A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 6, Knightlow Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1951.
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The parish of Astley is situated between the parishes of Arley and Bedworth. Its southern boundary is formed by the Bedworth-Fillongley road; it then runs north-west along Breach Brook, afterwards cutting across country towards Arley till it reaches a small tributary of the Bourne Brook, where it turns north, reaching the parish's most northerly point, the L.M. & S. Railway tunnel between Arley and Nuneaton. The boundary then turns south-east and passes within a quarter of a mile of the Castle, joining the Bedworth road by Cowley Wood, and running eastwards for a mile down the River Sowe, completing the circuit past Astley Colliery at Bedworth Heath.
The west side of the parish consists of high ground over 500 ft. above sea-level, which steadily slopes down towards Bedworth on the east. It consists of open country, (fn. 1) with a number of small patches of woodland. Two roads, that from Fillongley running north-east to Stockingford, and that which runs north-west from Bedworth to Ansley, intersect at a point 200 yds. south of the small village, consisting of Church, Castle, School, and a few brick and tile cottages, and these together with the tall trees of the park and churchyard form a pleasant group dominated by the large bell tower.
Astley Castle is situated 60 yds. north-east from the church. It is surrounded by a moat with banks 10–15 ft. in height. The bailey is in the form of a circle drawn out towards the north-east, increasing the diameter in that direction from approximately 60 yds. to 80 yds. The average width of the present moat is 10 yds., but, if it originally spanned the full width between banks, it would have an average width of double that amount.
There are only scanty remains, in grey and red sandstone, of the original curtain walls and gatehouse. Some portions appear to be 14th-century work (fn. 2) but may date from 1266, when Warin de Bassingburn was granted licence to inclose his house at Astley with a dyke and a wall and to crenellate it. (fn. 3)
The bailey is level with the surrounding country, and the present edifice is built on the west side with its principal elevation slightly south of east, and its outbuildings lining the west curtain wall. It consists of two main stories with attics above, and the roofs of lead and tile are partly concealed behind embattled parapets. The work of every century, from the 15th onwards, appears to be represented.
The brick chimney-stacks, rising above the parapet on the south side, are of late-16th or early-17th-century design and the shafts of the individual flues are bound together by a continuous capping supported by oversailing brick courses.
The main entrance is marked by a single-storied porch which projects from the northern half of the eastern façade. This front is in two stories, it is of stone, and the embattled parapet is continuous. The windows fall into three groups, that to the south having two four-light mullioned windows with square heads (fn. 4) at the first-floor level and two similar though somewhat deeper windows below them; there is a horizontal string-course at first-floor level across the width of this window group only. At the north end of the front there is a similar group, but the entrance reduces the lower south window to only two lights. In the centre there are five—two above placed centrally over three below; these all have four-centred heads, the upper ones each have three lights with tracery in the heads and are both grouped under a single hood-moulding, the ends of which return vertically downwards and stop on carved heads. The three windows below, though narrower, seem to have been similar, but the mullions have been removed to accommodate modern french windows. This portion of the façade is of the 15th century and evidently formed the nucleus for later extensions. (fn. 5)
The porch, although of the late 16th or early 17th century, appears to have been built after the adjoining main walls, for its north wall, which is without openings, slants inwards to admit light to the entrance hall by means of the small two-light window encroaching on its width. The east and south walls have large openings, that to the east being square-headed and of two plain chamfered orders, the head being constructed of three stones held in line on a heavy wrought iron bar of square section and contemporary workmanship over the 6-ft.wide opening. There is an oak lintel behind the iron bar supporting the remaining thickness of masonry. The 4-ft. opening on the south side has a four-centred head framed in by the square head of the outer order. The oak door to the entrance hall is studded and has shaped 16th-century strap-hinges.
The northern façade consists of three gables which abut the end of the main façade wall, the parapet of which ends abruptly. It is of early-19th-century brickwork plastered over, with sash windows of the same period. The opposite end, facing nearly south, consists of two portions; that to the east has a horizontal embattled parapet which returns round from the main front and bears the date 1627 carved on the centre merlon; that to the west is some 6 ft. higher, and the parapet steps up between them. The former has a string-course at first-floor level, with a four-light squareheaded mullioned window above, and a six-light window with central major mullion below, its upper portion blocked by masonry and the lower covered by a modern glass conservatory. The portion to the west has a fourlight window of similar type but modern workmanship above and a modern timber casement below, and there is no string between them. There is a single buttress reaching to first-floor level immediately to the east of the timber casement, which has weathered offsets. A string-course carries through unbroken above the heads of the first-floor windows wherever the embattled parapet occurs round the building; and on the southwest façade an additional buttress reaches this upper string in line with the step in the parapet.
