TONG, SHROPSHIRE

Grid Ref: SJ 795 073
Date: 29 July 2021

Church
St. Bartholomew's at Tong

Arthur Mee wrote his volume on Shropshire in the King's England series in 1939, when he stated:

Tong. The traveller remembers it for the beauty of its ancient church, its wooded slopes, its thatched cottages and the castle in the distance. Its people find delight in the assurance that Charles Dickens was thinking of it when he wrote The Old Curiosity Shop and the story of Little Nell. Tong Castle is a turreted building on the site of the ancient castle of the Vernons and is an imposing sight from the churchyared but it is 18th century, young compared with the ancient heritage of the historic church.

Much has happened in the intervening 80 years as indicated by information boards in the churchyard. From the earliest days, church and village were linked with Tong Castle. The first castle was built at the end of the 11th century. It became an Elizabethan castle under the ownership of the Vernon family and remodelled in the 18th century by George Durant, before being finally demolished in 1954 as it was unsafe. The site now lies under the M54. The two images below are reproduced from the information board. The one on the right was credited to the Shropshire Star.

Tong Castle   Tong Castle
Tong Castle built in the 18th century   Tong Castle just before demolition in 1954

The visitor now enters the churchyard via College Field where a wall remains that was part of an infirmary built in the mid 13th century by Alan la Zouch, who then owned Tong Castle. College Field is named after the college built at the same time as the church in the early 15th century. The church, dedicated to St. Bartholomew was built between 1410 and 1430 and has remained almost unaltered. Permission to build was granted by Henry IV, who died in 1413, and building was continued in the reign of his son, Henry V, who died in 1422. It was built by Isabel de Pembrugge, who established a new college on the south side of the church which now lies under the A41. (Arthur Mee has Sir Fulke's wife as Elizabeth rather than Isabel.)The infirmary was made part of the college with provision for 13 people to be housed and cared for by the college priests and a warden. The college was dissolved in 1545 but the infirmary continued as an alms house. When George Durant purchased the castle and estate in 1754, the infirmary was demolished but new alms houses were built in the village in 1805. Charles Dickens mentions the old school built near the road but it was replaced by a new one in the village.

Among the effigies we have Sir Fulke de Pembrugge, a figure in armour with his head resting on a helmet and his feet on a lion. His wife is shown in widow's weeds with headless angels supporting her head and a fawn at her feet. Sir Richard Vernon, speaker of the Commons in 1426, also lies in armour with his feet on a lion with angels at his wife's pillow. Their eldest son, Sir William Vernon, was the Treasurer of Calais and the last man to hold the title Constable of England. He is commemorate in a brass. His grandson was Sir Henry Vernon who built The Golden Chapel in 1510. It features a fan vaulted ceiling. It is thought to have been made for a different location as it does not fit. It was painted in red and green and decorated with gold leaf. The chapel contains the tombs of Sir Henry Vernon and his wife, Anne Talbot, the daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury. Sir Henry Vernon was a member of the court of Henry VII and was appointed guardian of Prince Arthur, the elder brother of Henry VIII. Arthur married Katherine of Aragon but died six months later at Ludlow Castle. Sir Henry's tomb is under the arch leading to the Golden Chapel showing his wife with her hair on her shoulders.

Sir Henry's son, Sir Richard is shown in armour with two dogs holding the hem of his wife's dress. At the end is the small figure of their son George, the Peverel of the Peak in Sir Walter Scott's novel and father of Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall. The two-storey tomb visible beyond in my side view of Sir Richard Vernon's has effigies of Sir Thomas Stanley in plate armour with his wife Margaret Vernon, sister of Dorothy. It was commissioned by Sir Edward Stanley in memory of his parents in 1601/02. Below is the figure of Sir Edward in armour of the Commonwealth period. Sir Thomas Stanley (1534-1576) was the second son of the 3rd Earl of Derby. He was knighted at the coronation of Queen Mary and was Governor of the Isle of Man. He was imprisoned and tortured for his part in planning the escape of Mary Queen of Scots from Chatsworth House. He was eventually released but died aged 42 and was buried in the vault at Tong. His wife, Lady Margaret, 1535-1596, was the elder daughter and co-heiress of Sir George Vernon of Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, who was the owner of Tong Castle. Their only surviving son, Sir Richard, was knighted at the coronation of James I and he married Lady Lucy Percy, daughter of the Earl of Northumberland, with whom he had seven daughters. He was a friend of William Shakespeare who was a member of the acting group Lord Strange's Men. Lord Strange was the title given to the eldest son of the Earl of Derby. The earldom of Derby was given to Thomas Stanley for his role in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

The chancel has oak choir stalls with misericords. The stalls were used by five ministers and lay members of the college to pray for the sould of Fulke de Pembrugge and his wife Isabella, members of the Vernon family. Sir Thomas Stanley and his wife Margaret (nee Vernon) were buried initially on the north side of the altar bu the Stanley Monument was moved to its current position near the Golden Chapel during restoration work in 1892.

Effigy   Sir Richard Vernon
Sir Fulke and Isabel de Pembrugge   Sir Richard Vernon, speaker of Commons in 1426
Sir Richard Vernon   Tomb
Sir Richard Vernon, son of Sir Henry   Side view of tomb above with Golden Chapel beyond
Sir Henry   Sir Edward Stanley
Sir Henry Vernon and his wife   Effigy of Sir Edward Stanley on lower level of Stanley tomb

 

 

Nave   East end
The Nave   Altar and East Window
misericord   choir stalls
Detail of misericord   Choir stalls
sedillia   a
Sedillia in the sanctuary   Golden chapel ceiling
Houses   Nell's Grave
Village Properties   Reputed grave of Little Nell
Village houses   Vicarage
Thatched property in the village   Georgian Vicarage


Sources:

The Buildings of England, Shropshire, by Nikolaus Pevsner, Penguin, 1958,
The King's England, Shropshire, by Arthur Mee, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1st edition 1939, New Edition, revised and reset 1968. IBN 34 00100 3

 

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