to home page«Home
Guide to St Michael's Church
HTML coding on this page meets W3C standardsCSS coding on this page meets W3C standardsThis page has been labelled to ICRA standards
We are not the authors of the page below. It's our cache of
We copied parts of this site when we found it on 7 June 2001. However it seems to have disappeared (26 July 2008).


As part of the Octocentenary celebrations, Gill Greef has researched and written a new history of, and guide to, the church. This is just a summary of the main event. A copy can be purchased if you phone or e-mail Peter Heaney.

It is not possible to say exactly when the Parish Church was built. However, there are some clues: the round headed arch of the priest's door on the South side is a clear proof of late Norman construction, as are the flat buttresses on the outside of the East end (even though the upper part of that wall was rebuilt in the 19th century). It is, therefore, virtually certain that by the end of the 12th century there was a stone church on the present site.

The first written evidence of the church's existence dates from 1281 when a Rector is first mentioned. There is no evidence of a monastery at Winterbourne either on the ground or in ancient records. Winterbourne certainly had connections with monastic houses, but its greatest importance was probably its position on one of the routes from Bristol to Gloucester, and from there to the centre of the diocese at Worcester (Winterbourne was part of Worcester diocese until 1542). It was no doubt a convenient place for priests and travellers to stop for refreshment on the journey, and so maybe the name "Monks'Pool" was attached to the nearby fishponds.

In 1286 there was a commission from the Bishop of Worcester to his official, "to enquire as to a violence committed in the parish church of Winterbourne after the death of Sir John Tregoz by the prior and brethren of Mount Carmel, Bristol". In 1323, Thomas or William de Headingdone (the name varies) failed to allow William de Cornehulle, sent by the bishop to help him in his blindness, to make an inventory of his goods as required, and had to be warned a year later to do so on pain of excommunication. William finally resigned in 1332, no longer to do his job because of ill health. However, "considering the former labours of William for the benefit of his church, both in the erection of fine buildings [a reference perhaps to the tower which is clearly early 14th century] at great expense and in the strenuous defence of its rights, and to prevent his falling on hard times in his old age for lack of resources", the bishop decreed that he should be paid £20 annually for life.

The fourteenth century was the first great age for Winterbourne parish church: the manor of Winterbourne came into the hands of the Bradeston family and Thomas Bradeston was knighted in 1330. He fought at the battle of Crecy with the Black Prince against the French in 1346. Thomas lived mostly at Bradeston near Berkeley but in 1351-2 he founded a Chantry chapel "at the altar of St Michael in the Church of St Mary, Winterbourne". This was probably in the tower where the Bradeston family had recently commissioned a magnificent set of paintings which show Sir Thomas kneeling as the perfect Christian knight.

Later in the 14th century, a descendant of Thomas, called Blanche, the widow of Edmund Bradeston, was granted "by special grace" a "weekly market in the town of Winterbourne" and "two yearly fairs". The Bradeston family remained Lords of the Manor for two hundred years or more, and nothing remains of their Manor House next to the church except the dovecot.

The manor next fell into the hands of the Buck family. James Buck, who died in 1612, is commemorated (on a tablet in the church) by his son in Latin for his pietas (godliness).

In 1583 and 1593, "Wynterburne stone steeple in a tempest of thunder and lyghtnyng was pytyously rent, and the church moyled." We do not know how or when the statues in the niches on the outside of the tower were destroyed, or when the paintings of the Bradestons were covered with whitewash, but Puritan insistence on the removal of all statues and paintings during the Commonwealth was probably to blame.

Further developments:

1757, hanging of six bells in the tower (still there and still rung today)

The nineteenth century was the second great age for the building of Winterbourne church.

1815, the old gallery taken down and replaced with a larger one because of the "great increase in population"

1835, the spire taken down and rebuilt (The old stones were re-erected in the orchard of Hambrook House, where they still stand today. )

by 1843, a second parish church constructed in Frenchay (in the southern part of the old parish)

1856, chancel largely rebuilt and a larger window inserted above a new reredos showing the Last Supper (carved by a young genius called Farmer, of whom little else is known except that he died young)

1858, building of a second new church (All Saints) in Winterbourne Down. (Thus the original large parish became three parishes - a sign of an increasing population.)

