The history of Putley Church


At the time of its extensive restoration in 1875/76 Roman remains were found in the very foundations of the North wall. So the Church is built on or near the site of a Roman villa or settlement. Putley was a Saxon manor called Poteslepe* and was held by Tostin at the time of the Conquest. There is however no evidence of a Saxon Church. The original Norman Church on this site which probably covered the same area, but of which only a few remains have been found, is known to have been built by William d'Evreux, around 1100. At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 he held the manor of Poteslepe as a feudal tenant of Roger de Lacy who had been granted large tracts of land in Herefordshire. The Domesday entry reads “The same Roger holds Poteslepe. And William of him. Tostin held it. There is one hide geldable. (ie. liable to tax.) On the desmesne are two ploughs and there are two villeins and one bordar with two ploughs. There are two serfs there. It is and was worth twenty shillings.” William gave the patronage of the benefice to the Dean and Chapter of Hereford Cathedral.

* or Potesleche or even Poteslewe or Poteslowe. The Norman scribes had problems in the translation of Saxon letters that had no direct Roman equivalent.

Remains of the original Church

What exactly happened to the original Norman Church is unknown but in 1875/76 the Church was largely rebuilt and that which preceded it had clearly been much altered from the original Norman style. (See the Architect’s drawings of the church before rebuilding). Some of the walls, for instance the south wall of the nave and part of the west wall, were left standing but most were rebuilt. (See the Architect’s new floor plan that differentiates, by colour, between new and retained walls.) Where appropriate original features were rebuilt into the new structure or restored. Some windows and the original medieval tie beam and roof which had previously been plastered were clearly retained or reused. Other items were incorporated into the new structure.

The Church - Pre 1500

Unusually the North doorway, now blocked, appears to have been the original entrance to the Church. Much of the original recess for the Holy water stoup (item 1 on Architect’s floor plan - click here to view it) is visible to the East of the blocked door but the stoop itself has not survived. This would have been used by the congregation entering the Church.

The South doorway was probably constructed in either the 13th or 14th century. The Porch (item 2 - click here to view the plan) was Elizabethan and this survived the reconstruction but despite having been said to have been in reasonable condition in the 1940’s had finally to be replaced in 1958. The present porch is a modern replica of the original that can be seen, shrouded in ivy, in the photograph prior to rebuilding.

There was a small Priest’s door (item 3 - click here to view the plan) on the south side of the chancel and this was rebuilt into the new chancel wall. It is visible from outside but is now a false door, being completely blocked. Internally it would have been behind the choir stalls.

At the east end of the Church, on the south side of the chancel, are the columns and stones of the Norman piscina, (item 4 - click here to view the plan) used for cleaning the altar vessels. These were found, at the time of restoration, built into the south chancel wall and therefore completely hidden. They were replaced in the supposed original position.

The Nave windows nearest to the chancel are originals as is the one on the north side of the chancel itself. (item 5 - click here to view the plan) Roman tiles are visible amongst the material used to block the North doorway. (item 6 - click here to view the plan) At the top of the door is a fine Norman carving of a head.

The Church: 1500 – 1875

Our first Church Register was started in 1561 and runs until 1799, the first entries being made by Revd. James Mutlow, who was Rector from 1562 to 1616, holding the living longer than anyone, before or since. The name of Mutlow reappears, some two centuries later, as shown in the Churchyard memorial notes. The early Church registers are now in safe keeping in the Hereford archives.

Unusually we also had a long serving Rector, Revd. Godwin, who served from 1640 in the reign of Charles I, through the Commonwealth period to 1663 after the Restoration. Was he a “Vicar of Bray” who could change his views and adapt to the Prayer Book or to the Puritan Directory? Or was this small country parish able to retain its rightful priest throughout? As our Church Registers recorded Baptisms continuously from 1649-1660, whereas in many other parishes only Births were recorded the latter seems possible.

The fine Jacobean panelling of the Rood Screen and Pulpit (item 7 - click here to view the plan) had previously formed the Squire's square pew that can be seen in the Architect’s drawing.

There are three Bells. The Revd. Evans, in his 1942 history of the Church, noted that the smallest was reputed to have been cast at Bristol as early as 1400 and if so it has rung out over the same fields for some 600 years. The largest bell dates from 1636, just before the English civil war. The third is dated 1722.

The Restoration of 1875 – 1876

It is exceptionally rare for a small village church to be restored in the high Victorian Anglo Catholic tradition more usually associated with urban area buildings such as Pusey House or St Mary Magdalen, Oxford. Where there are rural examples, such as at Highnam near Gloucester, they are estate Churches. Mr John Riley, who purchased Putley Court in 1872, contributed £1000 towards the cost, the Dean and Chapter of Hereford, £400. The Incorporated Church Building Society contributed £20 towards reseating “upon condition that all seats except five in the Putley Court pew be set apart for the free use of all the inhabitants”. This is noted on a plan in the outer Vestry and this plan is partly reproduced as the Architect’s new floor plan in this leaflet. The architect was Mr Thomas Blashill of Old Jewry Chambers in London.

