Simon Cotton considers the Eighteenth Century Church
The small village of Tyberton lies on a byroad in the depths of rural Herefordshire. Its small brick church is obviously 18th century: as you approach, you note the absence of an East window and also that the Victorians were unable to resist the temptation to Gothicise the windows.
You push open the south door inserted into a 12th c. doorway, a survival respected by its Georgian builders, and note with relief that the restorers did not do too much damage – box pews remain, as well as a two decker pulpit that may once have been a three-decker, and there is a good example of an 18th century ‘bird-bath’ font.
High above the chancel arch is a fine set of the arms of George 1st, bearing the date 1720, which must have been the date of the church’s construction, you think. Below the chancel arch is a striking wooden lectern, with a bookrest borne by a carved angel in the classical style.
Of course, there is a large wooden reredos behind the altar table, as so often in churches of the period, which explains why there is no East window. It is only when you examine the reredos more closely that you start asking questions.
Tyberton church had received a new steeple, possibly of wood, around 1655, but was otherwise was in a bad way at the start of the 18th century. William Brydges, from a Herefordshire family, had the Tyberton estate settled on him in 1711 and soon decided on a complete rebuild of the church. A lawyer by profession, he spent most of his time in London, so much of the day to day supervision of the project was in the hands of his father Francis, who was resident at Tyberton. Francis Brydges died in 1727, and his monument in the chancel describes him as ‘a true member of that pure part of the Catholic Church of England’. William Brydges’ first wife, Jane, died in early 1718, and by that time the building of the tower and nave was well under way. The plans were prepared by a surveyor in London and the building done by Robert Pritchard, a mason from the nearby parish of Clehonger. The essentials of the tower and nave were finished by the end of 1719 and the chancel completed in 1722. In contract to contemporary practice, it followed the mediaeval groundplan of structurally separate nave and chancel. The reredos, made by John Wood of Bath, was slightly later, designed in 1728, and completed in 1731. It features remarkable symbolism, with the Instruments of the Passion including scourges, spears and swords – one bearing Malchus’ ear; Cross, ladder and pincers; the torches of Gethsemane together with more swords; the Agnus Dei as well as chalice, grapes and wheat for Communion .
William Brydges ‘ended a well spent life’ – to quote his monument in the chancel at Tyberton – on August 20th 1764, but his real monument is the whole church. As many have remarked, eighteenth century churchmen have had a bad press. Victorian antiquarians like Sir Stephen Glynne – who left us monumental surveys of the churches of many English counties, including Herefordshire – scorned Georgian churches, but if they had looked beyond the surface of Tyberton they would have seen an indication of the beliefs of the builders, in this case another piece of evidence for men who seem to have embodied Dean Church’s description ‘whose lives were governed by an unostentatious but solid and unfaltering piety, ready to burst forth on occasion into fervid devotion.’
– Bruce A. Bailey, ‘William Brydges and the Rebuilding of Tyberton Church’, Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists Field Club, 1962, 37, pp 210-221
– Derryann Paul, Why So Few?: Rebuilding Country Churches in Herefordshire, 1662-1762, Leicester, Friends of the Department of English Local History, 2005.
– R. W. Church, The Oxford Movement, London, Macmillan, 1894, quoted in G. W. O. Addleshaw, The High Church Tradition, London, Faber, 1941, p. 10.
– Also available at:http://anglicanhistory.org/england/ church/om/1.html