This is one of the few churches to be built during the Commonwealth. It was the private chapel of the Shirley family of Staunton Harold Hall.
It is an imposing building set in a small walled enclosure, dating from 1653. Sir Robert Shirley was responsible for the building. He was a Royalist and supporter of the King but never saw his church completed. Cromwell on hearing of Shirley’s fine church apparently asked why Shirley would not pay towards a ship for the Navy when he could afford such a splendid building. When Shirley refused to contribute he was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he died, aged 27, having fathered eight children. The church was completed after the Restoration by the guardians of his son.
The church tower has battlements and crocketed (nobbly) pinnacles. The short nave and side aisles have an open carved balustrade and more crocketed pinnacles. We found it difficult to get a good picture of the outside of the church as early afternoon, we were looking straight into the sun
Entry is through the west doorway under the tower. This is a classical doorway with flat wall pillars with lion's heads and garlands coming out of their mouths. Above are two angels with the family coat of arms between them and a memorial stone to Robert Shirley, placed there by his wife.
This leads into a panelled porch with a memorial to estate workers who died in the First World War and a carved wooden screen into the church.
It is a lovely church with beautifully carved box pews still with candles for lighting. Walls are panelled and even the bases of the pillars are panelled. There is a stone flag floor, whitewashed walls above the panelling and a painted wood ceiling. This dates from 1655 but is an unusual and futuristic design painted in shades of brown and grey.
The nave ceiling represents the movement from chaos to order. An information board in the church explains that the west end is a mass of gaseous clouds representing the birth of the firmament. The middle section has an image of a crescent moon and is the artist's impression of the elements of the creation. At the east end are three large clouded circles representing the Trinity, with the sun shining through the furthest cloud representing God the Father. The Jewish script translates as Jehovah. The chancel ceilings are abstract designs of clouds.
There are funeral hatchments on the side walls and a small font at the back of the church. Above the west door is a German organ set in a beautiful carved wood surround. This predates the church and was originally in Stanton Harold House before being installed in the church in 1711.
The lovely wrought iron rood screen, with the family crest above, was made by local craftsmen. Above the chancel arch are two banners with a helmet with a shield below it and a pair of gauntlets. These were part of the funeral regalia of Sir Robert Stanley and were hung up here by his wife when the inscription was added to the west door.
The panelling in the chancel is highly carved, much more elaborate than that in the nave. On the south wall is a white marble semi-recumbent figure of Robert Shirley, Viscount Tamworth who died in 1714. There are two old wooden chests and more banners.
The National Trust volunteer in the church was quiet and unassuming. He didn't bombard us with an effusive welcome and left us to enjoy the church. He was very knowledgeable and responded to questions, providing information and elaborating where needed.
He explained that two services a month are held in the church using the 1662 prayer book. There is a big congregation. The congregation is still segregated with the men on the right and the women on the left. Even the family sat on separate sides in the front pew. This is slightly larger with more elaborately carved woodwork and a metal latch on the door which could be locked. The cushions are the originals from the 17thC and the family pew has a gold edging round the deep blue cushions.
Unmarried girls and lads sat in the side aisles, and were kept well apart. The back corner of the south aisle was were the stable lads sat and is called 'graffiti corner' as a result of boredom during the service.
Entry to the church is free. It is part of the Ferrers Centre of Arts which is signed off the B587. It is reached along a narrow single track road and there is a one way system. The craft centre is in the stables of Staunton Harold Hall and has working craftsmen on site as well as a garden centre and tea room. At weekends there is a charge for the car park (£1 for 2hours or £2 for longer).
It is quite a long walk from the car park to the church through the trees, past an ornamental pond with ducks and swans and round the front of the house. This is a large and splendid brick building with a stone frontage with pillars and a triangular portico. It would be quite easy to spend several hours here. Calke Abbey (NT) is only a couple of miles away.