St Mary's Church History
St Mary's church has served the community of Dilwyn for well over 800 years and has developed from a quite modest structure to the much extended Grade I listed building that exists today.
St Mary's church has walls of local sandstone rubble and ashlar with dressings in the same materials. The west tower originally related to an earlier nave which was demolished and replaced by the present nave in about 1300. So the tower is the earliest part of the present church and dates to about 1200. It still has two Norman windows with double roll mouldings.The later, larger nave was located further north than the orginal and as a result only the north half of the tower arch is preserved with the south arcade running right against the apex of the arch.
On the wall, above the arch, the original nave's roofline can still be discerned showing that the original nave was quite low and as narrow as the tower width. The original nave roof line can also be seen clearly on the external east face of the tower above the porch. Some parts of the south wall of this earlier nave may be incorporated in present south wall,
The arcades that separate the nave from the aisles are Early English in style. The piers are circular and solid with some of the capitals having geometric decoration. The eastern-most pier of the south arcade has a bracket with dogtooth decoration. The aisles have a great variety of windows but most date from around 1300, just as Early English was giving way to Decorated. Therefore, they include plate tracery, with quatrefoils and cusping. The tower was heightened at the same time as the new nave was constructed. The floor level of the nave and isles would have been higher than that of today as the floor was lowered in 1867.
Unusually, the church has two fonts. The oldest font dates to c.1310 and has similar features to the font in Weobley church but probably pre-dates it. Common features include the mouldings and the unusually high height of the fonts.
The present clerestory windows were inserted when the nave was heightened and the present roof added in the early 15th century. Above the spandrels of the arcades are the blocked-off windows of the lower nave of circa 1300.
There is documentary evidence that Dilwyn's church of St Mary had been appropriated to the Wormsley priory in 1274. There is further documentary evidence that the chancel was built around 1305 by the Wormsley Priory.
The chancel is substantial and is also Early English. The windows of the south wall are similar to those of the nave. The impressive east window is early Decorated with three cusped lights and, above, a large pointed trefoil. The documentary evidence that the chancel was built around 1305 fits with the style of this window. However, the painted glass in this window dates to 1867. In the north wall of the chancel there is a Decorated period tomb recess with ball-flower embellishment, crockets, and finials that indicate a date a little later in the 14th century than that of the chancel. In the recess was a stone effigy of a knight wearing mail, with his hand on the hilt of his sword. It is said to represent Sir George Talbot. who died in 1387 but this date may be rather late for this style of tomb recess. The tomb was moved from its original recess and placed under the adjoining window in 1867 to allow room for installation of the Nicholson organ.
The North vestry (or sacristy) was added soon after the chancel, while the north transept and adjoining stair-turret are mid 14th century. This stair-turret gave access to the rood loft ( a kind of gallery with a large Crucifix in the centre, resting on the two corbels over the screen. The rood loft was removed in the 17th century leaving the doorway above the stair turret opening into empty space! The south porch is an early 16th century addition. There was formerly a north porch but it was removed early in the 19th centuary. The doorway was blocked up at the same time but its position can still be seen from both the inside and outside of the church.
The parish registers commence with the year 1558 and can be viewed at the Hereford Records Office.
An elaborate gallery was erected at the west end of the nave in 1632. The front consisted of an open balustrade with a frieze along its base. An inscription read 'Vive ut vivas' Thomas Munn and Thomas Bowyer and Richard Ross, churchwardens 'sat cito si sat bene'. The gallery was removed in the restoration of 1867.
In 1733 the peal of six bells was installed in the tower after having been cast by A. R. Rudhall, of Gloucester (see left). The tenor bell weight was 12 cwt and the treble was 5 cwt.
The timber spire was probably added to the tower, or at least in existence, when the bells were added as the bell frame projects at least 6 feet above the top of the stone tower. A further gallery, adjacent to the western gallery of 1632, was erected in the north west corner in 1822 for children of the day school, sunday school and charity children. The two north west aisle pillars are notched to accommodate this gallery. A third gallery was erected over the screen in 1841 to accommodate the choir and an organ of the barrel organ type at the cost of just over £100. Both these galleries were removed in the 1867 restoration.
The church was restored in 1867, 1875, 1882 and 1904. The restoration of 1867 was quite considerable and undertaken with the superintendence of G. C. Haddon, Esq., architect, of Hereford and Malvern. The total cost of this work was then about £2,500 and raised chiefly through the exertions of the Rev. Dr. Heather. The installation of the John Nicholson organ was completed in 1871. A quantity of oak removed from the church during the 1867 restoration, now panels the passage of the Crown Inn. Other parts form the wood work of two cottage porches next to the old shop.
In 1875 the tower was restored, and the bells re-hung, at a cost of £250. The exterior of the chancel, and the south side of the church were also restored in I882. In 1904 the organ was restored at a cost of £300.
A clock was placed in the tower in 1887 to commemorate the Queen Victoria's jubilee. The funds were raised by subscription. The war memorial was errected near the entrance gate in 1922. Also in 1922 the new burial ground was established opposite the east end of the church and from 1923 all new internments took place in this ground. The new burial site was where the old Tythe Barn once stood. A tithe barn was used for storing the tithes - a tenth of the farm's produce which had to be given to the church. Tithe barns are associated with the village church or rectory, to which independent farmers and small-holders took their tithes.
Inside the church, electric light replaced the old oil lamps in 1935. In 1943 the iron gates at the front of the porch were requisitioned by the then Ministry of Works for the war effort. The hinge brackets for these gates can be still seen at the front of the porch. The spire was restored in 1953.
In 1958 a retaining wall at the front of the church was built using concrete faced with stone to allow widening of the road by removing some of the old graveyard. This disturbed several graves and burial chambers and the remains from these were re-buried close by.
In 1975 the bells were again restored and then rehung in a new metal frame by Taylors of Loughborough.
The entrance to the church once had a lych-gate, which was called the "Scaniels". Near the lych gate, within the then limits of the church, stood a building called the 'College'. In this 'College' resided six priests. The vicar was the custos. The whole seven were required to serve in the choir every Lord's Day and the other two (?) at Upper Chadnor Court in a chapel dedicated to St. Helen. The first priest appointed was Thomas Gollosse .-23rd September 1465. This old 'College' is now known as Perrymead.
Recent changes to the church include moving the font and installing a toilet in the base of the tower. The Nicholson organ was restored in 2008 by Nicholson & Co, Worcester at cost of £22,000. Restoration of the tower and the spire has recently been completed.
The late Alex Whitfield produced a record of the monumental inscriptions of the churchyard and church. You can view his work here . Note that burrials after 1923 were in the new burial ground opposite the church and are not covered by these records.