The large statuary figures (item 8 - click here to view the plan) of the Reredos behind the altar represent, on the north side, the four Evangelists, St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John and on the south side, St. Peter (with the keys), St. Paul (with the sword), St James and St. Jude thus representing all the writers of the New Testament. The minor figures (item 9 - click here to view the plan) represent the Last Supper; the appearance of the risen Christ to the disciples on the road to Emmaus; and doubting Thomas. There are two smaller wooden figures (item 10 - click here to view the plan) at the east end of the choir stalls and these represent St.Peter and St.Andrew.

The alabaster Altar itself which represents the Deposition of Christ was given by Mr John Riley in memory of his mother and is so inscribed on its south side. The wooden table previously in use as an altar is incorporated within it. The Reredos, the Memorial Altar and the Choir Stalls are the work of London stone carvers, Messrs Farmer and Brindley.

The Mosaics (item 11 - click here to view the plan) on the East wall executed by the Venice and Murano company show, to the north of the altar, the raising of the widow of Nain’s son; and the entry of Christ into Jerusalem; and to the south the sacrifice of Isaac; and Christ’s carrying of the cross.

The Painted glass windows are by Clayton and Bell except for the west window which is by Heaton, Butler and Bayne. Both were respected London firms in the Victorian era.

The Font has the symbols of the Evangelists on four of its faces, the lion for St. Mark; the calf for St. Luke; the man for St. Matthew; and the eagle for St. John. On the other four alternate faces are the Holy Dove (representing the Holy Spirit); a Maltese Cross; the Ark (representing the Church); and three entwined fishes (probably representing the Trinity).

The original box Pews were replaced by smaller ones in 1892 and these were in turn replaced by the present oak pews from 1908 onwards. The Pew ends (item 12 - click here to view the plan) were carved by John Riley and his son and daughters and the carvings represent plants, beasts and birds appropriate to country life in a fruit growing parish. The last pew was completed in 1918 and its pew end carving, the dove, was to commemorate the return of peace.

The Biblical scenes shown in the blue Coloured plaques (item 13 - click here to view the plan) on the inner side of the north blocked door were also worked by the Riley daughters. They represent the empty tomb; the raising of Lazarus; the risen Christ with St Mary Magdalene in the garden; the old priest Zacharias at the altar of incense; the widow of Nein’s son; and Abraham about to offer Isaac.

Memorials to seven members of the Stock family that had previously been in the Chancel (see Architect’s drawing) were repositioned on the west wall (item 14 - click here to view the plan). They inherited Putley Court in 1781 from their distant relative Edmund Philipps, son of the Edmund Philipps who built the Court in 1712. Inside the south door is a floor memorial (item 15 - click here to see the plan) to five members of the Hammond family who died between 1759 and 1827 and lived at Aylton Court.

But most of the floor memorials to the main gentry families appear to have been destroyed. These included the memorials to the Gwillim family who lived at Braynes (old spelling for Brainge) for at least 200 years and to the Nash family. Also lost were memorials to Edmund Philipps, his widow Margaret and her second husband Joseph Hayling.

There is later brass memorial to John Riley and his wife Lucy Martin on the North wall.

Later Work and Recent Additions

In 1892 the spacious Priest’s Vestry (item 16 - click here to see the plan) was added, more than doubling the available space.

In 2000 the Nave and Chancel Roofs were re-clad having served for 135 years without any apparent leakage.

A major recent improvement to the furnishings has been the working of the fine new Kneelers and Pew runners. This was initiated as part of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and partly financed by lottery money. Many residents of Putley worked on these. The work was inspired and co-ordinated by Mrs Sue Tyrrell.

There are current plans to install a toilet with disabled facilities and a small kitchen and flower arrangement area in the outer (older) vestry and part of the 1892 vestry which is now unnecessarily large. Putley Churchyard and Memorials

In 1707 the Churchyard was reported to be around half an acre and it was enlarged in the early 20th century with land given by John Riley. In 1978 Rosemary West of Lower Court kindly gave an additional strip of land at the east end and in 2004 Sam Rolinson, also of Lower Court, generously made a gift of the land next to the pond at the west end.

The Churchyard Cross

The Cross is on the south side of the Churchyard and has survived from mediaeval times probably, from the 13th century. It is thought that the sandstone was quarried locally and it is considered to be one of the finest of the 100 such crosses in Herefordshire. It was erected about two centuries after the Church and was probably intended as a general Christian memorial for all those buried in the Churchyard. Thus the carving on the stone, on each face, was intended to teach some of the great truths of the Christian faith. On the west face is a Crucifix; on the east face the Blessed Virgin Mary (crowned), the Holy Child and a sword; on the north face St Andrew (identifiable from the St Andrew's cross); and on the south face an unknown Archbishop*. The recess at the west of the base is thought to be an Aumbry in which the sacrament was placed. The mutilation to the cross possibly dates from the puritan period in the 1550s during the reign of King Edward VI or maybe it was the work of Cromwell’s soldiers.

