THE CHURCH OF ST. JOHN THE EVANGELIST, SHOBDON, HEREFORDSHIRE
Situated between Leominster and Knighton on B4362 and is sign posted off this road
This unique church has its origins in Anglo-Saxon times, its structure then being of wood.
This was followed by an exquisite example of “Herefordshire School” of stone carving in the 12th century stone building that replaced it. The first “new” church was the brainchild of Oliver de Merlemond who was steward of the Shobdon Estate. His ideas for the building arose from observation of Romanesque buildings which he saw in France and Spain during a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella.
The Bateman family arrived in Shobdon in 1705. The “second new church” which we see today was built between 1755 and 1758 by the second Lord Bateman and his uncle Sir Richard Bateman. Richard Bateman was a member of the “Committee of Taste” which also included Horace Walpole, whose villa, Strawberry Hill in Twickenham, includes features also seen in Shobdon – notably extensive use of decorative ogee arches. There is no record of any architect being employed and letters from the Batemans to the Shobdon Estate Agent, Fallowes, suggest that much of the design was the work of the Batemans themselves.
Of special significance in Shobdon’s case, is the furniture. This was designed for the building and includes unique sets of chairs, an amazingly ornate pulpit and its integral priest’s desk. The only glaringly obviously “wrong” part of the building is the early 20th century east window. Less obviously wrong, is the font which is the only intact relic of the Norman church with its elaborate stone carving.
The colours of Wedgwood Blue and white have led to the church being referred to by many as being The Wedgwood Church.
Other descriptions refer to it as being Strawberry Hill Gothik.
Visitors to this superb church see the exterior as a slightly unusual mediaeval building and it is only upon entry that the uniqueness is fully appreciated.
Prince Charles has been amongst the many visitors who come from the world over.
When the church was rebuilt in the 1750s the beautiful Herefordshire School stone carvings on doorways and interior arches were taken down and re-erected as a landscape feature on the hill 400 mts north of the church. Sadly, nearly all the detailed work has eroded away and all that we have now is a partial cast in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s cast room and a very complete set of prints.
It is worth taking a stroll to examine the arches to see the fine carvings that decorate them.
The church is in the care of the Shobdon Church Parochial Church Council, assisted by the Shobdon Church Preservation Trust.
It is of particular note that it was at nearby Shobdon airfield that the Special Air Services (SAS) trained and flew from.
The Church today forms a vital centre to the community and is one of six churches in the ArrowVale Group.
Like all such buildings, the church at Shobdon demands regular maintenance, and periodically major renovations to preserve its beauty for future generations. Current problems include decay and degradation in the transept roofs, and a resulting ingress of water causing damage to the fine plasterwork, stonework spalling and the loss of detail to mouldings and carvings, the tower coming away from the rest of the building, as well as deterioration to the very ornate pulpit. There would be great support too for replacing the Edwardian glass in the east window with the original Georgian glass, much of which is preserved in the north transept.
Some of this work is in hand, but much more needs to be done. As a long term strategy, the Shobdon Church Preservation Trust has been established to set up and manage a trust fund large enough to ensure the future of this remarkable building.
In early 2011 a major restoration project has just got underway. With the help of the largest single English Heritage church repair grant for any church in England, coupled with inclusion in the New York based World Monument Fund’s “2010 At Risk Register” as one of the 100 most important sites worldwide in urgent need of preservation, much of the necessary funding is already in place.
As ever, there will always be a need for more money – not only to complete current repairs but also to keep the building in good repair for years to come. Although the building will be closed for services for the rest of 2011, it is planned to have a photographic display in the western nave, showing current repair works.