The Churches that left their Towers behind
Quite often the most soundly constructed part of a church is its tower and when churches were restored in the 19th century it’s normally the nave, aisles and chancel that’s rebuilt, repaired or re-roofed. Sometimes the church was considered so dilapidated that it was demolished and a new one built on the same or even new site. In the case of Winsley in Wiltshire the 15th century church was recommended for demolition but the owner of Winsley House, Mr William Stone of Winsley House persuaded the architect, R.S. Pope of Bristol, and the diocese to keep the tower with its unusual saddleback roof.
The new church was built eight feet to the north of the old tower and was connected to it by a raised and covered passage way under which you can walk. Eroded memorial plaques on the tower had enjoyed the shelter of the nave until 1841 when the old nave and chancel were demolished. It seems possible that the old font that was contemporary with the tower was discarded at the same time as it was found in a garden in 1876 when it was restored to the church.
As the rook flies it’s about five miles from Winsley church tower to that of Atworth, which is also detached from its church. This four stage tower is also 15th century – that was a good time for tower building in western Wiltshire, largely financed by wealthy clothiers – and was left standing when the rest of the church was demolished in 1831. This time the new church (architect R.E. Goodridge of Bath) was built to the south of the tower and connected to it by a ground floor passage. The interior of the new church is quite chapel-like with a substantial west gallery but the retention of the tower does preserve the appearance of a parish church.
Mike Marshman, County Local Studies Librarian