The present Church building was erected in 1841 and lies between Victoria Street and Friar Street, adjoining the ground upon which the Monastery of White Friars stood; an order which was suppressed by Henry VIII. It is also near to the spot where Hugh de Spencer the younger, who incurred the hatred of the Barons in the reign of Edward II, was hung from a gallows fifty feet high.
The style of architecture is that of Early English; the plan is a parallelogram with a tower at the West, and chancel and vestry at East, projecting beyond each end. The walls are built of hammer-dressed stone, the buttresses being tooled. In the centre of the tower is the West entrance, forming a vestibule, in which steps lead up to a ringing chamber. On the South side is a porch.
Overarching the Chancel is the text: “This is the House of God; this is the Gate of Heaven.”
The Ssanctuary is small and contains a handsome reredos with beautiful stained glass windows representing Christ, S. Luke, and S. John.
It is believed that the historical records of the ancient Church of St Nicholas were lost or destroyed in the Parliamentary Wars, when the city was sacked and robbed.
The church of St Nicholas is supposed to have been founded at a period subsequent to 1292; this is based on the fact that it was not mentioned in the ecclesiastical survey taken in that year by Edward l.
However in 1155 mention of the church of St Nicholas is made in the ‘Letters and Charters of Gilbert Foliot’
Also – from ‘Hereford History & Guifde’ by Ron Shoesmith…….’When the Normans started to renovate the city…there was only one church, apart from the Cathedral, in the Saxon city. This was St. Nicholas…its foundation date is unknown.’
John Leland’s Itinerary of his travels in Tudor England took him through Hereford during 1539 and St Nicholas’ is mentioned as one of four parish churches within the city walls. The church is shown on Speed’s inset plan of Hereford on his map of Herefordshire of 1610 – it is directly at the head of Bridge Street, on the corner of a square of houses running along the present King Street,Aubrey Street, Little Berrington Street and Berrington Street.
The reverend John Duncumbe, M.A., in his Collection towards the History and Antiquities of the City and County of Hereford, tells us that S.Nicholas’ Church was rebuilt in 1718, and gives a subscription list of £500, headed by James, Duke of Chandos, with a gift of £330. The Mayor and Council also gave a donation of £10.10s. However, the Rev.W.J.Rees, B.A. in his guide book, published in 1827, says that the church was only ‘restored and repaired’.
The first edition of William Cambden’s ‘Britannia was published in1586 – it was translated from the Latin in 1722 and the following is noted …..
‘The City is pretty large, and had once six parish churches; but two of these were demolished in the late Civil wars….
The Universal British Directory of 1791 only mentions the following….
‘.besides the cathedral, there are thre
e other churches: All Saints’, St Peter’s and St Nicholas’.
Cassells Gazetteer of the British Isles (1900) similarly mentions St Nicholas’ as one of six ancient parishes – it also gives details of its distance from London (144 miles) and its population (2,149) which was 1.85% of the total for Herefordshire (115,949).
The old church stood at the top of King Street, and consisted of a nave, and chancel, with a capacious tower, 68 feet high. The tower contained six bells and a clock. Before the dissolution, there were two chantries in honour of the Virgin Mary.
In the chancel of the old church, on flat stones, were these inscriptions:-”Mary Martin, died 2 Dec.,1891. Harley Mills,Esq., 3 Aug.,1798. C.H.,24 Aug.,1803. John Snelgrove, 21 April,1791. Mr Williamm Milton, 15 Aug.,1804,aged 62.”
At the west end of the nave was the following:- “John Pott,gent.,17 Nov.,1782,aged 73.”
“The poor remains of Jack Smith
lie buried here.
He died Nov.,1773.
All things shew that life’s a bubble,
The silent grave ends all our trouble.
Catherine his wife, 5 April, 1778, aged 66.
A meek and lowly mind adorned her life
In every station – servant, mistress, wife.”
In 1670, the antiquarian – Dingley – published his History of Ancient Buildings and tells us that he visited the church of St Nicholas, supplying a rough sketch of the building from the exterior, which conveys no conception of its true character.He also appended a few notes of the interior, informomg us that in the North window there was a glass painting, erected by subscription, and in the West window, the remains of a crucifix painting in glass, and the remains of a figure kneeling before our Blessed Lady with a book and a desk before him. This would suggest that, at this time, the fabric of the church had been allowed to deteriorate.
