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Branston

Branston. Lincolnshire.

All Saints Church.

 

The village of Branston lies about 4 miles south of Lincoln on the B1188 Lincoln to Metheringham road and the church stands head and shoulders above the village and is clearly visible in front of you to the right as you descend the hill from the Lincoln direction . To reach it you have to turn right into Rectory Lane at the Plough Public House, take the first road (Church Hill) immediately on the left just past the pub and follow the road up the rise. Turn left again at the next road junction and go past the church gates to park in the little square car park which will appear in front of you. There are three entrances to the churchyard. One to your right as you face the church from the car park but the main is the one to your left which you have just passed.

Picture taken from an old postcard.

All Saints Church. Branston, was one of the first churches in the country to be lit by gas in the last century. Gas was produced in a small private gasworks at the back of the old barn not far from the bottom of the hill in Rectory Lane. The retort house supplied enough gas to light not only Branston Hall, the owners of which actually owned the plant, but also the Church, Rectory and the Chapel!. Now there was a free thinking Lord of the Manor for you!.

When this old barn and other outbuildings were surveyed by industrial archaeologists in the early 1980's prior to them being converted into a house, evidence was found of the retort house and two small gas holder pits for gas storage in the yard. In the barn two pairs of grinding wheels and evidence of the power unit to drive them with belts were also discovered. It would appear that the estate was pretty well self contained for most things.

Architecture & Windows

The church has two separate original early building periods visible in the outside walls. Saxon and Saxo/Norman. The south west corner of the nave has evidence of long and short work in it and was probably part of the earliest Saxon tower. The present tower is of the typical Lincolnshire late Saxon style of a fairly tall base section surmounted by a short top section containing the twin bell openings, the two sections of tower having a square string course in between them. On the top of these is a recessed perpendicular crocketless spire with three alternating Lucarnes (Gabled openings) surrounded by a crenellated parapet. On each side of the fairly narrow west door of the tower is a pair of bays of Blank Norman Arcading which starts half way up the doorway. At the base of the tower south wall are the in-filled remains of a large arch of indeterminate date with a small part of a window head above it. I believe these remains were possibly deliberately rebuilt in this position during some previous restoration or tower rebuilding programme rather than just being in filled in situ. On the outer west wall of the porch is the remains of a carved crucifixion panel and each side of the outer south doorway is a small carved face placed purely for decoration. There are two narrow in filled doorways still visible in the stonework on the outside of the church only, both in their original positions I believe. Both have Early English pointed door heads and date to about the same period as the building of the chancel, 1200 to 1250. One of these is in the south wall of the chancel towards the west end near the junction of the east wall of the south aisle, the other is in the north wall of the nave at the extreme west end. It lies right behind the position of the large Wray Monument and would have been filled in to allow the erection of this round about 1730 if not before.

There is a varied selection of windows in the church ranging from Early English lancets in the south wall of the chancel, 4 windows of three different widths with only the two in the central section of the wall being a pair, to the new modern designed east end window of the chancel with modern stained glass (1966) which replaced the old east window which was too badly damaged in the fire of 1962 to restore.

In the western end window in the north wall of the extended north aisle is another example of Victorian stained glass. This is now in the new Rectors Vestry which is entered through the door at the rear of the new organ console and another door in the west end of the north aisle extension which was created after the fire. The stained glass window forms a memorial which reads The eastern end window of the extended north aisle contains small panels of 15th and 17th century mainly continental glass which have been badly mounted. Some of the panels have actually been mounted inside out!. These pieces were part of a collection from the continent collected by Lord Levin. Most of the other windows are clear diamond quarry panels.


History

Built on to the east end of the church alongside the chancel and able to be entered from there and from the outside via a fine untreated oak door is a small school/meeting room. The original doorway through to the chancel was blocked up after the fire and a new one opened up from the east end wall of the North aisle extension as originally planned in the alterations of 1893. The schoolroom was originally added on in the 1830's specifically for the use of educating the children of the parish as the inscription on a small panel high on the east end of the building still shows. It reads:-

"This building was erected by the Revd. Peregrine Curtois for the sole purpose of educating the children of the Parish of Branston in the principles of the ESTABLISHED CHURCH. A.D.1836."

All Saints has had many alterations to its fabric over the years, particularly the last 150. Extensive restorations were carried out in 1864 and in 1875-1876 Sir George Gilbert Scott supervised the extensions to the North Aisle, built the south porch, repaired the windows and did a complete restoration job on the interior.

