‘Iconic’ 1,000-year-old church in desperate need of new volunteers to remain open
PUBLISHED: 09:00 05 June 2017
A top police detective, ‘amusing’ myths and stunning architecture can be enjoyed at a North Somerset church – however more volunteers are needed to help keep the landmark open.
The Old Church of St Nicholas was built in approximately 1092 and overlooks the village of Uphill, to Weston-super-Mare and across the Bristol Channel.
The Norman church sits on one of the earliest sites of worship in the area, with ties to Norman, Saxon and Pagan Christianity.
The church has housed centuries of worshippers and is now maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) and volunteers.
However the trust says it is in ‘desperate’ need of new helpers to keep the church open to the public.
The trust opens the church for a few hours each week but would like to unlock the historical landmark to more people, but can only do this if it can get more volunteers onboard.
The church is named after St Nicholas, the patron saint of the sea, and historian John Crockford-Hawley said the church had strong ties to the sea.
He added: “When Bill of Normandy and his thuggish chums came across the channel in 1066 they brought with them power.
“The Normans were not likely to build their villages where the sea was going to flood the land. They were far too clever and you only need to look at the architecture to know that it was built to last.
“One amusing legend says the church should have been built at the bottom of the hill.
“Apparently the village workmen were laying the foundations and each night when they went to bed, the rocks were taken mysteriously up to the top of the hill and, after a week of this, they realised it was a meant to be.”
The church was heavily used until the 19th century, but as the size of the village at the foot of the hill increased during the 19th century, the parish decided to build a new church, St Nicholas Church in Uphill Road South, in a more convenient spot where the houses were being built.
Despite it being used less, Old St Nicholas Church was restored in 1846 and served as a burying chapel until 1891, when it reopened for worship while the new church underwent work.
Mr Crockford-Hawley said: “Weary old St Nicholas is a 1,000-year-old reminder of the traditions of this country and it is charming, if not a slightly battered treasure.”
However the long history of the church does not stop there. Old St Nicholas Church’s cemetery is also the final resting place of a famous police officer.
Superintendant Frank Froest, who was a member of New Scotland Yard, is famous for using the first wireless technology to catch a killer.
Dr Hawley Crippen fled England after he murdered his wife Cora in the bath.
Crippen was onboard a ship to the United States when Supt Froest spotted the disguised killer, and used wireless telegraphy to alert the ship’s crew and authorities in the United States.
Mr Crockford-Hawley said: “Crippen was then arrested; brought back to England, put on trial, found guilty and hanged and the man responsible for catching him lies in Old St Nicholas Church cemetery.”
Supt Froest would go on to be heralded as one of the country’s top detectives and put a number of people behind bars before his death in 1930.
CCT regional volunteers officer Kim Thompson said: “The old church of St Nicholas has been an iconic presence on the skyline of Uphill since the middle ages. Those passing below the hill see it in all seasons and spectacularly floodlit at night and people in the area are very attached to the building.”
Since the trust the trust took over, volunteers have worked tirelessly to ensure the survival of the historic and holy place.
The church is open from 2-4pm every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.
Anyone interested in volunteering should contact Shirley Elliott at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Weston Mercury. Click the link in the orange box above for details.