Information gleaned from “The Cleft in the Hills” by Rev. W.A.M. Grant and folk memory.
THE OLD CHURCH
It is likely that there was a church in Clophill from Saxon times; the situation of the old church in a prominent place to the north of a settlement suggests this, and Clophill was an established community at the time of the Domesday Book (1086). Vicars were presented to serve the church and the chapel of Cainhoe Castle from Beadlow Priory. The first named vicar, simply “Robert, priest of Clophill”, appears in a document dated 1145.
The now ruined church on the hill was largely built in the 15th century, (contrary to popular belief, the right way round!) and served the people of Clophill for about 400 years.
By the 1840s it was in a dilapidated state and too small for the growing population, so Earl de Grey of Wrest Park, Patron to the church, and the then Rector, Rev. John Mendham decided to build a new church in the village. The chancel and porch of the old church were demolished and the arch filled in. It then served as a Mortuary Chapel for the burial ground for a further century.
The Old Church is entering a new exciting phase in its life, thanks to the efforts of the Clophill Heritage Trust.
THE “NEW” CHURCH
Earl de Grey, himself an accomplished architect, appointed his protégé, Thomas Smith of Hertford, to design the new church. He made use of his earlier design for Silsoe Church, rebuilt some 15 years earlier. The lithograph in St. Alban’s Chapel is thought to be the architect’s impression of the finished church.
It was dedicated with due ceremony on July 10th 1849.
THE CLOCK bears the date 1849, but was installed in 1853 at a cost of £50, raised by public subscription.
THE THREE BELLS were originally in the Old Church. They are fixed, rather than “swung” which means that they can be rung by only
THE ORGAN was built by J and A Trustram of Bedford in 1892. It was originally sited in the south aisle, where it remained until 1968, when it was moved to the west end of the church. In 1996 it was moved to the north wall, then in 2003 it was completely rebuilt by Vincent Woodstock on the restored gallery floor.
THE FONT is believed to have come from the Old Church and has also been “peripatetic”, coming to its current position in 2003.
THE PULPIT was built by John Stevens at a cost of £20. An early ground plan shows it to have been at the north side of the chancel arch. It was subsequently moved across to the south side, then in 1957 to part way up the church. It was returned to its former position in 1996 for acoustic reasons.
THE BRASS LECTERN was given to the church in 1886 “in loving memory of our most self-denying parents” by the offspring of F and C Horn.
THE HEADS supporting the beams are interesting, because they are made of Pulhamite, a form of moulded concrete invented in the early 19th century by James Pulham of Hoddesdon, and much used by Thomas Smith in his churches. There are much more naïve versions in Silsoe Church.
THE PICTURES on the staircase wall show the Old Church in 1844. They were painted by Lewis Allen, who was staying at Wrest Park with Earl de Grey. The one of the interior clearly shows the carved beam now in St. Alban’s Chapel.
THE CLOPHILL DOLL is dressed in the style of the Sunday School girls of the 1840s. It was given to the church by a Miss Kingsley early in the 20th century.
THE CHANGING FACE OF THE CHURCH
By 1879 the church was already in need of repair and was closed for a time. Services were held in the newly built school. At this time the words “Holy, Holy Holy, Lord God Almighty” were painted over the chancel arch.
In 1915 a Chancel Screen was erected as part of the Harvest Festival celebrations. It was removed in 1957.
Electricity came to the church in 1926, and the beautiful brass oil lamps were removed. The “Holy, Holy, Holies” were painted out during the 1930s.
In 1956 the lead was stolen from the roof of the Old Church, which accelerated its decay to the state it is in today. The PCC voted “to preserve what we can of the old church within the parish church”. In 1957 the east end was re-ordered with a new high altar and rails. The Chancel Screen and the 10 Commandments stones were removed. The pulpit was moved forward and 2 new large desks were made. Timbers from the Old Church were used to create St. Alban’s Chapel in the south aisle. Of particular note are the beams carved with a trailing vine, a powerful symbol of the Christian Faith. It was dedicated in 1958 by the Archbishop in Jerusalem.
Within 10 years disaster had struck! The roof timbers and clerestory walls were infested with dry rot. At one stage the church was threatened with demolition, but the Rector, PCC and parishioners pulled together and repairs were put in hand. Meanwhile, the Tithe Barn or Parish Room on the opposite side of the High Street caught fire and was damaged beyond repair. It was therefore impossible to hold services there while the church was closed as had been intended. Some services were held in the Methodist Church and others in the Rectory (now the Old Rectory) drawing room.
The appearance of the church changed dramatically. The clerestory was removed and the old almost flat roof replaced with the steeply-pitched aluminium one we know now.
The church was re-opened with much rejoicing in July 1969.
2 years later, another disaster! The wooden floor gave way and had to be replaced. Once again the Rector and people buckled down to do the work.
In 1976 the Christus Rex, “Christ the King” reigning from the Cross, completed the transformation of the south aisle into St. Alban’s Chapel.
In 1996 the pulpit and organ were moved.
1999 was the 150th Anniversary of the church’s dedication. The celebrations included the making of the banner in St. Alban’s chapel. Also, during that year the new lighting was installed.
In 2001 the church received a substantial legacy from Mr. Fred Oakley, which enabled it to be brought up to date with a meeting room, kitchen, toilets and the restoration of the gallery.
Fund-raising, donations and grants led to new heating and sound systems, the glass doors and the relaying of the drive.
Finally in 2005 the new east window, designed and created by Michael Stokes of Nottingham, was installed in memory of the Oakley family. It depicts the Virgin Mary, Patron Saint of the church, sending the young Christ out into the world.
Our churchyard contains the War Memorial erected to the memory of Clophill’s dead of two World Wars.
The lych gate at the entrance to the Garden of Rest was brought down from the Old Church during the 1970s. It is dedicated to Mary Crouch. Wife of Edward Crouch of Cainhoe (Manor not Road!)
The churchyard is now managed for wildlife, with a mowing regime aimed at encouraging wildflowers in different seasons. Look also for bird and bat boxes, a bird feeding station and a miniature bog garden. Various flower beds have been planted to attract insects. In 2005 we gained the Eco-congregation Award in recognition of our efforts.