Lighthorne St Laurence

A Summary of the History of Lighthorne

As a settlement Lighthorne has existed for more than four thousand years. Successive occupiers have left traces of their time here; burials and other remains from the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman, Anglian and early Christian periods have been found within the parish. Lighthorne village is located in a steep-sided natural valley, where a stream has eroded its course through the Liassic limestone, exposing the Rhaetic clays of the Midlands plain. The junction of the two rock types forms a natural spring line and this is the feature which attracted the early settlers to the secluded valley.

Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, a Germanic tribe, the Hwicce lived in the area and gave the settlement its name. A pair of bronze cauldron escutcheons from this period has been found in Lighthorne. It is not known precisely when Christianity was introduced to the area, but the village was incorporated in the Bishopric of Worcester in 688 AD. The remains of a preaching cross, probably dating to the 10th or 11th century can be seen in the churchyard.

After the Norman invasion, Lighthorne passed to Henry de Newburgh, the first Norman Earl of Warwick. The Lordship of the Manor changed hands several times in the following six centuries, the Earls of Warwick often being the owners. Henry V returned the Manor to the Earl of Warwick on his accession in 1413. A panel of stained glass in one of the windows in the church and the tenor bell both commemorate the accession. The Pope family held the Manor in 1548 and they constructed Church Hill Farmhouse, adjacent to the church. This is the oldest domestic building in Lighthorne.

In 1715 Lighthorne became the property of Lord Willoughby de Broke and it was the first village in Warwickshire to have its common fields enclosed by Act of Parliament, in 1721. Lighthorne became an estate village and most of Lighthorne’s old buildings date from this period, including the church tower, the old rectory, the pub and the old schoolhouse, in Old School Lane.

In 1773-4 the church was rebuilt of local limestone. The old chapel at Compton Verney had been demolished in 1772, when Capability Brown was redesigning the parkland and it is thought that some of the stained glass from the chapel was used at Lighthorne. One window in particular, featuring St. Sebastian, from the nationally important early sixteenth century workshop of the King’s glazier, Barnard Flower, is thought to have been brought to Lighthorne from Compton Verney. The nave and chancel of the church were rebuilt in 1875-6 and incorporated the earlier tower. Stained glass from the earlier church was incorporated in contemporary frames by local glaziers.

The Verney estates in Warwickshire were broken up and sold in a series of auctions in the late 1920s, the majority of properties in Lighthorne being acquired by their sitting tenants. Only one house in the village was described as possessing electric lighting.

The historic heart of Lighthorne is a Conservation Area, broadly defined as the valley extending from Church Hill Farm in the west, through the village green, to Curacy Farm in the east. Included in this are two important areas which characterise the village, namely the area around Church Hill Farm, the Church and the old rectory and the village green area, including Smithy Cottage, the Antelope pub, Bishops Farmhouse and Dene Hollow.

The Church of St. Laurence

The present church building is of two different dates. The tower was part of the church constructed to the design of Thomas Squirrell in 1773-4, in local, ashlar limestone, the masons being Thomas Eglington and John Mantun. The faculty for the rebuilding of the church stated “the present Parish Church of Lighthorne is a very ancient Building now in a Ruinous and Dilapidated State and Condition”. Only the tower remains from this rebuilding. The nave and chancel were rebuilt to the design of John Gibson, in1875-6, in memory of the younger son of Lord Willoughby de Broke, who had died whilst serving with his regiment in Ireland in 1872. John Gibson had been a pupil of J.A. Hansom, the architect of Birmingham Town Hall and designer of hansom cabs. Gibson used local limestone with contrasting detailing of Horton ironstone, giving a very pleasing effect. The builder was William Wilkins, who lived at Dene Hollow in Lighthorne. A vault exists under the mortuary (lady) chapel, containing the tombs of the Verney family.

The ornately carved oak lectern is in memory of the Rev. Charles Palmer, rector for 37 years from 1834 to 1871. The font is of limestone and marble and was presented by the widow of the Rev. Abel Humphreys Lea, rector from 1871 to 1873. The oak pulpit is in the Perpendicular style and was erected in 1913, to the memory of the Rev. Walter Robert Verney, rector from 1873 to 1908.

 The Windows

 The windows in the church contain attractive stained glass dating from the 15th to the 20th century, some of national importance. For a full description please refer to the brochure “The Windows of St. Laurence’s Church, Lighthorne”, available in the church.

The two nave south wall windows, featuring St. Laurence (on the left) and St. Sebastian, are particularly interesting. The St. Laurence figure is Victorian, as is the surrounding glass of both figures, but the St. Sebastian figure is by Barnard Flower of Southwark, glazier to King Henry VIII. It is from the same cartoon as the St. Sebastian window in the church at Fairford, Gloucestershire, which contains the finest set of medieval windows in England. At the start of the 16th century the Verneys held the manors at both Fairford and Compton Verney. This panel was probably brought here from Compton Verney in 1773, after the 1772 demolition of the old chapel by Capability Brown and incorporated in the 1773-4 Squirrell church. It was inserted into its present surround and matched with the St. Laurence window by W.F. Holt of Warwick, for the 1875-6 rebuild.

Two small stained glass inserts in a Victorian window behind the choir stalls on the right are the oldest in the church. They date from the 15th century. One bears the date 1413 and the letters HV, commemorating the accession of King Henry V.

A window on the north wall of the aisle contains armorial designs. The two lower designs are thought to have been the work of Nicholas Eyffeler of Warwick, who was born in Germany in the 16th century. He provided stained glass for Charlecote and other local large houses and churches. On his death the majority of his fortune was used to endow the Eyffeler Almshouses in Warwick.

The most recent window is above the entrance to the tower. It is a spring floral design by Christopher Lund of Coventry and was installed in 1996 and commemorates a local resident, Vicky Stephenson.

The Bells

 There are now 6 bells in the ring, 2 trebles having been added when the restoration of the bell installation was carried out in 2006. The tenor bell dates from between 1410 and 1420 and its casting may have been related to the accession to the throne of Henry V in 1413. In 1890 the 3 bells were removed and refurbished and a 4th bell added. In 1913 one of the bells was recast to the memory of Walter Robert Verney, rector from 1873 to 1908. Today Lighthorne has an enthusiastic band of bell ringers who practice once a week and ring for two Sundays each month. Visiting bands also ring the bells. For a full description please refer to the brochure “The Bells of St. Laurence, Lighthorne”, available in the church.

The Graveyard

 The base of the old preaching cross is visible south of the nave. This is probably the oldest man-made object in Lighthorne and may date from the 9th, 10th or 11th centuries.

Memorial gravestones in the churchyard date from the 17th to the 21st centuries. Many of the earlier memorials have been laid horizontal and the Lighthorne History Society has uncovered them, recorded their inscriptions and photographed them. Please visit www.lighthornehistory.org.uk.

The lychgate was designed by John Gibson and it was built in 1883, the gift of the Dowager Lady Willoughby de Broke. The gates were replaced in 1996 and commemorate a local resident, Cyril Hackleton.