The old church
Almost all that is known about the old church is that it was there! It stood on the top of the embankment alongside the church path to the west where one can still see some of the floor level stonework. Some of the stonework can also be seen in the boundary wall across the road between The Manor house and Stretton House. It was found to be useful after demolition! It was certainly in existence by 1321 because records show the name of William de Langley as priest. However apart from that the historical details are sparse and come from a visitor and from a picture.
Just before the demolition of the old church, a visiting local historian noted that the building was of Norman origin. The picture of the old church appears to support this. The nave windows appear to be late Norman/early English as does the small bell tower, although this had had a short spire erected on to it later. The building shows further alteration/extension with an aisle being added at a later date in the decorated style.
This extension was to provide for a Chantry Chapel. This was funded by Rev William Wolvardynton, the vicar of Lubenham, near Market Harborough. The chapel was built to offer holy sacrifice in the form of prayer for the Earl of Huntingdon. This was done by a priest who sang daily mass at the altar dedicated to St Thomas the Martyr.
It is later recorded in 1767 that a gallery was erected by Rev William Daniels to accommodate the parishioners attending the church. In spite of this the church was deemed too small and in too bad a condition to be of use. In 1832 an Act of Parliament decreed that the church was in a ruinous and dilapidated condition so as to render it expedient to take it down and rebuild it. This was done 3 years later when the new church building came into use.
One part of the old church was re-used in the new church. This was some medieval stained glass showing Christ on the road to Emmaus, a gift from a church in Hackney, London, which can be seen today in the church.
The present church building
The wherewithal for a new church building came from the bequest in 1816 of £4,000 from the will of the late vicar, Rev William Daniels. The land for the new church building was obtained from John Clark Townsend of Bishopgate in London, who had obtained a share of the patronage of the church.
In 1835 the first stone was laid and the event recorded by the vicar, Rev Harry Townsend Powell. He wrote:-
‘the bells in the old wooden steeple called up the villagers on Whit Tuesday morning to prepare for a scene that had never been known in Stretton before…I can fancy myself in the very act of admiring the care with which Mr Marriott smoothed the mortar with his trowel…seeming to join with all his heart in the prayer which followed…May God give His blessing on this good work which has now begun in the glory of His Name.’
The new building cost £5,232 and was opened exactly two years later in 1837 in the presence of some 5,000 people, with bands playing and streamers waving. Again the vicar led the prayers announcing….’The glorious work is now accomplished…may the Lord give it His blessing’.
The architect was Thomas Rickman, a major figure in the Gothic revival movement in eccesiastical architecture.
It was, and apart from the rebuilt choir vestry, still is, a symmetrical design both outside and in. Whichever view one takes from any point one side matches the other. The exception to this is the former choir vestry, now the kitchen, which was demolished early in the 20th century, and rebuilt in a way which does not at all match the other vestry or indeed any other part of the church.
The exterior walls were built using Attleborough stone from Nuneaton, while the interior walls were simply built of brick covered with a plaster rendering. Because the walls were quite tall and slim, iron ties were used to hold the walls together. These were also used to fix stone carvings to parts of the walls. Over the years these have rusted and caused the problem of fractured stonework.
The interior window mullions and jambs have been made using real stone but the pulpit, the vicar’s desk ,the gallery wall and other features have been made from pre cast concrete which in those days was a relatively new material to use. The lower walls were panelled with stained wood. These have been altered over the years and do not match.
The tower rises some 22 metres from the ground and has a slim design. It was originally surmounted by four pinnacles. However during a storm in 1903, the wind blew one of them down and so, sadly, the others were dismantled too. Each wall contains a large louvred opening in the belfry. The base of the tower provides the entrance to the church through two glazed wooden doors which are decorated with wrought iron tracery.
There are two of these; one being the vicar’s vestry and the other being originally the choir vestry but now being used as a kitchen. The vicar’s vestry is original and fits into the general design very well. The other vestry, having been demolished and rebuilt, does not.
The pillars are slim and rise some 11 metres from the floor to the nave roof, the ceiling of which is in a vaulted form. Above the aisle arches are the clerestory ‘windows’ which feature infilled circles with decorative foils and mouchettes.
There is no a chancel; the east end of the church being more in the form of an apse or sanctuary. The corner panels of this part of the church showing pictures of angels were painted by Mr Norman, an ecclesiastical artist from Warwick and there are several memorial plaques attached, some of which came from the old church. At the west end of the nave is the gallery which is supported by the seven arches.
The gallery contains the casing of the original organ which was used the in the new building before the installation of a newer one. Behind the organ frame is the access door to the gallery above which is a large arch. This looks very beautiful when viewed looking back at this from the altar steps .
Over the years there have been many alterations to the design of the interior woodwork. The pews used to stretch across the centre of the nave with access being only from the side aisles. A centre aisle was developed by cutting through the pews and the placing of new pew ends at each side of the new centre aisle. In recent years the choir pews were removed to create a larger area in front of the altar steps.
Most of the windows simply contain plain leaded glass segments and are not particularly noteworthy. However two of the windows are very interesting. The window in the south wall of the apse contains some medieval painted glass which came from the old building but which had started life in a church in Hackney in London. The glass depicts Christ on the road to Emmaus.
The East window is particularly noteworthy because it is a splendidly colourful. It was installed in 1936 and was a gift to the church by Capt. and Mrs Charles Stiff who lived at Wolston Grange. The artist was Mr Donald Taunton of Edgbaston, Birmingham and the work was carried out by Hardman’s Studios in Birmingham.
The design shows a centre panel of Christ ascending, surrounded by other panels showing a number of Saints, principally St Augustine of Canterbury and St Osbourg of Coventry. Running across the window is the scroll ‘we praise thee O Lord….we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.’
There are a number of memorial plaques on the walls of the church.