St Bartholomew, Churchdown, Gloucestershire
St Bartholomew’s church in Churchdown is, in the way of many English village churches, actually at the top of steep hill. The church dates back to the 12th century with the usual additions and modifications through the centuries. The tower is 17th century. The carvings on the arch of the south door are worth looking at, especially the little woolly sheep head looking down on the parishioners as they come and go.
The north porch is home to several pieces of figurative graffiti. A mermaid, with her square mirror and double-sided comb sits (do mermaids sit?) in the doorway. This was mentioned first by G.G. Coulton who noted two letters, I and B, on either side of the figure and stated, “The Churchdown (Gloucs.) mermaid if the letters belong to it, must be post-medieval.” [Coulton, GG. Medieval Graffiti, Especially in the Eastern Counties. Proceedings of the Cambridgeshire Antiquarian Society, (26 October 1914 – 24 May 1915): 53 – 62] In addition, the figure was also mentioned by Doris Jones-Baker in her article on Cotswold graffiti [Jones-Baker, Doris. The graffiti of folk motifs in Cotswold Churches. Folklore 92.2 (1981): 160-167].
One of the walls has faces, a flower or sun, and a swan with an extremely long neck. The doorway opposite the mermaid has another bird and several arrow heads. There is also a deeply carved swastika pelta.
The priest’s room, above the north porch, while not a journey for the faint hearted due to the extremely steep and narrow winding stair, rewards you with a calvary cross and an upright merel of the nine men’s morris design. Both of these graffitos are on opposite sides of the window embrasure. There is also a possible face and a couple of possible Marian marks.
There are a few other symbols dotted around the church. These are made up of crosses, compass circles and possible Marian marks. There is also a pencil drawing of a post mill. One puzzling symbol is one like an hourglass. It may be a mason’s mark, but it appears more than once on a single block of stone and seems to be associated with initials.
The rest of the graffiti in the church is made up of names and initials as well as a clear inscription to the installation of ‘belhows’ in 1601. The list of priests for the church notes that in 1640-50 there is no record of who was the priest/rector due to the chaos of the times. Some of the names have dates associated with those times.
Report by Anthea Hawdon and Linda Wilson
The church was open on a bank holiday Monday. It would be advisable to check in advance before visiting.
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