A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 10, Westbury and Whitstone Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1972.
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Winebaud de Ballon in 1092 gave a church called Hardwicke, with its tithes and 6 yardlands, to Bermondsey Priory (Surr.), (fn. 1) and the priory is said to have sold that church in the later 13th or the 14th century. (fn. 2) Winebaud had lands in Fretherne (fn. 3) and also gave the priory the tithes of Eastington, (fn. 4) which suggests that his Hardwicke was the one in Whitstone hundred, (fn. 5) but the later history of the Hardwicke church in Whitstone hundred indicates that it was another. About 1188 Hardwicke church was recorded as a chapel belonging to Standish church, but the record is of the establishment of a perpetual vicarage of Hardwicke and refers to the parish of the chapel of Hardwicke; (fn. 6) although Hardwicke remained a chapel of ease to Standish, an arrangement that persisted in 1967, it clearly enjoyed in the late 12th century a degree of independence unusual for a chapel of ease.
The endowment of the vicarage included part of the great tithes, corn-rents from each yardland in the parish, the small tithes, and obventions, (fn. 7) but later record of the vicarage has not been found. The great tithes passed to Gloucester Abbey presumably when the abbey appropriated Standish church. (fn. 8) The separate parochial status of Hardwicke, exemplified by the right of burial there in 1493, (fn. 9) was acknowledged in the 16th century. (fn. 10)
From 1498 until the 20th century Hardwicke normally had a chaplain or curate, maintained and nominated by the Vicar of Standish. (fn. 11) John Jennings, who was curate of Hardwicke in 1532, (fn. 12) was in 1540 receiving as a stipend a tenth of the profits of the church; (fn. 13) in 1551 he was found to be poor in learning (fn. 14) and in the same year he was reviled in the church while teaching the catechism. (fn. 15) In 1563 Jennings was Vicar of Haresfield, but it was he whom the parishioners blamed for the failure to find a curate for Hardwicke. (fn. 16) Later the same year the curate was Jarret Trye, (fn. 17) presumably one of the Tryes of Park manor, and three later 16th-century curates were recorded. (fn. 18) In 1650 the curate was a graduate, Thomas Holland, described as a constant preacher, and Hardwicke was thought fit to become a separate parish. (fn. 19) In 1661 and 1662 there was apparently no curate, (fn. 20) but curates for Hardwicke were recorded in 1676, (fn. 21) 1716, (fn. 22) and c. 1750. At the last of those dates the curate may have been maintained by Lord Hardwicke, who was said to be patron, (fn. 23) but there was only one service each Sunday. (fn. 24) In 1680 a glebe terrier for Hardwicke listed a house of 3 bays, much out of repair; unlike the land listed in the terrier, it was apparently unlet, and may have been for the curate's use. In 1705 the house was in good repair but of only 2 bays. In 1807 it was described as a thatched cottage, containing a kitchen and pantry, with two rooms above. (fn. 25) The house stands on the south side of the churchyard, a simple timber-framed building covered with roughcast, of one story with an attic. In 1967, when it was called the Old Vicarage, it retained its thatch. In the mid 19th century the curates lived at the cottage, which became a private house in the seventies when a new glebe house was built of red brick in Hardwicke village. Successive curates (fn. 26) for Hardwicke lived at Standish in 1784, (fn. 27) at Eastington in 1820, and at Gloucester in 1831; (fn. 28) from 1856 to 1948 the curates lived at Hardwicke, (fn. 29) as in 1967.
The church of ST. NICHOLAS, so called by the late 18th century, (fn. 30) but called St. Mary's c. 1708, (fn. 31) is built of ashlar with a Cotswold slate roof; it comprises chancel, north and south chapels, nave, north and south aisles, south-west tower, and south porch. The arcade of 3 bays that until the mid 19th century divided the nave and the south aisle was said to be Norman, (fn. 32) but it is more likely to have been of the early 13th century. (fn. 33) The walls of the chancel, nave, and south aisle may have been rebuilt at that period, from which survive the plain chancel arch and the south doorway flanked by attached shafts with enriched capitals. Some fragments of the same period, perhaps from the nave arcade, have been reset in the south chapel. There are two plain piscinas side by side, one broad and one narrow. The embattled west tower, of three stages with an internal stair-vice and gargoyles at the parapet, and the porch, which was originally on the north side, were built in the early 14th century. The consecration of the great altar by the Bishop of Worcester in 1315 (fn. 34) may have marked the completion of a phase of new building.
Additions apparently of the late 14th century were the rood-loft, (fn. 35) and the three-light west window with a transom and early Perpendicular tracery. In 1348 the Vicar of Standish was made responsible for the chancel of Hardwicke church. (fn. 36) The south chapel was apparently built in the 15th century, though the east window looks as though it may be of the 14th and is said to have been the original east window of the chancel. (fn. 37) Also of the 15th century is the squint of two trefoil-headed lights on the south side of the chancel arch. William Trye (d. 1497) left money for reroofing and reflooring the nave. (fn. 38) The south aisle was regarded as the property of the Tryes in the early 18th century, and the chapel at its east end as their mortuary chapel. (fn. 39)
The church was restored in the 1840's, (fn. 40) when the principal change seems to have been the replacement of the nave arcade and the rebuilding of the east end of the chancel to incorporate a 14th-century window, with head-stops to the labels inside and out, removed from Haresfield church. (fn. 41) A more comprehensive restoration and enlargement, under Waller & Son of Gloucester in 1878, included building the north aisle to seat the boys of the reformatory, with a chapel at its east end to house a new organ in place of one introduced in 1868, removing the galleries, and transferring the porch from the north to the south doorway. (fn. 42) In 1927 the tower was restored; (fn. 43) in 1938 the organ was moved from the north chapel to the west end of the north aisle, and given a new case. (fn. 44)
The monuments in the church include a large number in the south chapel to members of the Trye family, the earliest having lost their inscriptions but thought to be to John Trye (fl. 1450) and William Trye (d. 1497). (fn. 45) Six are altar-tombs, and that to John Trye (d. 1591) has a stone effigy under an arched canopy piercing the wall of the chancel. The 13th-century font has a pedestal of 8 engaged shafts and a circular arcaded bowl. (fn. 46) There were 4 bells c. 1703, (fn. 47) of which a medieval bell inscribed in Gothic capitals Sancta Maria or a pro nobis MWTA, one of 1639, and one by Abraham Rudhall of 1693 have survived. (fn. 48) Two bells were added in 1819 (one was recast in 1841) and another in 1836. (fn. 49) Six were rehung and dedicated in 1927, (fn. 50) but they did not apparently include the medieval bell, which was on the floor of the nave in 1967. The plate includes a chalice and paten-cover inscribed 1572. (fn. 51) The registers begin in 1566 and are virtually complete. The oak chest is dated 1676.
The lich-gate to the churchyard was opened in 1921, as a war memorial. (fn. 52)