A Rather Grand Birdbox
Patshull Park is a popular cycling destination and refreshments stop within my partner's cycling club so today I thought it would be nice to try out an usual route through a few lanes that we had either not ridden previously or had disappeared from our internal memory cards. Moreover, this gentle ride on cyclocross bikes would present the perfect opportunity to take a look at one of Staffordshire's lesser-spotted churches close to the border with Shropshire.
It has been a few years since I lost count of the number of times I have ridden along Hopstone Road from Claverley to Wyken. And yet I cannot recall turning right on the little climb through Hopstone. Today, I discovered that it is a very pleasant lane with a good road surface and a gentle gradient up to Rudge Heath. House prices start at around half-a-million so a move to the Shropshire border is a dream for many - but at least you can enjoy a free tactile experience of the lane whist riding a bike!
Emerging on the A454 just below the Royal Oak Inn, there is a short stretch along the main road before a right-hand turn at Hilton, a small hamlet once home to the Black Lion Inn. Stratford Lane is another pleasant quiet lane running along the valley of the Stratford Brook. Densely wooded in places the birdsong is joyously raucous whilst pedalling northwards. On this route cyclists will also pass the Manor House, an 18th century red brick mansion of five bays with a central pedimented entrance.
There's a quick left-and-right across the Rabbit Run to pick up a lane to the manicured village of Chesterton. The iron-age hill fort can be seen just to the right-hand side of the lane. Well, as long as it is early in the season and the hedgerow is still low following the winter trim. The ride from here is easy-going and only a short distance from Patshull Park, once the extensive grounds landscaped by Capability Brown. Just inside the entrance there is a bridge across an enormous lake, the efforts of many local residents who laboured for the families that resided in Patshull Hall.
It is at the main reception for the Golf Club and Hotel that visitors can sign for the keys to Saint Mary's Church. Here is where the crossbikes come in handy as the track through the golf course has plenty of stone and gravel to undermine skinny road tyres. Consecrated in 1743, the church was designed by James Gibbs for Sir John Astley of Patshull Hall. This place of worship replaced an older structure that stood some half-a-mile away.
As one pedals beside the two pools, the church slowly comes into view. Rolling up to the gate there is a sense of serenity amid the woodland. The untidiness of the scene enhances the experience in my opinion. The walls, gates and gate piers are listed structures. The red sandstone building you see before you was altered by W. C. Banks in the mid-1870's. His additions include the north aisle, bell tower and the dome.
When the congregation of Saint Mary's dwindled to just seven souls the church was closed in 1992 and the building passed to the Churches Conservation Trust, a charitable preservation organisation.
We opened the door with pensive anticipation and soon found that we were disturbing a young family of robins. With the windows being slightly ajar to promote air circulation, they have adopted the building as a rather luxurious birdbox. Taking care not to alarm them, we wandered around a building that remains quite enchanting. Inevitably, the ceiling has gathered some mould but the interior is remarkably well-preserved. The gilded wrought-iron screen you see here was added by Banks in the 19th century. There are memorials to the Astley family, along with the Pigots who acquired Patshull Hall in 1765. The family name and coat-of-arms endures at the pub in Pattingham. Indeed, the Legge family are also remembered at the pub in Burnhill Green as the Earl of Dartmouth bought the hall in 1848.
Despite the fact that the visitor book is signed around twice a week, when we closed the door and turned the key, it did feel as though we were sealing up a lost treasure for another decade or so - an appeal perhaps of visiting such a redundant church in a remote location. There is a box for donations and, should you visit, I urge you to help save this building for future generations.
More Photographs from June 2017
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"At each Inn on the road I a welcome could find; At the Fleece I'd my skin full of ale; The Two Jolly Brewers were just to my mind; At the
Dolphin I drink like a wheale. Tom Tun at the Hogshead sold pretty good stuff; They'd capital flip at the Boar; And when at the Angel I'd tippled enough, I went to the
Devil for more."
Mail Coach Guard
Related Newspaper Articles
"A young man named Abraham Dimbylow was killed on Saturday afternoon, when riding a bicycle at Bishton, between Patshull and Albrighton. The
deceased was riding without clips attached to his trousers, and the cloth became entangled in the wheel and chain. The unfortunate man was thrown off his machine and fell
on his head, his neck being broken, and death was instantaneous."
"Cyclist Killed near Albrighton"
Lichfield Mercury : November 7th 1902 Page 3