A video tour exploring the history of the Church of St Mary in Astbury
- Credit: James Balme
The pretty village of Astbury, where the Roundheads did their worst.
The village of Astbury near Congleton was one of the eight ancient parishes of the Macclesfield Hundred until 1835 when it became part of the municipal borough. A Roman settlement existed nearby in the 1st century A.D.
Mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086 was the fact a priest was resident at Astbury. There was no mention of a church within the village, however, the later discovery of stone fragments with possible Saxon carvings and coffin lids, as well as a base from an ancient stone cross point to the fact there was most probably an earlier Saxon church in Astbury between the 8th and 10th centuries. Today the Church of St Mary stands proudly overlooking the pretty village with the earliest parts of its construction dating to the 12th century. The tower we see today was built between the 14th and 15th centuries.
In the grounds, to the north of the churchyard, stands an ancient yew tree rumoured to be at least 2000 years old. Yews were often grown in churchyards as their wood was used in the making of longbows. The English longbow was a powerful medieval weapon being about six feet long, used by the English and Welsh for hunting, and as a weapon in warfare, especially at the beginning of the 1400s.
The most important monument in St Mary’s churchyard is the canopied, 13th-century tomb of the Venables family, being the only one of its kind to be found in Cheshire. It was constructed during the 17th century to protect the carved effigies that had stood inside the church during the 13th century. Duke William of Normandy was crowned king of England in 1066 but on William’s return to France the English rebelled and William sailed back to suppress the uprising. The Normans had now entered Cheshire.
The loyalty shown to William was richly rewarded and he gave land to his friends and supporters in the county, and in particular to one Gilbert De Venables who had travelled back to England with the king. Around the year 1086 Gilbert came to Cheshire to take up 18 manors once held by the earlier Saxon known as Wolfgeat. In areas such as Cheshire, the administration of the land was handed in trust to the Lords by King William. Gilbert De Venables now held land in manors including Tarporley, High Legh, Brereton and Astbury and was one of the eight barons appointed by the Earl of Chester in the 11th century.
Astbury was then to see action during the English Civil war when Sir William Brereton and his followers made Astbury their headquarters during the siege of Biddulph Hall.
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The Roundhead soldiers stabled their horses inside the church causing untold damage. Windows were broken and the furniture removed. The stained-glass medieval windows were smashed although the vicar gathered up many fragments of the glass, which were later restored.
Things to look out for
Thirteenth-century canopied Venables tomb
Beautiful 16th-century timber-framed cottages
Nineteenth-century Egerton Arms opposite St Mary’s
Two thousand-year-old yew tree
For more videos exploring the history of Cheshire go the TVPresenter4History Youtube channel
Or you can keep up to date with James’ latest travel at facebook.com/historymancheshirelife