History in Structure

Cheltenham Minster (St Mary's)

A Grade I Listed Building in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

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Latitude: 51.9014 / 51°54'4"N

Longitude: -2.0765 / 2°4'35"W

OS Eastings: 394832

OS Northings: 222540

OS Grid: SO948225

Mapcode National: GBR 2M4.PV6

Mapcode Global: VH947.YGLR

Plus Code: 9C3VWW2F+H9

Entry Name: Cheltenham Minster (St Mary's)

Listing Date: 5 May 1972

Last Amended: 9 June 2014

Grade: I

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1386792

English Heritage Legacy ID: 474191

Also known as: Church of St Mary

ID on this website: 101386792

Location: St Mary's Church, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL50

County: Gloucestershire

District: Cheltenham

Electoral Ward/Division: Lansdown

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Cheltenham

Traditional County: Gloucestershire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Gloucestershire

Church of England Parish: Cheltenham, St Mary with St Matthew

Church of England Diocese: Gloucester

Tagged with: Church building

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Minster church, formerly parish church, of mid-C12 origins, with mid-C13 lower stage to tower, with C14 rebuilding, enlargement and spire. It is otherwise of the early C14, with a late-C15 north porch. Restorations took place in 1859-61, 1866 and 1875-77. The south porch was added in 1890 and the interior was reordered in the C20 and 2012.


Minster church, formerly parish church, of mid-C12 origins, with mid-C13 lower stage to tower, with C14 rebuilding, enlargement and spire. It is otherwise of the early C14, with a late-C15 north porch. Restorations were undertaken in 1859-61 by DJ Humphris, with the spire being restored in 1866 by Ewan Christian. A much more thorough restoration was undertaken by Christian in 1875-77. In 1890 the south porch was added by Middleton, Prothero and Pillott, who also converted the north porch into a baptistery. A vestry was added in the late C19 and the stained glass was inserted between 1876 and 1893. The interior was reordered in the C20 and 2012.

MATERIALS: it is constructed from limestone ashlar with a stone slate roof.

PLAN: the church is orientated north-west to south-east, though liturgical compass points are used throughout this description. It is cruciform on plan with a four-bay, aisled nave with north and south porches, transepts, a three-bay chancel and a central tower with a spire.

EXTERIOR: it is almost entirely in the Decorated style, though the presence of mullions in the south aisle west window, the east window and south transept south window presages the Perpendicular style. It has a chamfered plinth and lateral buttresses and angle buttresses, both with offsets. The window and door openings are pointed with hoodmoulds with either label or animal or human-head stops. All gables are stone coped.

The south face has a gabled porch of 1890 with a pointed, moulded doorway. Its spandrels are carved with a foliage motif within which are set quatrefoils with floral carvings. Over the doorway is a hoodmould with stops carved with the crests of the Diocese of Gloucester and of the Borough of Cheltenham. To the gable there is a recessed plaque which contains a pair of blind lancets with trefoil heads and quatrefoil-traceried lights set above a shield bearing the inscription IHS. Inside the porch, over the church door, there is the blocked head of a C14 window. The porch is flanked by a single window on the left hand side and three, stepped, windows on the right hand side. All are of two-lights with trefoil-cusped ogee lights and reticulated tracery with quatrefoils. The south wall of the gabled south transept has a large, five-light window with reticulated tracery emphasised by the use of mullions. An oculus with quatrefoil tracery sits within the apex and below the right-hand springing stone there is a mass dial. The transept’s right-hand return has two, three-light windows with trefoil-cusped pointed lights and geometrical tracery. To the south face of the chancel there are three, two-light windows with trefoil-cusped ogee lights and reticulated tracery with quatrefoils.

The west end has a 5-light window with reticulated tracery emphasised by the use of major and minor mullions in the head and a broad horizontal band of large quatrefoils.

The south face of the chancel has a gabled vestry flanked by two-light windows with trefoil-cusped ogee lights and reticulated tracery with quatrefoils; the vestry has a similar, but narrower, window. In the angle between the chancel and the south transept there is a narrow stair turret with arrow-slit windows and a pointed doorway. Above the stair tower is a small section of the earlier chancel roof which sits above the ridge line of the present chancel roof. The east wall of the gabled south transept has a large rose window with flowing, cusped, tracery whilst its north face has a large, five-light window with curvilinear tracery. Above this is an oculus with tracery comprised of three, cusped, spherical triangles. To the right-hand side of the transept, the north aisle has two, two-light windows of differing sizes with trefoil-cusped ogee lights and reticulated tracery with quatrefoils. To the right again, the left-hand return of the gabled north porch has a quatrefoil whilst its north face has a blocked-up, ogee-arched, doorway with the head containing a late-C19, stepped, five-light window. Its first floor has a three-light window and the right-hand return has a two-light window, both late-C19, with trefoil-cusped lights and perpendicular tracery. In the angle between the porch's right-hand return and the north aisle there is a polygonal stair turret with a pointed doorway accessed via a short flight of stone steps. The north aisle has a two-light window with trefoil-cusped ogee lights and reticulated tracery with quatrefoils.

