Bosbury Parish and Church,
17 December 1874


The old-fashioned parish of Bosbury, rich in orchards and hedges, with roses and other shrubs, being until lately off the line of railways, may be deemed out of the world. But it is still very interesting to archæologists and naturalists. The soil of the parish is a heavy red clay, and, lying off the turnpike-road from Ledbury to Hereford, the approach to it (about four miles) was a few years since a very difficult one, of which the editor of these articles, when a child, had some knowledge.
In a palace here, during several centuries, the Bishops of Hereford frequently resided, and showed large hospitality to their neighbours. But the fabric has long been alienated from its pristine uses, and a farmhouse and buildings occupy its space. At the west end of the churchyard, a recent digging laid bare some old foundations, but, after an attentive survey, (though doubtless belonging to the old palace, either belonging to an entrance or a crypt), nothing certain could be made out by the members of the Worcestershire Architectural society, at their visit in June last.
The remains of the gatehouse to the palace were also visited, and a room in the farmhouse, where an original ceiling of parallel oak beams yet remained entire, as the only portion of the episcopal ball left.
Like all other old mansions, it used to have its columbarium, or pigeon-house, well stocked, as a resort when other diet failed; and here still continues a very unique specimen of such a building, which is similar to a massive round tower, and within it are 16 tiers of cavities, going all round the building, for the incubation of pigeons. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners, into whose occupation the property had got, lately threatened the demolition of this curious structure, but the Rev. J. E. Cheese, the present and respected vicar, with the Bishop’s kind aid, obtained a respite for it; but how long remains to be seen. That gentleman has traced a most interesting recount of Bosbury, showing its union with the See of Hereford from Saxon times, and its name to have been derived from Bosa, its former Saxon proprietor; hence at first Bosamberig, or Bosa’s town. Thus (Mr. Cheese states) the old proverb was verified, that “Bosbury was a town before Hereford was a city.” But here it must be stated that the first place of Christian worship, and pro-Cathedral church, was as early as the second or third century, the fabric being called “The Chapel of our Lady of Fernlege,” Hereford being then situate in the land of ferns, which plants there abounded, and so the pro-Cathedral was used until the first Christian bishop (chronicled) was instituted A.D. 544, the second Bishop A.D. 601; and the third, Bishop Putta, A.D. 676, who erected the first cathedral church of timber, which was destroyed by fire. The second cathedral was built by Milfred, viceroy of King Egbert; the third church by Bishop Athelstane (brother of King Athelstane), 1012-1056, which was destroyed; and the ruins of the latter remained till the time of Bishop Losing for 24 years, when that prelate (1076-1095) erected the larger portico el the fourth (present) church, on the plan of the Cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle. This church extended westward from the choir to the nave. In the south-east aisle (choir) and transept may yet be seen a fragment of Athelstane’s church. The additions to the existing Cathedral were made by Bishops Raynelm, Swinfield, Braose, Stanbury (founder of the college, the two sets of cloisters, and the ancient chapter-house now destroyed), and Bishop Booth (1516-1535), founder of the great north porch.
Returning to Bosbury, this place early became a residence of the Bishops, and Leland states that Bishop Athelstane died here in 1056. The Norman prelates also resided here, and from the Swinfield roll, now in the British Museum, many curious particulars have been obtained. This Bishop died here A.D. 1613. There was also a Preceptory of Knights Templars in the parish.
On entering the church, its long nave will be much remarked upon, the detached tower or belfry standing separate on its southern side, forming a fine and imposing feature of the fabric. Passing through the Norman doorway, the interior is seen, containing the nave, divided from the side aisles by six pointed arches, resting on round pillars, characteristic of the transition period. The clerestory windows are of the same date: but there is a small Norman window at the west end, and the lower windows of the nave are Early English. A beautiful fan-tracery screen of oak divides the spacious nave from the chancel, whose side windows are Early English, but a late pointed window is at the east end. Encaustic tiles adorn the chancel floor, and an organ chamber has been erected on the north side to receive an excellent instrument, the gift of a pious donor, Mrs. Hope. The fabric has undergone three extensive restorations under the present and two former vicars. A sum of more than £3,000 has been expended upon it since 1840.