Then there were alterations to the chancel in 1893 when Alexander Samuel Leslie Melville and Robert Nelstrop were churchwardens and the Incumbent was the Rev. Henry Frederick Spencer Adams.

It was at this time that the schoolroom of 1836 was made smaller and converted into a choir vestry by the adding of the door from the chancel through to it. The other door from the nave was not proceeded with but the extra space gained was used as planned for housing the organ. At the same time the steps and communion rails were moved forward to give more room in the chancel and enclose the sedilia.

Restoration of the belfry was carried out in 1895 and the spire was completely dismantled and rebuilt as a matter of urgency as it was feared it would not last another winter. It was at this time that the bells were added to with a sixth and the whole frame replaced with steel!. Quite an innovation for it's day!! The dedication was performed on the 1st December 1895. Advent Sunday and the final cost was £324.

H.H.Dunn. A.R.I.B.A. of Lincoln was responsible for further extensive repairs to the nave roof and re-roofing the south aisle in 1912-1913 at a cost of a further £740 during the Incumbency of the Rev. C. Hugh Hanning

The tower gave cause for alarm and was declared as being in danger of collapse and had to be dealt with again in 1937. The person who advised at this time was The Architect, Surveyor and Clerk of the works to Lincoln Cathedral Dean & Chapter Mr Robert S. Godfrey, C.B.E., M.A., F.S.A., F.R.I.B.A.

His idea was to cramp the tower walls together with Delta metal cramps (a type of bronze) and grout with liquid cement under pressure to force it into all the cracks, nooks and crannies at a cost of £500. This was a process he invented and used in the late 1920's to bind together the walls of Lincoln Cathedral and the ends of the ties used can still be seen in the historic west front to this day!

The delivery process used was that grout was poured into a dustbin-like container, the lid fastened on and the whole thing pumped up to pressure. Near the bottom of the container was a guillotine valve leading into a pipe which was pressed tight into the holes drilled into the walls and it was this which delivered the liquid under pressure to where it was needed. A process still being used to this day. It has also been adapted to force insulation foam into cavity walls in the last few years!

The 1962 Fire & Restoration

The latest major restoration was required when the church lost it's organ, roof, east window, chancel and rood screen when it caught fire on Christmas Day 1962, but luckily the tower wasn't touched at all. Some of the memorial tablets were also lost and others damaged. The clerestory, battlements, pinnacles and the crenellations all needed replacing.

It is typical of the great village spirit that, as soon as the extent of the damage was realised and it became clear that the church was totally unusable, the Methodist authorities offered the chapel for the congregation's use and the following Sunday's services were held there.

After this the church hall was used as a temporary church until the following Easter, (with a couple of funerals still taking place in the chapel), when the church, excluding the chancel, was made fit for use with cleaning, first aid repairs of a felted roof and re-glazed clerestory.

An electric organ was loaned by Messrs. Fox of Doncaster and used in the church hall until transferred to the church and it was eventually exchanged for the gift of a fine two manual, pedal operated reed organ by the same company. This was fitted with an electric blower unit free of charge by Cousins Ltd, Organ builders of Lincoln and these did excellent service until the new organ was eventually built.

The architect who was given the job of restoring the church between 1964 and 1966 was Mr George Pace. M.A., F.S.A., F.R.I.B.A. of York, without doubt one of the very best church architects of the 20th century.

His treatment of the restoration of All Saints Church was excellent using capable local craftsmen as well as other firms specialising in certain aspects of church building and repair. His work has however come under fire from certain quarters by people who think it is not compatible with the old, particularly when viewed from the inside.

In the latest edition of The buildings of England. Lincolnshire. By Nikolaus Pevsner and John Harris. revised by Nicholas Antrim, the comments are that : "As it has turned out, the new is unhappily at odds with the old. Re-used are the E. E. N AND S Lancets and the nice triple sedilia and Piscina. The new E. wall is entirely glazed, divided by bold thick mullions from the floor to the segmental curve of the ceiling and by still thicker transoms. From inside these transoms do not read well, and the Gothic half-arches at the tops of the individual lights destroy the boldness of the composition."

"STAINED GLASS. E window, `The Glory behind the Cross', by Keith New in collaboration with George Pace. A typically 1960s fussy abstract design. Rich dark colouring".

The above views are ones which I personally disagree with as I believe the design of the interior and the east window design and colouring to be both beautiful and exciting but once again I will leave it to you to draw your own conclusions when you visit. -Oh and don't forget to examine carefully the beautifully embroidered tapestry hassocks representing various Branston scenes plus other Floral and Religious themes. They are gorgeous and provide a lovely splash of colour in the church!

