Context 172 - June 2022

44 C O N T E X T 1 7 2 : J U N E 2 0 2 2 The stone mensa was restored to its original position in 1929, with supports designed by Ellery Anderson. Note the consecration crosses on the east wall with candleholders below. door is in part an old one, the north door had to be newly made. Excitement was generated by the discovery of the original stone mensa or altar table under the chancel floor. Stone altars were removed after the Reformation, although often not destroyed but hidden. A wooden table for the communion was considered more in keeping with Protestant theology. Ellery Anderson was keen to reinstate the ancient altar. The Church of England was completely against it. After Anderson described the exact shaping and dimensions of the altar, that he had also found the base which exactly fitted it and one support, that it had a consecration cross, and exactly fitted the space on the east wall visible when layers of plaster covering the medieval plaster were removed, they agreed that he had found the medieval altar, and it could be reinstated.There was a precedent at Tewkesbury Abbey; the stone mensa had been found during the late 19th-century restoration and restored as the main altar. Services could once again be held in Shipton Sollars church, and indeed there is at least one a year today. The existence of two churches only a short walk apart in a small village, however, had been considered a problem for centuries. When the Commonwealth parliament surveyed the nation’s churches in 1650, the commissioners recommended that the two parishes should be combined; 18 families lived in Oliffe and nine in Sollars. The appointment of the same man to be rector of both was one practical answer. In St Mary’s chancel there is a plate recording the death in 1706 of Joseph Walker, the first recorded rector of both churches from 1666. Apart from the manor house, the only other houses in the vicinity of the church on a map of 1764 were the Rectory and the Frogmill. A small village, now simply bumps in the grass, was recorded in the late 13th century in an area near Shipton Sollars church called the Frogmarsh; the Frogmill preserves an echo of the name. The mill was on the River Coln, but also on the road which led from Oxford to Gloucester, where it turns through a right-angle to cross the mill stream and river. It became a notable coaching inn, and today is a flourishing hotel and public house. The innkeeper was an important inhabitant of Sollars parish; gravestones and wall monuments in St Mary’s church record the burials of innkeepers and their families ‘of Frogmill’. There are other memorials on the wall near the south door. As the churchyard was not consecrated, burials took place in the church. They ceased on in 1856, ‘due to there being no more space available for the bodies under the nave’, the parish register noted. The nave floor was collapsing into the vaults below in 1870, and visitors can notice that the nave floor is higher than the chancel, whereas normally there is a step up to the chancel. Originally perhaps the manor had a singlecell chapel; one was referred to in 1236 when the advowson of Shipton Oliffe church was reserved to John of Shipton, whose marriage led to the Oliffe inheritance. A chapel did not have a consecrated burial ground. It was enlarged when the lord of the manor, probably a Champflurs, endowed a rectory and raised the status from chapel to that of parochial church. William de Solers had acquired this manor by 1285. Where two or more churches had the same name, each was distinguished by the name of the lord of the manor; by the end of the 13th century these names became fixed. The Solers family acquired more land in Shipton. In later centuries the lord and his parishioners carried out some modest alterations. Since 1929, Shipton Sollars St Mary has remained largely fit for use, but as parishes were combined in team ministries, it was decided that it should be removed from parochial responsibility, although remaining consecrated and part of the Shiptons parish. It was declared redundant and vested in the Churches Conservation Trust in 2005.With an increasing number of churches to maintain, it is a struggle for the trust to keep it in as sound a condition as it would like, and local volunteers are still the key to the successful survival of the building. Sources Gloucestershire Archives (GA) D1930/1 – map 1764 of Shipton Sollars and Shipton Oliffe manors Gloucester Diocesan Records GDR/ F1/1/1929/30 – papers concerning the 1929 restoration TheVictoria History of the County of Gloucester IX (2001) NADFAS Survey of Shipton Sollars St Mary, with thanks for loan to Andrew Evans, a direct descendant of Ernest Fieldhouse Photographs by Patrick Joel, available to view at localstory.myportfolio. com Anthea Jones was head of history and director of studies at Cheltenham Ladies’ College. Now retired, she is the author of several books on Gloucestershire history.