St Mary's Church, Ashwell





By Mr J Beresford - taken from Miss Hislop's handwritten green book owned by Janet Chennells


“Ashwell has had an intimate connection for close on 1000 years with Westminister.

The traveller, passing over the ridge of the hill which separates Ashwell from Baldock, suddenly finds himself faced with a magnificent spectacle.

Immediately below him, rises up in grey glory the tower of the church dedicated to St Mary the Virgin.

The present church, built of clunch obtained from the ancient quarry along the Hinxworth Road, dates in all its extensive beauty from the 14th Century.  It is built on the site of an older church.

To the Chancel a precise date can be given, for in one of the documents in the Muniment Room at Westminster Abbey it is referred to in 1368 as being the new chancel of Ashwell Church.  In this document it is explained that Westminster Abbey and Convent paid £118.2.8d as their share of the cost, being in the position of Rector of the parish they paid in the proportion of 2d to 1d by the vicar.

The main body of the church also dates from the same period, the wide Nave and aisles connecting chancel and tower in austere grace of column and arch.

After the labour of several generations of men, this noble monument of medieval piety was completed.

Nearly six centuries have passed since the sound of hammer, saw and chisel rang into the air, inspiring the villagers with pride in their rising church.  To the peaceful forefathers of the village, as well as to the men who marched away to Agincourt to the wars of Marlborough and to the Battle of the Somme, the image of the Great Tower was supplied the last homely memory and presented a symbol of Divine Strength and Love”.

( With acknowledgements to Mrs Beresford )

The Tower

While the Church Tower was being built the Black Death was raging over Europe and reached England carrying off a very large proportion of the population.  The walls of the Tower were about twelve feet high when the dread Plague reached Ashwell and all work was stopped for several years.  On the wall of the Church Tower was scratched a Graffiti which can still be read.

It runs thus:

M CT X Penta, miser anda ferox violent M CCC L
Supest plebs testis, infinque vents M CCC L X I

A translation is:

1350 wretched wild distracted 1350
The dregs of the mob along survive to tell the tale

And in the end a tempest Maurus this year thunders mightily in all the world 1361

This no doubt refers to the famous storm of St Maur’s Day Jan 15th 1361 which may have cleared the air of the last lingering infection of the Death.


This page was added on 29/07/2011.

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