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  • Romanesque Sculpture has some beautiful pictures of the church interiors and the font.
St. Mary Magdalene, Eardisley Parish Church, Herefordshire

View of the south-west corner of the church [Gorvett], with medieval interior carving, perhaps of St Mary Magdalene [Stevens]

The Anglican parish church of Eardisley, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, dates from the 12th century, although it is likely that an earlier Roman-Celtic church building occupied the same site. A Norman sandstone church in the Romanesque style was in existence by the mid-1100s when the font was installed. In the early 1300s a chancel and clerestory were added, as was the north aisle, greatly enlarging the earlier nave. Minor alterations and additions occurred over the next few hundred years, and either during the Reformation when Henry VIII established the Church of England in the 1540s, or Cromwell's zealous puritan Commonwealth of the 1650s, the rood screen and many of the medieval relics and works of art were removed or destroyed. In about 1708 a stone tower was built after a wooden campanile was burnt down. The church was 'thoroughly restored' in 1862 (Watkins: 47), and many of the surviving mediaval features were removed, but enough survived for its Norman fabric and character to still be seen.

Floorplan of the church [drawing by W. Howells, in Stevens]

View of the southern facade of the church [photo D. Nutt, in Stevens]

View of the south-eastern facade, with South Porch [postcard

View of the interior of the church, looking towards the East Window in the Chancel
[photo by D. Nutt, in Stevens]

The church of St. Mary Magdalene is infused with associations with the Marcher Baskervilles. Apart from the Eardisley Font, with its depictions of the apocryphal fight between Sir Ralph Baskerville and Lord Drogo, other known artefacts are as follows:

  1. Two Helms which have been the subject of several stories. At one time located above the chancel arch on iron brackets, in the early 1960s they were said to be in a niche in the east wall of the nave (Pevsner: 121). One is a sallet, typical of the 1400s, now missing its visor and chinpiece, but with fragments of its leather lining remaining. Its makers marks of a crowned 'I' and a spur indicate Italian, possible Milanese, manufacture. The other is a close-helmet of c1570, probably English-made. One story says that they were excavated from the ground near Eardisley Castle ruins, another says from the old castle moat (Stevens: 8-9) However, these stories are not shared by Stevens, the parish historian, who states that they ...were almost certainly brought into the church as part of the furnishings of funeral monuments. Traces of gilt scrollwork on the close-helmet are typical of the sort of painting that was applied to helmets for funerals (Stevens: 9). Given the known information about the helms, it is possible to hypothesise that the sallet may have been used to commemorate Sir James Baskerville, Knight Banneret, who fought for King Edward VII in 1455 in the 1st Battle of St. Albans; while the close-helmet may have commemorated either Sir John Baskerville, who married Elizabeth Hargist and died in 1577, or his son Sir Humphrey, who married Elizabeth Scudamore about 1573.

    Watkins notes in his description of the church that A stoup for holy water remains in the porch. There is a curious high niche in the S. arcade looking N.; and a pointed niche and recess for relics in its arches(Watkins 47-48). It is possible that, following the destruction of relics during either the Reformation or the Commonwealth, the empty niches were then filled with 'secular relics' such as the Baskerville helms.

    Mal Mason of the Eardisley Local History Group (ELHG), in a letter of November 2005, states that:

    There is no real evidence that the helmets were found in the moat. They are in excellent condition. Incidentally, I have spoken to a villager who as a boy was told with a friend to deliver these priceless relicts to a house. The helmets were worn by the boys as they cycled through the village, jousting passers by!

    The two helms, with the Sallet on the left and the close-helmet on the right
    [photo D. Nutt, in Stevens]

  2. Iron Gates to South Porch. Stevens sates that ...the renaissance iron gates were probably brought from the family chapel of the Baskervilles (Stevens: 4). Stevens gives no source for his argument, although it is probably from Watkins, who states that The present iron gates of the Church Porch which are of the renaissance period, were probably bought here from the Baskerville Chapel (Watkins: 50). Pevsner noted the gate (singular) to the south porch, saying simply 'wrought iron, looks early 18th century' (Pevsner: 121). The Chapel may have been in Eardisley Castle, but if Pevsner is correct, then the gate(s) cannot have come from the Castle as it was destroyed, and the family dispersed from the parish, some fifty years before the 'early 18th century'. The two explanations could only be reconciled if the gate(s) were either excavated from the castle ruins in this later period, or the original iron work has been re-wrought to appear to be of a later date.
    Watkins, however, provides a further clue when in describing the church interior he states
    In the Baskerville Chapel is an inscription - "Phillipa Kent, relict of John Kent , of Welson, daughter of Humphrey Baskerville, of Eardisley Castle., Esq., worn out with male treatment and lingering diseases. She with much charity and Christian fortitude resigned her soul to God, Oct. 15, 1748, aet. 63." A second runs "Here lieth the body of Sir Humphrey Baskerville, of Eardisley Castle, Knight, who married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Consingsby of Hampton Court. He had sonnes, Thomas and Henry, and one daughter Phillipa and + 3 April 1647". A third brass plate records "Here lyeth the body of Mrs. Sydney Coningsby, daughter to Sir Thomas Coningsby, of Hampton Court, Knt, She was bourne (twin) with Dame Elizabeth Baskerville and + 4 May, 1627".

    As the tower was built in the early 18th century, it is possible that the gates were relocated from a chapel within the church to the porch or, more likely, they were made at about the same time (perhaps for Phillipa Kent?) and used in the chapel before being removed to the porch during the 'restoration' of the 1860s.

    Mal Mason of the Eardisley Local History Group (ELHG), in a letter of November 2005, states that:

    I would be very surprised if the church gates are older than Pevsner suggests, neither do I think they have been excavated or re-wrought. They are such an exact fit, and in such good condition that I suspect they were made for this porch.We do have a blacksmith in the village, I will see if he will look at them and give me an opinion.

    South Porch, with iron gates just visible [postcard, c1987]

  3. Several Baskerville's have held official office in the church. Watkins (47) notes that B. Baskerville, Esq., was Patron in 1673, possibly until 1726, but further research is needed on this aspect.

The church continues to be the local parish church, drawing its congregation from and around the village of Eardisley, having provided a place of worship for at least 900 years on a site that is likely to have been sacred for over a thousand years.

References and reading

  • Gorvett, D., St. Mary Magdalene, Eardisley, The Font, Hereford 1994
  • Pevsner, Sir Nikolaus, The Buildings of England: Herefordshire, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth 1963/1977
  • St Mary Magdalene, Eardisley, Hereford, postcard, no production details, postmarked 9 May 1986
  • Stevens, R.H., Eardisley Parish Church, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, Eardisley Church Council, Eardisley n.d. (c1980)
  • Watkins, Rev Morgan G., Collections Towards The History and Antiquities of the County of Hereford, in Continuation of Duncumb's History: Hundred of Huntington, Jakeman & Carver, High Town Hereford 1897