Astley is a small settlement, with just a few houses — and the former castle — around the church. At one’s first sight of the church, the exterior has the typical sequence of west tower, nave and chancel, but when you walk round to the large red sandstone tower and enter through its west door, suddenly you are faced by a surprise — a low chancel arch surrounded by a huge 7-light richly traceried Perp. window. What is this, you ask?

The present building is the descendant of a large collegiate church, founded in 1343, which —like so many others—was allowed to lapse into disrepair in the mid-16th c., so that the tower fell around 1600. A familiar story, but in 1607 a phoenix arose from the ashes. Sir Richard Chamberlaine demolished the remains of the tower and nave, then built a new tower on the site of the old nave, at the west end of the surviving chancel. The chancel became the new nave; he cut through its original east window and wall to attach a new Gothic chancel, dated 1608, to the east of the old one. Got that?

This restoration kept many features of the old building, including alabaster tombs, and added new things, notably splendid painted texts in the nave, dating from c.1608. The finest thing, though, is the late 14th c. stalls (with misericords) that retain original painted figures on their canopies at their back (ND July 2013); the figures on the south side are prophets and on the north side Apostles, bearing Creed scrolls (given new texts in English in 1624). George Eliot knew the church well, setting figures here in her novel, Scenes of Clerical Life.

Reflect: do not succumb to despair; what is lost in one generation can come to life later, if we do something about it.

Map reference: SP 311394 Simon Cotton