1877, replacement of old deal box pews by "modern" pine ones, facing a new marble pulpit

1880, addition of a vestry on the North side of the church

1894, space provided for an organ on the South side of the chancel

1937, provision of electricity for the convenience of the congregation

1973, a new stained glass window, designed by Alan Younger, installed in the North aisle of the church

1987, further thought given to the "convenience" of the congregation with the provision of a toilet!

1990s: creation of a choir vestry/space for children, a kitchen, and the installation of a new organ

Winterbourne Parish Church is alive and ready to adapt its building further in the future according to the needs of Winterbourne and the wider world.


'Historians' cannot always be relied on! See, for example, the story of Hickenstern (or Hugo de Sturden). It is interesting to watch how the story develops in the hands of three successive "historians". Atkyns in his "Ancient and Present State of Gloucestershire" in 1712, refers to the family of de Stern possessing a manor in the parish. He describes the effigy of "a soldier in stone, lying cross legged, with a ram under his Head and a Lyon at his feet", a good description of the present effigy lying under a canopy in the North wall of the church.

By 1777, Rudder in his history, updating Atkyns, also refers to the family of de Stern and notes that one of the family "according to tradition, was a great robber in the country". The family "had a large house called Sterncourt, which is ruined but still preserves its name". The effigy of the knight, however, "under an arch in the north wall of the church, the head resting upon a ram, the feet on a lion" is "supposed to be Tukeram, the proprietor of Stourdon", one of the manors of Winterbourne.

Finally, in 1803, Rudge, in his history of Gloucestershire, goes further. He begins his reference with "Stern-court, an old ruined building," which "belonged formerly to the family of Stern, or Hicinstern, or Sterten as it is found on a tomb in the manerial (sic) chancel". He reiterates the fact that one of the Sterns was said "to have been a great robber" and then adds in his notes that "the tomb of Sturten is within the wall in the north chancel, with an arch of Gothic, ornamented with cinquefoils and crocket pinnacles. A dog is placed at the feet of this effigy, which is cumbent. A legendary tale is preserved, that this man had sold himself to the devil; and it was among the articles of the contract, that he was to be carried to the church after his death, neither with his feet or head foremost, nor to be buried in the church or churchyard; to evade this part of the agreement, or to cheat the devil of his due, he directed that his body should be carried sideways to burial, and that it should be buried in the wall of the church."

Good though the story was, even Rudge was not convinced by this story, as he notes that a similar story was told in Grosmont, Monmouthshire. In such a way developed the connection of the effigy and a person, and, hence the tradition of Hugo de Sturden, the hero of some romantic elopement, and the inspiration for the song by Richard Pearsall (1775-1856), "O! who will o'er the Downs so free."

The so-called "Monks' Walk" in the New Churchyard is another source of frequent speculation and historical inaccuracy. Tradition would have it that this double wall supporting a terrace is all that remains of the "monastery" at Winterbourne. Sadly this is nothing but wishful thinking; the monastery never existed and the wall almost certainly dates from the great days of manor house gardens, long after the demise of the monasteries in England. Walls such as this were common as a feature at the end of a formal garden and our "Monks' Walk", though somewhat ruinous, can easily be compared with the terraces at other manor houses, for example St Fagan's castle in the Welsh Folk Museum just beyond Cardiff.

Other stories concerning events in Winterbourne are related by Arthur H Austen Leigh, rector of Winterbourne from 1875 - 1890. His stories can equally never be proved but, even if a little embroidery occurred in the telling, these stories ring true in a way that seems unlikely in the former cases. Austen Leigh recounts that he was told by the son of the Parish clerk in the time of Parson Parker (1799-1827) of events at a Vestry meeting. There were furious debates in those days and one man in particular was liable to lose his temper. One day, when the rector was not present, in his fury he consigned himself and the others to the devil. At that very moment, a mysterious noise was heard in the chimney and, amid clouds of smoke and dust, a strange creature with wings, large eyes, a hooked nose and horns appeared before them. Everyone rushed from the room convinced that the devil had really come to torment them, and stood outside listening in terror. Finally, when no further sound was heard, the clerk was forced to go back into the vestry to exorcise the demon. As he entered, in some trepidation, he found the cause of the commotion sitting before him blinking on the table - a large, and no doubt rather confused, owl.

Read more in the complete illustrated guide and history of St Michael's Church, Winterbourne.