The western front, overlooking the moat, presents a haphazard group consisting of (a) a stone wing forming the southern half, and carrying an embattled parapet which returns back at both angles; it bears traces of 16th- and 17th-century masonry although the openings have mainly been modernized; (b) a lower 16th-century half-timber wing ranged against it on the north side, being partly rendered in plaster; and (c) a 19th-century addition of brick returning round the north-west angle. Half of this frontage is skirted by a long, narrow yard, which divides the main building from a line of derelict 18th-and 19th-century outbuildings.
The interior has lost much of its original character, as extensive alterations appear to have been made about 1800. (fn. 6) The entrance hall and passage-way at its rear are lined with small 17th-century oak panels, but the passage-way gives access to a large square hall, two stories in height, wholly re-decorated in the early 19th century, the only original feature being a fine six-light mullioned and transomed window overlooking the moat in the rear elevation; it is of lofty proportions and the transom is set high to give greater height to the lower lights, the upper three being approximately square. A landing beneath the window takes the double return flights of the staircase, which is modern, and under it a doorway leads to the kitchen quarters. The back stair is original and of the 16th century; each baluster is turned, and each square newel terminates in a turned ball-finial.
To the south of the entrance hall are two reception rooms; the first, opening on to the lawns by the three french windows, is modern in treatment; the second, which reaches to the south-east angle of the building, possesses a large early-17th-century fire-place with an original cast-iron bushel-grate. It consists of a moulded opening with a four-centred head containing leafy enrichments in the spandrels; above is a strap-work frieze with an ovolo-moulded cap over, all of stone. The surround is of panelled oak, with four rectangular panels over the stonework, the two in the centre containing semicircular heads filled with shell enrichment, and those on the outsides each contain two diamond shapes side by side. The frieze above is jewelled and terminates in two lions' heads supported by fluted Ionic pilasters from the floor level. The whole measures 7 ft. 5 in. high by 8 ft. long. Opposite the fire-place a door gives access to the conservatory.
On the north side of the entrance hall is a single reception room with an early-19th-century oak fireplace surround, with large interlaced diamond patterns and fluted pilasters somewhat in the early-17th-century manner; Dutch tiles surround the fire-place opening. A fourth reception room leads from the staircase hall into the south-west angle and contains early-17thcentury panelling, a group of panels on the north wall being enriched with decorative circles containing fans, with foliage, strap-work, and other carving.
Of the whole area within the moat the half lying towards the north-east is banked up from the moat with wooded slopes, whilst the other half, which includes the present buildings, is bordered by stone retaining walls, the lower portions of which may date from the 14th century or earlier. Opposite the porch a 60-ft. length of sandstone walling rises above the level of the lawns and borders the moat. It contains mainly the lower portions of three ancient windows, probably of the 14th century, and it terminates at the jamb of a fourth at its north-eastern end. They are of varying width and their jambs are faced towards the moat with two chamfered orders; the sills are stepped on the opposite side. Only one has a head, and this is but a wooden lintel, probably added in later years to carry over a course of masonry.
A gateway on the south side, 8 ft. wide, is built within the line of the moat. It has a four-centred head, and on the south side two heavy chamfered orders which, together with the jambs and abutments, appear to be 14th-century work, but the north side of the arch has been recently refaced. The stone bridge leading to it has a semicircular arched opening of a single order and modern embattled parapets of grey sandstone, and is now disintegrating. On the west side is a stone doorway, which seems to have been rebuilt in modern times above the springing level; it leads by means of a path alongside the moat to the yard at the rear of the house.
On the opposite side of the site there are the remains of a secondary bridge of timber added for convenience during the 18th or 19th century. The decking has been removed. It originally gave access to the spinney on the opposite bank. Between this and the irregularly shaped lawn lies a formal garden of parterre work, which takes the form of a circle, 80 ft. in diameter, and is split up by narrow walks into circular and triangular flower-beds. These are edged by low, trimmed box hedges, and a higher holly hedge of considerable age, which has recently been cut down, formed the perimeter. An 18th-century sundial of bronze set upon a shaped stone pedestal forms the centre feature.
