St Bartholomew’s Church was the original Parish Church for Churchdown. Now it is one of two, the other being St Andrews.
Old paintings and photographs of Chosen Hill made before the Austrian firs were planted about 1898 show clearly how striking a landmark this ancient church must have been; the hill itself, only 511 feet above sea level, can be glimpsed from surprising distances, and from it’s summit can be seen Worcester Cathedral and the welsh counties from Radnorshire to Breconshire.
Probably the nearest hilltop church is St Arilda’s at Oldbury on Severn which “still stands in it’s primitive circular churchyard”. St Bartholomews and it’s churchyard stand in the north east corner of an Iron Age hill fort.
Other lofty churches have had their building materials insistently carried to their sites by agencies as diverse as Angels, a flock of white doves, witches, goblins, Queen Mab and her elves, and a hog. St Bartholomew’s perch is attributed to the devil ( too steep to be climbed except by the few very devout ). The county historian Revd. T. Rudge, borrowing from Bigland, may have the answer: ” The laborious piety of our ancestors, which connected merit with difficulty”. Within living memory, however, there were several cottages around the Church. It is also important to remember that St Bartholomews was the parish Church for the neighbouring village of Hucclecote until it had it’s own Church in 1850. The remains of the old road to Hucclecote to the top of the hill can still be found.
For an old Church with the scantiest written records, there has been a surprising amount of learned conjecture, and definite – sometimes conflicting – statements, mainly from older writers who, a century ago, could see the fabric and interpret the story more clearly than we can now after the radical restoration work in 1880, and even that of 1923 – 1925 and 1966-1967.
In the North Wall of the chancel is some stonework. It’s age and antiquity are doubtful, but Canon Bazely in 1921 considered that “the Saxon work here” probably belonged to a church provided for the tenants of her Royal Manor by Ethelfleda, Lady of the Mercians and daughter of King Alfred, and then granted to the priory at Gloucester, which she and her husband founded.He also speculated: “The chancel has been rebuilt within the memory of man, but the materials, which have been used again and again may well have formed part of a heathen temple, if not part of an early British Church.”
Usually preferred, is that the Church was founded in Norman times, about 1175, almost certainly built by Roger Du Point L’Eveque, Norman Archbishop of York from 1154-1180, and the lord of the manor and Barony of Churchdown. The original Norman Church was small, comprising the present nave space, with the south wall where the arcade now stands, and attached to a Norman tower at the west. At the east end there would be an apse in which the alter stood.
The Friends of St Bartholomew’s exist for the support and preservation of the old church, and to help the PCC in caring for the Graveyard. New members and donations would be most welcome from any part of the world.