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Astley Parish

Church History

Astley is a small village in the Borough and Liberties of Shrewsbury and from the time of the Anglo-Saxons until 1860 the Church was a chapel to the Collegiate Church of St Mary in Shrewsbury. At the Danegeld Survey (circa 990 A.D.) the parish was calculated to be 3 hides in size. At the Domesday Survey (1086) St Mary's Church, Shrewsbury, held 3 hides in "Hesleie”. It was further recorded that "a priest with 9 villagers and 2 smallholders has 3 ploughs; a further 2 ploughs would be possible; woodland for fattening 50 pigs. The value was 20s now 25s.” The mention of a priest indicates the existence of a church building in Astley at that date.

During the 12th and 13th Centuries Haughmond Abbey steadily increased its land ownership, and the Manor of Astley, owned by St Mary's Church, Shrewsbury, blocked the Abbey's expansion to the North. There were frequent disputes between the monks and the canons of St Mary's over land boundaries and in 1257 a charter declared that the boundaries were "from ye field of Sundern direct to Blakelake and to ye white sicket towards Witheforde.” While the monks could not get the land in Astley they were granted pasture rights in the Manor on payment of 12d a year to St Mary's Church.

At the Dissolution of the Chantries in the reign of Edward VI the land at Astley was leased for 21 years to Robert Clyve, “one of the Clerks of the Checker with the King's Majestie.” In the reign of Elizabeth I the land was given to the Corporation of Shrewsbury for the benefit of Shrewsbury Schools. The Governors of Shrewsbury Schools became Patrons and frequently the Minister of Astley was the Under-Master of Shrewsbury Schools. The Governors ceased to be Patrons of Astley in 1986.

Although there was a priest in Astley before the Norman Conquest there is no evidence of the church building of that period. Eyton, in his Antiquities of Shropshire, suggests that, as Astley Church was a church in which baptisms were celebrated, it was therefore in no "low subjection to St Mary's.”

Dean Cranage in his Architectural Survey of Shropshire Churches states that the chief item of interest in the church is the blocked South doorway of the transitional period (1173-1273). The dripstone is moulded in the Norman manner and has a series of rudimentary dog-tooth ornaments upon it. Over this doorway can be seen evidence of a porch. The outside south wall also contains a series of indentations which, tradition says, were made by men sharpening their swords and arrow-heads. The small window by the South doorway has the date 1568 carved on the tracery outside.

The east wall was built in the Decorated Period (1300 - 1400) and contains stained glass, restored in 2016, which is known to have been made in 1849 by David Evans of Shrewsbury and commissioned by John Bishton Minor, then chapel warden. The faces of the three figures depicted, King Edgar, St Michael and St Catherine, are fairly linear in an Evans style and may have been influenced by some of Pugin’s early designs. The lack of bright enamel colour may have been deliberate to let in more light or may simply reflect changing tastes. King Edgar founded St Mary's, Shrewsbury, where there are chapels dedicated to St Michael and St Catherine. In the Chancel is a square-headed door which dates from the Elizabethan period. The Western-end of the North wall may be from the Decorated Period. The vestry was built on the north side of the church in 1830 and at a meeting in 1839 it was decided to purchase a small looking-glass, a small stove and a chamber pot for the vestry. According to Cranage there was a roundel containing the Royal Arms of William IV. This is now lost and has been missing for at least 80 years. The church tower, which has been described as a "poor gothic structure", was built in 1837; a block at the top of the tower west face is inscribed with the names of the chapel wardens, J B Minor and E Elsmere.


The church was restored in 1883 because the roof was leaking. The roof was repaired although remnants of the medieval beams remain visible. A new heating system was installed, the pews were converted to open seats and the gallery was pulled down. In 1898 the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria was celebrated by a tea and supper being held in Astley House for all the parishioners.

In 1918 a public meeting decided to erect a new church clock as a War Memorial and the memorial tablet was unveiled on 14 August 1919. The old clock, which was medieval, was given to the Shrewsbury Museum. According to tradition the old clock came originally from St Mary's, Shrewsbury, and was the one referred to by Shakespeare in Henry IV Part I "fought a long hour by Shrewsbury clock."

The Rood Screen, altar and Reredos and the re-ordering of the Chancel, carried out in the late 1930s, were designed by Sir Charles Nicholson (see framed drawing on south wall). The Priest's stall is a memorial to the Rev’d A Meggison (vicar 1926 - 1949); the Lectern, made by local joiner, Stanley France, is a memorial to the Rev’d D D Price (vicar 1951 - 1982).


The font cover was made by the carpenters at RAF Shawbury and dedicated to the memory of George Dodds at a commemoration service in February 2008.

The small altar was installed in 2011 with full sets of frontals made by ladies in the village.

In 2012 the medieval bell, dated at around 1270, was refurbished and re-hung with a new clapper and head-stock by John Taylor & Co of Loughborough, and a Victorian bell of similar size and pitch was installed for the clock to chime the hour and half-hour.

In 2015 a major restoration was undertaken of the east wall and window; a steel tie was fitted to the chancel truss to prevent further spread of the north and south walls and the stained glass was removed for restoration by Denis Holgate of Rocester, near Uttoxeter.  Following repair of the east wall external stonework the glass was returned in Spring 2016, and the chancel and sanctuary were redecorated at the same time.  

As you walk round St Mary’s Church, pause and recall that for over 900 years God has been worshipped on this site, and offer a prayer for all those who worship here now, so that this church may speak to generations yet to come of the truth and love of God. Please remember also that as with all churches St Mary's is in need of constant upkeep and repair and so a donation, however small, towards the maintenance of our Church would be much appreciated.  Gift Aid envelopes are available on the pews.

Suggested further reading: The Churches of Shropshire & their treasures by John Leonard ISBN 978-1-906663-78-0

Incumbents at St Mary's from 1903

Date Incumbent Comments

1903

Preb W T Burgess

Appointed 6 January 1903 but resigned after one week.

1903

J M Lorimer

Appointed May 1903; died in Astley Dec 1903.

1904

Malcolm Scarlett Parry

1926

Arthur W Meggison

Died Nov 1949; buried in Astley.

1951

David D Price

Vicar of Hadnall and Astley; died April 1982; buried at Hadnall.

1982

William Edward Ward

Vicar of Astley, Clive, Grinshill and Hadnall.

1992

Stuart William Deane

Vicar of Astley, Clive, Grinshill and Hadnall.

1999

Paul Gregory Firmin

Vicar of Astley, Clive, Grinshill and Hadnall.

2002

Robert Russell Haarhoff

Priest-in-Charge of Astley, Clive, Grinshill and Hadnall.