Friday, October 7, 2011

The Village of Elford, Staffordshire

Elford, Staffordshire

Elford is a village and civil parish in Lichfield District, Staffordshire, England. It is situated on the east bank of the River Tame, about 5 miles (8 km) east of the City of Lichfield and 5 miles north of Tamworth.

From History, Gazetteer and Directory of Staffordshire, William White, Sheffield, 1851

"Elford is a pleasant village, upon a declivity on the north bank of the Tame, four and a half miles N by W of Tamworth, said to have derived its name from the great number of eels with which the river here formerly abounded. Its parish comprises 468 inhabitants, and 1840 acres of highly cultivated land. Before the Norman Conquest this manor belonged to Earl Algar. In the reign of Henry III, William de Arderne, whose descendants continued to enjoy it till the marriage of Maud, sole heiress of Sir John Arderne, with Thomas, second son of Sir John Stanley, of Latham, carried it into that family, held it. By a succession of females it passed, in like manner, to the families of Stanton, Smith, Huddleston and Bowes. After remaining for several generations with the latter, it devolved on the Hon. Craven Howard. The Hon. Mrs Mary Howard is now lady of the manor and owner of most of the soil, and resides at Elford Hall, a handsome mansion, erected about 1758, and having a fine avenue of young elms, planted by the late Hon. Fulke Greville Howard.

A neat stone bridge crosses the Tame at Elford, and a little above it is a corn mill, formerly occupied by the late Robert Bage, who was born at Derby, in 1728, and wrote five popular novels.

Elford Lowe, on the summit of a hill, about one mile east of the village, is distinguished by a large oak tree and opposite it, at the distance of a mile, is a smaller lowe. These lowes are denominated by the common people 'Robin Hood's Shooting Butts', from a belief, that he sometimes practised here, and was able to throw an arrow from one to the other.

Comberford, a hamlet two miles S of Elford, is mostly in Tamworth parish."

St Peters Church, Elford

The earliest known church at Elford was Norman, probably 12th century. Until the restoration of 1848 there survived a Norman arch 'extremely plain and massive' in a wall dividing the Nave from the South Aisle. A small doorway in the north wall of the Nave also survived until it was bricked up, probably in the 18th century, and replaced with a plain ugly window.

In the second half of the 14th century the church was restored and altered to the style of the period by Sir Thomas Arderne, Lord of Elford at that time. A century later Sir John Stanley added the South Aisle and Chantry dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The ancient roses and portcullises surmounted by crowns in a window of the South Aisle signify the connection between the Stanleys and Henry VII, who is said to have met secretly with Lord Stanley at Elford on the night before the battle of Bosworth and persuaded Stanley to desert Richard III and join his side.

The old Norman tower was replaced by the present one in 1598. The date can be seen on the exterior. The church avoided destruction during the Civil War due to the efforts of the then Rector, Thomas Dowley, who although a Puritan managed to preserve the church from desecration.

The present church is largely the work of Francis Paget (Rector 1835-1882). An early follower of the Oxford Movement, he was determined to restore the church as nearly as possible to that of Sir Thomas Arderne in the 14th century. He did this over a period of years with the help of the Hon. Mary Howard, lady of the Manor.

The interior of the church is full of interest with a multitude of memorials, lots of medieval detail and of course the wonderful monumental effigies. These monumental effigies are among the finest in the country. The oldest is that of Sir Thomas Arderne, the 14th century church builder and his wife, Matilda. The effigies of Thomas and Matilda are unusual in that they are holding hands.

Note the angels and "weepers" in the panels round the sides of the tomb. Although the tombs are mostly plain now, some of the original colouring can still be seen on the shields on the sides. The source book by Richardson mentioned at the beginning contains full colour plates of the monuments and shows how wonderful the originals would have looked

Next in line datewise comes the tomb of Sir John Stanley, founder of the Chantry, wearing armour of his period; the date 1474 presumably being the date he died. Once again we only see the plain white effigy whereas the original would have been highly decorated. Near his head is an eagle and a baby which refers to the legend associated with Sir John's descent from the Latham family. His ancestor, Sir Thomas Latham, whose wife was barren, wanted to adopt his illegitimate son so he placed him in a nearby eagle's nest. He called his wife and she was delighted with this 'miracle' and took the child as her own.

The most famous effigy is that of Sir John's grandson, also John, who is shown holding the tennis ball that caused his death and pointing to his temple. His effigy is in hard grit stone unlike the others, which are of alabaster. With the child's death the male line of the Elford Stanleys became extinct.

The final effigy in the Chantry is that of Sir William Smythe and his two wives, Anne Staunton and the Lady Isabella Neville. He inherited Elford through his first wife and his second was a neice of Warwick the Kingmaker and a cousin of Richard III. A notable post-Reformation monument is that of William Brooke of Haselour, dated 1641, above the Staunton effigy in the Chancel. He was the grandson of Lucy Huddleston of Elford.

High up in the Chantry Chapel can be seen the shields of the Lords of the Manor from Saxon times beginning with Wulfric, Earl of Mercia and founder of Burton Abbey.

The window at the west end of the south aisle near the entrance door is of Flemish glass, said to originate from the Convent of Herkenrood near Liege, as does that in the Lady Chapel of Lichfield Cathedral. By being brought to England they were saved from destruction at the hands of the armies of the French Revolution. The subject is the 'Presentation of the Virgin' in the Temple. Below it may be seen the old door of the church which was removed during the restorations of the 19th century. Lastly there is the slab with foliated cross in a round arched recess in the north wall of the Nave. The date and person commemorated are unknown but it is thought to be of late decorated work.

Former Rectors of Elford are commemorated in the brasses in the Chancel floor. The ones there now are 19th century restorations as the originals disappeared long ago. There are some genuinely old slabs belonging to members of the Arderne family in the floor of the Chantry Chapel near where the altar formerly stood and the churchyard contains some tombstones with quaint inscriptions.

Church Records

The register of St Peter commenced in 1558. The original registers for the period 1558-1872 (Bapts), 1558-1966 (Mar) & 1558-1907 (Bur) are deposited at Staffordshire Record Office.

Bishops Transcripts for the period 1663-1864 (with gaps) are deposited at Lichfield Record Office.

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