The west end is comprised of three gabled ranges of which the central chancel range is set at a higher ridge line than the flanking aisle ranges. Each range has a tall, five-light window with a variety of tracery: the north aisle with reticulated tracery, the chancel with intersecting tracery rising to a pointed quatrefoil and the south aisle with reticulated tracery with major and minor mullions in the head and a broad horizontal band of large quatrefoils. The chancel range is set between C12, lateral buttresses with offsets and has a mid-C19 ashlar-faced door surround with boarded double doors and a cornice ornamented with four-leaf flower carving. Flanking the doorway, at the level of the cornice, is a much worn, C12, stringcourse with billet moulding.

The central tower has mid-C13 lancets linked by hoodmoulds to each face of the lowest stage whilst the upper stage has two-light, belfry windows with louvers. It is surmounted by a ribbed, broach spire with two tiers of trefoil-headed lucarnes.

INTERIOR: the C14 nave arcade is of four bays with pointed, double chamfered arches carried on tall, octagonal piers with moulded octagonal capitals and abaci. Above is a clerestory, mainly of paired, two-light windows, but with two circular windows at the east end of the north aisle, all with deep splays. The lower stages of the double chamfered arches to the crossing are of the mid-C13, with the western arch having roll-moulded piers and trumpet-scalloped and foliate capitals whilst the northern arch has a reused, stiff-leaf capital. The ceiling of the crossing is rib vaulted. The chancel arch has a double chamfered east face and a moulded west face, the latter carried on roll-moulded piers with stylised foliate capitals, including a bishop's head to the south side. At the west end of the north wall there is a moulded doorway to the former north porch, now a baptistery. It has a lierne vaulted ceiling with bosses carved with roses. To the right-hand side of the doorway there is a small, blocked, ogee-headed doorway which originally gave access to the gallery above the north porch. Altered in the late C19, the gallery now has a pointed, chamfered surround and a pierced quatrefoil balustrade. The arched-braced roof is of the C19 with ribs carried on stone corbels carved with a foliage motif and intermediate ribs carried on wooden, eaves corbels. It probably conceals earlier fabric.

PRINCIPAL FITTINGS: the chancel contains a mid-C14 piscina, along with an elaborate reredos, communion rails and wall panelling, installed in 1915-16 to the designs of Healing and Overbury and carved by RL Boulton and Sons. In the south transept there is a C13 piscina and aumbry cupboard. In the north wall there are two, cusped, tomb recesses with ballflower ornamentation. The eagle lectern, pulpit, pews and choir stalls are all of oak and were installed in the late C19. The octagonal, stone font was installed in 1890.

The church contains an extensive collection of C17, C18 and C19 wall memorials. Notable examples include: an inscription by John English to his wife (d.1643); very large monument to Sir William Myers (d.1811), by Oldfield and Turner; a monument to Thomas Gray (d.1835), one of many in the church by G Lewis; a late C18 tablet to the Skillicorne family with a 53-line epitaph; Adam style monuments include those to Elizabeth Hughes (d.1786) and Anne Dewes (d. 1780); a monument to Katherine A'Court (d.1776), by James Wyatt and R. Westmacott (the tablet records her infamous murder by poison administered by livery servant Joseph Armstrong who was executed at Gloucester and hanged from a gibbet in line with Henrietta Street); a brass to the architect DJ Humphris (d. 1879) and a brass to William Greville (Justice of Common Pleas) (d.1513), his wife and children.

STAINED GLASS: the upper porch north window of 1858, by Joseph Bell of Bristol, was moved here in 1889. The other twenty-six windows have stained glass which was installed between 1876 and 1893. Depicting over fifty scenes, mainly biblical, fourteen windows are by Lavers, Barraud and Westlake, with others by, Clayton and Bell; Heaton, Butler and Bayne; Hardman; Joseph Bell; Burlison and Grylls; and William Wailes.


Cheltenham Minster, formerly the parish church of St Mary, is believed to stand on the site of an Anglo-Saxon minster. In 773 a monastery is documented at Cheltenham whilst a church synod of 803 referred to a priory in the town. A synod held in Gloucester in 1086 mentions ‘a church with chapels’ whilst the Domesday Book records that the church at Cheltenham was held by Reinbald, Dean of the Canons of Cirencester Abbey. In 1133, Henry I formally granted 'the church of Cheltenham' to Cirencester Abbey and soon after this the Augustinian Canons built the present church. Although the church retains some C12 fabric, with some mid-C13 work, it was mainly built during the early C14, with the north porch added in the C15. Following the Dissolution the church was leased to a succession of laymen, who were responsible for employing curates to serve the Church and parish.

