Church and Community
St Andrew's, Laverstock
|The icing on the cake: St Andrew’s 150th anniversary celebrations
drew the entire community together.
No longer does the urn-shaped scroll
knocker indicate that a doctor lives in
the big house on the green. The blue
light has been removed from what is now the
Old Police House, and the only remnant of the
post office is a modern post box with collections
once a day. Even the phone box is under threat. This pattern will be all too familiar to rural
communities throughout the UK. Many of the
places where villagers traditionally gathered have
closed or been converted to serve less sociable
One building, however, is still identifiable as
a place of communal meeting: the church. Most
villages retain one, used for services perhaps
twice a week and served by a priest, albeit one
from the team ministry in the nearest town.
Typically, the building is maintained by a small
group of stalwarts who struggle heroically to
keep the rain out while paying their dues to the
diocese. Funding problems are acute, particularly
for those churches that have dwindling
congregations dominated by pensioners, and
where a large part of the local community is
estranged. However, the tide may be turning for
those churches that are reaching out to attract
younger worshippers. As wage-earners, they can
afford to contribute more financially, and as the
congregation is more broadly representative of
the wider community, they can attract wider
participation from others in the secular activities
of the church.
THE CHURCH AND ITS CONTEXT
Laverstock may look, to the casual eye, like a
modern suburb of Salisbury, but the village’s
history has its beginnings in Saxon times. It
retains a distinct identity due to the river valley
and water meadows of the River Bourne which
separate it from Salisbury proper. The village
retains a shop and a pub as well as a church
school. The resident population is less than
3,000 but more than a thousand pour into the
village to attend the three senior schools that sit
in a row beneath the escarpment of Laverstock
Downs and the medieval estate of Clarendon.
||The present church of St Andrew, Laverstock dates from the mid 19th century, but the fabric and the
churchyard contain remnants of much earlier church buildings dating back to the Middle Ages.
Laverstock’s church, St Andrew’s, is served
by a rector from the adjoining parish. It is
known that there have been churches situated
within this churchyard since the 12th century
and probably earlier, and visible remnants of
earlier church buildings survive to the west of
the present one. Originally a Royal Peculiar
(and so under the jurisdiction of the monarch,
not the bishops), the church was appropriated
by Bishop Poore in the 13th century, and it was
through Laverstock that Thomas Becket made
his way from his rectory at Winterbourne to
attend King Henry II at Clarendon Palace.
However, the church that we now see was built between July 1857 and July 1858 to the designs
of T H Wyatt, a prolific designer of churches in
Wiltshire and Dorset in this period. The building
incorporated parts of the porch, memorials and
other elements from the earlier church, which
CELEBRATING THE PAST, LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
To celebrate the 150th anniversary of its
construction, the parochial church council set
up a group to explore ways in which the church
property could be used to bring greater benefit
to the surrounding community.
dig attracted the involvement
of all sections of the community.
One of the first results was a wildlife day,
with experts giving talks in the churchyard on
its lichens and other plant life. The churchyard
is fairly large, combining elements of the earlier
churchyard with the area gifted for the building
of the present church. Its old trees and partly
cultivated wilderness provide a natural habitat
for all manner of wildlife. The day included
bird-watching and a riverside nature study on
the bank of the River Bourne in an area attached
to the church’s property. The day concluded with
an evening bat watch.
Another achievement was to set up a
discovery group to investigate the history of the
village. Every house in the parish was leafleted
and residents were encouraged to contribute
their own grass-roots histories of the village and
their own houses. Monthly meetings were held
at the church and the project culminated in a
week-long exhibition in the church. The visitors
book was signed by nearly 300 people and some
enthusiasts paid several visits and spent hours
poring over the gathered documents, images
and old maps.
The community was also invited to take
part in an archaeological dig in the churchyard
supervised by professional archaeologists,
including Alex Langlands and Libby Philpott,
who both live nearby, Simon Rothy from
University College Winchester, and Andrew
Reynolds from University College London.
The dig’s objective was to discover the medieval
outline of the earlier church, and, if possible, of
even earlier church structures. The response
was excellent, despite occasional bad weather.
The volunteers discovered sections of the
foundations, vaulted tombs, ancient tile and
painted plaster. Sections of the chancel
arch and north wall were also identified, helping to
map out the full extent of the original building.
However, no evidence of Saxon fabric was found.
Further work is to be carried out in the summer
of 2009 to complete the picture.
To help stimulate interest in the dig and set
it into historical context, the director of Salisbury
Museum brought a number of finds from the
museum that had been discovered at the site
of the 12th century pottery kilns on the village
downlands. A local historian and author, Ruth
Newman, gave guided walks around the village.
The Sunday service celebrating the church’s
150th anniversary was presided over by the
Bishop of Ramsbury and incorporated a walk to
the old church site, followed by refreshments in
||Top: A visitor enjoys one of the village history displays put together
community for the week-long exhibition in
Above: A display painted by a local
artist as part
of the wildlife project illustrates the
flora and fauna
of St Andrew's churchyard.
PUTTING THE HEART BACK INTO THE COMMUNITY
The whole enterprise was achieved without outside funding, and this feat provides a useful
lesson both for St Andrew’s and for other
small churches that may be feeling the pinch
financially. All of the experts involved in our
activities gave their time for free, and, although a
donations bottle was always on hand, the events
were available to all participants without charge.
Clearly, interesting and well-attended events
can be carried off with fairly modest budgets
provided you can gather enough committed
volunteers to pitch in and give up their time.
Most members of the community want
their local church to be ready to use for
weddings, funerals and christenings, and many
continue to see it as a place to turn to in time
of crisis. But a small and elderly congregation
cannot alone supply the funds needed to
maintain the church and its surroundings.
It can be difficult to make church property
accessible and relevant to everyone in the
parish. With limited toilet and kitchen facilities
there are practical restraints, too. Nevertheless,
churches must find roles and uses that speak to a
wider section of the local community if they are
Programmes of events like the one at
St Andrew’s reinforce the community and the
role of the church as a centre of village life, they
promote learning and bring together people
whose paths might not otherwise cross. In short,
the rewards of encouraging people across the
church threshold who wouldn’t usually attend far
exceed any financial boost for the church coffers,
welcome though that may be.
article is reproduced from Historic Churches, 2008
ANTHONY MALE is the parish information officer
for St Andrew’s, Laverstock and a member of the PCC.
He also works for Cathedral Communications Limited.
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