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St. Mary’s Church, Birdlip.
"Sursum Corda” – Lift up your hearts! This is the motto on the single bell of the little Cotswold stone church of St. Mary’s Birdlip.
You can find the church on the right hand side of the Brimpsfield Road, just as you leave the village.
This church was built to replace an earlier St. Mary’s which stood opposite “The Lodge” at the entrance to Witcombe Park, off the Stroud Road.
The Mission Church of St. Mary’s was built in 1897. It was a small tin church on a stone footing, painted green. It was beautiful inside, lined with polished wooden boards and lovingly cared for.
In the spring of 1953 I went to confirmation classes there and fell in love with the tiny church.
“Late on St. George’s Day, 1954, the church caught fire – by what means is unknown – and was beyond hope of saving by the time the fire engine arrived from Cheltenham. Everything was burnt: furniture; books; altar hangings, which included a beautiful white and gold frontal, and the banners of the Mother’s Union and the Boy Scouts; the stained glass window was shattered; and the bell fell down; only the silver chalice was recovered.” R.F. Butler (1).
We couldn’t believe it at first. It was such a terrible thing to have happened.
The devastated community slowly recovered and shortly afterwards, led by the Rector, Rev. H.D. Atkinson, decided to raise the money to build a new church in stone.
There followed a very busy time for everybody. As a teenager I remember helping to serve teas and wash up at one of the very many money-raising efforts, fetes and sales.
A large thermometer-type target was set up in Birdlip shop window, and slowly it rose as people brought gifts and contribution from their efforts.
The new church was built to the designs of Major Stratton Davis; the bell cast by Taylor of Loughborough; and some of the internal work was done by voluntary labour in the village.
On 25th May 1957 Mrs. H.D. Atkinson, wife of the late Rector, laid the foundation stone for the new church. This is set into the wall on the left hand side of the church porch. (Sadly Rev H.D. Atkinson had passed away before St. Mary’s was completed.)
Early in 1958 the church was at last finished. £5,000 had already been raised and £1,000 was promised. The new church of St. Mary’s was consecrated by The Right Reverend The Lord Bishop of Gloucester, Dr. W.M.Askwith, on Saturday 29th March 1958. Six hymns were sung. All people that on earth do dwell; Come Holy Ghost our souls inspire; Bless’d are the pure in heart; Angel voices ever singing; Christ is our corner stone; and Christ is made the sure foundation. The service was taken by the Rector, Rev. F.E. Cottrell.
Since then the little church has played an important part in the life of the village.
I leave you with Miss R.F. Butler’s words: “The great interest and pleasure that is being shown by the people of the village seems to show that a church of their own has a real meaning for the dwellers in a country village, whether regular church-goers or not.”
(1). (2) “Birdlip & Brimpsfield – The Story of Two Villages”. 1850-1997. B&B W.1. Editors; R.F Butler,. O.E.H. Butler.
Additional information - the silver chalice mentioned above by Margot Partridge was rescued from the ruins after the fire by a small boy.
Today’s church was built on a one-time paddock then rented by farmer, Douglas Dickinson. “I was milking the cows,” he says, “and the Chairman of the Parish Council and the Vicar came and said ‘we want to build a church on that paddock and your landlord says we can have it if you agree.’” Douglas made a quick decision and the new Church was built. Apart from the East window it has plain glass throughout. It is light and restful without ancient monuments or inscriptions. Links with other parishes, amongst them Cowley, Witcombe, Elkstone, Cranham, Syde and Brimpsfield have been varied and seemingly unsettled. “We’ve been removed around like pieces on a chessboard,” said one Parishioner but the Church remains peaceful and its history is with the living.