Sarnesfield Staunton Weobley Norton Canon Monnington Letton Byford


Church of St Mary Sarnesfield

Statement of Significance

"Sarnesfield. We should come to it in summertime, when the church is framed in green by the lovely trees, and red roses climb around its ancient porch. Here is beauty for those who love it, and antiquity for those who love that."

Arthur Mee in Arthur Mee's Herefordshire

1. Background
2. Church of St mary
3. John Abel
4. historic context

Roger P T Marshall
For Sarnesfield PCC, July 2004


1. Background

The Church of St Mary is situated in the parish of Sarnesfield in Herefordshire, some 1.5 miles from Weobley on the A4112. First mentioned in the Domesday Book as Sarnesfelde, the origins of its name come from the Welsh 'Sarn' (road) and the old English 'feld' (open space), hence 'open space by the road'.

A lively farming community, Sarnesfield is outwardly little changed by history. Exceptions to this assertion would be the introduction of modern farming and forestry techniques, and the dismantling of Sarnesfield Court in 1957. There is no village as such, just the farms and homes, of which a number are still associated with the Sarnesfield Estate, and the Church of St Mary. A very small rural parish, Sarnesfield has something in the region of 45 parishioners. It is one of seven parishs in the Weobley and Staunton Group.

2. Church of St Mary, Sarnesfield

The Church of St Mary, Sarnesfield is a small, Grade 1, 12thC Norman church set in a wooded, rural location at the heart of the Sarnesfield Estate. While its origins are 12th C, there is evidence of additions and improvements from the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. In more modern times, some alterations were undertaken in 1870, and a programme of restoration work was completed in 1907.

Early times

A west-facing Norman window above the tower arch, places the origins of the church before 1200. In his book The buildings of England - Herefordshire, Nikolaus Pevsner describes the architecture of the original church as: 'A small, four bay arcade of before 1200, with circular piers, scalloped capitals, square abaci, and slightly pointed double chamfered arches'. The pointed arches indicate the arcade's origins lie in the very days of the transition between Norman and Early English architecture.

About 1300, a western tower was added, and this is 'unadorned, unbuttressed, and batters out at the base.' Today, it is surmounted by an attractive pyramid cap and a large golden weathercock. The Belfy windows are simple rectangular apertures and the two-light west window is typical of the late Early English period.

A south chapel was added in the 14thC, and a further interesting feature of the exterior of the church is the south-facing porch, which is an outstanding example of genuine 14thC timber-work. It shettles the church's simple south doorway.

The church has a well maintained, and very fine stone slate roof.

Inside the church

The interior of this church is a great delight to parishioners and visitors alike. Simply decorated with whitewash walls and the judicious use of colour, the church is a place of exceptional calm, ideal for reflection and religious worship.

The nave is crowned by a fine 14thC roof with tie-beams and one tier of pointed-trefoil wind-braces. Most of the original timber is preserved.

In the north wall of the nave is an attractive, square-headed 15thC window. The majority of the windows are of simple design and have two lights.

Notably, in the east window of the south transept, what remains of the church's medieval stained glass can be seen. Four tiny, very charming figures from the 14thC, as well as fragments from the 15thC add delicate colour to the church.

Displayed on the north wall, A record of incumbents and patrons show the first recorded incumbent to have been Walter de Sarnesfield (1329), while the patron was Margret of Sarnesfield.

Pigeon House

While not open to view, the interior of the tower is notable for one further, very rare feature. Discovered by George Marshall, and recorded in his paper in the Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' field Club in 1904, the tower boasts a pigeon house, or Columbarium as they are correctly styled.

In the middle ages, the right to keep pigeons was a manorial prerogative, protected by law. If a priest was permitted to keep pigeons in the upper part of a church, it was a deliberate provision for his maintenance on the part of the lord of the manor.

While it seems this subject was first explored by George Marshall, a noted fruit farmer and antiquarian, and then only locally, further research by Alfred Watkins, also a member of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club, shows there were perhaps as few as 20 known such lofts in churches in the United Kingdom at the turn of the 20th century.


