St. John the Baptist, Strensham
(This photo was taken by Chris White before the Church was re-roofed and tower was rendered!)
The church is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust
The name Strensham is derived from the Old English "Strengsho" meaning Strong's homestead, and is first recorded in 972 when lands at Strensham were returned to the Abbey at Pershore by King Edgar. Later on, Strensham was granted to the Abbey of Westminster by Edward the Confessor as belonging to the Abbey of Pershore. There is no reference to Strensham in the Domesday Book of 1086, although another local survey dated 1086 lists it as a outlying settlement (berewick) of Comberton, which is a couple of miles away to the east over the river Avon.
By 1283, the Russell Family were the principal landowners, and remained so for some four hundred years. There are many brasses and monuments to the family inside the Church. In 1388, Sir John Russell was granted a license to crenelate a mansion house at Strensham, this almost certainly related to Strensham Castle, the moated site to the west which probably survived until the English Civil war when it is believed have been destroyed. About this time, the Russells moved their residence to Strensham Court at Over Strensham (now Upper Strensham) to the south, and it is around this that the current settlement is situated.
The last landowners at Strensham were the Taylor family who were button makers from Birmingham. They rebuilt Strensham Court in 1824, this building being destroyed by fire in the early 1970s.
Possibly the most famous son of Strensham was the poet Samuel Butler, b1612, d1680, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
The Church stands high on a rise above the River Avon to the east, and the M5 on the east. From the top of the tower on a clear day, it is possible to see all the Malvern Hills, Bredon Hill, the edge of the Cotswolds ad the Lickeys, and on to Clee Hill over 30 miles away.
Inside the church, there are 16th century pews, a Norman Tub Font, and a gallery formed out of the painted rood screen which dates from 1490-1500.
However, its exposed position has meant that it has suffered badly from the elements over the years, especially the tower. Water was leaking through the tower roof, and the stonework was crumbling away. The nave roof was also badly leaking, and the moisture was causing the pews and floors to rot.
The cost of keeping up with the serious erosion became too much for the Parish to cope with, and the Church was vested in the Churches Conservation Trust on 1st August 1991. Restoration commenced in 1994, and continued until early 1996. During this time, the roofs of the Church were stripped and relayed, and the walls (except the tower) were re-covered with a lime based render. The plaster vaulting in the nave was replaced in 1997, and the tower rendered in 2002-3
A view of the bells being rung (right-left 6,2,3,4 with 5 behind)
The west tower dates from the 15th century, and according to the 1552 inventory, there was 'j letell leche bell' which belonged to the Church. However, according to the 1552 inventory, the bells from Bordesley Abbey near Redditch were bought here at the Dissolution. It states:
'Ther was abowte x yeares passed iij smale belles hangying in the steple solde with the whole assent of the parecheners and the money therof implowyd to make seattes & pues in the churche & to repare the churche. Therbe iij bells hangyng in the stepull wyche Sir John Russell Knyght of late bowght to his owne use of the Kyngs Maiestie deacessd wiche were perteynyng to the late dessolvyd abbey of Borseley wiche bells ye same Sir John Russell ys yet indetted for and be the goods of the same Sir John Russell'
The Sir John who bought the Bordesley Abbey bells for the church was the son of the John Russell who died in 1556 and whose tomb is in the church. The younger John was knighted in 1549 and died in 1574. Sir Francis Russell whose name appears on the tenor, succeeded his father, the first Baronet, in 1669, and married Anne Lytton. He died in 1705 and was the last representative of the line, leaving Strensham to his three daughters.
In 1704/5, the bells in the tower were recast by Abraham Rudhall I and increased in number to 5, and the 1740 inventory records this fact.
By the time H.B.Walters visited the tower in 1890, things were in a poor state. Of the 5 Rudhall bells, the fourth had a large piece missing from the crown, and the tenor was also cracked.
In 1911, Taylors restored and augmented the ring to six bells. The two largest bells were recast with their inscriptions reproduced, and the other Rudhall bells were retuned. The headstocks and wheels also date from 1911.
The details of the bells in the tower are as follows:
Treble. John Taylor, Loughborough, 1911, 3-3-23
2nd. Abraham Rudhall I, Gloucester, 1704, 5-0-23
3rd. Abraham Rudhall I, Gloucester, 1705, 5-1-26
4th. Abraham Rudhall I, Gloucester, 1705, 5-3-15
5th. John Taylor, Loughborough, 1911, 7-3-11
Tenor. John Taylor, Loughborough, 1911, 11-0-8 in G
The inscriptions are as follows:
Treble. IN MEMORY OF ANNIE MABEL TAYLOR WIFE OF A.J.TAYLOR OF STRENSHAM COURT ESQ. WHO DIED APRIL 5TH 1905
2nd. A R (bell) (bell) 1705
3rd. ABRA RVDHALL OF GLOVESTER CAST VS ALL 1704
4th. A R (bell)(bell) 1705
5th. PROSPERITY TO ENGLAND A R (bell) (bell) 1705 RECAST 1911
Tenor. SR FRAN. RVSSELL KT. AND BART AND HIS HOND LADY BENEFACTORS (bell) 1705 RECAST 1911
The (bell) above looks like this.
Parts of the tall frame are possibly 15th C in origin with king posts and straight braces. It was heavily rebuilt in 1704/5 when the five Rudhall bells were installed, and was then re-positioned diagonally in the tower. In 1911, the frame was extended for the new treble bell. The modifications over the years mean that the rope circle was a little strange, with the front four ropes falling close together, almost in a straight line. During 2000 the 3rd was turned around, and the 4th re-roped, which greatly improved the rope circle.
Although there are only about 3 services a year, the bells are rung open 2-3 times a month for practices, quarters and the occasional peal. The details of the practices are to be found here
Strensham ringers took part in BBC Hereford and Worcester's Money Marathon Appeal in 2005. See this page for details of this and for a sound clip of the broadcast including some ringing.
David Bagley 11/2/2005