The people of Christchurch are celebrating 200 years of worship in this church in July 2012. This magnificent achievement has been brought about by many people who believe it is very important to worship God in this place. This Gothic Style church built with local stone was the first of its kind in the Forest of Dean.
It all started with a man called Thomas Morgan. He was a collier in Berry Hill who could neither read nor write. There was no place of worship in this area so he decided to open his cottage for worship. These services became so popular that when he invited Rev. Procter to take a service he could hardly get through the door for the crowds who wanted to hear the Gospel.
Rev. Procter's first sermon was based on Isaiah Chapter 61. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted."
The text was a very apt choice as Rev Procter had spent much time visiting the folks of Berry Hill and Christchurch and he felt extremely concerned about the terrible conditions in which they were living. In the Gloucester Journal of 1909 Rev. Procter was quoted as saying, "The conditions are deplorable."
The Gospel message brought the people hope. The services became so popular that there was not enough room in Thomas Morgan's cottage. Thomas said to the vicar, "Take my field. I will give you five guineas to which my neighbours have added fifteen pounds. We ask you to build a church and work until all of the money is used. Next year we will have another collection and see how far we get."
A chapel was built in 1812. This was erected on ground donated by Thomas Morgan. It was situated where the North Aisle of the church stands today. On the service of Epiphany, 1813, the public service of the Established Church was for the first time read within its walls under the authority of the Episcopal Licence. The chapel also became a schoolroom led by Edward Hawkins. Three hundred pupils came the first week it opened. Every Thursday evening the pupils were examined in the presence of the congregation.
After some time it was decided that having the school room in the chapel was not such a good idea. They thought it lessened the reverence in the minds of the congregation. The Rev. Procter was advised by the Bishop of Gloucester to look at a clause in an act made in the time of George III. The Rev. Procter went to London for a meeting with the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rt. Hon. N. Vansittart. This resulted in a grant of five acres of crown land, a donation of £100 to the building fund and an endowment of £20 per annum for the school.
After a public appeal in June 1813, a new schoolroom was built of "best stone" with two fireplaces - one at each end and a partition in the middle. Over the door was printed, "The Forest Day School for Boys and Girls on the National Plan Supported by Voluntary Subscription." It cost £300 to build and £70 per year to run. The Rev. Procter paid for two thirds of this.
It is a great shame, with all that he had achieved and donated, that the Rev. Procter later had huge money problems with the Church. He was a very worried man. For some reason Christchurch's endowment property had been conveyed to the church before it was consecrated. When presenting the memorial to the board for payment of the parliamentary grant, the case was announced as irregular and this made Rev. Procter liable for the debt of £950!
£500 was eventually paid by a charity but the £450 that was left was to be paid by himself and, after his death, by his family. He died when only 52 years old on May 8th 1822. The plaque on the wall of the North Aisle proclaims: "The examples of Thomas Morgan a man of God who could neither read nor write, and that of the Rev. Procter a man of learning who used his knowledge to help others, must be kept fresh in the minds of this and every generation."
Sadly, Thomas Morgan died in the year 1816 when Christchurch was consecrated. It had no churchyard so he was buried in Newland Cemetery. Later twenty foresters armed with pick axes and shovels dug him up and reburied him where the South Aisle of the church is today in front of the pulpit, half way towards the door. The grave remains under the floor and a plaque is commemorated to all his hard work and vision. His name was the first to be recorded in the burial register when the ground was consecrated for burial.
It was in the same year 1816 that the church was enlarged to twice the size and a children's gallery added. The vicarage was built to the left of the front of the church. From the vestry was a little door where the vicar could escape quickly home after the service! The pulpit is very close to the vicar's door. It has since been blocked off as the vicarage was sold.
The Rev. Garnsley who came in 1824 had been Government Chaplain at Sierra Leone in West Africa. What a difference to move to Christchurch, yet he stayed for 23 years.
