|Holy Trinity, Eccleshall, March 2011|
|Decorated capital||North Arcade, March 2011|
|Bishop Overton's Tomb||The Bishops' Stall|
The church of Holy Trinity in Eccleshall is very fine and well worth a visit. The bishop's of Lichfield had a residence at Eccleshall and their interest in this church ensured its quality. I visited Eccleshall early on a Saturday morning in mid October. The sun streaming through the great East Windows made photography of the full length of the nave looking east more difficult so I show some shots of the south aisle, choir and north side of the chancel.
There must have been a church already on the site in the 7th century as the name of the settlement, Eccleshall, indicates a church by water. It appears to have been refounded by 669. In that year Wulfhere, King of Mercia, gave the manor of Eccleshall to the Bishop of Lichfield. Chad was the first bishop, serving from 669 until 672, and he subsequently became St. Chad. In 1010, the Danes sacked Eccleshall and the church was in ruins for 80 years.
At the Conquest, the bishop was Leofwine (1053) followed in 1072 by a bishop known only as Peter and in 1085 by Robert de Limesay. A Norman church was built in 1090 but a century later, there was a major building programme undertaken in the time of Bishop Mushchamp. The new nave has 12 pillars surmounted by capitals in different styles. The lower part of the tower was built in the 13th century and the the Norman chancel was replaced by one in the Early English style. Surviving from this period are the lancet windows in the south side of the chancel and arches beneath the organ. The East window dates from the restoration by Street in the 1860s.
Bishop Mushchamp obtained from King John a licence to fortify the manor house. Bishop Walter de Langton (1296-1321) was also Treasurer of England. At this time most of the senior civil servants were clerical men. He had access to considerable resources and used them to build a castle. During the War of the Roses, the castle was used by Henry VI for his headquarters prior to his defeat at Blore Heath in Staffordshire in 1459. Henry was captured in 1465, temporarily restored in 1470, then imprisoned again and murdered in 1471.
The Clerestory was built in the 15th century together with the upper stage of the tower. The south aisle was also widened and the porch enlarged. The exterior of the church has remained largely unaltered since that time but the restoration of the 1860s brought many internal changes.
Eccleston in noted for the fact that six bishops have been buried there. The earliest was Richard Sampson (1543-1554) who was rewarded with the bishopric for his efforts in helping to securing Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon. He started the tradition of bishops of Lichfield living at Eccleshall castle. Thomas Bentham (1559-1580) was the first Protestant Bishop buried at the church, followed by William Overton (1580-1609). Richard Wright (1632-1643) was the bishop in the time of Charles I and up to the outbreak of the Civil War. During the conflict the castle was held by the Royalists, but the church was used as a barracks by the Parliamentarians under Sir William Brereton of Handforth. Richard Wright died aged 83 during the conflict between church and castle and was buried in the church during a truce. The castle was eventually capture, used for a time as a prison and then largely demolished to prevent it being used again. William Lloyd was bishop from 1692-1699. He built a new castle in red sandstone about 1690 to serve as his palace. The last bishop to live mainly at Eccleshall was John Lonsdale (1843-1867).
The first recorded vicar of Eccleshall was William Pollard who served from 1573 to 1580.
Holy Trinity Church, Eccleshall in the Diocese of Lichfield: 1190-1990,
edited by Malcolm Gray and Kenneth Bowe, a brochure available in the church
for a modest sum.
Holy Trinity Church, Eccleshall: A History and Guide, by Kenneth Bowe and Trevor Harvey,