Acton Beauchamp: St Giles, WR6 5AQ
The church of St. Giles is situated on top of a raised incline, lending itself to stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Access to the church is via a small country road and then a public footpath. The church is part Norman and part Georgian, and is built on a site originally used by the Saxons. The yew tree which stands near the church door is between seventeen hundred and two thousand years old. It is believed to be one of the oldest yew trees in the country.
A communion service takes place on the first Sunday of every month, and there are extra services for special events in the Christian calendar. The lively, all inclusive congregation are from a wide age range and are warm and friendly. There are a number of young families and our services are relaxed and very family friendly. The church is well loved and cared for, with a team of volunteers cleaning and decorating the church with flowers. The churchyard is cared for by volunteers who keep the grass mown and tidy but are, at the same time, still aware of the abundance of wildlife and flowers which are evident there.
The parish of Acton Beauchamp is very spread out, with a population of approximately 150. It is still largely a farming community. There are few amenities in the parish itself; going to school or to the shops means a journey to Brockhampton, Bromyard, Hereford or Worcester. The church is the focal point for all social events but, when necessary, we use the village hall of neighbouring Stanford Bishop.
The PCC is enthusiastic and works well as a team. This is vital, as we have a busy fund raising schedule of events. The highlight of these is a fun dog show and summer fete.
Our building is an attractive resource. St. Giles’ is a very peaceful church surrounded by the Herefordshire countryside. The church door is never locked during the day, so visitors are free to call in and look round at any time. The church itself is plain and simple in style. The font dates from the fifteenth century; damage caused during the Reformation can still be seen. The Norman tower holds three bells, two of which are amongst the oldest in the country. For safety reasons, the bells had been silent for over thirty years. However, we have managed to secure a grant and they are now rung each month before the service.
St Giles Church stands alone amidst fields apart from a large farmstead slightly to the North. Its situation is one of tranquil and unspoilt English history. Just before the South doorway stands the tattered remnant of a once huge yew tree, it is likely that this tree predates any building on this site, and a sketch made in 1810 by an artist named Ricards shows the tree in almost the same rugged condition as it is some 200 years later. The piece of carved stone over the small tower door nearby it is almost certainly the bottom of a Saxon preaching cross, which may, together with the ancient yew tree, have been a place for "preaching in the field" before the church was built. (Those who have sheltered beneath a yew in either rain or sun will appreciate the sense of our forbears; also the different colour of the evergreen foliage would have stood out as a useful marker when travelling on foot or horseback through woodland)
The name Acton, meaning settlement amongst the oaks (Ac - oak tune - town) is derived from the wealth of oaks which grow in the heavy clay soil, and although there are far fewer of these magnificent trees now than in the past, acorns will still easily strike when buried in the soil by careful jays preparing for the winter. Evidence of the settlement being in woodland also comes from the rare wild service trees that dot the area, an exceptionally fine one standing just within the churchyard gates. Beauchamp was added to distinguish it from other Actons after Emmeline, heiress of Urso d'Abitot, Sheriff of Worcester, married Walter de Beauchamp in 1129.
In 718 or 727 Aethilbald, King of the Mercians, gave to Buca, in return for his payment, 3 hides at Aactune (a hide being a measurement unit of land equal to about 120 acres) Interestingly it is thought that the hermit St. Giles died around 710, afterwards enjoying great popularity and having many early churches dedicated to his name. In 972 King Edgar gave a charter to the monks of Pershore Abbey confirming their lands and privileges including their 3 hides in Actune, but by the time of the Domesday survey the settlement is listed as having 6 hides. The lord had 6 ploughs, and there were 9 smallholders and 1 villager with 4 ploughs between them. All of this together with 12 slaves, was valued at £4. At this time Urso is named as holding Actune from the Bishop of Bayeux . Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, was half brother to William the Conqueror and had somehow acquired Acton from the monks of St Mary's Church Evesham - not Pershore as we might have expected. These monks referred to Odo as 'lupus rapax' a ravening wolf! The story is told in the Victoria County of Worcestershire vol iv. (Acton Beauchamp was part of Worcestershire until 1897)
A sketch of the church made in 1810 by an artist named Ricards suggests that the church at the time was rather decrepit; other than its hillside position and the already grizzled yew tree by the south door it is hard to identify it as the same church. A further sketch made in 1819 shows the church as we see it today. A stone on the outside wall above the east window also gives the date 1819, probably the date of the reconsecration of the church.
It is possible that some of the structure was retained, as the church seems not to have basically altered in shape or size. There is a vast archway between the nave and chancel which is of Norman shape, and although it is difficult to tell under its layer of 19th C plasterwork it is likely to be of Norman origin. The stones forming the Late Norman south doorway have been taken down and reset, the numbering on the stones can still be seen, and a re-consecration cross on the right hand door jamb is clearly visible. The capital on this side is carved with three human heads, the western one merely scalloped. It is possible that the early 19th C. rebuild did not include the base of the tower, as the small doorway entrance, with its lintel formed from the mutilated remains of an Anglo-Saxon cross, is low and out of proportion to the other doorway from the tower to the nave, suggesting it is of a much earlier date and by implication that the base of the tower was left in its original state.
The work undertaken during the early years of the 19th C. has resulted in a light, airy interior favouring the classical style, the windows are of plain leaded glass, through which glimpses of the beautiful surrounding countryside are visible. The walls and ceiling are completely smooth plastered, resulting in good acoustic qualities. Although the interior fittings were remodelled some 100 years or so later at the beginning of the 20th C., those who care to look may just see the ghostly traces of the original choir's gallery at the west end of the nave, and of the high two-tier pulpit which would have been needed by the preacher in order to see into the tall box pews, each with its own closing door, now gone and re-utilised in the wainscot lining the walls of the nave, and a walk-in cupboard in the vestry. A tiny piece of panelling which may date from the medieval church before its 19th C. rebuild, has been framed and is now on the wall above the vestry door.
It is thought the font is 15th C., even though a comment in the margin of the baptism register for 10th Nov. 1850 states that Lousia Orgee, daughter of Richard Orgee of Halfridge was "the first child to be christened in the new font". An expert has recently given the opinion that the font is 15th C and was possibly moved in from another church, particularly as it has been made from limestone rather than the local sandstone. When closely examined the damage to the front lip shows where the locked lid (Holy Water was guarded carefully) was forced during the Reformation. When Henry VIII had quarrelled with the Pope, papal official were sent to retrieve all the Holy Water from English churches. These officials forced the locks to the hinged lids, and often damaged the stonework in the process.
The bell tower has three bells, and hanging space for a fourth. The largest bell is dated 1748 and was cast by Abel Rudhall at his foundry in Gloucester, and bears the motto 'Fear God. Honour the King' The two smaller bells are dated 1440 and were cast by Richard-le-Belytère at his foundry in Worcester. The treble is inscribed, 'Sancte Gabriel, ora pro nobis', the second 'Sancte Petre, ora pro nobis' - St. Gabriel / St. Peter pray for us. These two bells are believed to be amongst the oldest in the country. It is because of this that they have been placed on the list of bells of significance by the Church Buildings Council.
The bells (which are uncracked and in tune) had been silent for over thirty years due to safety issues, but recently as a result of fund-raising efforts, they can once again chime out.