In 1884 Rev. Barnes was responsible for the addition of the handsome apsidal chancel and the organ chamber. The organ originated from St Mary's in Monmouth. It was installed in 1885. The choir vestry was built and a stone pulpit erected to the memory of Rev. W.H. Taylor who had been a vicar for 31 years. Rev. Barnes also collected a discarded wooden screen from Clearwell Castle to go across the chancel steps. This was removed because of woodworm in 1962.
We are not sure when the tower was built but we know it cost the princely sum of £1000. The tower clock was given by public subscription for the men who died in the First World War. These are named on the memorial plaque inside the church.
During the late summer of 1991, many hours were spent making a record of the graves and recording the names on head and kerbstones in the churchyard.
Until the opening of Mile End Cemetery in December 1967, burials took place in Christchurch from a large area covering Coalway, Broadwell, Mile End and Cannop as well as Berry Hill and Joyford. The earliest stones are dated 1830, but many of these early ones are almost illegible. It is interesting to note family names recurring over the years.
All tombstones are a wealth of information, though very few modern stones give little more than a name, date of birth, age, and often "Reunited" or "R.I.P." In 1870, the son of Benjamin and Thirza Gwilliam "died in America aged 13 months." A daughter had already died in 1869 aged 4 years and 9 months, presumably in this country; two other sons and the parents died between 1897 and 1912. Did they return home because their stay in America was unhappy? A nearby grave notes that "Reuben son of John and Decima Short of Berry Hill" also died in America on November 24th aged 24. Did they go to America with the Gwilliams, or is it just a coincidence?
In the eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundreds, many family graves bear the inscription "and three (or two, or four) children who died in infancy". Thankfully, after the 1940s with the availability of inoculation and immunization, this pitiful loss of children in early years is almost a thing of the past. Also apparent is the frequency of death in childbirth or soon after. With much improved care these days, that also, has become almost unheard of. Our own vicar at this time must have known sadness too for on his family tombstones (in a sadly neglected state) we can read: "Rev. William H. Taylor, for 31 years Vicar of this Parish, died May 17th 1883 aged 61. Helen B. Taylor, November 26th 1864 aged 15 and Herbert(?) infant son of Rev. W.H. Taylor January 26th aged 21 months."
The most pitiful of inscriptions on a stone must surely be that erected "To the memory of the children of Wm. and Thirza Adams" to be found on the left of the main path, not far from that of the Taylors:
Edwin Charles, February 3rd 1878, aged 5 months
Miriam Jane, January 22nd 1880, aged 9 months
Louis Henry, January 9th 1884, aged 16 months
Mary Ada, January 19th 1884, aged 8 years
James John, August 3rd 1885, aged 14 years 11 months
Walter, February 23rd 1886, aged 2 days
William George, December15th 1890, aged 22 years.
Coal mining accidents account for a number of deaths; until the 1960s mining was a great employer of local labour:
George Henry Short, aged 40, at Cannop Colliery 1924.
Frederick Jefferies, aged 34, at Cannop Colliery 1929
Leslie Edward Jones, aged 39, at Cannop Colliery 1943
Harold Jones, aged 42, at Cannop Colliery 1948
Howard White, aged 49, at True Blue Colliery 1963.
Probably the biggest mining tragedy in the Forest Coalfields was the flooding of the Union Colliery on Thursday September 4th 1902. Seven men were entombed; four died (including the two James brothers, buried at Coleford) and three were rescued after five days, having survived in total darkness, deep swirling water, and with almost no food - although they found a little rill which provided fresh water. Two identical gravestones recall the names of two of the four who lost their lives; William George Martin, married with four children, and Herbert James Gwatkin, single, both aged 26.
Many of the 100 or so men employed at the Union Pit came from Berry Hill and Coalway and they walked down to the pit for a 7am start. After the news of the disaster had spread, hundreds of friends and relatives of the missing men gathered in the woods near the pit-top, growing to thousands on the Sunday. After frantic attempts by workmates and managers alike, it was Tuesday by the time a party could get down the deep shaft and along the workings to search for survivors, and they eventually came across the three men huddled together. Men who were involved in the rescue from the outset included Richard Powell and presumably it is his grave in the "new" churchyard - he died aged 70 in 1945.
