Fordhall Farm keeps growing

PUBLISHED: 18:23 22 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:24 20 February 2013

Fordhall Farm keeps growing

Fordhall Farm keeps growing

George Turner opens the creaking gate to a Shropshire church in urgent need of salvation

Hope for Holdgate

George Turner opens the creaking gate to a Shropshire church in urgent need of salvation

The name of this tiny community is depicted by the gateway to its church and churchyard.

The gate is so decayed by age and weather that even when closed it remains ajar. To open it wider you grasp the decaying timbers with both hands and push ever so gently. It is such an antiquity that replacement would be almost a sin. If you need proof of the old adage that a creaking gate lasts longest, its right here.

Holdgate, deep in magnificent South Shropshire countryside, lies in the shadow of the Brown Clee Hill. With its patchwork backdrop of colourful fields, it consists of four farms, a few scattered homes, a phone box and a mud-splattered notice board that displays more green algae than announcements.

And thats about all there is except for the church, an historic gem which should really be assessed as a national treasure. With its Norman tower and nave, the Holy Trinity dates back to the 13th century.

It has stood for nearly 1,000 years and you feel its age-old quality as you step into the porchway. The north doorway has a triple series of arches with boldly carved sculpture work typical of that period. Inside, its history is even more pronounced. A magnificent chalice-shaped font awaits your scrutiny and you wonder how many babies have had their heads moistened here to begin their Christian journey through life. With its bowl inscribed with bold abstract and animal carvings, it is believed to date around 1140 and bears similarity to those in the parish churches of Eardisley and Castle Frome in Herefordshire, and Chaddesley Corbett in Worcestershire.

Looking down the aisle towards the altar, an abundance of pews convince you that seating accommodation is more than adequate. In fact you wonder whether the church has ever been filled to capacity in what is among the smallest parishes in the diocese. But then it was the norm for the Normans to build churches with over-generous seating provision.
Old oil lamps remain, though cleverly converted to electric lighting, and the small but beautiful recessed windows attract a heavenly light of their own.

But this magical atmosphere is overshadowed. The church is in urgent need of major repairs, and with only 32 residents in the parish, the dilemma is how this can be achieved. Two stalwarts who have taken up the challenge of the churchs survival are churchwardens Robert Hartley and John Brentnall. They have launched an appeal to raise money for the restoration but, in a parish so minute, progress is understandably slow.
The Holy Trinity has an acute damp problem which is creeping into the furnishings. And ever-widening cracks in the church tower and nave have begun to expose the fabric to the elements. Complete restoration would cost in the region of 150,000. The appeal has so far raised 20,000 and the church wardens (John Brentnall is also church secretary) have applied to English Heritage for aid. Their first request has been turned down, but they are hoping to make a fresh approach.

Meanwhile, fund-raising continues. There are tentative plans to hold a promotional concert, but it is difficult to raise large sums of money from such a small community. Services are held monthly and congregations average five worshippers per service. The churchs overheads amount to around 2,000 a year, but it is dearest wish of the churchwardens, and of course the parishioners, to see the church restored.

So how did this treasure get into such decline? For the very same reasons that have led to the closure of so many churches throughout the country. On the one hand are the vast changes to rural life due to the mechanisation of agriculture and the gradual population drift to the towns. On the other, the decline of the Church of England itself has been most acutely felt in rural areas. Falling numbers of clergy have led to decades of amalgamation of parishes. Resources have been stretched over wider areas. Holdgates vicar, The Reverend Ian Gibb is also vicar of Abdon, Diddlebury, Tugford and Munslow parishes.

Meanwhile Holdgates churchwardens remain firm in their resolve to save the church.

Their cause is threefold: To retain it so that it can maintain its vital role to keep the faith and serve as an anchor of stability in a rapidly changing world. They also seek to preserve and strengthen the community spirit the church generates on seasonal occasions and those in the agricultural year, for example, harvest festivals. Finally the churchwardens acknowledge the dire need to preserve the heritage of this ancient parish not only with its church, but the nearby Holdgate Castle mound which had mention in the Domesday Book.

John and Robert are philosophical but optimistic about climbing the mountain before them. They realise there are many charities all rattling their cash tins for their respective worthy causes. But they hope, just hope, that their appeal to save their precious little church will be fulfilled.
In his book The Nooks and Corners of Shropshire, first published in 1899, author and artist H Thornhill Timmins wrote that Holdgate Church had recently undergone a thorough restoration.

The earnest wish is that, God willing, it will survive to be given another one.

FOOTNOTE: Holdgate (also referred to in history as Holgate) derived its name from Helgot, a Norman landowner.

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