St. Giles’s, in the small hamlet of Barrow, is one of Shropshire’s oldest churches, founded on the estates of one of England’s earliest monasteries, Wenlock Abbey (later Priory). Even though it does not occupy the highest point in the parish, it would have been a fair trek uphill for the 8th Century inhabitants of the Abbey who used the building as a small stone oratory, or ‘cell’, for solitary prayer. Over 1200 years of history is packed into the fabric and atmosphere of our church.
St Giles’s is a Grade I listed building. The chancel and chancel arch are the oldest parts of this peaceful stone haven – the early visitors would, largely, recognise it today. The Normans ‘upgraded’ it by building a priest door in the chancel, unfortunately cutting into an earlier window to do so. The Victorians, also, rebuilt the east wall; so, it’s not entirely Saxon today but, certainly enough for it to be recognised. Nothing is known of the original Saxon nave but, it appeared to be too narrow for the Normans...and, they re-built it – you can still clearly see by how much. You can also see the difference in the Saxon and Norman masonry with the latter looking quite rough compared to the careful masonry from the Saxon period.
The chancel boasts the oldest window but, there are also three original Norman windows in the nave – one in the south wall and two in the north. Behind the plain font, the original west entrance is where the tower arch is now. Standing in the tower facing the nave, you can see the beautiful ornamental tympanum (between the door lintel and the arch). It is quite rare but, sadly, scarred when electricity was originally installed during the twentieth century.
The tower itself is two thirds Norman – added no later than 1100; the other third (obviously, the top third!) is early 18th Century. The north transept was built – on a medieval plinth – by a local gentleman in 1688 and the new entrance with a porch was built at the same time the tower was extended.
But St Giles’s isn’t just about stone walls and windows...what of the people? At the chancel end, the first recorded incumbent was presented by Wenlock Priory in 1277. Since then, there have been many, many others (obviously, because many, many years have passed); themselves empathising with and, in some cases, having their fair share of the ups and downs the community went through.
During Henry VIII’s Reformation, Wenlock’s last cellarer was pensioned off and appointed as Barrow’s priest. During the Commonwealth, many ordained clergy were unlawfully evicted from their homes and parishes, their posts being taken by so-called ‘intruding’ ministers – Richard Knott was one who arrived at Barrow in 1642. He stayed until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, went away, then re-appeared two years later. He must have been fairly popular as he stayed on for another fifteen years, during which time the congregation numbered about 120!
Over time, illegitimate children have been baptised; clandestine marriage ceremonies have been performed; and, vagrants have been buried. In 1882, the old churchyard was closed. Notable residents include a fox hunter of legend, whipper-in, Tom Moody. His burial is also of legend and today he is surrounded by daffodils in the spring, to the right of the church entrance.
Although, the whereabouts of his grave is unknown, Thomas Turner is also buried here: Turner was instrumental in expanding the famous Caughley China Works (where the origins of Coalport China began). One of his apprentices – a local lad called John Rose – went on to establish the works at Coalport. He is also buried at Barrow; his grave has recently been listed. Today,
St Giles’s offers a warm, friendly welcome to the local community and visitors alike. The church is opened daily, allowing anyone to visit. Our visitors are both national and international travellers and include, for example, those looking for their ancestors; those interested in the architecture and history of the building; and, those who were simply rambling along the Jack Mytton Way and stumbled across us. The benches in the church yard and in the cemetery (which is maintained by our Church Wardens) provide lovely spots for a quick five minute rest or for a period of longer reflection.