HISTORY OF CHARWELTON and CHURCH
To any passer-by it must be very difficult to imagine that this tiny "main road" village has a history so long and intricate, so much so that if they had visited this parish a few centuries ago they would have found themselves in a bustling town. But due to the ravages of time, and the changing face of the English countryside, the Charwelton of today presents a very different picture.
Charwelton derives its name from the river Cherwell which rises from a pond at Cherwell Farm. Originally the Cherwell ran from the arched cellar of the old farm house on the site; however since the demolition of the house the pond seems to hold the spring of the Cherwell.
In 681 the village was known as Ceruelle, changing to Cearwellan (Welle Stream). In the Domesday Book it was known as Cerweltone and in 1110, Cerweltona.
The parish of Charwelton was once owned by three monasteries - Thorney (near Peterborough), Bittlesden (Buckinghamshire) and Bec in Normandy. Two of these had houses in Charwelton - Bittlesden, which owned the manor next to the church, and Thorney, which held the manor house on the site of the present Charwelton Hall which now stands close to the village.
The present church, which is dedicated to the Holy Trinity, is a building both ancient and relatively modern. The grand Decorated (i.e. the historical division of English Gothic architecture covering the period between 1290 and 1350) west tower has four elegant bell openings and battlements. Inside this tower are four bells.
There is an elegant and massive Tower Arch of the same date as the tower, with two corbels portraying men's heads, very likely those of the craftsmen or squires of that time.
The body of the church is made up of the Nave, with both north and south aisle, and a chancel with a north chapel, now used as a vestry. The nave consists of two arcades of arches, each with three bays. The north arcade of the Decorated period consists of tall piers continuing straight into tall, elegant arches. The somewhat lower south arcade has octagonal piers with double chamfered arches. Most of the nave windows date from the late Perpendicular period.
The westerly window in the north aisle consists of one simple light together with two more late perpendicular three-light windows.
In the south aisle the west window has three steeply stepped lancet lights which date from 1300. There is also a late, square headed south window, along with a similar south aisle east window, both appearing to be late Perpendicular.
In the west end of the nave, there are a few remaining 18th. century "upright" pews, and the fine Elizabethan font is adorned with motifs and oak leaves - the emblems of the Trinity. Behind the font on the west wall of the north aisle is a fine mural monument of 1590 of Reigate stone which was erected by Thomas Andrewe in memory of his two wives. Originally positioned in the north chapel, the centre compartment shows Thomas Andrewe in armour with a ruff, kneeling before a covered altar on which his helmet and gauntlets are placed. His two wives and their twelve children are behind him in various attitudes.
There are three magnificent brasses in the centre aisle of the church. The largest, oldest and most easterly brass shows Thomas Andrewes and his wife Margaret.
The second brass shows the second Thomas Andrewes with his wife Emme, of the Knightley family. The third Thomas Andrewes who died in 1541 is armoured and bare headed, but his wife Agnes wears a huge head-dress and the long hanging sleeves fashionable at that time.
Holy Trinity church still retains several floor tablets. However over the years many of these have become worn and illegible. Most of these slabs are memorials to members of the Knightley, Adams or Benson families.
A fine collection of 19th. century decorative oak pews in the nave was purchased and donated in memory of the late Brigadier Coleman by his family in 1973. These were brought from All Saints Church, Emscote Lawn in Leamington Spa, which is now demolished. The dark pews have fine elegantly carved poppy heads and perpendicular floral tracery in their backs and are said to be the work of the Master Carver of Lichfield Cathedral.
The church also retains its Victorian brass oil lamps and a candelabrum over the pulpit. All of these, and the chancel chandeliers, are still used on special occasions, particularly at Christmas. Also hanging in the chancel are two large Dutch candelabra. One of them bears the inscription "AMDG et in piam memoriam ERS dd EIS Vidua MCMIV" and the other "AMDG et in piam memoriam EB dd FAO'B Gener. MCMIV".
In the north chapel there is a particularly noticeable alabaster altar-tomb. This shows recumbent effigies of Sir Thomas Andrewe lying between his two wives.
This tomb was in 2001 the subject of major conservation prior to its inclusion in an Exhibition of Medieval Sculpture at the Tate Gallery. This revealed magnificent hidden colouring and decoration, and other features of great interest, and is the subject of a separate booklet available in the church.
The altar was carved at the time of the great restoration of the church in 1904. A remarkably fine piece of work, it contains five superbly carved panels. Four of these contain richly carved vines adorned with leaves and grapes. The central panel shows carvings of the Communion and the Last Supper. The altar rails with dumb-bell balusters are of the seventeenth century
However it is the workmanship of the Ten Commandments which has received a great deal of notice. These commandments, painted on the east wall on either side of the altar, are the work of the late Eric Gill. A review of Robert Speight's "Life of Eric Gill" stated that Gill carried out the work in Byfield church. However Eric's brother, Evan Gill, confirmed that it was Eric who had been responsible for the Commandment Boards in Holy Trinity Church Charwelton. Sadly the wood has darkened to such an extent that the lettering is now difficult to read.
Valentine Knightley (inheriting the baronetcy and becoming Sir Valentine in 1895) was Rector of Charwelton with Fawsley and of the living of Preston Capes from 1837 until 1898, and actually lived in Fawsley Hall, while his cousin-in-law Philip Storey, was Vicar or Curate under the Rector for two periods of his ministry, living in Fawsley Vicarage, now Fawsley Farm.
Rector from 1898 to 1920 was the Revd. Francis O'Brien, son of a Northern Irish Bishop. He lived in the Bittlesden Manor House (now Church House) next to the church, having refused to live in Fawsley Vicarage. He was responsible for the re-ordering of the church during the first few years of his rectory. The plans for these changes are still kept in the church safe. On his death he left a bequest to the parish consisting of monies for the upkeep of the churchyard, which fund continues to this day. He also planted the daffodils in the spinney behind the church, to the west, for use in the Easter decorations.
The last Rector to live in Charwelton was the Revd. Gordon High. He was also the last incumbent of Charwelton with Fawsley and Preston Capes. While he was rector, Mr. High supervised the major restoration programme which took place between 1966 and 1980, when the church was rededicated by the Rt. Rev. Alan Rogers, assistant bishop of Peterborough. After Mr. High's retirement in 1981 the Rectory was retained in the hope that a new incumbent would be found, but that did not come to pass, and it was sold to a private owner. Mr. High lived in retirement in Daventry until becoming too infirm, when he moved to a nursing home in Kent near his sister, where he died in 1994. His ashes are interred in Charwelton churchyard. He left a generous benefaction to Charwelton church.
The Revd. William Kentigern-Fox (rector of Byfield) was appointed Priest-in-Charge from 1982 to 1985, and when he moved to St. Michael's, Northampton he was succeeded as Priest-in-Charge by the Revd. Tony Fryer, a retired priest who lived in Byfield.
With the death in 1990 of the Revd. Roy Dooley, Vicar of Badby with Newnham, the new Pastoral scheme came into operation and the United Benefice of Badby with Newnham and Charwelton with Fawsley and Preston Capes came into being. The first Rector of the new benefice was the Revd. Stephen Adams (no relation so far as anyone knows to all the other Adams' who had occupied the rectory here!) who took up office in 1991. He moved to St. Peter and St. Paul Abington in July 1997, and was succeeded in September 1998 by the Revd. Michael Petitt.
More details of the church and the village can be found in booklets and leaflets on sale in the church.
If the Church should be locked, a key is available from Church Farm adjacent to the church.

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