THE CHURCH BUILDING

General Appearance and Exterior

The old Braunstone church is a small building by most church standards and consists of a short square tower, a nave and a slightly lower chancel. It is built of limestone and random Leicestershire granite, and roofed throughout with Swithland slate. The old porch is of red brick.

Part of the old church is thought to be of twelfth or thirteenth century origin, but with various alterations and additions and the fact that there are very few records available, most of the dates given here must be rather approximate.

From the south side the church presents a very picturesque view but from the north there is a distinctly ugly and unfinished appearance. This is due to the fact that an ambitious extension scheme, which included the re-orientation of the whole church, was begun in 1937. Due to lack of finance, this scheme was not completed (thus the truncated arch on the north wall), and in 2001 the church once again took its medieval format.

The Millennium Hall

Millennium HallThis is a portion on the north side of the old church which was begun in 1937. It is faced with Leicestershire granite. It was used until 2001 as the main worship area, with the altar being sited on the south side in front of  the present south porch. In 2000 it was converted into a community hall.

“Queen Anne” Porch

It is believed that this porch was built around 1704 (during the reign of Queen Anne), probably at the same time as the restoration of the tower. It is constructed of red brick with a semi-circular arch and roofed with Swithland slate. The floor is of red quarry tiles.

The Church Yard

There are several grave stones of interest. Near to the Queen Anne porch is the grave of a man who was murdered in 1683. It bears the legend:

Gravestone

“Here lyeth ye body of Richard Parsons
deceased ye 30th of March [16]83 aged 30.
Is Parsons dead?
Yea, Stab’d by wicked Lane:
And must lye here, till all men rise againe.
By Lane’s infernal stabb, young Parsons dy’d
Cause in a fray he with his friend did side.”

Another grave of note is that of William Unett who was Curate at Braunstone for twenty-five years between 1742-1766.

There is a story that on one of the graves in the churchyard was a large bush of the herb thyme. It was said to have been planted by the widow of the man who was buried there. She said that he ‘never had time’ to do anything at home when he was alive so she would make sure that he had all the thyme he wanted now he was dead!

Outside the east end of the church, part of the church yard is surrounded by low iron railings. This area contains the graves of some of the members of the Winstanley family who owned the Manor of Braunstone from 1650-1925. Other members of this family and of the Hastings family are buried in the crypt of the church which was sealed up at the beginning of this century.

The Tower

The Norman tower, of the same construction as the rest of the old part of the church, bears an inscription saying ‘This steepel was repaired Anno Domini 1704’. A further inscription says ‘Again restored 1938, R. S. Sleight Vicar, Harry C. Wesley and Robert S. Martin, church Wardens.’

The tower was probably higher than it now is, and reduced to its present height at some early date.

Some of the buttresses of the tower bear deep scorings where, it is said, Cromwell’s Roundheads sharpened their swords at the time of the Civil War. However, it is probable that these marks are due to nothing more than some gardener sharpening his scythe or sickle. The soft limestone of these buttresses also bears evidence of much later local vandalism, in some cases complete with initials and dates!

THE INTERIOR

The Font

FontThis is one of the oldest features in the church and is situated in the south-east corner of the nave. It is built up with an inverted basin of a plain circular thirteenth century font supporting a basin made from a fourteenth century octagonal moulded capital of a pillar.

Archdeacon Bonney in his Visitation of 1838 refers to ‘an ancient font of stone’, and in a Visitation in 1637 the font was mentioned as being in ‘a very unhandsome condition’.

Inscribed Tablets

There are four wooden tablets around the nave walls on which the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer are written in gold lettering. They were originally situated in the tower and were removed to the new extension when that was used as a church, and then to their present position when the old layout was restored.

The Tower and Belfry

As mentioned above the tower was used for many years as the main vestry, and it still contains some of the wardrobes which were used for vestments. Some of the timber used for the construction of these originally formed part of the ‘Squire’s pew’ which was removed from the main aisle in 1932.

The belfry contains three bells which do not form a suitable peal for ringing properly, and they are known by many local residents and choir boys as ‘Nick, Nack, and Poof.’ Nevertheless, they do create a cheerful sound at weddings and the bells themselves are quite old. Each bears the inscription ‘R. Taylor, St. Neots fecit 1812.’ R. Taylor of St. Neots formed the bell founding firm now known as John Taylor of Loughborough. Two of the bells were formerly inscribed ‘James Winstanley esquier ABME fecit 1654’.

The Vestry

This is beneath the organ loft adjacent to the tower. In the south-west corner of the nave is the seventeenth century parish chest which is stoutly constructed of oak with a panelled lid bound with iron straps. It still bears the remains of the statutory three locks.

The Organ

Constructed by Bravington of London, the organ was installed in 1861 by James Beaumont Winstanley, the then Lord of the Manor. It is situated on a gallery over the vestry by the tower archway.

It is of one manual with pedals, tracker action throughout, and contains 384 pipes all of which, with the exception of the pedal Bourdon and the largest open diapason pipes are enclosed in a swell box having balanced opening shutters controlled by a pedal. Two other pedals are arranged to draw combinations of stops, but, because of age are unreliable. This instrument is believed to be one of the largest single manual organs in the county.