Beside the ruined wall, described above, there is a large, ancient yew-tree, and a line of yews follows the border between the parterre and the yard gateway. A fine cedar-tree adorns the park close by the moat, and beyond it the parkland slopes down to a large pool to the east. This 'Little Park' was formed about 1500 by Thomas, Marquess of Dorset, who inclosed 30 acres of his demesne lands; he also enlarged the Great Park, no longer existing, with 18 acres in Astley and 90 acres in Arley. (fn. 7)
At a point 75 yds. north-west of the moat is a large, grass-covered mound 20 yds. in diameter. In the north corner of the same field (which also adjoins the north side of the churchyard) there are a number of artificial ridges. (fn. 8)
The lane to How Green from the village passes close by the site of a 'tumulus' (fn. 9) on the west side, which has recently been levelled out, and after passing the hamlet it reaches Astley Court and Astley Lodge, the former recently damaged by fire. Astley Lodge is an 18thcentury house. Running north-east from it is a track which leads to Breach Oak Farm, a 16th-century farmhouse constructed in timber with brick infilling and tiled roof, with a large brick chimney-stack treated with a double tier of round-headed sunk panels. The interior is of little interest.
In the vicinity of the church a track half a mile in length running west reaches Duke's Farm. It has a farm-house which has been extended and completely renovated in the 19th century. The roof is tiled and some of the walls are framed in timber as can be seen where the plaster, which covers the walls, has fallen away in places. From the farm-yard on the north side the main chimney-breast can be seen, the lower portion of which consists of ancient masonry, perhaps 16thcentury work. No other feature, internal or external, has survived.
Approximately 200 yds. on the south side of this track there are the remains of the hollow oak-tree in which the Duke of Suffolk was reputed to have taken refuge. Beside the rotting remains of an ancient treetrunk, and on the spot where the tree stood until blown down in 1891, there is now a sandstone monument, with an inscription recording the fact.
Astley was held freely by Alsi in the reign of Edward the Confessor; after the Conquest Robert, Count of Meulan, held 1 hide, with Godric as tenant. (fn. 10) Like most of the Meulan manors in Warwickshire it came early into the possession of Robert's brother Henry de Newburgh, later Earl of Warwick. (fn. 11) In 1166 Philip de Estlega held three knight's fees, of which Astley was one, of William, Earl of Warwick, de vetero feffamento, (fn. 12) the service being described in 1316 as that of holding the earl's stirrup whenever he mounted his horse. (fn. 13) His descendant, Thomas de Estleye, who was killed at the battle of Evesham (1265), held the manor, which was stated to be worth £15, of the Earl of Warwick at a rent of £5 10s. 6d. (fn. 14) After his death his lands were granted to Warin de Bassingburn, to be held of the same overlord for the same rent. (fn. 15) By the Dictum of Kenilworth, however, de Montfort's adherents were allowed to compound for their estates by from two to five years' rental, (fn. 16) and in 1266 Andrew, Thomas's son and heir, was restored to the king's peace (fn. 17) and received royal confirmation of the grant to him by Warin de Bassingburn of part of his lands. (fn. 18) Astley is not specifically mentioned in this grant, but in 1285 he was allowed free warren and view of frankpledge, gallows, weyf, and assize of bread and ale, (fn. 19) and in 1300 he held the manor, which contained 20 free tenants, of the Earl of Warwick by the service of a knight's fee; he also held 6 other manors of various overlords in Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, and Warwickshire. (fn. 20) In the same year Edmund de Bassingburn brought an assize of mort d'ancestor against Andrew for the manor of Astley, but was not successful. (fn. 21) Andrew's son Nicholas was in 1316 stated to hold the manor of the Earl of Warwick by the service of 1½ knight's fees with (Hill) Morton, Milverton, and Marston (Jabbett). (fn. 22) He was taken prisoner at Bannockburn and died without issue, being succeeded by his nephew Thomas, (fn. 23) who in 1326 was confirmed in possession of the manor, held by knight's service of Guy, Earl of Warwick. (fn. 24)