Soon after the fire in 1962 the main church fabric was cleaned by Messrs W & J Simons Ltd. of Lincoln. and they were also eventually entrusted with the restoration and rebuilding of the damaged stonework as well as the complete redecoration.

The roof was rebuilt by C.H. Gillam and Son Ltd. of Sheffield and re leaded by Messrs Norman & Underwood Ltd. which firms both specialised in this sort of work.

The fine plastering was carried out by Mr E. Noakes of Lincoln.

Another local firm Lincoln Glass Company made the new clerestory windows and all the specially designed windows of the Chancel except the East window.

This new east window, as stated in the quote above, was donated by the two grandchildren of Mr Robert Smith of Longhills in whose memory the previous window had been donated in 1899/1900 By Mr Eustace Abel Smith. The old window had been a 55 square foot three light window with the stained glass depicting The Crucifixion with St Mary & St John and was made in the studio of Charles Eamer Kempe.

The stained glass in the new window was designed and made by Mr Keith New in collaboration with George Pace. Keith New, an internationally recognised and acclaimed "stained glass" artist, has examples of his work in such buildings as Coventry Cathedral, Bristol Cathedral, St Stephens Walbrook and St John's Church, Ermine. Lincoln.

Mr George Pace was responsible for the initial restorations and also the following reordering and refurbishing with some very original ideas. The design of pendant oak light fittings was one of the things he took a particular delight in and they can be seen in many other church settings, from Llandaff Cathedral to Christ Church, Scarborough. Owston, Birdsall, Sheffield and Rotherham, all in Yorkshire, as well as in Branston Church.

The pews were virtually undamaged by the fire and survived with just the need of a thorough clean. Any one not knowing that they had been in such a disaster would never guess.

The choir screen however was not quite so fortunate. It was made and carved for the restoration of the chancel in 1860 by The Rev. Atwill Curtois during his incumbency of 1847 to his death in 1869 and it was his daughter Ella Rose Curtois who carved the panels of saints which were incorporated in pairs in the lower section. During the fire the top section was virtually destroyed and the lower section was badly charred on the back, which took most of the heat, but which fortunately protected the front.

When the time came for the installation of the new organ, Pace's brilliance of vision came to the fore. The panels of saints were treated in a similar way to the pieces of old screen carving Pace had reused at Llandaff Cathedral. The panels were dismembered, cut up into individual saints, cleaned down to virgin wood and remounted as individual facets of carving on an otherwise plain vertically ribbed organ case of very pale green.

This application was Very effective and gives a beautiful use to old familiar items which were thought to be only scrap by some. He also used the organ case as a frame to mount the early 19th century Royal Arms after refurbishing.

The Curtois Family

The name of Curtois brings to mind a small snippet of information which will neatly lead us into the connections with other families. John Curtois was first Instituted as Rector on 16th. December 1680. and there was then a Rector by the name of Curtois in Branston for the next 211 Years! John's patron was Sir Thomas Meres. Knight. After this the Curtois's took over as patrons and "Kept it in the family" until the death of Peregrine Curtois in 1891 when Alexander Samuel Leslie Melville of Branston Hall Esq. became patron and the Rector became Henry Spencer Frederick Adams.B.A.

The Curtois family monuments were unfortunately destroyed in the fire of 1962 but a new memorial was placed in the church to record :- "The Remarkable 211 years of service by the Curtois Family to the Church and Parish of Branston."

The inverted comma's are mine. Surely with the Tithes at ten percent of farm production and a firm hold on the living through the family with even the Rector himself, more often than not, being patron of the living as well this inscription is far too patronising for my liking. If you will forgive the pun!. In my opinion there should be the following addition to this misguided tribute:-

"To record the Remarkable 211 years of service and easy living by virtue of the blood, sweat and toil of the parishioners in providing the fortune in tithes, paid at 10 per cent via the Church, by the people of the Parish of Branston to the Curtois Family."

Well before the above marathon stretch of Rectorships however there were connections between the Grantham and Wray families and Branston from before 1526 as the records of the roll of Rectors shows.

In 1526, the then Rector was shown as Thomas Grantham who did not vacate the living until 1555. Dr Thomas Grantham was valued at the 1526 date as having an income of £22-14-8d. (£22-73p) out of which he had to pay "into his pension fund" to the Prior of Thurgaton [Near Nottingham] the sum of £3-6-8d.(£3-33p)

The Prior being the patron of the living at that time on behalf of the Priory. Out of the balance the Rector had to pay to the Archdeacon of Lincoln Synodals and Procurations to the amount of 16 shillings and 2d (81d). This was his share of the Expenses towards the synods which he was required to attend or support and towards the expenses of the Bishop when he was required to visit the deanery. This left a clear value of £18-17-0d. (£18-85p).

