the diary of Iris Lloyd
introducing st lawrence's church, hungerford
I have read the interesting article by Doug Yelland on canalside churches, with his lovely photographs.
He visited St. Nicolas, Newbury, on the K and A canal, but apparently didn’t get as far as St. Lawrence’s in the attractive town of Hungerford. The church stands adjacent to the towpath, by the swing bridge, and the churchyard is reached through the entrance in the fence.
Although a church has stood on this site since early times, the present church was built by the Victorians in 1816, the tower of the former building having collapsed, bringing down part of the church with it.
During lockdown, the church is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for private prayer and exploring. The counter in the porch registers that the church is welcoming about 350 people each week, who come to enjoy the peacefulness of the interior (described as a foretaste of heaven) and admire the 10 stained glass windows created between 1815 and 1900, the oldest, from the previous church, being in the vestry. Many of the memorials have been transferred from the previous building. Before lockdown, when the Visitors’ Book was available, it registered the names of visitors from many parts of the world as well as Britain, some of them coming off the narrow boats. Many visited because their ancestors had been married in the church, and all wrote about the beauty and peace they found there.
The churchyard is now closed and cleared of some gravestones and is maintained by the local town council. They have, however, left one gravestone in situ. It marks the grave of James Dean, a coachman plying between Hungerford and Bath, who was killed in 1827 when a hearse collided with his coach. The poem on his gravestone reads:
Passengers of every age
I safely drove from stage to stage
Till death came by in a hearse unseen
And stop’d the course of my machine.
Part of the churchyard is now dedicated to a wildlife sanctuary.
If you are moored anywhere near the church, do pop in and have a quiet browse. Our vicar, Revd. Michael Saunders (Mike to everyone) and his wife Ali are Waterways Chaplains. The vicarage is nearby and they welcome anyone who comes to their door or rings them for help or a chat (01488 208341).
I am also a Waterways Chaplain, trained online as I am self isolating, so I haven’t yet ventured onto the towpath.
If you wish to know anything about any aspect of Hungerford, we have a wonderful virtual museum – a museum online – that contains thousands of entries, compiled by local historian Dr. Hugh Pihlens. Well worth a browse!