The overlordship of the Earls of Warwick and the tenancy of the Astley family still continued in 1400 (fn. 25) and 1407, (fn. 26) Astley and Milverton together rating as one knight's fee. The last of the male line of the Astley's was Sir William, who died in 1420. (fn. 27) His daughter and heiress Joan was at that time married to Reynold, Lord Grey of Ruthin, (fn. 28) into whose family the manor passed until the middle of the 16th century. She was his second wife, and on his death in 1440 (fn. 29) the manor descended to her son Sir Edward Grey, (fn. 30) who married Elizabeth, granddaughter and heiress of William, Lord Ferrers of Groby, of whose estates he was given seisin in 1445. (fn. 31) In 1472 Edward Grey 'of Asteleye', Sir Edward's second son, was granted a general pardon for all offences committed by him before 24 August, and restored in his lands. (fn. 32) Two years later he was created Lord Lisle, (fn. 33) and in 1484 was granted the manor of Astley, then worth £44 10s., for his good service against the rebels, (fn. 34) on the attainder of his nephew Thomas Grey, Lord Ferrers and Marquess of Dorset. (fn. 35) The latter was restored to his estates on the accession of Henry VII by Act of Parliament. (fn. 36) In 1515 he granted a lease of Astley and other manors to Henry Stafford, Earl of Wiltshire, (fn. 37) who in the same year made a settlement of this lease. (fn. 38) Thomas, Marquess of Dorset, at his death in 1530 left a life interest in the manor of Astley to his widow Margaret, his son Henry being then less than 14 years of age. (fn. 39) This son, who later became Duke of Suffolk (fn. 40) and was father of Lady Jane Grey, took part in the rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyatt, forfeited all his estates, and was executed 23 February 1554. (fn. 41)
The manor was granted by letters patent to Edward Chamberlain, who died in 1557 leaving a son Richard, aged 9. (fn. 42) In 1573 Richard, having married Frances daughter of Richard Hussey of Coventry, the latter appears to have left the lordship or manor of Astley to his wife Elizabeth for life, (fn. 43) but the Chamberlaine family was in possession all through the 17th century. In 1625 Richard Chamberlaine senior and junior and Edward Chamberlaine leased the manor to Thomas Cole; (fn. 44) by 1630 Richard Chamberlaine had settled the manor on his children in tail male successively, (fn. 45) and in 1653 Richard Chamberlaine the elder and Jane his wife settled it on their son Richard. (fn. 46) Further leases were made in 1657 to Francis Bluett and Thomas Wood, (fn. 47) and in 1663 to Thomas Mede. (fn. 48) Thomas in his edition of Dugdale (1730) states that Edward, Richard's son, died 'lately' without issue, presumably before 1711, when Sir Richard Newdigate and other members of his family were dealing with the manor. (fn. 49) It is stated (fn. 50) that the purchase of Astley Castle was made by Sir Richard Newdigate, the first baronet, who died in 1678, but no date is given. (fn. 51) The Newdigate family had owned Arbury in the adjacent parish of Chilvers Coton since early in the 17th century. (fn. 52) The Newdigate baronetcy became extinct in 1806 with the death of Sir Roger, 5th baronet, but the estates passed to Francis, the son of his cousin Millicent Parker, who assumed the name Newdigate, (fn. 53) and in whose family the manor continued. In 1936 the lordship was vested in the trustees of the late Sir Francis NewdigateNewdegate, G.C.M.G., D.L., J.P. (fn. 54)
The parish church of ST. MARY THE VIRGIN was completely rebuilt by Sir Thomas Astley in 1343 as a collegiate establishment. This was a cruciform building (fn. 58) with a central tower crowned with a tall spire, which was a conspicuous landmark and was known as the 'lanthorn of Arden'. (fn. 59) It had a chapel on each side of the chancel. But of this church only the chancel remains, for Adrian Stokes, who held the estate after his wife's death in 1558, pulled down the spire and stripped the roofs of their lead, so that the tower fell down about 1600. (fn. 60) Richard Chamberlaine in 1607 demolished the remains of the tower, the transepts, and the nave. He then converted the old chancel into the nave of his church, building a tower at the west end and a new chancel, for which he is said to have used the material of the northern chapel. (fn. 61) His work is remarkable for its adherence to the Gothic tradition.
