There is no village at Staunton Harold – just a splendid park, containing the Hall and a Gothic church. No ordinary church this; just read the inscription above the west door:

‘In the yeare: 1653 When all things sacred were throughout ye nation Either demollisht or profaned, SR Robert Shirley Barronet founded this church whose singular praise it is to have done ye best things in ye worst times And hoped them in the most callamitous. The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance.’

To understand what Shirley did, remember that the Book of Common Prayer was proscribed in 1645; being an Anglican was a penal offence. Cromwell told Shirley that if he could afford to build the church, he could provide a regiment of soldiers for the Lord Protector. Shirley demurred, dying in the Tower in 1656, aged 28. The church was finished under the Restoration in 1662-5. Gothic fabric, but a Jacobean interior panelled walls and piers, box pews, and brass candlesticks, pulpit with purple hanging, painted roofs.

Beyond the early 18th c. wrought iron screen, above the altar ‘Theos’ is painted, surrounded by heads of cherubim. Flanked by Creed. Commandments and Lord’s Prayer; the altar itself is covered by a purple cloth and cushions; in the middle of the altar carpet is the Holy Name, surmounted by a cross and surrounded by a glory issuing from the Crown of Thorns. Dignified, restrained. This is the nec plus ultra of Laudian Anglicanism, surviving its maker and its inspirer.

Reflect: if in 1653 Sir Robert Shirley dared to hope, how much more should we now. I joy, deare Mother, when I view Thy perfect lineaments, and hue Both sweet and bright: A fine aspect in fit array, Neither too mean, nor yet too gay, Shows who is best’ [George Herbert, The British Church].

Simon Cotton