The Old Church of St. Nicholas
Overlooking the village of Uphill and the Bristol Channel is the church of St. Nicholas, the former parish church of the village.
This Norman church sits on one of the earliest sites for Christian worship having ben built in approximately 1092. Many original features remain along with medieval and Victorian additions. The church was replaced by the new St Nicholas in 1844. Services alternated between the two until 1846. Thomas Knyfton of Uphill Castle restored the church in 1846 and the chancel served as a burying chapel until 1891, when it re-opened for worship. There are six bells, four from 1775. The bells still peal over the countryside and although Uphill’s church life is now concentrated at the other St Nicholas within the village the old parish church is well cared for and since 1989 it has been in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.
In the years following the erection of the new church the old one was allowed to go to ruin. In 1854 it was observed: “The interior of the church with its perpetual twilight, is in keeping with the drear and desolate aspect of the exterior. On the broken floor are remains of seats and pews, and heaps of stone and rubbish. A few years ago several tablets might have been seen on the walls, but they are now taken away. The pulpit, judging from what remains of it, was richly ornamental. Very mournful and silent is the churchyard without, and wearing the aspect of a forgotten, deserted place. The lowly mounds and mouldering tombstones rise up in the midst – not of roses and evergreens – but of long, rank grass, nettles and thistles. in the ear of fancy the waves falling on the shore beneath sound like a requiem, and the rustling winds seem echoes of smothered sights and broken words of sorrow uttered here …. ”
Another writer of the period commented: “In passing around the church I came upon a newly-opened grave. The grave-digger’s axe and spade lay on the ground; he had been remorselessly grubbing up the remains of the forefathers of the hamlet. No less than thirteen skulls and numberless bones had thus been turned out of their last resting place, and brought in contact with man. Although the grave-digger, from a sense of decency or shame, had piled them in a heap behind a tombstone, I could not witness this profane exposure and premature resurrection of the dead without sadness and regret.”
No actual date can be assigned to the building of the old church. It has traces of various styles from the crude Norman to the latest Perpendicular. It is considered that parts of the tower, especially the south side, are probably much as they were left by the early builders, before the close of the eleventh century and while William the Conqueror still reigned. The chancel possibly dates from about 1130. The fine Early English font was for a long time in a niche in the west wall of the nave, but it was removed in 1892 to the new church. The western end of the church is regarded as of the Decorated period, possibly to about the year 1350, while Perpendicular masonry – of the period 1377-1547 – is observed in the tower arches, stair turret, and north parapet of the tower. Uphill’s church registers date back to 1696 with the earlier ones long since lost or destroyed.
A researcher of the church records over 150 years ago wrote: “The word glum would give the reader a very faint idea of our looks when the parish chest was opened and we found that beyond a few modern registers it was as bare as Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard when she opened it to find her poor dog a bone. The parish clerk, Mr Robert Counsell told us that a lawyer, long since dead, who enjoyed a residence of 19 years in the Fleet Prison, and who had owned the greater part of the parish, had made away with all the old books and papers. Whether this is so or nor matters very little as the fact remains that Uphill has no old parish records of any sort; they are irretrievably lost – and even the award and map are missing.”
In 2015 Wessex Archaeology ran a community project in conjunction with the Churches Conservation Trust at the Old Church of St Nicholas, Uphill. The project involved a range of activities including metric survey of the church and churchyard, geophysics, test pitting within the nave and Polynomial Texture Mapping (PTM), a technique that uses photography to reveal faint inscriptions. The project saw the use of a Total Station, GPS, 2 Terrestrial Laser Scanners, a Ground Penetrating Radar and a Magnetometer. Staff from across the company, including the Built Heritage, Geomatics, Geophysics, Outreach and Fieldwork departments all came together to make it possible. For more information on the weeks work and results visit wessex arch.co.uk
Volunteers normally open the church for visitors on Sunday afternoons and Bank Holidays between Easter and the end of September. Exact timings and addition opening days can be found on the St Nicholas on the Hill Facebook page.
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