Tong Church 2020 appeal
Tong Twenty Twenty?
Tong is a beautiful, largely fifteenth century church, often called “The Westminster Abbey of the Midlands.”
It was built on the site of a previous church so it can safely be said that the worship of Almighty God has taken place there for between 600 and 1000 years and it has survived Reformation, Civil War and more recently spates of vandalism as well as being the setting for the death of Dickens’ heroine, Little Nell.
What stories the building could tell! What faithful people, saints and sinners, have bent the ear of Our Lord. “If these stones could speak...”
Tong Twenty Twenty: our vision for restoring St Bartholomew’s
Looking ahead to the year 2020, Tong Church Council is anxious to preserve this wonderful building - not only for the church community which meets there week by week, but also for future generations as a place of pilgrimage for those who love beautiful and ancient things and especially those sacred spaces which are redolent of prayer and holiness.
The congregation and village people have lovingly kept abreast of repairs throughout the twentieth century, some of them extensive, but there has been no major restoration or refurbished infrastructure since 1892, that’s 124 years ago! While the regular congregation may be relatively small, the church is open to visitors every day; last year, more than 4,000 people passed through the doors - many drawn by its picturesque setting, its awe-inspiring Perpendicular Gothic architecture and unusual heritage features, or because it holds special family & ancestry connections. It is a popular venue for weddings, baptisms and family rites of passage, and for music concerts.
On a fine day, it is a favourite spot for cyclists to picnic, for treasure-hunters to stop by to “tick off” Little Nell’s grave, or for researching the ancestors. And we want to keep it so with a commitment to have the church open every day till late afternoon.
We would like the church to be a place not only for inspiration, reflection, worship, learning... but also a comfortable and welcoming place to visit, to celebrate and to linger and appreciate its uniqueness.
Progress to date
In the past 6 years the catalyst for extensive work on the church was the parlous state of the vestry. The Vicarage in Tong is occupied by the Archdeacon, so there is no resident vicar and therefore there needs to be somewhere suitable to see wedding couples, use the telephone, work on services, but the vestry was cold and draughty and had had no proper flooring for 30 or 40 years. There was no means of making a cup of coffee or of printing service sheets. Everything was antiquated and damp. On the wall was an old hanging in an old case (see below).
However you can’t start work on the inside of a church before the outside has been put into good order. First we needed to replace the south aisle roofing as the lead was stripped off by thieves in 2015. While that was being done, it seemed sensible to do the south aisle which was 100 years old and very patched, and then there were failing gutters and downspouts and blocked drains. Fortunately after some resistance the roofs were replaced with terne-coated steel and all of the work was supported financially by a Listed Places of Worship grant.
But that wasn’t all the work required on the roof, the stonework, pinnacles, spire and weather vane all needed repairing, so another year and another lot of scaffolding right to the top. But this time the vestry was part of the project too and there is now somewhere warm to work and meet people and serve tea and coffee too - and a new floor and cupboards. The old hanging was taken to Hampton Court to the Royal School of Needlework who came up trumps and pronounced it as having royal provenance. It is now beautifully framed and lit and visible to all. A fascinating lecture was given by one of the people who had worked on it.
Most churches have a storage problem and Tong is no exception - from the Christmas crib and figures and tree lights to components of the Easter garden, service sheets, altar frontals, glasses for the mulled wine, flower arranging paraphernalia, books for sale, wheelchair for emergencies, coffee machine and so on. The obvious place seemed to be in the North Aisle behind the organ, but unfortunately there was a tomb in the way - the son of Sir Henry Vernon. That involved ground penetrating radar, and an objection that took a year to go through the legal processes. The tomb was really only an alabaster top which had been mounted on some blocks at the last restoration in 1892, and is now to be re-sited near the entrance to the Golden Chapel. In its place is the most impressive L- shaped run of cupboards to match the casing of the 2-manual organ which has also been taken down and re-built by J.W. Walker who designed and made and installed it in 1877.
In 2020 the bells were overhauled and the 2 and a half ton Great Bell was lowered for the first time in 70 years. No sooner had that happened than all churches were closed because of the pandemic so it sat on the floor of the crossing for 4 months before being removed to Taylors of Loughborough for a new iron headstock. It is now back in its place and much easier to ring. Treasure and Son of Ludlow also made a better welcome area with oak display cabinets and glazed doors. Simon Bates who grew up in Tong helped voice over some films of the key attractions of the building which are most professionally executed, but a thief removed the tablet and has made a mess of the oak which is not yet resolved.
Some of the windows have needed attention and some have been replaced. We took the opportunity to insert two lozenges into a chancel window in memory of Robert and Ruth Jeffery.
Outside we acquired the field adjacent to the lane and now people can walk through it and up new stone steps into the churchyard, taking in the ancient walls of the ruined almshouses on the way.
All these renovations and alterations have cost well over half a million pounds and we are enormously grateful to our Fund Raiser, Nicola Martin, and our architects Donald Insall Associates for their professionalism that has brought us thus far. The next phase comprises more domestic things - better heating, a toilet/ baby-change and kitchenette - all of which are vital to move the building forward, as has always been happened throughout its long life. We receive many tourists as the church is open every day and most of whom have driven from elsewhere and ask straight away to use the facilities. This request accompanies every wedding and funeral too, not to mention concerts and lectures which take place in more normal times.
For the latest news on this project please visit the Tong Church web site.
Important Improvements to Facilities
Twenty-first century improvements are required to ensure the church will continue to be used as a place of worship and a warm & welcoming focal point for the local community:
Telling the Story
St Bartholomew’s has a thrilling story to tell - of grand visions, royal patronage, political intrigue, piety, private aggrandisement, religious ‘heresy’, great literary connections and minor fabrications. There are many colourful historical characters associated with the church and Tong Castle (now destroyed, lying under the path of the M54), and the few remains of Tong College still in the grounds, ‘Tong Tours’ have proved very popular; but we could do so much more to bring the church’s story - past and present - to life, especially for those coming from across the globe, and to help younger generations appreciate all the building stands for.
Our intention is to:
© Copyright R.J.L. Smith, Much Wenlock
Tong ‘2020 Vision’ Appeal Target
To realise our 2020 Vision, St Bartholomew’s will need to raise £600,000. Tong PCC has brought together a professional team and launched a major appeal to raise funding through government and heritage lottery sources, private donations, charitable grants, sponsorships and community fund-raising.
How you can help
In past centuries, St Bartholomew’s Church benefited from particular donors, whose generous financial support has left a visible legacy in stone and alabaster for future generations to enjoy! We invite you to consider leaving your mark on the story of Tong Church by contributing your support towards this once-in-a-lifetime restoration project. All gifts and personal dedications will be publicly acknowledged, unless otherwise requested.
Further informationContact: Revd. Preb. Pippa Thorneycroft on email: firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit the church web site
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