In the old churchyard, in an unmarked grave, lies James Hawkins (together with his wife Fanny) who was one of the three survivors. There must be more. The last survivor, James Gwilliam, died in 1949, and he left a long descriptive poem of the Union Pit Disaster, a copy of which is in Berry Hill Memorial Hall. If you find the remains of "The Union" today the shaft was capped off some years ago and there is now a fine stone sculpture of two miners representing the James brothers who were found dead, huddled together, clutching hands. Their graves are in Coleford.
Sport too, has always been a great interest in the Berry Hill district - not without its dangers! Two graves name players who died "while playing football":
Ralph White in 1932, aged 23 and
Wm Marshall in 1934, aged 28.
In November, at Remembrance-tide, perhaps we could remember those whose names are recorded in the Churchyard.
From the 1914-18 war there are four official war graves:
T. Short 1916
S. Kirby 1916
F. Oliver 1918
T. Flannery 1919.
Also, in other graves either buried here or remembered by inscription:
William Potter, Bert Gwilliam, James T. Aston, William Whittington, George Baynham, William Ambury, Frank Young, Frank Emerson, Thomas Cooper (Gallipoli), Ernest Doane.
From the 1939-1945 War there are two war graves:
Cpl. S.G.Wilks 1942
Bombadier T. Lee 1946
Also remembered are:
P.O. Leslie Phipps (lost over Holland in 1944 and buried there)
Paddy Allingham, killed in Italy 1943
Sidney J. Webb, died in India 1945 and buried in Chittagong.
Where there are "mounds" or simply level spaces, we have no record, except for the very recent - perhaps you could help by placing a marker?
1812 Rev. P.M.Procter M.A. became vicar.
1823 The font was dedicated.
1824 Rev. T.R Garnsey became vicar.
1844 The Ecclesiastical parish of Christchurch also included Joyford, Hillersland, Shortstanding, Edge End, Five Acres and part of Berry Hill.
1847 Rev.J.Banks M.A. became vicar.
1852 Rev. W.H.Taylor.B.A. became vicar.
1885 The oak lectern was given by Alfred Heath who was the contractor for the new chancel. Also the organ arrived from St Mary's Monmouth. It is still used today.
1887 A brass pulpit desk was given by the widow of James Gwilliam.
1900 The altar service stand was presented by A.C.Tyler-Taylor at the Lenten thanksgiving Service.
1913 The church was re-seated. It could now hold 400 people.
1920 The tower clock was dedicated on September 9th. The clock has 3 faces and a cockerel weathervane is on the tower. The clock was dedicated to those who died in World War I.
1925 The Rev. A Hoyle. L. Th. became vicar.
1929 Rev. Wyndham Jones B.D. became vicar. He wrote the first short history of the church. The church safe was purchased.
1931 The population in the parish was 1731. (Taken from Kelly's Directory of the County of Gloucester)
1932 A baptismal brass vase was presented by Mrs Eggerton as a thanksgiving offering in remembrance of her confirmation. (She was over 70 years old.) was over 70 years old.)
1933 The burial ground was extended. It was consecrated by Bishop Palmer on 12th July and was a gift of part of the Vicarage Paddock by Rev. Wyndham Jones (1210 sq. yards).
1934 The choir was re-robed. A candle snuffer was given by Mr T Worgan, a people's warden for 20 years. One of the warden's staves was presented by Mrs Ben Worgan in memory of her husband who had been warden for 20 years. The other stave was in memory of Mr Collett, also warden for 20 years.
1936 The clock in the tower was overhauled. The money had been collected by parishioners. Dr Wyndham Jones and the Bishop of Gloucester Dr Headlam visited Sunnyside, Hillersland. There they confirmed Mrs Annie Louise Gwilliam and children Henry and Louise. She was a mother with two crippled children.
1938 An organ was purchased for £6 for the children's corner. This was later to be replaced by an American organ which was given by the Sollars Family.