In the early C17 the church underwent a number of alterations, including the repair of the ashlar facing to the tower in 1622. A gallery was built at the west end in 1628, but was taken down in 1813, along with several galleries constructed in the C18, in order to make room for more pews in the nave. In the mid-C17 the advowson passed to Jesus College, Oxford, on condition that they only appointed bachelors who held no other living. At the start of the C19, when Cheltenham was developing as a spa town, the advowson was secured by the property developer, Joseph Pitt MP. Pitt, in turn, sold the advowson in 1816 to the Revd Charles Simeon, vicar of Holy Trinity in Cambridge, for £3000. In 1826, Simeon appointed Cheltenham’s most famous and controversial incumbent, Francis Close (1797-1882) and he remained here until he was appointed Dean of Carlisle in 1856. Close, as an uncompromising champion of the Evangelical cause, erected four district churches, each with an infant and national school. He established teacher training colleges and was one of the co-founders of the Church of England Education Society. He also preached against Cheltenham's annual horse racing festival and against drama, trying to prevent the reconstruction of Cheltenham's theatre after it was destroyed by fire in 1839. However, his appointment of evangelicals as curates, as incumbents to the district churches, and as members of staff in educational establishments, brought a critical response, particularly from Lord Alfred Tennyson, who called Close a parish pope.

Cheltenham’s rapid population growth at the start of the C19 placed considerable strain on St Mary’s which, until Holy Trinity was built in the 1820s, was the only church serving the town. Although the building of eight new Anglican churches between 1820 and 1854 eased this pressure, St Mary's was by then suffering from many structural problems, with the piecemeal alterations undertaken to increase its capacity having being done at the expense of fabric repairs. In 1859, Daniel James Humphris, a local architect, began restoration work at the church. His removal of some of the pews exposed rotting floorboards and in turn the crumbling vaults beneath. The church was immediately closed and remained closed from July of that year until March 1861 when the restoration work took place and the crypt was concreted over. The congregation was provisionally housed in a temporary iron church, built between August and November of 1859, on the north side of Clarence Street. Following the reopening of St Mary's, the temporary church remained in use as the congregation was too large to be housed in St Mary's alone. In a bid to unite the two congregations, an architectural competition was held to enlarge St Mary’s to seat at least 2,000 parishioners. The only stipulation placed on entrants was that the tower and spire should be retained. However, despite thirty-four plans being submitted, local opposition to the church’s demolition, coupled with a lack of funds, halted the scheme. In 1873, Ewan Christian (1814-1895), the architect responsible for the restoration of St Mary's spire in 1866, undertook a survey on the condition of the church’s fabric. His report for the Parish Church Restoration and Enlargement Committee resulted in the decision to restore St Mary's and build a new church dedicated to St Matthew, with Christian being appointed as architect for both projects.

In April 1875, St Mary’s was closed once more whilst the builder Albert Estcourt of Gloucester began work on removing the galleries and restoring the nave and aisles. In December 1785 part of the church was re-opened and by January 1877 the church’s restoration was complete. In 1890 the south porch was added by Middleton, Prothero and Phillott, who also converted the north porch into a baptistery. The stained glass was inserted between 1876 and 1893.

Minor alterations were made to church’s layout in the C20, including the addition of a prayer chapel in the south transept. A further reordering took place in 2012 when the prayer chapel was moved to the north transept, the font was moved to the south entrance from the baptistery and toilets and other facilities were installed in the south transept.

In 2013 St Mary's was designated Cheltenham Minster.

Reasons for Listing

Cheltenham Minster, formerly the parish church of St Mary, of mid-C12 origins, with later alterations and additions, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: it retains extensive medieval fabric and is an architectural expression of liturgical evolution up to the Victorian period. Of particular note is the high quality Decorated tracery which, in some cases, fills and exceptionally high proportion of the windows;
* Architect: the late-C19 restoration was carried out by Ewan Christian, one of the leading Victorian church restorers;
* Stained glass: it retains a notable collection of Victorian stained glass by many notable national practitioners of the era, illustrating their expert response to the high quality tracery;
* Fixtures and fittings: the C13 piscina and mid-C14 canopied piscina, one of the largest in England, are important surviving medieval fixtures and the early-C20 reredos, communion rail and wall panelling display high quality design and craftsmanship;
* Date: it is Cheltenham’s only surviving medieval building;
* Group Value: it forms a strong group with the churchyard cross (Scheduled), the churchyard wall, piers and railings (Grade II), the ‘Dragon and Onion’ lamp posts to the south and west of the church (Grade II), and a late-C17 chest tomb and headstone (both Grade II).

External Links

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