4.1. St Michael’s Church
One of the Finest Norman Churches in England
Romanesque style and was constructed using locally-won limestone rubble, from the Dunton Road quarry and ironstone and flints, with finer quality dressed limestone from Oxfordshire. It is a typical Norman three-cell construction of Nave, Chancel and Sanctuary with a massive central Tower above the Chancel, and survives as one of only three Norman churches of the same style and date, without having serious alteration to their original footprint plan.
The famous Victorian Architect G E Street carried out major restoration work in 1862 and since then there have been a number of restoration projects funded with money raised locally from legacies and with grants.
Bell ringing is an ancient art and an integral part of Campanology (from Late Latin campana, “bell”; and Greek logia) which is the study of bells. Campanology encompasses the technology of bells-how they are cast, tuned, rung and sounded- as well as the history, methods and traditions of bell ringing as an art.
Stewkley is very proud to have an enthusiastic group of bell ringers and they have continued to practise the disciplines of bell ringing to keep alive the art and allow Stewkley to hear the peeling of bells steeped in village tradition.
Transcription of St Michael’s Church
Area 4.1 – Transcript of St Michael and All Angels Church
The Norman Church of St Michael and All Angels Stewkley has looked over the village from its central position since about 1150 AD and was constructed using locally won limestone rubble from the Dunton Road quarry, ironstone and flints with finer quality dressed limestone from Oxfordshire.
Sir Nikolas Pevsner described it as “ possibly the finest example of original Norman ecclesiastical architecture in England”. The Church is a typical three-cell Romanesque structure with a nave, central tower and a square ended sanctuary/chancel. It survives as one of only three Norman churches of the same style and date, without having serious alteration to their original footprint.
Externally one’s attention is drawn to the massive 57 foot high tower and the typically Norman semi-circular interlaced blind arcading.
Gargoyles, which project from the cornice above the arcading, include symbols of the four evangelists. The magnificent West front is elaborately decorated, with its differently ornamented pillars and arched doorway flanked by blind arches with chevron motif.
The East window with its blind arches either side, surmounted by chevron decoration, is also of particular interest.
Upon entering the church, the eye is drawn immediately to the Chancel arch, with its 14 foot span. Note the frieze surmounted with the same chevron motif consisting of 37 carvings of the beak-head type. Note also the string course consisting of irregular indented mouldings, cut in situ, which runs round the church, both inside and out, at a height of 8 feet.
The Sanctuary has an important quadripartite stone rib-vaulted Norman ceiling.
St Michael’s was conservatively restored in 1862 by the eminent Victorian architect, George Street. The roofs were restored to their original Norman pitches, the small oculus window added to the West gable and stone buttresses at the Sanctuary corners. Street himself designed the neo-Norman pulpit and the exotic Sanctuary reredos, added new pine pews and employed Messrs Clayton and Bell to redecorate the Sanctuary vaulted ceiling and to install a new stained glass East window.
Between 2000 and 2006 and again in 2012, a modern programme of conservation work took place to conserve and replace eroded ashlar and rubble limestone and to re-point the external walls throughout the church with lime mortar to permit the ancient fabric to breathe.
There is a Stewkley Local History Group booklet with more comprehensive detail available on the SLHG website.
When walking in Stewkley please set aside time to visit this church which has been the centre of worship for Stewkley folk for over 8 centuries!
Transcription of Conservation at St Michael’s
Area 4.1. Transcript of Conservation at St Michael’s
G E STREET
St Michael´s was conservatively restored in 1862 by the eminent Victorian architect, G E Street. The roofs were restored to their original Norman pitches, the small oculus window added to the West gable, and stone buttresses at the Sanctuary corners. Street himself designed the neo-Norman pulpit and the exotic Sanctuary reredos, added new pews, and employed Messrs Clayton and Bell to re-decorate the Sanctuary vaulted ceiling and to install a new stained glass East window.
In 2000-06 and again in 2012, a modern programme of conservation work took place to conserve and replace eroded ashlar and rubble limestone, and to repoint the external walls throughout the church with lime mortar to permit the ancient fabric to breathe.
Read all about it
There is a Stewkley Local History Group book – “The Story of the Building and Restoration of St Michael and All Angels Church, Stewkley, Buckinghamshire” available, see our Publications Page
Transcription of St Michael’s Church Bells
Area 4.1 – The bells of St. Michael and All Angels, Stewkley.
It is believed that there have been bells at St Michael’s church since early medieval times.The earliest official mention of bells is from an ancient inventory dated 23rd July 1552 which lists that St. Michael’s had four bells plus a Sanctus bell and two handbells.
Presently St Michael’s has eight bells the oldest of which was cast in 1575.The other bells range in age through the 1600, 1700 and 1800 hundreds to 1937 when the last bell was hung. The eight bells are tuned to an octave of F# and the heaviest bell, the tenor weighs just over 10 cwt (544kg).
There is also a small bell called the Sanctus bell or more commonly the “ting tang” which is chimed five minutes before a service to forewarn late arrivers that the proceedings are about to begin.There is also a set of handbells.
Several of the bells were cast in Drayton Parslow by the Chandlers bell foundry which existed until the mid 1700s.
The bells are hung on headstocks and wheels that enable them to be rung through a full circle and this enables methods to be rung. Methods are a form of bell music which vary from simple to very complicated permutations.
A full peal of bells comprises over 5000 changes and takes approximately 3 hours of continuous ringing.
The bells are rung from the ringing chamber which is situated some forty steps above the choir and the bells are hung above that in the belfry. There is a wooden ceiling between the ringing chamber and the belfry.
Once upon a time the bells were rung from a balcony above the existing choir stalls.
In 2004 the bells were removed, refurbished, tuned and rehung on metal headstocks. The ringing chamber is spacious and much admired by visiting ringers for its roominess.
The bells are regularly rung on Sundays before a service, for weddings, occasionally for funerals and on special occasions such as royal or national events.