The present chancel was completed in 1608, that date being recorded on a stone high up on the south side. The walls are of grey sandstone, (fn. 62) with a plinth which stops against the east wall of the nave. There are diagonal buttresses at the east end and a central buttress on the north and south, that on the north having been enlarged in recent times to accommodate a flue for a fire-place. The side walls have a pierced arcaded parapet and a cornice enriched with bosses, largely consisting of plain shields. Other shields of grey stone, carved with heraldic devices, adorn the outside of the walls. On the east wall are three, of which Chamberlaine and Grevill, Lord Brooke, are identifiable; and four on each of the side walls, of which, in the absence of tinctures, only Ferrers of Groby can be recognized. (fn. 63) The east window and the two at the east ends of the side walls are each of three lights with four-centred heads; the two at the west ends of the side walls are each of two lights and have two-centred heads. The tracery is rectilinear in design and the external jambs of all these windows are similarly moulded in the form of a wide casement between small rolls and chamfers; they have plain external and internal hood-moulds, slightly shaped internally at each apex to meet the surface of the ceiling; several of the stops to the external hood-moulds on the north side are left boasted for carving. The two-light windows have been blocked by masonry in their lower portions as a backing for the modern oak choir-stalls, and the tracery above is filled with plaster. There is a blocked doorway in the north wall immediately to the east of the centre buttress; it is concealed internally by the oak panelling, but externally the filling is recessed, exposing the ovolo-mould which runs unbroken round the jambs and the four-centred head. It was evidently designed to admit the Chamberlaines direct to their pew.
Little of the masonry of this chancel is identifiable with earlier remains, except the stone string-course (fn. 64) running along the sills of the windows on the north.
The chancel is roofed with tiles and contains internally a four-centred barrel-vault with traceried panels, all of plaster. (fn. 65) Above the modern oak panelling the walls of the interior are plastered.
The chancel arch of 1608 is four-centred and moulded without capitals or imposts. It was cut through the east wall and window of the former chancel and above its apex is visible from the west side the twocentred moulded head of the 15th-century window. This was of seven ogee-headed lights and typical rectilinear tracery, subdivided by small embattled transoms and additional vertical bars. The two centre mullions diverge to form pointed arches against the sides of the main arch, each containing three lights with their tracery, and the centre light between these sub-arches is spanned by the largest of the transoms; the whole has been plastered between the bars. On the nave side it has a hood-mould with three grotesque heads, one at the apex and the other two stopping the mould well above the springing in order to accommodate a canopied image-niche on either side. These have slender gabled canopies with crockets and the bases below are corbelled out on more grotesques. (fn. 66) From the east side the space above the chancel arch is limited by the barrel-vaulted ceiling of the chancel; it is covered by stone tracery forming ogee-headed panels in the plaster. As the line of these panels slopes up to meet the barrel-vault, they may well have been formed out of tracery from the lower part of the window. Further signs suggest the main transom level and below that the position of the sill, (fn. 67) 6 ft. above the floor of the nave. Externally there is an ogee-hood and an arch-mould of two moulded orders.
The nave, built in 1343, is divided into three bays, each 21 ft. wide, marked externally by two slender buttresses to north and south which are carried up to the eaves with its corbel-table. The similar diagonal buttresses at the east end are carried up above the eaves as pinnacles, but the pinnacles have been removed from the side buttresses. Supporting the pinnacles are gabled tops and the offset below each is also gabled. (fn. 68) The upper gables contain a variety of carved figures, those below contain shields, (fn. 69) each with the cinquefoil of the Astleys, and the slopes of each gable stop on to carved heads.
In each bay is a three-light window in a two-centred head with ogee-headed hood-moulds, the point of the ogee, externally, being carried up to the corbel-table, where the foliated finial spreads out into the hollowed chamfer in the form of a central boss. Internally the finial reaches the timber roof, 45 ft. above the nave floor. The lights are trefoiled and the tracery is of varied curvilinear, almost flamboyant, design, of which there are two variations which occur alternately down each side. (fn. 70) The interior jambs are plain and slightly splayed; the exterior splays are moulded. There is a moulded string-course externally at sill level passing round the buttresses and stepping down just west of the angle buttress from 10 ft. 9 in. to 4 ft. 4 in., which was the sill level of the original east window. Below the middle window on the south is a small porch of timberframing on a wall of brick, 3 ft. high, with diaper patterns, probably added in 1608, or later in that century; its roof is tiled.