The East Window has three lights, erected to the memory of Mr George B Hanbury, M.R.C.S., a beloved physician, and a general favourite of the poor. His genial, happy disposition brought sunshine into many gloomy, saddened homes. The Centre light represents Christ blessing His disciples prior to His Ascension, and beneath the picture are the words: ‘While He blessed them, He was parted from them’. On the left is a figure of St John, with a lamb on one hand and a staff on the other. On the right is a figure of St Luke, and stretching along the base of the three windows is this inscription: ‘To the Glory of God. George Bobart Hanbury, M.R.C.S., son of the late Rev. J. Hanbury.’ On a brass plate beneath are these words: ‘This window was erected to the memory of George Bobart Hanbury, by his patients and friends, 1890’
The rerdos, a fine piece of carved oak, with the emblematic Lily of the Valley, and the Vine, conventionally drawn in gold, is erected to the memory of Mr Hanbury, and his widow, 1890.
In one of the lancet windows is an inspiring stained glass window, representing Christ pointing out the Way of Life, and beneath are the well-known words of Jesus: ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,’ and this inscription: ‘To the Glory of God, and in the memory of Ellen Jemima, Wife of H. B. Williams who died 18th March 1886’
The original Haberdashers Redcap School started here before it moved to Breinton Road/Broomy Hill in 1946.
The Organ, by Willis, has been rebuilt by Messrs Ingram of Hereford, and placed in the south-east corner of the church; It was originally designed by the Rev. J. Capel Hanbury, son of the Rector, and was one of Willis’ early efforts, before his large instrument in the exhibition of 1851 brought him into general notice.
Information has been obtained from Church Warden Accounts and various documents at the Hereford Record Offices:
14th August 1842: A Mr Sayers was paid 19 shillings for removing the organ from the old church in 1841. Presumably to fit into new church – however workmen were dismantling the old church in November 1840. No direct evidence of when organ was built in the old church, only references in accounts e.g. 15 November 1840, 10 shillings and 6 pence for ‘blowing organ’.
1844: Paid 6 shillings and 6 pence to T Jennings (Sexton) for ‘blowing the organ last year’. This organ was on a gallery at the West end of the church. However there is no direct evidence that this was the organ removed from the old church.
1888: Subscriptions sought to raise £20 for repairs to the organ.
1896: The firm of Ingram & Co(who later incorporated into the famous company of Henry Willis) repaired and improved the organ. The firm of Henry Willis later looked after the organ at various times up to the late 1970s from their organ works at Broomy Hill.
1903: 16th October – Hereford music shop of Heins & Co quoted for ‘cleaning and repairs to organ’; they recommended ‘cleaning and 2 new stops (oboe and clarinet) for £67 or ‘cleaning and revoicing present incomplete stops for £34.10s.00d
1910: The organ was removed from the decaying gallery and installed in the South East corner of the church approximately where the present pipework is situated.
1934: An electric blower was provided for the organ.
1949 – 1952: The Worcester firm of Nicholsons quoted for a complete rebuild of the organ. (At the time the’…cost of a new organ will be “2,250.’ The console and the casework were brand new, leading people to assume that the contents were also new. This was not so. Historically we may possess an organ of some importance.
Nicholson’s estimate shows that apart from making a new detached console and a new oak case, they would use the existing electric blower, and revoice and use as much of the original pipework ( possibly half to two thirds of that presently in use) as possible, adding 5 new stops. It was noted, at the time, ‘..the wood stops (wooden pipes) possessed great charm’ and (…that the nails used were hand made and, therefore, the pipes must have come from an organ of great age.’ The completed organ was guaranteed for 25 years.
1978: Organ dismantled and cleaned, with some repairs carried out, by Percy Daniel & Co Ltd., organ builders of Clevedon, Avon. At this time the console was turned 90 deg. to make visibility of the choir easier for the organist. cost: £1,690.