In 1553 the Manor of Branston was shown as being held again by Thomas Grantham, son and heir of Vincent Grantham. He died in 1558 and his estate holdings in Branston were said to be worth £4-18-1.1/2 d (£4-91p)

It was at this time in 1566 that there was a record of the `funte' of Branston Church being covered by a painted cloth and which was ordered to be sold by the parish (it was the duty of the parish to provide a font and a seemly cover) as it was considered superstitious!

This was carried out. It was presumably a painted or more likely an embroidered drape to cover the top of the font, the top of which would be secured with a locked hasp which would keep out the dust and also prevent the witches being able to obtain Holy Water for their weaving of magic spells!

The Wray Family

By 1568 Christopher Wraie Esq. was patron of the living of Branston and was presenting Edward Brokelsbie as Rector. In 1574 Sir Christopher Wraie, Knight, of Glentworth, Chief Justice of England and owner of much land in the parish of Branston, presented Thomas Brokelsbie, John Wintle in 1576 and Cuthbert Dale in 1591.

In 1603 it was recorded that Sir William Wray was patron of no less than five livings but this was not nearly as many as certain families such as the Tyrwhits who presented to eleven. In 1616 Cuthbert Dale was still Rector and Sir William Wray (Son of Sir Christopher Wray) was the patron of the living which was now worth £10.

It is also on record that on 31st March 1618 John Wray of Glentworth. Knight & Baronet (His father Sir William Wray having deceased at Ashby cum Fenby in 1617.) granted to Robert Atkinson of Glentworth "to be Clerk of the next donation of the Rectory of Branston." However the patronage changed in 1638 and for a short while was held by the Crown before being taken over in 1680 by Sir Thomas Meres, Knight.

The Wray Monument

The Wray tomb, to Sir Cecil and Dame Mary signed by Thomas Carter the Elder, (Carpentier) can be seen in the Church opposite the south door entrance. It consists of an obelisk with a coat of arms and motto (Painted after the fire) mounted over a tomb chest in the north west corner of the nave. There are two rather less than flattering portrait busts mounted one each side of the obelisk. The one to the left being Sir Cecil Wray who died 9th May 1736, in the 59th year of his Age and the one to the right is his wife Dame Mary whose details of decease are not recorded here at all. She is however recorded elsewhere as having died on 18th of December 1745 and buried at Braumston. (Branston). More information on this monument.

Wray monument, Branston. Photograph: Peter Fairweather.

Sir Cecil Wray was the 11th Baronet of Glentworth and had originally been brought up in the Catholic faith but in later years he seems to have turned protestant. His father Sir Drury Wray, the 9th Baronet died on 30th October 1710 aged 77, and was buried in the church of Clonlara in County Limerick. His remains are supposed to have been removed from there some years later and his final resting place are now unknown.

Sir Cecil’s eldest brother Colonel Christopher Wray became the 10th Baronet. He was a Major in the army and fought for King William at the Boyne, afterwards serving in Colonel Farington's Regiment of foot in Spain, Portugal, Flanders & The siege of Ostend. The 10th Baronet died suddenly at Portsmouth whilst embarking with the fleet for Spain only 12 days after succeeding to the title, thus leaving his brother (and brother officer, Cecil being a captain in the regiment) to enjoy the title, estates and the Saunderson inheritance of considerable estates in Norfolk, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire whilst living in `Bramston'.

The 11th Baronet eventually served as High Sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1716.

Sir Cecil Wray's wife Mary, was daughter of Edward Harrison Esq. of Morley, County Antrim and his wife Joanna (Taylor) daughter of Dr. Jeremy Taylor, Bishop of Dromore. She was married firstly to Colonel Benjamin Columbine, also of Morley and had one daughter. This daughter rejoiced in the Christian name of Harrison. She eventually married Sir Christopher Hales, Bart. and had a son & daughter.

Harrison, Lady Hales was buried in Fulham, 3rd of January 1762. On the Colonel's decease Mary Columbine married Sir Cecil Wray but had no more children.

Sir Cecil Wray was Deputy Grand Master of the Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons, and there is a record that he appeared at a large gathering in February 1735 at The Devil Tavern, Temple Bar. He died of Asthma the following year 9th May 1736 at his house in Hanover St. London.

