The parish of Holy Trinity has its origins in a Saxon Minster which administered an area roughly corresponding to the current hundred of Bradford. The Minster left a legacy of seven chapelries to the parish; Atworth, Broughton Gifford, Holt, Limpley Stoke, South Wraxall, Westwood and Winsley, all of which had assumed parish status by the mid 19th century. The parish and the wider area of North and West Wiltshire have a long history of non-conformity, perhaps stemming from the close connections between Lollardy and the cloth trade.
“A fine large parish church below the bridge on the banks of the Avon” John Leland 1542
The present church was built around 1150 and originally consisted of a chancel, nave and maybe a tower. The chancel was lengthened around the beginning of the 13th century, and a section of the south east wall rebuilt in 1707. A Lady Chapel was added to the north-east side of the nave in the early 14th century and later that century a chantry was added behind the Lady Chapel. The two were made into the current north aisle sometime after the Reformation and its roof retains the 16th century roof bosses. In the late-15th/early-16th century the chancel and tower arches were rebuilt; the Lady Chapel converted to a Chantry; and another chantry (the Kingston Chapel) added on the south-east side of the nave. The town was very wealthy from the cloth trade at this time, and work may also have included raising the tower to accommodate a ring of five bells. The graceful tower arch is the only remnant of this work.
Nothing much is known about the church for about two hundred years after the Reformation. The tower was struck by lightening in 1612, which destroyed the clock frame and caused a great deal of damage. The 18th century was wealthy from the cloth trade and saw a great deal of repair and refurbishment to the church. The chief remnant is the painting of ‘The Last Supper’ which originally hung over the east window and is now in the choir vestry and has been described as ‘indifferently painted by a local artist’. The painting is a copy of a mural in St Mary’s Weymouth by Sir James Thornhill RA, who, among other work, painted scenes from the life of St Paul in the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.
The bells were augmented to eight in 1735 and the first chimes were installed the following year. Only a small fragment of the Norman nave remains in the north- east corner. The roof, south wall, the 16th century chantry chapel, the porch; the chancel arch and the north nave wall arcade were all rebuilt between 1864 and 1866. Finds during this rebuilding included Saxon stonework, now in the Saxon church, and Norman and Early English stonework used as rubble in the porch and chantry chapel walls in the previous re-build.
The Minster originally belonged to the nunnery at Winchester, but most of the land was transferred to Shaftsbury Abbey in 1000 AD after the murder of Edmund, King and Martyr, and the church was appropriated by the Abbey in 1343. After the attainder of William Byrde (see below) the patronage passed briefly to the crown, then to the Dean and Chapter of Bristol and finally to the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury. Former Vicars of Holy Trinity include William Byrde, also Rector of Fittleton and chaplain to Lord Hungerford, who was hanged, drawn and quartered in 1540. His successor was Thomas Morley, the last Abbot of Stanley, a Cistercian Abbey between Chippenham and Calne, who became the suffragan Bishop of Marlborough in 1537 after the dissolution of the abbey. Frederick Blomberg, a son of George III, was twice an absentee Vicar in the early 19th century and the town still reveres Canon Jones who ‘discovered’ the Saxon Church and was largely responsible for the rebuilding of 1864-66.
During the early 20th century the chancel was re-ordered; the sacristy created from the Kingston Chapel and the north aisle altar set up. The crossing area was also re-ordered. The last vicar, Canon William Andrew Matthews, Chaplain to The Queen, was here for twenty-eight years from 1981 and during that time much work was done: choir stalls replaced; window guards installed; the roof and lighting renewed; the organ refurbished and the bells re-hung. The latest work in Canon Matthews’s time was the refurbishment of the tower vestry and sacristy.
There is a picture on the north wall of Holy Trinity. It is a copy of ‘Christ Blessing’ by the flemish master Quentin Metsys, and it is one half of a painting dating from ca. 1500. The original was given to the church in 1940 by Major TCE Goff of The Courts, Holt, a great grandson of William IV, and was thought at first to be Head of Christ by Luis de Morales (ca. 1510–1586), a Spanish painter the piety of whose work earned him the nickname ‘El Divino’. In 2006 it was tentatively identified and in 2012, after a long period of legal process, authentication and provenance, it was sold to a private buyer for in excess of £1 million. The Declaration of Trust for the fund into which the proceeds of the sale were placed stipulated that the capital should be used only for the ‘maintenance, repair or improvement’ of Holy Trinity Church, or for ‘any other purpose for the promotion of the mission of the Church of England’. It was agreed by the PCC and other members of the church that we should therefore proceed with the restoration and regeneration of the church building, to make it fit for 21st century use, and always with an eye to mission.
In 2012 the Rector, Canon Joanna Abecassis, asked the congregation to consider a ‘Vision’ for the church. After wide consultation this was expressed as a recommendation for a clean, light, warm, welcoming and flexible sacred space that would be ‘user friendly’, open to the community, and an outpost of God’s Kingdom on earth with a real spiritual presence. The church was closed for reordering on Christmas Day 2015 and reopened on 18 December 2016.
The photographic copy of Major Goff’s gift is still in the frame in which the original was gifted to the church.
© Anne Willis