ST BARTHOLOMEW'S , TONG

History

Our heritage

Our 'treasure house'

St. Bartholomew’s Church at Tong is renowned as a ‘treasure house’ and its historical and architectural significance is well documented. The 19th century Shropshire antiquarian Eyton remarked on Tong: “If there be any place in Shropshire calculated to impress the moralist, to instruct the antiquary and interest the historian, that place is Tong.” Today, the church is designated Grade 1 by Historic England, primarily because the present building has remained almost intact for over 600 years, with only one later addition, the chantry chapel called “the Golden Chapel” because of its rich colouring and magnificent fan-vaulting.

Through the ages

Our local connections

Its association with Tong Castle, with its origins dating back to Norman times and its various royal connections, feudal Lords and rural rituals (like the chaplet of roses placed on the head of the foundress, on the Birth day of St. John the Baptist each year - 24th June - ), gives the church and surrounding hamlets their enduring historical significance. (The Castle was blown up in the 1950s, having fallen into disrepair, and the M54 now passes over the site). The church together with a priests’ College (now disappeared) and Infirmary (ruined) were the inspiration of a remarkable lady early in the fifteenth century, Isabel de Pembrugge. The wonderful misericords in the chancel testify to her desire for 13 poor people to be cared for by 5 clergy provided they prayed there three times a day and said masses for her deceased husbands.

spiral staircase to bellchamber

The test of time

From our early origins

The church Lady Isabel had built between 1410 - 1430 is well preserved, in contrast to the disappearance of the adjacent buildings including Tong Castle, and despite the removal of the rood loft and Lady Chapel at the Reformation. It stands in a churchyard and open field of some 3 acres, on the edge of the rural village of Tong.

The church’s principal features are its perpendicular gothic architecture, the Golden Chapel, its superb collection of medieval alabaster tombs and effigies, original wood carving and brass work, and associated historical artefacts including the Tong Cup (now housed in Lichfield Cathedral) and a prayer book that is said to have belonged to Catherine of Aragon. The small two-manual organ, refurbished in 2019, is now Grade 2 listed, as is an old preaching cross and one tomb in the churchyard.

We like to be different

Worthy of note

Tong Church is unusual for having a central square tower that becomes octagonal just above the roof level with an octagonal spire on top. The spire was altered in the 16th century by Sir Henry Vernon to accommodate the enormous ‘Great Bell of Tong’, the largest swung bell in Shropshire dating from 1518. There are 8 bells in all spanning five centuries, the earliest dating from 1467. The church is much photographed and much visited, and a popular venue for weddings and baptisms. In 2015, 399 people paid to come on a ‘Tong Tour’ where its literary connections were also explored (Shakespeare and Dickens), along with other royal and historical associations: Henry Tudor, his elder son Prince Arthur and wife Catherine of Aragon; the close connection with Prince Charles (later King Charles ll) following his escape after the Battle of Worcester (the Pendrell brothers who helped him hide at Boscobel lived just up the lane); evidence of cannon and musket fire from the Civil War; and its links with important and colourful families – the Vernons, Stanleys and Durants.

Time immemorial

Protecting our heritage

The last (and only) major restoration of the church occurred more than 130 years ago, between 1886-1892, overseen by the renowned Victorian architect Ewan Christian. It involved both external stone works and internal reordering. The spire, pinnacles and parapets were repaired being in danger of collapse; the weather cock and lead guttering were replaced. Inside, decaying timbers in the oak roofs were renewed, the chancel floor raised, and new drainage and an underfloor solid fuel heating system installed.

Appreciated by many

Looking to the future

Although Nikolaus Pevsner was rather disparaging of Shropshire in general – “The great attraction of Shropshire is that it does not attract too many…”, nevertheless he did devote 3.5 pages in his guide to describing the virtues of St Bartholomew’s Tong.

Simon Jenkins includes St Bartholomew’s in his book of England’s 1000 best churches, and suggests that the church “…is an aristocratic foundation dedicated to the memorial needs of the departed rich”.

While its heritage value for the 21st century is unquestionable, St Bartholomew’s is much more than a memorial; it continues to serve a widespread congregation with weekly worship services and festivals and events that attract people from miles beyond the immediate local rural parish community of 200, as well as drawing visitors from around the globe.

Would you like to support us?

The Tong Vision for 2020 and beyond has a target to raise £500,000 over the next 3 years in order to fund urgent and essential restoration work, and to ensure that all visitors and congregations can continue to enjoy this unique building! If you can offer your support either financially, in-kind or otherwise, please contact Revd Pippa Thorneycroft.
pippa.thorneycroft@icloud.com
You can find us on Facebook: Tong Church
For Just Giving links, please see below.

The future

2020 and beyond

Working towards
a bright future...

Looking after the valuable infrastructure of the church as it has evolved over the centuries, whilst at the same time ensuring that it is fit for a range of purposes deemed important in the twentry first century is an on going challenge.  You can find out how we are rising to that challenge on the pages dedicated to the 2020 Vision Project by clicking the link below.