St. Barnabas, like Brampton Bryan village and neighbouring castle, was destroyed in 1643 in the civil war. It was rebuilt in 1656 by the Castle’s family, the Harley family. The head of the family in the 1640s and much of the 50s was one Sir Robert Harley, who was one of the Godly leaders in Herefordshire. His wife, Brilliana, had been home during the seiges of the 1640s, and fell fatally ill during one of them. Her letters – some 200-odd, to her husband and eldest son, Edward – have survived and have been extensively studied, particularly in Jaqueline Eales’s book, Puritans and Roundheads. I was fortunate enough to have been able to visit the grounds of the castle in 2015 with Herefordshire Victoria County History. The Castle is privately owned (by the Harley family, and is not usually open to the public) but on that occasion we ran out of time to visit the church, so that one was missed out – until 4th September 2017, at least.
The fact that it was one of the few churches to have been built in the interregnum meant it was a ‘must’ on my list of churches for my PhD research. I was to be disappointed. The church itself is lovely and well worth a visit, but unfortunately the interior had been drastically ‘restored’ and ‘upgraded’, even, in both the 1830s and 1850s and little had survived from the original interior features. It is a church that has nave and chancel in one, with no side aisles, so the interior is almost completely square and feels very odd and unsettling, at least to someone used to visiting older churches!
The roof is – according to Pevsner – in the style of John Abell (known as the King’s Carpenter, it was he who was responsible for much of the work at Abbey Dore. He also built the Buttercross at Leominster).¹
The ‘chancel’ has a raised floor, which would never have been installed in the original, and according to Pevsner, dates from the 19th Century.
All the – admittedly, beautiful and admirable – woodwork dates from that period as well.
There is one pre-reformation tomb, that of Margaret, daughter of the last de Brampton and who married Robert Harley in 1309. Eighteenth century tablets survive, but of the seventeenth century…? not a single, blasted thing, except the walls and ceiling. From the perspective of my PhD research, this was a real disappointment. Please don’t misunderstand me – don’t avoid the church or village because of this blog – the church is worth a visit and the village is lovely if you like black and white buildings…
And there is a GREAT secondhand bookshop there, Aardvark Books – it has a lovely cafe, which sells fab cake and really, I won’t be held responsible for the amount of books you stagger out with, nor your empty wallet (I’ve done it too many times myself). If you’re a walker then Brampton Bryan village is part of a great walking trail … but that day, I don’t deny it, I stood in that church and fervently wished that I had a Tardis so I could go back in time and forcibly educate certain Victorian architects as to why their ideas of ‘restoration’ were a bad idea!
I guess when doing this kind of research you have to be prepared for the occasional disappointment. This was certainly mine!
¹ A. Brooks and N. Pevsner, Herefordshire (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2012), pp. 119-121.