There are two very fine sepulchral monuments on either side of the altar, one representing a recumbent figure of John Harford, date 1573; and the other has two figures of Richard Harford, son of the former, and his wife. This family resided at Bosbury, and was opposed to King Charles 1.; so that these memorials were saved when others were destroyed.
In the recent restoration of the church, the old timber roof was re-opened in the nave; but a new carved timber ceiling was given to the chancel. The old pre-reformation open seats have been renewed in the nave, good in themselves, but showing the pews to have been a later work. On the south side of the nave is a mortuary chapel to Sir Roland Morton, in the Pointed style, temp. Henry VII., with a curious rebus on his name. This chapel is embattled outside, and is lighted by windows of the peculiar shape and tracery of the time when it was erected. Near this is the earliest inscription in the church, painted on the wall in old characters, in memory of the father of Bishop Swinfield, who died in 1282, but it is now illegible. Near to it, on the floor, is a slab in honour of a Knight Templar, with a floriated cross. The font, at the west end, is a large one, being square, and supported on five short pillars of the 12th century. There is also a smaller font, having a rude round cavity of sandstone, supposed to be of Saxon origin. The church is dedicated to the Holy Trinity, and at a distance, owing to its elevated proportions, is very imposing.
The detached tower (and belfry) is on the south side of the churchyard, distant more than 60 feet from the aisle wall. It is massive, being 29 feet square, and divided into three stages, by sets-off. Like its neighbour at Ledbury, the two lower stages are pierced each side by a single lancet, except that the ground storey has in the north wall a well-proportioned doorway, of great depth, the wall being in this part increased from five feet three inches to six feet in thickness. The upper stage has on each face two narrow round-headed lights, placed widely apart, and ending in an embattled parapet, from within which once rose a lofty shingled spire, which was struck by lightning on January 14, 1683. Prom numerous entries in the churchwarden& books, it appears to have been a constant expense to the parish. Thus £67 was spent upon it at one time; and at another, four tons of timber were used in its reparation. In 1812, it was entirely removed, and the present low pyramidal slated root was erected in its place.
In the churchyard is an ancient cross of red sandstone, and under it, some years since, when it was removed to its present position, a large, shapeless mass of rock was found, which still lay near the tower. This curiosity Mr. Severn Walker believed to have been an idolatrous stone in Pagan times, and even thought that human victims may have been sacrificed upon it. But Mr. Lees was incredulous, and said it was a slab of limestone, and therefore it could not have been brought from any great distance.
The bell tower already described has a peal of six bells, and a small chamber, with embayed windows, thick walls, and massive door, which is supposed to be for the securing of church and perhaps lay valuable property, and even for ecclesiastics and others against any sudden and hostile attacks.
Before leaving the church, visitors should see the ancient oak room, at the Crown Inn, Bosbury, where the Harford family once resided, which is wainscotted round, except on one side. Above the fireplace, under circular carved recesses of the Jacobæan date, are painted the armorial bearings of the Harford family. One shield has now been taken away. The house, good as it was, is recorded to have been “too short for a bishop.” The old wainscotting on one side of this room had been taken to the church to make a reredos; but in the late alterations it was removed, and returned to from whence it came. This good old room of a worshipful family is now the place of meeting of the “ Swinfield Lodge” of Oddfellows.
The Harford family appears to have had another burial-place in the north-east transept of Hereford cathedral, where there now is a memorial slab.
The patron of the vicarage of Bosbury is the Bishop of Hereford. The acreage of the pariah is 4,769; rent-charge, £400; population, 1098; church sittings, 397.


