St Andrew’s, Rollestone, well worth a visit
St Andrew’s Church is in the former parish of Rollestone, later part of the parish of Shrewton St Mary’s, which itself, on 1 January 2014, became part of the new Salisbury Plain Benefice that combines the former parishes of Chitterne, Orcheston, Shrewton and Tilshead.
It is a tiny, charming church overlooking the Till winterbourne. Although it lies just off the A360 main road through the village, it retains a wonderfully quiet atmosphere, and somehow feels quite ‘hidden away.’
The first recorded mention of the church was in 1291 although it said that it was built earlier in the 13th century. It is of flint and stone, in the attractive chequer board pattern so often found on Salisbury Plain. This is apparently known as ‘flushwork’, and another example can be found about a mile away at St Mary’s, Maddington.
The prior of the order of St John of Jerusalem in England presented to the rectory at least from 1302 until the advowson passed to the Crown at the Dissolution.
There were few alterations until the 19th century and, from the early 14th century and for about 350 years until the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century, the religious crusaders of the Knights Hospitaller appointed the rector.
St Andrew’s is in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust, who kindly released the photos below, taken by Diana Neale.
It’s main claim to fame is the local story that Jane Seymour who, in 1536, succeeded her cousin Anne Boleyn as Henry VIII’s third wife, was baptised here in about 1508. One version is that she was baptised during a break in a journey from Southampton to London (for more about Jane Seymour visit Wikipedia).
The Churches Conservation Trust tries to pour cold water on the tale, unfortunately. In their excellent leaflet about the church, they say: “The local legend … is a misapprehension, caused by the record of another Jane Seymour’s baptism in 1637.” Possibly the CCT has access to a parish register for 1508, or thereabouts but, given that the only registers held by the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre are from 1654 to 1992, and even those from 1714-1812 are missing, one wonders if there may have been more than one, or even more than two Jane Seymour’s baptized here over the centuries, given that the Seymour family, whose main estates were at Wulfhall in the Savernake Forest in North Wiltshire and are said to have owned Rollestone Manor, now a hotel which lies adjacent to the church. You may prefer to believe in the legend!
The church has two large Perpendicular windows, and retains the original 13th century font, with a 17th century cover. The oak benches with Jacobean carved ends came from the redundant church of St Catherine’s in Haydon, Dorset.
Later windows were inserted in the nave in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, while the nave was also reroofed in the 16th century. In the 17th century there were new fittings of which a communion table and font cover remain.
Reset lancet windows in the chancel indicate that it was built in the earlier 13th century and the small nave may be of the same date. The font is also early 13th century. Later windows in the nave are to the west, probably 14th century, to the north, 15th century, and to the south, early 16th century. The nave was reroofed in the 16th century and of the 17th century fittings the communion table and font cover remain. In 1845 the chancel and chancel arch were apparently rebuilt, much of the nave refaced, and the porch added.
In 1553 two ounces of plate were confiscated for the king’s use. A chalice and cover of 1576 were still held by the church in 1978.
The interior is largely whitewashed and the heraldic stained glass dates from the 18th century.
The earliest reference found so far of the church being dedicated to St Andrew is in 1845.
Although the church was restored in that same year it has retained much of its medieval atmosphere. The chancel and chancel arch were rebuilt, with some of the nave being refaced and the porch was added at the same time.
Be astonished by the numbers who came to services: “In 1783 attendance at the Sunday service, held alternately in the morning and the afternoon, was unreliable and the children failed to attend for catechism. In 1851 the congregation was said to be three times the population of the parish. A more cautious estimate of 1864 suggested that average attendance was between 40 and 150, depending on the weather and the presence of worshippers from other parishes.”
The little wooden bell turret was also added during the 19th century. There is only one bell said by British History Online to date to 1860, although another source suggests it dates to the 14th century. But in either case it must have been a loud one, given the numbers attending in 1864. We’d be very happy if 150 people were to attend a combined service of our one benefice (which until 2014 was four parishes and, in 1864, consisted of eight parishes in all). We use a website, Twitter, Facebook and mobile phones to get people to worship, so that single bell must have been most effective!
And some indication of the slow pace of inflation: “In 1291 the rectory had an annual value of £4 6s 8d. In 1535 the assessments of £7 18s and in 1650 of £40 were still low by comparison with other benefices of the deanery and hundred. By the 19th century, however, the rector’s income was relatively good in view of the size of the parish. Between 1829 and 1831 the rector received an average of £150 a year. Most of that came from tithes, which were due to the rector from the whole parish. Payment in kind had ceased by the early 19th century and in 1839 a yearly rent-charge was substituted for the tithes, then valued at £170.”
Certainly one rector stayed for 44 years. On the south wall of the chancel a memorial tablet, in Latin, to the Reverend William Westerna Walsh, rector of St Andrew’s from 1877–1922. The inscription reads “that this most estimable man had lived a life of faithfulness to God and to his own people.”
In 1923 the parish of Rollestone, a rectory, was united with the adjacent living to become the joint benefice of Shrewton with Maddington and Rollestone, the Crown retaining the right of presentation at every third turn. By 1958 the Crown had become the sole patron, after an exchange of patronages with the bishop of Salisbury. In 1970 the three ecclesiastical parishes were united and, in 1972, the name of the combined living was changed to Shrewton.
On 1 July 1993 St Andrew’s was declared redundant. On 8 February 1995 it was vested in what is now the Churches Conservation Trust. It is designated by English Heritage as a Grade II* listed building.
The online leaflet by the Churches Conservation Trust describes the church in detail and is well worth referring to.
The war memorial tablet records two deaths:
- Private Edward Nicholas Rose served with the Coldstream Guards and died, aged 19, on 10 September 1917 during the third Battle of Ypres
- Private Frederick Mills served with 2nd Battalion, the Wiltshire Regiment, and died, aged 26, on 29 October 1916 of wounds or disease in hospital at Étaples-sur-Mer, in the Pas-de-Calais
Although St Andrew’s is no longer used for regular worship occasional services are held there. It is well worth a visit.
The name Rollestone
In 1086, in Domesday, it is simply called Wintreburne, a name common to several places in Wiltshire at that time, but by 1242 it is found as Rolvestone (with and without the last ‘e’), and from then until 1636 it is variously Rowston, Rolleston al. Rolveston, and Ralston.
Place Names of Wiltshire, by Gower, Allen Mawer and Stenton, states:
“As the place is pretty certainly represented by one of the unidentified Wintreburne manors, it is likely that the present name is of post-Conquest origin, deriving from some 12th century holder Rolf … a Norman personal name of Scandinavian origin.’ So Ralf would have been one of the earliest manorial tenants. The ‘ton’ ending means, essentially, ‘the homestead of’, and has come down to us as the modern word ‘town.’”
The civil history of Rollestone
A detailed history of the civil parish can be found on the British History Online website, from which much of the ecclesiastical history, above, was taken.
Eight parishes? Yes… All Saints’ in Chitterne, St Andrew’s in Rollestone, St George’s in Orcheston, four St Mary’s in Chitterne, Orcheston, Maddington, and Shrewton, and St Thomas’s in Tilshead. Not to mention another chapel in Chitterne and yet another, probably, in Elston.
- Wikipedia’s page on St Andrew’s Church, Rollestone
- Wikipedia’s page on St Andrew
- Wikipedia’s page on Jane Seymour
- Wikipedia’s page on Rollestone
- Wiltshire History Online’s page on St Andrew’s Church
- British History Online’s page on Rollestone
- Churches Conservation Trust’s page on St Andrew’s Church
- Churches Conservation Trust’s leaflet