* He may possibly have been St. Thomas à Beckett or St. Thomas de Cantilupe, Bishop of Hereford (1275-1282)

War Memorial Cross

Sadly four young men in this tiny parish of 200 people were killed in the First World War. Sergeant Geoffrey Maund, RAF, of the parish, was killed on 6th June 1944 (D Day) and is buried in France. The cross itself is of oak and the figure of Christ is of teak; we are fortunate indeed to have such an appropriate memorial.


The fine but decaying tombstones in the old Churchyard bear witness to the rural families of the 18th and 19th centuries. Near the south wall of the Church are 18th century memorials to the Brookes family of yeoman farmers. The Brookes have lived in Putley since at least the end of the 17th century. A late 19th century member of the family, George, whose memorial can be seen close to the south gate, was particularly proud of his grandfather Charles Twining Brookes who was born in 1752. Descendants on the female side, the Staniers, still play an active role in the parish especially with the annual Big Apple celebrations.

The large and decaying family tomb of William Sexty and his family, on the south side of the pathway to the east of the porch, similarly denotes an association of many years. The family were settled in Ledbury in the mid 18th century and other major family monuments are to be found in that Churchyard. An uncle, Robert, married in 1780 a Mary Barett of Bare farm later known as Underhill and took over the copyhold life interest. Underhill is officially in Woolhope parish but very much closer to Putley Church. The Baretts had lived in this area since at least 1660. William Sexty lived at Lower Court and managed the land of Putley Court for the then owner, William Stock, from the mid 1820s until after 1851. He was a churchwarden for nearly 20 years. His sons, too, are buried in the family grave. The family later farmed in Mordiford and then in How Caple and are still farming in Whitchurch. There is a separate and poignant monument to the infant son and daughter of William and Sarah Sexty. Close by is a charming mid 18th century memorial to a Hill. William Sexty's mother was a Hill from Ledbury.

Members of the Riley family are buried beyond the two large Scots pines at the south east of the Churchyard but their ornate headstones, cut from soft sandstone, are rather badly weathered.

Near the south fence is the early 19th century Mutlow tomb of the family who owned the ancient farmstead of Newtons from 1742 until around 1840. Newtons is now run as a riding establishment. Nehemiah Mutlow, who lived to the age of 90, owned the shop and post office at Putley Green, which was in the black and white cottage opposite Putley Parish Hall, and the memorial to his wife Lettice is just to the east of the main memorial.

The oldest recorded age on any stone in the churchyard is for Thomas Lewis who died in 1841 at the age of 103. His memorial is next to the Philipps tomb just opposite the porch but although other Lewes memorials nearby are readable his is now indecipherable. His son, also Thomas Lewes was a churchwarden at the time of the 1875-76 restoration of the church.

Intermarriage between local families was common in rural communities. The Pullens family whose memorials are to the west of the main south gate leading to the Church were farmers at New House farm in the first half of the 19th century. One daughter married into the Brookes family and another daughter married into the Pardoe family who still farm in Putley today. The earliest memorial to this family, situated close to the Churchyard Cross, is to Anne the wife of Thomas Pardoe of Evesham who died in 1830 aged 39. She was the daughter of Barnabe and Mary Davis who lived in nearby Woolhope and are buried close by.

The only memorial within the Churchyard to the Stock family is that of Lieutenant William Stock,R.N. who was, as a midshipman, present at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. This is the tomb surrounded by iron railings shown in the Architect’s drawing; the railings were doubtless removed in 1942 to help the war effort.

(There is an ongoing project to record and catalogue the Churchyard memorials before more become indecipherable)

Churchyard Fencing

There is an interesting minute of an 1818 parish meeting that reads “We whose names are hereunto subscribed, being composed of proprietors and occupiers of land in the Parish of Putley, do hereby agree that the fence round the Churchyard belongs to the following persons and places as underneath described”. The following undertook to maintain their share of the fence; Mrs Stock of The Court, Mr W.H.Gwillim of The Twerne, Mr Brookes of Upper House, Mr W.Mutlow of Newtons and Mill House and Mr Jones of Abbots Place.

In 1903 John Riley erected a new fence around the newly enlarged Churchyard and in 2003 this fence, albeit by then somewhat modified was replaced by the present wooden fence.

Links to Drawings and Photos:

Image of Putley Church before the rebuilding in 1875-76

Architects drawing of the exterior before the rebuilding in 1876

Architects drawing of the interior before the rebuilding in 1876

Architects drawing of the new floor plan

Architects drawing of the East window before the rebuilding in 1876


With acknowledgment to Revd. F.D. Evans,

Rector of Putley Church 1942-1950 and author of a booklet about Putley Church in 1944, for much of the Church history

and Mrs J. Currie (lately of Putley Court) for information

about the Churchyard

Compiled and Produced by A.J.Keble-White 2006