Much Marcle is a thriving small settlement in the depths of the Herefordshire countryside between Ledbury and Ross on Wye. This was the heartland of the Mortimer family. The remains of the motte and bailey earthworks of Mortimer’s Castle are hidden by trees to the north of the church. Blanche, daughter of Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March is buried in the church.
St Bartholomew’s is an impressive C13th church with a 1500 year old yew tree in the churchyard. This is now hollow with a seat set inside the trunk which has a circumference of over 30’. It has recently been pruned and over 6 ton of dead timber and branches were removed.
It is an attractive church with a tall battlemented and buttressed tower made from a red sandstone between the nave and chancel. The rest of the church is built from a pale grey stone.
The large C14th Kyrle chapel is built on the south side of the chancel. From the west end, this makes the church look double aisled.
Inside it feels a large church with round pillars with pointed arches separating nave and side aisles. The pillars have rather strange medieval lanterns hanging from them. The two pillars at the crossing have a narrow carved band round the top with carvings of heads, foliage and green men. The nave is very tall with clerestory windows and a king pin roof. At the back is a Norman tub font.
At the back of the north aisle is a lovely painted effigy of William de Helyon d1350. He was a franklin or landed gentleman who lived in the nearby Hellen’s Manor House, which he left to his only daughter. The family had been stewards to the Audleys who were related to the powerful Mortimer family.
The effigy is carved from solid oak and would have been overlaid with gesso before being gilded and painted. It was originally placed on the lid of a stone sarcophagus which has since been lost. It now rests on a specially built plinth. William was originally buried at Ashperton Church but was moved here when the chancel fell down.
The effigy has been restored and repainted in what are believed to be the original colours. He is wearing a deep red coat with gold buttons and a sword and purse on his belt. He is praying and his legs are crossed with his feet resting on a lion. His head is on a pillow.
In a case at the end of the north aisle is a “fragment from the ruins of Ypres Cathedral” brought back by Rev C J Money-Kyrle in 1917. It is a small painted sculpture of the murder of the innocents.
There is a free standing altar at the end of the nave by the pulpit and lectern. The organ is in the chancel crossing.
The altar has a beautiful embroidered frontispiece with red roses and gold foliage. In the centre is Agnus Dei. The reredos was designed by C E Kempe and has a cross in the centre with small metal panels with the symbols of the four evangelists in the corners. The east window is also by Kempe and has a crucifix in the centre with the Virgin Mary and St John on either side.
On the north wall of the chancel is the tomb of Blanche Mortimer, wife of Sir Peter Grandison and daughter of Sir Roger Mortimer, 1st Lord of March, who died in 1347. It is a a beautiful effigy with long flowing robes with tightly buttoned sleeves. She is holding a rosary in one hand and her feet are resting on a small dog. The effigy is on a tomb chest which contains her body in a lead casket. The base of the tomb and canopy above are covered in the Mortimer and Grandison arms. The tomb has carefully restored recently and looks resplendent.
Metal gates lead from the chancel into the Kyrle Chapel. This was built in the late 1200s as a chantry chapel, but became the burial place of the Kyrle’s when Sir John Kyrle was a made a baronet in 1627 and needed somewhere suitable for his tomb.
The tomb of Sir John who died in 1660 and his wife Sybil Scudamore who died in 1635 stands in the centre of the chapel. She was a sister of Roger Mortimer and John was her second husband. It is a splendid piece of work. Sir John is in armour and has a ruff and sash with fleur de lys. His feet are resting on a hedgehog. Sybil has a lovely dress with slashed sleeves and necklaces. She has tightly curled hair peeping out from her bonnet. Her feet rest on the Scudamore family crest of a bear’s paw inside a ducal coronet. They are lying on a dark marble tomb with white marble coats of arms round the sides.
In the corner are two C14th effigies thought to be Hugh, Lord Audley and his wife Isolde. He is wearing armour with his feet on a lion ad his head on a helmet. She has a long flowing dress and sleeves and her hair is arranged in two netted circles on either side of her face. Her head rests on a cushion held by two young knights in chain mail. At her feet are two dogs with bells round their collars. Round the base of the tomb are angels holding shields.
On the walls are hatchments and wall memorials to other members of the Kyrle and Money-Kyrle families.
This is a most attractive church and the monuments are of very high quality. The Blanche Mortimer effigy is particularly beautiful. William de Helyon has great character. This church definitely deserves a visit.
The church is open daily from 9am until dusk. It is set down a small lane to the west of the village. Turning is difficult and there is a sign on the gate asking people not to back into the iron gates of the lych gate as it costs a lot of money to repair them (and probably won’t do the car much good either).
The nearest post code is HR8 2NF and the grid reference is SO 658328.
There are more pictures “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/west_midlands/herefordshire/much%20marcle/index.html