Mr. Alexander Nesbitt read a paper at the Archæological Institute, Nov. 5, 1848, “On the monuments in Bosbury Church.”—(See Archæological Journal, vol. xvi).
As to the more perfect slab, he remarks that “though there is no inscription, from its style it appears to have been of the 13th century. On it, within a narrow border, is a floriated cross, on the dexter side of the stem of which is a staff with a cross patée head; and on the sinister side a similar staff, and also a sword. The entire head the floriated cross is in very low relief; the stem, the cross-headed staves and sword, are incised.
“The lower part of the slab is lost; but it appears that the floriated cross rested on a base, the form of which is doubtful. The circular form of the cross patée is believed to have been the distinctive kind borne by the Order of the Temple; while the ordinary cross patée, the limbs of which are bounded by straight lines, such as the other slab, belonged to the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. These latter succeeded the Templars at Temple Court.”


Mr. Severn Walker remarks (in the Building News of Oct. 16th, 1863), “This large unhewn mass of Silurian rock was found beneath the cross of St. Cuthbert, when it was removed from its original position some years ago. Its location beneath the cross is curious, and seems to imply that it was an idolatrous stone, or one held in veneration in heathen times, which, when the people were converted to Christianity, it was deemed proper to place under the protection of the cross.”
The church and tower were most likely erected in the time, if not through the influence, of Bishop William de Vere, who is said by Bishop Godwin to have been a great builder. The style of the structures agrees with the date of his episcopate, 1186-1199.
In the churchyard, it has beau stated, that the ancient cross still remains entire. The Puritans, instead of destroying the sacred symbol, as in most other instances, contented themselves with carving upon the limbs of the cross the following inscription:

The peel of six bells in the tower contains one which has the following curious inscription
“All you that hear my clanging sound,
Repent, before you go to ground.”
The Knights Templars had two establishments in Herefordshire, namely at Garway and Upleadon, in the parish of Bosbury, where the site of the Preceptory is indicated by the name of Temple Court.


Anthony Collins, A.D. 1588—Entry in the register Sept. 1588 “Anthony Collins was possessed of the church of Bosbury, and received to be the minister thereof the third day, and upon the Sabbath day he read the articles of the fayth and approved them, conferring them with the Scriptures before the congregation.”
George Wall B.D., A.D.1608— Entry in the register: “Georgius Wall, sacræ Theologiæe Baccalaureus, Ecclesiæ Bosburiensis per annos 33 vicarius. Nec non Regalis ibidem scholæ per annos 22 archididasculus, (see note below) sepultus fuit [morte ejus a Parætis et vicinis multum defletâ] quarto die hujus mensis Sept., 1641.” To him succeeded William Coke, son of Bishop Coke, who also made him Prebendary of Colwall, A.D. 1645, and Portionist of Bromyard. In Walker’s “Sufferings of the Clergy,” it is said: “The said William Coke was evyll entreated in the civyll warres by Col. Birch, Garnstone;” but no details are given.
There are no entries in the register from 1645 till 1659, when the regular order is resumed.
The persecuted vicar afterwards enjoyed 30 years of parochial tranquillity, and was buried in the chancel, Feb. 19th, 1690, the following quaint inscription being on his tomb:—“He lay me down at expectation’s gate, I crave no more, but Christus Jesus meus et omnia. Wm. Coke, 1690.”
Joshua Elmeshurst, who had been appointed head master of the school in 1685, and acted as the aged vicar’s curate, was appointed vicar by Bishop Croft, and was inducted 10 days after Mr. Coke’s decease. He held the combined offices of vicar and schoolmaster till the year 1708, and lies buried in the chancel. Obiit Julii 20, Anno Domini 1708:—Morte ejus a paræcis et vicinis multum defletâ aetatis suæ 62.”

Other Vicars, from Diocesan Registers.—Richard Langford, resigned, non-resident, November 24, 1709; Humphrey Wynne, instituted, 1710; John Jones 1724; Matthew Browne, 1748; William Skinner non-resident, 1764; John Barroll, 1766; Daniel Price 1767; William Rees, 1776; William Allen, D.D. non-resident, 1777; T. F. Ottey, exchanged, 1794; John Lodge, 1801; J. H. Underwood, 1830; Berkeley L. Stanhope, 1856; John E. Cheese, 1866.
In the History of Ledbury it has been stated that, during the last century, members of the ancient family of Lucy of Charlcote resided in the parish of Bosbury. Here also is settled the respected family of Gibbs, and many of its members lie in the churchyard.
The editor is deeply indebted for the principal details in this article to the kindness and great research of the Rev. J. E. Cheese; and Mr. Severn Walker, whose same has been previously mentioned in this series of church notices.


From the Ross Gazette, Thursday, 17 December 1874, page 3 column 5

Note: ‘didaskalos’ is ‘teacher’ in Greek so ‘archididasculus’ must be the Latinised form meaning ‘head teacher’. George Wall was the head teacher at the Bosbury school for 22 years (per annos 22). Thanks to Philip Weaver for this insight.

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