The Wray Burial Vault

The Wray family vault lies below the pavement immediately in front of the monument & measures approximately 11 ft 6ins by 16 ft by 6ft 6ins high at its highest roof point and was broken into accidentally by workmen who were installing new heating in the church after the fire of Christmas 1962. The contents were photographed as soon as possible by Mr Peter Wilson by lowering a camera through the hole in the vault roof and firing the flash by remote control and attempts were made to identify and record them.

According to Mr Marsh, (Churchwarden) the vault was found to contain not only the two Wray coffins but also those of Lord & Lady Vere Bertie plus five others which are all rather haphazardly placed. The two Wray coffins are pushed to the far north west corner of their vault and are both damaged by rough handling. Sir Cecil's coffin is twisted through being pushed roughly too far to the north side and tipping partly off its brick pedestals causing the side of the case (or outer coffin) to split away from the top. Dame Mary's coffin has been crushed against it causing hers also to lose much of its case and velvet covering in the process. Photograph: Mr Peter Wilson

The two Vere Bertie coffins have been equally roughly handled and both have been dropped into the space on the south west side of the vault which was presumably the position of Lady Mary Wray's original resting place. Lord Vere Bertie's enormous coffin, which is without the grip plate and grip (Handle) from the foot end, lies on a single layer of bricks in between the two sets of brick pedestals and is in the best condition of any of them.

Coffin positions

1: Lady Vere Bertie
2: Lord Vere Bertie
3: Dame Mary Wray
4: Sir Cecil Wray
5: Henry Leslie Melville
6: William Leslie Melville
7, 8 & 9: Three unknown infants.

Lady Vere Bertie's coffin, which is very much smaller in comparison to his, lies on the brick pedestals and is similarly without the grip from the foot end and one corner of the case has totally disintegrated and lies in a heap of wood, fragments of velvet and decorative pins beneath it. Much of this breaking up of the decorative items and velvet took place when the fresh air filtered into the vault overnight and this was one of the reasons it was covered and sealed so rapidly. Within 9 hours I am told!

The Depositum plate (Coffin name plate) is still on the top and in place on Lord Vere Bertie's and Lady Wray's coffin but that of Sir Cecil has been thrown on top of his coffin over his legs towards the foot . Lady Vere Bertie’s Depositum plate is in a similar position on hers coffin and all plates were supposed to have been recorded before the sealing of the vault.

I can just imagine the scene round about 1875/6 when it was indicated that the Vere Bertie’s vault was going to have to be cleared to enable the north aisle to be erected. Quotes would have been requested as the large weighty coffins were going to have to be moved but when the cost of a professional moving job was announced someone would say:- "That’s far too much, I'll get a few of my men to do the job".

When they were having to shift the Wray coffins across the vault and they started to come to pieces and creak & groan as they were heaved about, with the Vere Bertie's being in a similar state when having to be hauled out of one vault and lowered (or dropped) into another, I can imagine the gang foreman saying:-

"Come on you lot, get a move on, this job is giving me the willies, nivver mind doant mucky the cover, bung 'em in as quick as yer can and lets get the slabs back on, its an 'orrible job!"

Lord Vere Bertie was the eldest son of Robert. 1st Duke of Ancaster and his second wife Albinia the daughter of General Farrington of Chiselhurst in Kent. There are two children of the Leslie Melville family aged 7 & 8 years in the vault as well as three unknown infants. All the coffins have silvered (Tin dipped copper or iron) fittings and depositum plates and were covered in velvet which because of age when viewed gave the appearance of leather. I am informed however that at least one of the depositum plates was of hall marked silver but I would be very much surprised if this were so.

It is surmised that the two Leslie Melville children's coffins & the other three unknowns were also put in together with the Wrays and Vere Berties in the Wray family vault when the north aisle was built in 1876. They are said to have come from the same vault as the Vere Berties to whom they were related. I made some enquiries about this on Saturday 6th June 1992 and was informed that far from having been filled in to provide firm foundations for the North Aisle as had been suggested to me, The Bertie vault was still in use!

I was taken out of the North vestry door towards the west and shown down some rather dank and greasy stairs to be faced with a most beautifully polished oak door. On entering, it became obvious that I was in a barrel vaulted brick burial chamber. This is the Bertie Vault I was informed - complete with oil fired central heating boiler. It had been reused as the boiler house and not filled in as I had at first thought. So when was the vault cleared and for what purpose? I was assured it had been cleared for the rebuilding of the aisle wall so I presume minds were changed when it was realised that the vault was strong enough to support it without filling it in. When a new boiler house was required for a heating boiler the empty vault was ideal for the job.

 


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