THE CHURCH OF THE ASSUMPTION OF OUR LADY

The construction of the church shows that a stable and prosperous community existed in the parish by the early twelfth century. It is likely that it served both Ashow and Bericote (1). This would explain the choice of site, on the river bank and close to the bridge or ford (known in 1427 as ‘Alfredfordbrugge’) which linked the two settlements. As well as an act of religious faith, the task of construction represented a major exercise in collective endeavour. No building on an equivalent scale had taken place in the parish before, or has occurred since. The soundness of the work has been vindicated by the passage of time. The church predates by at least three hundred years any existing building in Ashow.

Ashow Church Spire Ashow Church

The architectural character of the church can best be appreciated from the outside for the interior has been rendered all over with a thick coat of plaster, lined out in block form, which obscures all the detail. The chancel and the north wall of the nave (that is the wall furthest from the river) are the oldest parts, dating from around 1180. They are built of red sandstone. Extensive repointing was undertaken in 1957 but otherwise the north walls of both nave and chancel are substantially unaltered. They represent very fine examples of early-Norman rubble work. The small roundheaded  deeply pierced windows and the putlog holes used for supporting timber scaffolding are thought to be original. Slates were inserted in the latter about thirty years ago as a protection against weathering, and as a means of deterring nesting birds. The east wall of the nave, where it joins the chancel, is timber framed and was clad with wooden shingles in 1957. Originally, both nave and chancel were thatched. It is likely that a variation in the thickness of the thatch was used to mask the difference in height and width between the two roofs.

Though built at the same time, the appearance of the east and south walls of the chancel was changed by restoration work undertaken in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth centuries. This involved the construction of an angle buttress at the southeast corner presumably because the wall, adjacent to the river, was showing signs of collapse. The altar window was also put in and the east wall was probably refaced. The squareheaded two light window in the south wall of the chancel dates from the late sixteenth century. An interesting feature is that, as can clearly be seen from the aisle, the altar window is slightly ‘off centre’. It does however line up exactly with the centre line of the west door (in the tower). This suggests that the tower and the window were constructed at the same time.

The south wall of the nave has been entirely rebuilt in light coloured sandstone blockwork with wide shallow buttresses at each end, probably late in the eighteenth or in the early nineteenth centuries. Two large windows were constructed to light what in Norman times must have been a very dark interior. It is likely that the inside reveals of the windows in the north walls were also widened at this time, for the same purpose

A tower was added to the Norman building in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth centuries (probably at the same time as the renovation work was undertaken on the chancel). Built of red sandstone it rises in three storeys with a battlemented parapet and the remains of pinnacles at each angle. It is heavily buttressed. An inventory made in 1552 records ‘Ashoo iij belles and a sacering bell’. The latter was a small bell rung at the sanctus and at the consecration in the communion service, so that those in the fields or in their houses might pause for a moment of contemplation. These bells were replaced by four new bells made by John Briant of Hertford in 1793. Inside the tower and at the foot of the stone staircase leading to the bell chamber is the original fifteenth century oak door. It is made out of a single plank, two inches thick. The plain strap hinges, handle and escutcheon, all in iron, are of some interest.

Ashow Church Roof

By far the most impressive feature of the interior is the fine medieval roof. Its appearance today is the result of extensive repair and restoration work undertaken in 1957, when the match-boarded ceiling was removed. A nineteenth century lath and plaster arch which joined the piers on each side of the opening to the chancel was also dismantled. Markings on the piers together with the arcading on the lower parts of the wall point to a high level of decoration of the chancel in Norman times.

In the late eighteenth century the moveable benches in the nave were replaced by box pews. These, together with the pulpit, reading desk, chancel dado and oak are of very fine joinery. Over the altar is a painting of the crucifixion while to the right hangs a smaller picture of the entombment. They are so similar in style that they are presumed to be the remains of a triptych, the entombment having been cut down in size and the other wing lost. They were painted in the midsixteenth century in the Netherlands, probably in the area around Antwerp. The opinion of experts at The National Gallery is that they are not of first class quality and are unlikely to be attributable to the hand of any wellknown master of the period.

Ashow Church Alter Ashow Church Interior

The silver gilt communion plate consisting of a chalice, ciborium, flagon and paten with a 1638 hallmark is one of a number of sets given by Alice, Duchess Dudley to local parishes in the reign of Charles 1. A painted coat of arms of George III hangs on the south wall of the nave. The church registers, now lodged at the County Record Office in Warwick, begin in 1733. This is considerably later than in most parishes in the area. The reason, according to local tradition, is that the earlier records were used by Thomas Badhams, former parish clerk (and publican), as spills with which to light his pipe!

The entrance to the churchyard is enhanced by a fine yew tree. It was dated in 1988 and is estimated to be 380 years old. It is a reminder that the longbow, the most deadly of all medieval weapons was made of yew. In 1363, Edward III ordered the general practice of archery on Sundays and holy days, an enactment reissued by many of his successors and as late as the reign of Henry VII. The practice often took place after worship in the churchyard or its vicinity. A rare survival

Ashow Church arrows

In connection with archery is to be found on  the east wall of the chancel which is deeply scored with marks made from the sharpening of arrows. The bow-men presumably stood with their backs to the church, their targets being in the adjacent meadow.

 

Much of the charm of Ashow church derives from its simplicity and lack of ornamentation. It is enhanced by the peaceful setting on the banks of the Avon. The  sense of timelessness and solitude which pervades church and churchyard is increased  by the realisation that this has been a place of worship and the centre of community life for nearly nine hundred years. The first service was probably held here during the reign of Henry I. The list of known incumbents begins with Roger Denont in 1298. Since that time, fiftyone clerics have provided for the religious needs of the parish. Together they have conducted the baptism, marriage and funeral services for over 300 generations of Ashow residents.

(1) The Domesday Survey of 1085 has separate entries for Ashow and Bericote villages. In 1279, Bericote had an estimated population of eighty. Bericote was abandoned by 1540 because of enclosure. The site of the former village is in the sloping field, next to and downstream of Bericote farm (opposite the church door).

 

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