The arrangement of the stops and pipes is as follows:

Manual Keyboard of 54 notes (CC-F):
1. Open Diapason 8ft.
2. Dulciana 8ft.
3. Flute 8ft. Common base.
4. Principal 4ft.
5. Twelfth
6. Fifteenth
7. Trumpet 8ft. (down to tenor C only)
Pedal Keyboard of 30 notes (CCC-F) 8. Bourdon l6ft. 9. Manual to pedal coupler

 

A new Norman-Beard pedal board, given by Mr. E. Withers the organist was added in 1955.

The Lectern

This is in the north of the chancel. It is in the form, like many church lecterns, of an eagle, and is made of brass. This lectern was brought from the now demolished church of St. Luke in Humberstone Road, Leicester.

The Foundation Stone

In the wall of the left hand side aisle of the hall is a stone dated June 17th, 1937, which was unveiled by the late H. Percy Gee to inaugurate the extension.

North-side Arch

This is the junction between the north wall of the church and the extension, and was to be the chancel arch of the church. Because the roof over the main aisle of the nave is not complete, this proposed gothic arch is also incomplete and this part of the roof of the church is supported by a beam which spans the gap.

The High Altar

The altar is against the wall of the chancel. It is made of oak and the Greek characters alpha and omega are carved on the front. Together with the two prayer desks alongside, this altar came originally from Leicester Cathedral.

The other altar has rails, also of oak, which were installed in 1948 as a war memorial by public subscription. They bear the inscription ‘To the glory of God and in memory of those of this parish who made the supreme sacrifice and in gratitude to all who served in the World War 1939-1945.’

The Hatchment

HatchmentThe custom of setting up a hatchment after death began during the seventeenth century and virtually died out in the early nineteenth century. The arms of the dead person were set up over the entrance of his house for twelve months and then removed to the church. The word ‘hatchment’ is a corruption of the term ‘achievement’, meaning the emblazonment of the full armorial bearings of the person.

There is one hatchment in Braunstone church for members of the Winstanley family.  This hangs on the south wall of the nave and shows the arms of Clement, son of the above who died unmarried in 1855 aged eighty years.

Windows

There is very little stained or painted glass in the windows of the church, and what little there is comprises some broken fragments which have been inserted into the heads of three of the windows. In his History of Leicestershire Nicholls refers to a ‘Beautiful little figure of St. Cecilia playing upon an instrument much resembling a violin.’ This window has at some time been broken and all that remains is a small portion of the figure in the window on the right of the high altar. Nicholls refers to a similar figure to this at Elmesthorpe, and includes an illustration. The Elmesthorpe figure also appears to have been lost.

New windows were inserted throughout the church in 1875 and it may have been then that the stained glass was broken.

Incised Slabs

There are several slabs in the floor of the church, including some which were formerly outside the church until the extension covered them. They can now be seen in the chancel and nave.

In the floor of the chancel, in the front of the altar, there is a tablet commemorating Rev. E. H. Dight, who was a curate in Braunstone from 1932-1936. In the main aisle of the church, near to the organ, there are several slate slabs bearing only initials and nineteenth century dates.

Perhaps the most interesting incised slab in the church is the one near to the  screen, but unfortunately it is very badly worn. It is an alabaster slab approximately six feet by three. From what is left, it appears that the slab originally depicted the figures of a man in armour and a lady in a tight sleeved gown, trimmed with fur along the bottom edge of the skirt and wearing a pedimented headdress, her head resting on a tasselled cushion. There was also a latin inscription round the edge of the slab, but it is now virtually indecipherable.

Both Throsby and Nicholls mention other stones in the church in commemoration of members of the Hastings and Winstanley families, but there is no trace of these now. In 1885 the level of floor of the church was raised, probably to combat the persistent dampness mentioned in earlier records and it may have been then that these stones disappeared.

The Chancel

Last of the WinstanleysThe floor, which is of quarry tiles, is comparatively modern and has been laid since the crypt which is underneath the chancel was sealed at the beginning of the century. Around the walls there are several tablets commemorating members of the Winstanley and Pochin families, and the most notable of these is one in memory of Major Richard Norman Winstanley the last Lord of the Manor of Braunstone who died in 1954 having sold the estate in 1925 to Leicester Corporation.

The sanctuary lamp hanging from the roof bears an inscription in memory of John Throsby, and the cross on the altar and one of the candlesticks are inscribed as memorials to Frederick and Jack Bonner, who died in the Second World War.

The chancel was, together with the rest of the church re-roofed in 1867 and again in 2009. Before that this roof was, according to Nicholls, vaulted with a plastered ceiling. On the south side of the altar is an old piscina with a pointed arch. On the north side is an aumbry which was installed in 1955.

The altar rails are believed to date from the seventeenth century and are of oak, and the screen, also of oak, consists of carved open traceried panels with a central opening, and, apart from the comparatively modern cornice dates from the late fifteenth century.

A wooden reredos believed to have been Elizabethan or Jacobean was removed and broken up in 1900, and some fragments have been used to make the wooden Processional Cross which can be seen in the chancel.

This entry is dated Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011 at 5.41pm and is filed under History.

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