A Brief History of the Church at Winwick
Sources: `Discovering Winwick Church’ Philip Andrews;
`History of Winwick’ Beaumont
By kind permission of Canon Robert Lewis
There is a tradition that the church occupies the site of an ancient Druidical altar and pre-Christian temple. This is supported by the report of excavations beneath the Chancel in 1828, when three gigantic skeletons were said to have been discovered. Certainly Winwick is an ancient site – Usher claimed that the name was a corruption of Caer Gwentquic, an ancient British name, but this is only one opinion.
The earliest Christian associations are with St. Oswald, who was King of Northumbria from 634 - 642 AD. He was killed in battle fighting the heathen King Penda, of Mercia in the Battle of `Masterfelth’. The district around Winwick was known as `Makerfield’ and it is thought the Oswald died near the site of the Church – although it is only fair to say that many scholars support the claims of Oswestry. It is significant that there is a well, known as “St. Oswald’s well” a mile away from the Church. St Oswald converted his Kingdom to Christianity, with the help of St. Aiden from Iona.
Previous Churches on the Site
On a window – cill in the Gerard Chapel – the NE Chapel in the church – can be seen the cross arm of a Saxon preaching Cross, dating from around 750AD, which stood until probably broken down by Cromwell’s soldiers during the civil war. Only the back is on view as the front was defaced in 1721 and used as a grave stone. On each end is a carving, one said to illustrate the martyrdom of Oswald, the other to show a Priest carrying water from St. Oswald’s well. Wood cuts of these carvings are adjacent to the Cross for ease of viewing.
At the base of the pillars on the North side of the Church can be seen the carved stone heads. These bases represent an earlier stone Church on the site. The carvings may be Bishops wearing mitres, being fragments of an earlier Norman Church - Winwick Church is mentioned in the Doomsday Book, but it has also been said that they are Saxon carvings of St. Oswald and St Antony of Egypt.
The Winwick Pig
This famous carving is on the exterior of the West wall of the tower. There is a legend that a pig moved the stones for the building of the Church from the intended site to its present place on the hill, all the time crying “Win – ick”!
The truth is probably more prosaic. The carving stands adjacent to a niche in the wall, which probably contained a statue of St. Anthony of Egypt, whose symbol was a pig. St. Anthony, a founder of monasticism, was of considerable significance for the Iona community. The statues were destroyed by Cromwell but were replaced in 1973 with new figures – St. Oswald on the left and St. Anthony on the right.
The Present Church
The present building is said to date from1358, although the Legh chapel is older. The oldest part of the church proper is the Bell Tower, which contains a peal of six bells dated 1711 in addition to the old Sanctus Bell. The clock was installed in 1876. Over the centuries much of the church has been rebuilt or restored. The oldest pillars are on the North side of the church, the ones on the South side having been rebuilt in1836.
In 1701 the present Nave roof was added. The sloping line of the previous pitched roof can still be seen on either side of the clock face on the West wall. The names of the then Churchwardens were carved in the beams.
The South porch was added in 1720. At one time this was the main entrance to the church and is still often referred to as the “wedding door.”
On the South wall there is a fine monument to Thomas Bretherton who ‘served his country with great fidelity in three successive Parliaments in the reign of King William the Third.’ Above the South porch are five now faded tablets recording the charitable bequests to the parish.
The Nave pews, the Pulpit and the Lectern date from the internal restoration of 1858. The choir stalls were installed in the 1920s.
The organ was bought from Powys Castle around 1850. Recently the worn out instrument has been preserved but the sound now is of 3 – manual Makin organ installed in the original case.
Hanging in the Nave is a picture of the Broad Oak Dinner, given in honour of Captain (later Admiral) Phipps Hornby, the son of the Rector, who won a naval victory in the Battle of Lisa, 1811. The captured French flag can be seen in a display case near the North door. The Broad Oak blew down in the great storm of 1850; its timber was used to produce the benches, which are at present in the Gerard chapel. The timber screen between the Nave and the tower was erected in 1920 as a First World War memorial.
The window at the West end of the South aisle was installed as a memorial to Rector F. G. Hopwood in 1890. The West window of the Tower commemorates Rector J. J. Hornby, who died in 1855.
All the stained glass in the Chancel was given in 1849 by Edward, 13th Earl of Derby, in memory of his family’s service as Patrons of the Parish since 1433. The obituary window, above the memorial table has the family Coat of Arms and six small shields. The East window shows the writers of the New Testament; the other windows illustrate various Bible Stories.
In the Gerard chapel, the East window depicting scenes from the life of St. Oswald was installed in 1938 as a memorial to the Stone family.
The Pugin Chancel
Cromwell had stationed his troops in the church after the Battle of Red Bank 1648. Much damage was done and from then onwards the mediaeval chapel decayed. It was reconstructed in 1849 by the famous architect A.W. Pugin who designed every detail modelling it on the old chancel from the floor tiles to the ceiling and from the stained glass to vestry cupboards. In 1970 the chancel was restored to Pugin’s original design and is one of the glories of the church.
In the Chancel can be seen the memorials to the more recent Rectors and one dated 1689 to Rector Richard Sherlock who insisted on writing his own epitaph “tread under foot this worthless salt”, but his parishioners added “his life and merits exceed all praise.
The Gerard Chapel
On the floor of this chapel – the East end of the North aisle – is a magnificent, but damaged brass memorial to St. Piers Gerard who died in 1495. Beneath the floor is the family vault. This has not been used since the Reformation. At the East end is a Communion Table dated 1725. This was the main Altar of the Church until the restoration of the Chancel. The Churchwardens accounts record its purchase for £4.00.
In the centre is an anagram of the initials of the Rector of the day – Rev. Dr. Francis Annesley and in the corners are inlaid the initials of the Churchwardens.
The Legh Chapel
This chapel, the chantry chapel of the Legh family of Lyme Hall, contains several fine marble monuments. It also contains an unusual brass – to Sir. Peter Legh and his wife, dated 1527. Sir Peter is depicted wearing priest’s vestments over his armour – he was ordained after the death of his young wife. The fine Tudor roof decorated with gilded carved angels. The chapel now houses the organ.
The first recorded Rector was Hugh de Wynewhick in 1192. Four Rectors have been Archdeacons, six have been Bishops. Two, the Revs. Sherlock and Herle became nationally known for their writings – their portraits hang in the Gerard Chapel.
The Hornby family were great benefactors of the village, founding charity schools, alms houses and restoring the church. Rev. J. J Hornby was responsible for dividing the ancient parish into the 15 modern parishes which now occupy the area. Before this division, the living of Winwick was one of the best in the land, indeed in the reign of Henry VIII it was said to be the best at £100 per annum.