Gothic survival: Staunton Harold Church

Staunton Harold Church, Leicestershire:  detail

Staunton Harold Church, Leicestershire: detail

We live in an age when religious extremism causes conflicts that sometimes prove fatal.

So it was in the seventeenth-century, when the repercussions of the English Reformation set Anglicans against Puritans to the point of civil war.

At Staunton Harold, on the border between Derbyshire and Leicestershire, Sir Robert Shirley, 4th baronet, chose to build opposite his hall a new parish church that looks, for all practical purposes, as if it was one or two centuries earlier than its actual date.

Sir Nikolaus Pevsner’s Buildings of England: Leicestershire & Rutland describes it as “completely Gothic, not simply a continuation of the Perp[endicular] style but Gothic in a more conscious and general way”.

Above the west door is an inscription – added in 1662-5 – that is an unambiguous statement of defiance:

In the year 1653

when all thinges Sacred were throughout ye nation

Either demolisht or profaned

Sir Robert Shirley, Barronet,

Founded this church;

Whose singular praise it is,

to haue done the best things in ye worst times,


hoped them in the most callamitous.

The righteous shal be had in everlasting remembrance.

For his pains, the Commonwealth government imprisoned Sir Robert in the Tower of London, where he died in 1656.

After the Restoration, the church was completed for Sir Robert’s heir, Sir Seymour Shirley, 5th Baronet (1647-67).

The interior is consistently Jacobean with panelling by William Smith of Melbourne and a nave ceiling signed by Samuel and Zachary Kyrk and dated 1655. The communion plate dates from 1654.

The wrought-iron chancel screen is slightly later, and thought to be by the ironsmith Robert Bakewell.

Staunton Harold Church, which is Grade I listed, is now in the care of the National Trust:

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

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