As mentioned previously, the advowson for Souldrop Church was originally endowed along with the preceptory of Melchbourne, and was owned by the Knights Hospitallers until the dissolution. The descent of the advowson is the same as that of Souldrop Manor, until the late 1700s, when it passed through the hands of Henry Pye, then William Vollans, then the Rev. J. W. Hawksley (who was known for his love of hunting(p455,) ref 4 . It was purchased in 1801 by The Duke of Bedford remaining in his family until 1884, when it was sold to Mr. C. Magniac. ref 2 .
All Saints Church – the oldest spire in the county.
The church tower dates from circa 1275 and is all that remains of the original church, it carries a contemporary broach spire and is the oldest spire in the county. The body of the church has been twice rebuilt and the present building is of 1860-61. ref 6 .
In 1505 John Lane bequethed money for the repair of the paving of the church aisle. ref 4 .
The church register dates from the year 1670.
By the 1700s the upkeep of the churchyard fence or wall was shared among the parishioners. At Souldrop individuals were responsible for lengths varying from 2 to 9 and half yards. ref 4 .
The body of the church had originally been built of wood and had burnt down in the early 19th century. ref 1.
According to contemporary accounts, the old church had fallen into decay in the eighteenth century. The roof collapsed in 1795 and in 1799 the parishioners obtained a faculty to rebuild.
The new nave and chancel had a reading desk, pulpit, pews and ‘commodious open seats’. It was opened for divine service on Trinity Sunday 1800. “Mr. Robert Salmon, Surveyor to the Duke of Bedford, furnished the Plan and estimate gratuitously”, (This was John 6th Duke of Bedford) and the Rev. John Whitehouse, Vicar of Sharnbrook, painted the altar piece, representing Jacob’s Ladder. This was said to have been a copy from some great master. ref 7 .
The records regarding the rebuilding of the church are held at Bedfordshire County Record Office, and there is also a water colour of the church in 1800. A critical review by one John Martin (librarian to the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey circa 1854) described the church as ‘a mean structure built on a tight budget’ despised perhaps because, ‘it had a short chancel with a false east window’.
He wrote, “It abounds in high deal pews, most probably after the pattern which decorate the fanner’s cattle stalls; with a limited number of open sittings; abundantly covered with lime wash; and plenty of hooks to save the hats of the congregation from its contamination”. ref 7 .
Francis, the 7th Duke of Bedford undertook an ambitious building programme on his estates in the 1850s. This included rebuilding farms, the provision of labourers’ cottages and schools, and improvement to churches. Thus Souldrop church was rebuilt in 1856, soon after the appointment of a new Rector, the Rev’d George Digby Newbolt. ref 7 .
(His diaries covering the period of the restoration have been edited by Patricia Bell in “Some Bedfordshire Diaries” and published in BHRS Vol. 40 (1960) pp 200-225). ref 7 .
The Duke of Bedford consented to rebuild the church, on the condition that the Rector contributed £500 to rebuild the chancel. The last service in the old Church took place on the evening of Sunday February 5 1860, demolition commenced the following morning. The first stone was laid without any ceremony on Easter Tuesday April 10 in the same year. During the re-building, divine service took place in the Rectory Barn ‘under License of the Lord Bishop of Ely’. On October 2nd, the Rev Newbolt placed the Key-Stone of the East Window of the new Church.
Over the following year he kept a diary of gifts presented to the new church, and recorded that on 30th September “the Font was laid by my little girl, Augusta Mary, aged 4 1/2”. The rebuilt church opened on Tuesday 17th December 1861, and accounts of the service were published in all the local papers. ref 7 .
New glass windows were supplied during, and just after, the rebuilding – in the east window and the Rose window above the organ.(1869). Designed by O’Connor of 4 Bemers Street, London, it was largely paid for by surplus fees and Harvest thanksgiving collections. ref 7 .
The Bedford Estate archive show that Bath stone was used for dressings; the hot water heating apparatus was supplied by Packham & Son, Brighton (£71); Thomas Earp was responsible for the stone and wood carving (nave, font and pulpit £30-19s; chancel £58); the chancel pavement is by Maw & Co., Benthall Geometrical Mosaic Works, Broseley (£19-7s); and the chancel’s cathedral glass came from Watson & Co., of London. STPSH (The architect was Henry Clutton, Esq., 9
Burlington Street, London) ref 7 .
A decade after it was built, W.M. Harvey in his “The History and Antiquities of the Hundred of Willey in the County of Bedford” (1872-8) p. 452, described the church as ‘of a substantial and handsome character…Much of the stone with which the church was rebuilt came from the neighbourhood. It has a stone groined roof, and contains some fine specimens of stone carving by Earp of London; the organ is by Walker..’ ref 7 .
Clutton’s work for the Duke of Bedford at Steppinly’s new church (1859-60), was his most
important Bedfordshire commission. At Souldrop he used the French Gothic style, later developed in the rebuilding at Woburn Church (1865-8). ref 7 .
Kelly’s Directory of Bedfordshire in 1898 gives a history of All Saints. saying that it was built in ‘the Early English style’ with an octagonal broach spire. It mentions ‘one ancient Latin inscription to John Hanger, 1608, another to William Robinson, 1701’
All Saints had a spired tower containing three bells.
The Rev Newbold put all his energy into the new church, with a ‘greater emphasis on the
sacraments and on colour and symbolism in the services’…In this small parish he usually prepared 6 young people annually for confirmation. He gradually increased the number of celebrations of Holy Communion, till by 1869 it was weekly. In 1870 he introduced the three hour service on Good Friday. Gifts to the church, often by his friends and relatives, included in 1861 an altar cloth and alms bags of crimson velvet, white and violet bookmarks, new plate and much new furniture. In 1865 there was a green silk frontal for the altar, in 1868, red green and violet stoles and in 1870 the chior acquired cassocks and surplices, the men black, the boys violet. He introduced a parish guild, which was rather like a revival of the old medieval religious guild or fraternity. Members undertook to pray and attend church regularly and to try to do some work for God. ref 4 .
Next: Harvest Festival
© Ella Jo Street