1994: Organ inspected by Nicholson & Co., and found to be deteriorating far quicker than at any time in its history. Cause: modern gas heating discharging high volume of sulphurous gases and water vapour into poorly ventilated church. Cotton covered wiring becomes damp and shorts-out between adjacent cables. Metal pipes affected by sulphurous acid in air. Wooden pipes beginning to split. Copper contacts corroded beyond repair.Too great a temperature change between cold, winter days and Sundays when heating is turned full on.
2003: Numerous discussions and meetings have taken place but no agreement to instigate major fund raising for retoration of organ. An organ ‘fund’ is in existence with an approximate £4,000 balance – however it is estimated that at least £50,000 is needed to attempt restoration. An organ replacement is possible ( at an approximte cost of £16,000 ) which would entail dismantling an organ at another church and re-erecting it in St Nicholas’.
Although no definite identification of the manufacturer and age of the original organ has been made, it is quite possible that parts of it could well be over 165 years old. Almost certainly the old church would have had no heating, the new church would have had typically slow-warming, barely adequate heating – all of which has helped to protect the organ in a relatively stable environment.
Now for the sake of our own creature comfort, we are rapidly destroying a heritage entrusted to our keeping. The old St Nicholas’ church was deemed to be beyond redemption after 600 – 700 years. Our present church is now only 160 years old. In that time congregations have dwindled and the church is not the centre of community life that it was; Costs have increased to such a level that just existing from year to year is a struggle for everyone, not just the church. The chances of the parishioners to restore the organ are slim indeed.
Other interesting items
This included a new pulpit, 2 oak stalls, credence table, oak communion rail, reconstructed floor, elarged chancel, electric light installed, organ re-situated, old gallery removed.
The font is from the old church.
On a plain, massive, marble tablet, in the chancel, is engraven, a beautiful testimony to the predecessor of Rector, the Rev. Samuel Holmes; a finer tribute could not have been paid to a pastor’s character and work: ‘Sacred to the memory of the Rev. Thomas William Parry, M.A., who departed this life on the 27th July 1871, aged 45 years. He was truely remarkable in all the relations of life, and was deservedly beloved and respected as a zealous and a faithful Minister of Christ, with whom he now rests in peace. This tablet i erected by his afflicted widow, and his sorrowing uncle, as a memorial of lasting affection and esteem.’
On the South side of the church is another tablet – an affectionate tribute to the memory of the Rev. John Hanbury, through whose exertions the present ediface was erected. ‘In memory of the Rev. John Hanbury, M.A., for 20 years Rector of this parish, to which hew was inducted at the unanimous request of the parishioners, and for 19 years Vicar of the parish of S. John the Baptist, in this city, who departed this life, September 25th, 1859. Aged 60. The parish is in a great ,easure indebted for the erection of the present Church, School, and Organ. Zealous and devoted to his Master’s cause; kind and affable to all around him, and ever ready to relieve the wants of the poor. He, though dead, yet speaketh. This tablet was erected by the members of his congrgation, as a small record of the great love borne him for his works’ sake, and of the grace that rested upon him.’
On the North Wall -Marble tablets are also erected to the memory of John Snelgrove, Esq., James Wellington, Esq., and Mr.& Mrs. William Parry, whose priceless services to the parish are lovingly recorded.Also will be found tablets to William John Humphreys(born 1842 died 5th April 1924) and William Maddy(born 1732 died 1st Feb 1819) together with his dauhter, Frances(31 Oc t 1822).
There is also a plaque dedicated to John Reginald Symonds (born 15th October 1850 died 25th November 1924). who was 3 times Mayor of Hereford, Clerk of the Peace and Clerk to the County Council.
Nearer the organ console will be found a group of plaques for the Symonds-Taylor family; Capt.Frederick Kiungsley Symonds-Taylor of the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry,( born 1894 died 17th April 1917). He was a son of Lt.Col. R H Symonds-Tasylor as was Admiral Sir Richard Victor Symonds-Taylor,( born 27th October 1897 died 18th February 1971) and his wife, Edith Sarah Symonds-Taylor (born 1867 died 17th November 1950).There are a number of historical ‘write-ups on the Admiral see 1. and 2.