are held seasonally.

By the door inside the Church a board of Vicars can be found, the board is in memory of Rev Homer Hill and given by his wife and son,

it reads:

  • Lewis R Cogan               1846
  • Francis S. Forcess                      1862
  • Reginald W.A. Angelsmith             1892
  • T. Francis Baker                  1922
  • Homer Hill                               1961
  • William A. Matthews                   1973
  • David Ritchie                          1981
  • Derek Smith                            1984
  • Robert Green                            1999
  • Howard Jameson             2005

The Medieval Font was found in a nearby garden although it had probably been used in the Church previously.

In 2004, a faculty was granted for the provision of 40 chairs to replace 6 pews in the front of the Church. These were funded by individual donations at no cost to the Church. They were manufactured and supplied by the Church Furniture Specialist “Irish Contract Seating” and are of a link seat design.

In 2006 a “Railway” style clock was erected in memory of the late Mervyn Hallbrook, Verger for St. Nicholas Church from 1968 – 2005. His picture is displayed at the back of the Church alongside a montage of pictures of previous Clergy.

The Organ

The Church organ originates from 1876, when it was ordered from J.Halshaw & Sons of Birmingham. It was constructed on the gallery at a cost of £200 and comprised:

Great Organ – 6 stops. Swell Organ – 4 stops. Pedal Organ – 1 stop. Hand pump.

By 1922 it had deteriorated and was dismantled, repaired, cleaned and resited

away from the west window at a cost of £102.10.0. Further repairs and improvements were made in 1931 which included lowering the pitch of the organ, making a curved pedal board and a general overhaul.

In 1947 electrical blowing equipment was installed.

During 1960 a further overhaul became necessary including the replacement of the split wind chest tables and stripping and cleaning the keyboards.

Despite further maintenance, by the end of 1994 it was clear that the organ was ailing and had suffered the ravages of time and variable quality of workmanship. In May1998 it was completely dismantled, 700 pipes removed and cleaned, refurbished and adjusted. The pedal systems were all refurbished, several stop heads were newly engraved in Gothic script. The restoration was completed in September 1998 at a total cost of £9000. Half of the cost was funded by the Foundation for Sports and Arts which itself is funded by subscriptions from Football Pools, Vernons, Littlewoods and Zetters.

Gifts in Memory

Further examples are:

The East Window depicting St.Cecilia, St. Nicholas and St. George was given by Dr. & Mrs. Webber of Turleigh House in memory of their daughter Consatnce and younger son Capt. Sydney Webber D.C.L.I. in 1926

The oak altar was given by Mrs. Dorothy Baker in memory of her husband Rev. Thomas Baker (vicar from 1922 – 1959) in 1962

The chancel cross was designed and made by Mr. Les Butler in 1989 and the gold leaf on the cross was provided by Mrs. Trixie Sampson

The hymn board was given in memory of Flt. Lieut. Oliver Rayner Matheson RAFVR, DFC, Pathfinder

Today

The Church is now equipped with sound amplification and a loop system  for the hard of hearing. The combined Parishes are now under the care of a Rector supported by a non-stipendary minister and lay readers. There is a Parochial Church Council which includes 2 Churchwardens, Treasurer, Secretary, Deanery Synod and  ordinary members.

The services are varied and details are published in the weekly notices  on the Church notice board and the Parish Website. Youth programmes are well supported under the guidance of a Youth Officer with voluntary assistants. Regular “social” events are organised. These are associated with religious festivals charitable causes or just “getting together” The Church is regularly used for musical performances and concerts.