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Britain Express Warwickshire Travel Guide - Attractions - Billesley, All Saints Church
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Home > England > Warwickshire > Historic Churches > Billesley, All Saints Church
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Billesley, All Saints Church

History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation

BY , EDITOR

Exterior of Billesley church
Weatherboarded west tower
Looking down from the west gallery
Norman carving in south transept
Serpent carving detail
Fragment of Norman carving
The altar - was Shakespeare married here?
Georgian window in the nave
The nave and gallery

HERITAGE RATING: Heritage Rating  ?

HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS:   12th century carvings

Billesley, All Saints Church

A small 11th century church that was rebuilt in the Georgian period. The most intriguing historical features are a pair of 12th century carvings in the vestry. The first is a stone cross with a carving of Christ holding hands with an unknown figure. This may have been part of a larger scene depicting the Harrowing of Hell.

The second, better-preserved carving is a beautifully carved tympanum, decorated with a variety of figures including a bird, dragon, snake, and a soldier in a kilt. The figures are surounded by intricately designed foliage. This truly is an exquisite piece of craftsmanship. The carvings were discovered during restoration work in the 1980s, being used as rubble to fill in a blocked up door.

The ancient Saxon church was rebuilt in 1692 to form the building we see today. The interior is traditional Georgian, with box pews and a west gallery overlooking the nave. There is a fireplace and circular window in the south transept to show where the squire's family pew was located. The squires lived at Billesley Hall, now a hotel directly beside the church.

Shakespeare at Billesley?
Tradition holds that All Saints was the location for William Shakespeare's wedding with Anne Hathaway. Unortunately several other churches in the area make the same claim, and there are no paris records from the period to support or refute any claim; and they can't all be right! There is one bit of circumstantial evidence to support the notion that Shakespeare was married at Billesley however. His granddaughter Elizabeth chose Billesley to wed Sir John Bernard in 1649. Neither the groom nor the bride were natives of Billesley so there seems no logical reason they should choose All Saints church unless there was a strong sentimental tie to the village. So perhaps Shakespeare and Ann Hathaway once stood before the simple altar of All Saints church?

Visiting Billesley Church
All Saints is no longer in regular use for worship, and is now cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust. In theory the church is open during daylight hours but when we visited it was locked. Not to worry; a sign in the church porch told us to fetch the key from the reception desk of Billesley Manor Hotel. There was no obvious way to reach the hotel, which we could see over high walls outside the churchyard, but I took a gamble on a small, slightly overgrown path that led from a corner of the churchyard and bent around the wall out of sight. Sure enough, afer a few twists and turns I found mysellf in the hotel drive. It really is no more than a two minute walk from the church door, and the receptionis was very friendly.

The first striking feature of the church as you enter is just how small it is; it seems like half a church, with an extremely short, apsidal sanctuary. To my delight I found that we could climb the stairs inside the door to reach the west gallery, which provides a wonderful view down the nave to the alter, and also gives a good view over the farm field beside the church, where, with some imagination, we could make out remains of the long-lost medieval village of Billesley Trussell.

In 1100 there were over 100 inhabitants of Billesley Trussell, but by 1428 that number had shrunk to only four! By the end of the 15th century the village was completely deserted. The last Trussell to own Billesley Manor was Thomas Trussell, but with the decline of the vilage and the subsequent loss of income, times were bad for poor Sir Thomas. In 1588 he turned to crime, and was arrested while attempting to commit highway robbery in Bromley, Kent. The manor of Billesley was seized by the crown.

A vicar continued to be nominated until 1624, but a few years later a visitor said of Billesley 'there is no more left than the Mannour house, and scarce half the church that antiently stood there'. In 1692 a saviour arrived in the form of Bernard Whalley, who had the church renovated so that it could serve as a chapel for the nearby manor.

Summing up Billesley
This is a delightful country church. I wouldn't call it awe-inspiring, or compelling; rather it is a lovely little piece of history, half-forgotten, mouldering away in comfortable obscurity, in an idyllic location.

About Billesley, All Saints Church
Address: Billesley, Warwickshire, England, B49 6NF
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: 4 miles west of Stratford-upon-Avon, off the A46. Follow signs to Billesley Manor Hotel.
Website: Billesley, All Saints Church
Churches Conservation Trust
Location map
OS: SP146567
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


HERITAGE

HeritageWe've 'tagged' this attraction information to help you find related historic attractions and learn more about major time periods mentioned.

Historic Time Periods:

Georgian
Saxon

Find other attractions tagged with:

11th century (Time Period) - 12th century (Time Period) - Decorated (Architecture) - Georgian (Time Period) - Saxon (Time Period) - Shakespeare (Person) -


NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS

Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest

Mary Ardens House - 1.5 miles (Historic Building) Heritage Rating

Anne Hathaway's Cottage - 2.6 miles (Historic Building) Heritage Rating

Kinwarton Dovecote - 2.8 miles (Historic Building) Heritage Rating

Welford on Avon, St Peter's Church - 2.8 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Shakespeare's Birthplace - 3.5 miles (Historic Building) Heritage Rating

King Edward School - 3.6 miles (Historic Building) Heritage Rating

Nash's House - 3.6 miles (Historic Building) Heritage Rating

New Place - 3.6 miles (Historic Building) Heritage Rating



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