Several fragments of 13thC or 14thC floriated crosses, which have served as memorials to the early inhabitants of Sarnesfield, still remain in the church, but only one bears any inscription. This commemorates Isabel De Sarnesfield* and appears to be of 14thC workmanship. It can be found In the South-east corner of the south chapel.

An 18thC funerial hatchment with the Monington* coat-of-arms and the inscription 'In caelo Quies' hangs on the north wall of the nave.

On the west wall of the chapel is a high-quality wall-plaque, commemorating Ann Theresa Monington, who became a Franciscan nun at Bruges in 1780, and died at the Abbey in Winchester in 1794.On the north wall of the chancel is a wall-plaque with a pleasing tribute to the memory of Bridget Monington, of Sarnesfield Court, who died in 1775.

In the south chapel there is a wooden cross, brought from France to commemorate 2nd Lt Ambrose Marshall of Sarnesfield Court, who died at Blangy by Arras in April 1917.

*Students of the Sarnesfield and the Monington families, patrons of the Church of St Mary from 1329-1388, and 1422-1732 respectively, will be endebted to George William Marshall, whose paper, 'Monumental Inscriptions at Sarnesfield, Co. Hereford' was published in The Genealogist (a publication he launched in 1877) in The New Series, Vol 12, Pp 7-18, 1896.

3. John Abel

Outside the church, in the graveyard is the resting place of John Abel* (1577-1674), the celebrated 'architector'. Born in Sarnesfield, he was to become regarded as one of the finest domestic and civic architects of the 17thC, and was granted the title King's Carpenter by Charles I in 1645.

Standing just a few paces west of the church porch, his plain, inscribed tomb-chest in the churchyard is a grade II listed ancient monument.

*Students of john Abel are commended to D L Gregory's 'John Abel of Sarnesfield, Carpenter', published by the Caradoc and Severn Valley Field Club.

4. Historic context

Sarnesfield was granted by the Conqueror to his distinguished follower Roger De laci. Subsequently, it appears to have been in the hands of a family which took its name from the place as early as the reign of Henry I; Philip de Sarnesfield held one and a half hides from Hugh de Lacy in 1109.

By the reign of Richard II, its lord was Nicholas de Sarnesfield, a member of the retinue of the Black Prince. In 1386 he was a Knight of the Order of the Garter and a very emminent diplomat. He died in 1394, leaving his wife, and co-heirs, his two daughters, one of whom married Hugh de Moynton or Monington. The second daughter married Walter Bromwich of Sarnesfield Coffyn (now Little Sarnesfield Farm).

At this time, Greater Sarnesfield fell to the share of the Monington family, while later the manor of Sarnesfield Coffyn was still in the share of John Bromwich in 1532. [At some unrecorded date, Little Sarnesfield seems to have been bought back into the Greater Sarnesfield Estate].

Sarnesfield was enjoyed by the Monington family until 1781 when Miss Ann Monington, the last heir of the Monington family, devised it, with certain limitations, to John Webbe (afterwards Weston) of Sutton Place in Surrey. This followed Miss Monington's decision to take the Veil in the Franciscan Convent of English Ladies at Bruges in Flanders in 1780.

[Ann Monington's father Edward's second wife was Bridget Webbe and he died without male heir. John Webbe, to whom Ann Monington left the Sarnesfield Estate was the son of Bridget Webbe's uncle Thomas Webbe of Hammersmith.

John Webbe's second son, Thomas Joseph Webbe Weston (who assumed by Royal Licence in 1829 the name, but not the arms of Monington) enjoyed the estate until 1857 when he died without issue.

The estate then passed to Marmaduke Henry Salvin (second son of Thomas Webbe Weston's nephew Marmaduke C Salvin of Burn Hall C. Durham who was the 4th son of William Thomas Salvin of Croxdale Co. Durham and Anna Maria (also called Mary Anne), the eldest daughter of John Webbe Weston.

In 1891 George William Marshall (1839-1905) bought the Sarnesfield Estate from William Worsley Worswick who had bought the estate in 1878 from Marmaduke Henry Salvin. The estate remains in the Marshall family today.


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