The church building of St John the Baptist, Eastnor stands at the heart of the village, as witness to the Christian faith. The Church is of course not the building, but the group of Christians who gather there in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for worship and prayer. But the building still speaks powerfully of the faith which has been at the centre of the community for centuries.
It is believed there has been a church building at Eastnor on the present site since the 12th Century, though it is possible that an earlier wooden Saxon church building would have existed somewhere in the area. There was certainly a Saxon church building at Ledbury, just over two miles away.
Normally, one can estimate the date of building a particular part of a stone church from the variation in workmanship in how blocks of stone are bonded together (as well as from architectural styles). The tower of the current building is therefore thought to date to the late 14th Century. However, the date of the other main parts of the building (Nave and Chancel) is uncertain, as the main body of the church was taken down in 1851, to be rebuilt under the direction of Sir George Gilbert Scott.
The expense of restoring the nave was borne by Earl Somers, and that the chancel by Reverend William Pulling, the Rector. On 3 October 1851, the Bishop of Hereford issued a license to celebrate divine service in a room at Eastnor Castle whilst repairs were being made to the church.
It was intended that the original blocks of stone be used in the rebuild, and so they were all carefully numbered. Unfortunately, some were unfit for re-use, but those that could be used were incorporated into the new building as near as possible to their original position. The west window of the north aisle appears to have been the best preserved portion of the old building, nearly all of its stones surviving the ordeal.
At the same time as the Nave and Chancel were rebuilt, Scott built the mortuary Chapel (on the North East corner of the Nave) for the monuments of the Somers Cox family.
The east window in this Chapel is a reproduction of the early decorate east window in Edenbridge Church which was stated by Sir George in 1848 to be unique, being the only window in the world in which the arms of the Saviour could be stretched out on a cross without being cut through by stone tracery. The stained glass was given by Lady Henry Somerset and Adeline Duchess of Bedford in memory of their father. The wrought iron gates, which separate it from the Nave, were placed there by Virginia, Countess Somers.
The 2nd Earl Somers was unable to worship within the newly built walls of the church building, as he died in 1852, the same year in which it was reopened for public worship. He was buried in the Mortuary Chapel on 17 October 1852. At the reopening of the church the building was not re-consecrated, but simply dedicated with a service of Reconciliation, it being held that only "the complete destruction of the altar, or the crimes or murder and adultery within the holy walls" annulled the original act of Consecration.
At the time of restoration of the church building the old black oak pulpit and reading desk was presented to Ipsley church, and it was replaced by the present stone pulpit. The oak choir stalls in the Chancel were a gift from former pupils at Oxford of the Reverend W Pulling who had been a Fellow and Tutor of Brasenose College. The font was given to a neighbouring church, the parishioners of Eastnor replacing it with the one now in use. A prayer desk was given in memory of the Reverend Harry Fuller MA, Curate of the parish who died at the Rectory in 1854 aged 24.
The Nicholson organ was the gift of the 3rd Earl Somers, and was built in Worcester in 1867. It was repositioned and enlarged in 1920, when the memorial oak screen was added. In 2002 it was decided that the organ needed a complete overhaul, and after £40,000 was raised the organ was restored by the original builders in 2004-2005, again being repositioned so that the sound be better projected. It continues to give excellent service on Sundays and at other events and occasions.
The most recent significant work on the building has been to upgrade the lighting, with the help of a grant from the Herefordshire Historic Churches Trust.
Fascinating details about the history of the parish and its clergy can be found in the Herefordshire section of the Victoria County History project, at
GPS Coordinates: 52.0331, -2.39326
- Added: 29 May 2012
- Find A Grave Cemetery: #2451140
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