1939 Other clergy had agreed to ban Sunday funerals. Dr. Wyndham Jones decided to continue them to avoid people losing time and money when taking a day off work. Declaration of War September 3rd 1939 Dr Wyndham Jones arranged for the vicarage radio to be taken into church for those attending to hear war declared. Afterwards Hymn 220 (Ancient and Modern), "Jesus Shall Reign" was sung. Again at 6pm the King spoke to the nation and again the radio was in church. The speech was followed by Hymn 540 (AM), "Fight the Good Fight".
1942 The Processional Cross was presented to John Roberts who was a chorister and in the Home Guard. Lt. John Morgan led the service with several hundred men from the Home Guard present.
1942 Snow boards were to be installed to prevent blocked guttering.
1943 The organ blower Thomas Gwilliam had died. A new blower John Sollars began blowing at 11 years old and was to see 60 summers of blowing!
1944 The roof was completed.
1944 Dr Wyndham Jones was now a canon. He had brought many additions to the fabric of the church and was now vicar of English Bicknor too. Later the cost of an electric blower was £125.
1948 The school buildings were on loan, rent free, to the Local Education Department, "on condition they were kept in good repair."
1948 The church roof was repaired at the cost of £600.
1950 The first Summer Village Fete.
The church was redecorated.
1952 Rev H. Bryden became vicar.
1953 The 2nd World War Tablet was dedicated and unveiled by Rev. Bryden at the Remembrance Service.
1954 Two coloured glass windows were installed in memory of Jane May Carpenter. She was only 2 years old and died in a tragic accident at the annual carnival procession.
1958 A new Mother's Union banner was dedicated.
1959 A new communion rail was dedicated in memory of Ellen Elizabeth Voyce.
1960 Rev. J Spencer became the new vicar.
1962 Christian Stewardship began. A higher amount was now given in collections.
1977 and 1981 Flower Festivals in church.
1984 Rev. Patrick Semple became vicar.
1987 New lights were purchased for the Chancel and outside the church in memory of Mrs. Hilda Fletcher.
1989 The church was redecorated. New carpet was fitted to the aisles.
1984 Rev. Ron Wood served at the church.
1989 Rev. Anthony Wells became vicar.
1996 Rev. Christopher Copeland became vicar. The Local Ministry Team was formed.
1999 The Nave roof was repaired and re-slated
2000 Christchurch Millenium Festival July 29th - August 4th. This was a festival of flowers, memorabilia and music looking back at life and events over the last 100 years. The musical events included The Georgia Jazz Band, The Berry Hill Brass Band, a gospel concert and The Forest of Dean Male Voice Choir. A toilet for the disabled and a tea bar facility had been added to the church this year.
2003 Restoration of the organ.
2004 Repairs to the upper level of the Tower.
2004 New Vicarage was built.
2004 Rev. Valerie Turner became vicar.
2005 Installation of the sound re-enforcement system. The painting of the main doors and railings.
2010 In October the church was closed for reordering. Services took place in Berry Hill school. Remembrance and Christmas services took place in The Memorial Hall Berry Hill. Phase 1 of the building work began. This included the removal of the pews, under-floor heating, redecoration, new servery, new lighting and sound systems.
2011 Pentecost May 2011. The church was reopened with a Flower Festival and Open Day. A celebration of 400 years of The King James Bible. All of the Bible was read aloud by the vicar and parishioners. It took over a week to do. 2012 February. Farewell parties for the Rev. Valerie Turner. A celebration of her vision to modernise our church for the future.
2012 Easter. A celebration tea for Bob Aston to celebrate his 60 years as church organist.
Many thanks to all who have contributed to this booklet, especially: Mary Barkley, Ann Harvey, Trevor Harvey, Ron Knights, Janet Meredith, Pam Powell.
Much information has been gathered from previous booklets by Rev. Spencer and Rev. Wyndham Jones, also many church magazines from many years ago.
The information in this history has been checked to the best of our ability. If you are aware of any mistakes, or can provide additional information, Christchurch Parochial Church Council would love to hear from you.
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