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Old Saint Marys Church Clophill

 Clophill Old Church 1900
old St.Mary's in about 1900

Clophill has two churches, old and new. The old church (above c.1900) is now a ruin and has been used in the past for dubious practices at dead of night, acquiring a very unsavoury reputation in the 1970s and 80s. Despite this, on a sunny day it is a wonderful place to visit, with commanding views to the south.

The old church at Clophill March 2007
The old church at Clophill March 2007

This old building seems to be Perpendicular| in style (i.e. from about 1350). The building comprised the chancel|, nave|, south porch and west tower. Former County Archivist Chris Pickford charted the 19th century history of the building in his Bedfordshire Historical Records Society volume of 1994 Bedfordshire Churches in the Nineteenth Century A-G.

The interior looking east in 1844 by Lewis Allen [Z50/31/98]
The interior looking east in 1844 by Lewis Allen [Z50/31/98]

The chancel was given new pews in 1802 and a number of other improvements followed, including a new pulpit and desk in 1805, a west gallery in 1814, a new east end to the chancel in 1819 and new tables of the ten commandments in 1820 [see P45/1/4/ below]. By 1826 it seems that consideration was being given to enlarging the church and these resurfaced in 1839, transepts| north and south being considered; however, the rector| was ill and plans shelved (he died in 1843). The new rector decided that a new church altogether should be built at a more convenient site in the village.

Clophill old church looking towards the east end March 2007
Clophill old church looking towards the east end March 2007

On completion of the new church the old one was converted for use as a mortuary chapel as the graveyard remained open. This involved removing the galleries and pulling down the chancel, re-erecting the 1819 east window in the east wall. Today there is practically no sign that the chancel, with its funerary vaults and monuments, ever existed.

The old church looking towards west end March 2007
The old church looking towards west end March 2007

Sir Stephen Glynne in 1854 noted that the old church was "A poor, small church on top of a very high hill, having only a nave & Tower, the Chancel having been destroyed, & the Church is apparently now wholly abandoned". Further repairs to the old building were carried out in 1901 but in 1956 the lead was stolen from the roof and so the remaining fittings were removed and the building allowed to fall into ruin.

Burials in the chancel of the old church [P45/1/4]
Burials in the chancel of the old church [P45/1/4]

A parish register for Clophill has a section at the back noting parish events from 1799 to 1853 [P45/1/4]. It also includes the sketch plan of burials in the chancel pictured above. In addition to M. PImlott, Maria Cotes and the three Rouses (all Rectors of Clophill|) others are named in a note thus: "Rev. W. Norman and Rev. Nathaniel Cole. Rev. C. Fletcher and Nathaniel Pimlott also in chancel. Mr. Fletcher's stone used to lie somewhere in the centre or E. of the centre but there is no vault extant there". Other notes regarding the old church are as follows:

The east end of the nave showing the chancel arch July 2010
The east end of the nave showing the chancel arch July 2010

  • In 1802 The Chancel paved at the sole Expence [sic] of the Rector, the Seats are filled by his Permission.
  • In 1805 A new Desk and Pulpit was erected which cost 25 Pounds the Rectror gave five Guineas.
  • 1819: The East End of the Chancel rebuilt.
  • 1820: Tables of the Commandments erected Aug 27 being the Day of the School Anniversary. The Arms in the Chancel Window were blown [?] out the South Window of the Church being the Arms of Pembroke, Hastings and de Grey.
  • 1823: New Pulpit cushion.
  • 1841: At Easter a proposition was bought forward to enlarge the Church by throwing out a transept or aisle Northward fourteen feet backwards to make accommodations for 200 Persons. Nothing was done on account of the alarming illness of the Rector.
  • 1845: A new Prayer Book provided in part at the expence of the Rector.
  • 1849: The Chancel of the old Church taken down and the galleries removed.
  • 1850: The Seats in the old Church put in order and stained and other alterations made to render it useful as a Chapel for funeral attendances.

Clophill old church Mar 2007
Old St.Mary's in March 2007

At the time of writing [2013] the tower is being reinstated to serve as a viewing platform and the rest of the ruin stabilized. Basic rooms known as "eco lodges" are being built nearby to act as overnight accommodation for people walking the nearby Greensand Way.