In the central bay on the north the masonry, for a height of approximately 7 ft. from the ground, is cut back 6 in., (fn. 71) indicating the former existence of the chapel referred to in 1493 as 'the new chapel of Our Lady'; (fn. 72) the doorway to this from the nave has been blocked up with masonry, but the ogee head and crocketed hood-mould remain internally. (fn. 73) A second doorway pierced the base of the buttress to the west, and although now blocked, the shape of its two-centred segmental head can be seen on both sides, on the west—originally the external—face, the head is chamfered, with a drip-mould and relieving arch over. A single corbelled head, heavy and crude in workmanship, projects at a level of 2 ft. below the sill of the north-west window. (fn. 74) The external plinth is formed of a steep splay and drip with a round fillet above.
The hollow of the corbel-table contains a series of enrichments spaced out on each side of each hoodmould finial. The different motifs are frequently repeated and include, beside ball-flower and similar motifs, shields with the arms of Astley, Beauchamp, and Clinton.
The tile roof is of about 50° pitch and the east gable has a crocketed parapet leading up to an apex-stone with its finial now broken; and above the blocked east window is a rose window, also blocked with plaster except for small vent-holes. This contains eight radiating lights, slightly pointed, with trefoiled heads around the circumference; the centre is a plain intersection of the eight tracery bars. The surround is chamfered, with the addition of a continuous hood-mould.
The chapel on the south side seems to have been that of the Holy Trinity, the building, or enlargement, of which was ordered in the will of the first Marquess of Dorset (1501) but was only performed after the death of his son in 1530. (fn. 75) It appears to have been gabled, with its roof running at right angles to the nave walls, and the double slope of the intersection can be traced, with the position of the apex shown by a groove (fn. 76) cut into the front face of the buttress immediately to the east of the porch. Grooves indicating the two sloping lines can also be traced down to where they crossed the window jambs and where purlins have evidently been supported at the level of the sills.
There are no signs of any doorway on the south side other than that within the south porch. This has no drip-mould externally and may have opened into the annex. Internally the jambs are splayed, whilst the external jambs, running into the two-centred head without imposts, consist of one order with a hollow mould.
The panelled oak roof, probably of the 17th century, has twenty-one bosses painted with coats of arms; these were originally of the Astley family and their connexions, but in 1676 they were largely replaced by others connected with the Newdigates, (fn. 77) though the easternmost shield still bears the arms of Astley.
The walls of the nave interior are plastered, and as in the chancel retain their early-17th-century decorations of nine panels, framed with strap-work patterns in various colours, containing edifying quotations. Seven of these are passages from the Bible; one of the Lord's Prayer; and one the Creed. Oak panelling, mostly plain, of the same period skirts the nave walls.
The western tower of red sandstone, built in 1607–8, is of four stories, of which only the lowest is distinguished externally by a string-course, which continues the line of that on the nave but is not carried round the buttresses. The upper stories are divided by two plain chamfered offsets, which line up with moulded offsets on the face of the buttresses. The latter rise to the sill level of the belfry windows, those to the west being diagonal and the eastern square. They consist of wide flat abutments extended by deeper and narrower projections. There are three offsets. The lowest stage is pierced only by the west door, contained by moulded jambs which carry up without imposts to the twocentred head. The mouldings are somewhat debased and appear to date from the reconstruction (1607), the external hood has carved stops and supports a carved apex-stone—all much defaced. The second story has in the north and south faces a small window of two lights, each two-centred and trefoiled, contained in a square head of three chamfered orders and no hood. In the west it has a larger window of three plain two-centred lights contained within a square head of three chamfered orders; the jambs have two chamfers only—an irregularity pointing to the re-use of windows from the former church and college buildings. It has a horizontal drip-mould extended to protect inset shields at either hand (described below). In each face of the third story is a tall transomed window of three trefoiled lights and tracery of 15th-century type in a two-centred head; the jambs have two chamfered orders and, like the windows below, appear to have been re-used. The fourth stage is pierced on all four faces by a belfry window of two trefoiled lights with a square head; it has a transom and the jambs are moulded similarly to the three of the west door. These windows appear to contain little re-used masonry. The ovolo-moulded cornice which embraces the tower immediately above the window dates from the early 17th century. The embattled parapet above is crowned with pinnacles on the angles and central merlons, the latter on the west side bearing a carved stone shield with detail not discernible. Some of the pinnacles may well have been re-used after removal from four of the nave buttresses. On the west face there are a number of additional shields, two pairs (fn. 78) being set on either side of the third-story window with larger single ones below. Also one on each side of the window head below, that on the south much worn. Four carved grey-stone blocks are bonded into the wall above the west door, grouped on either side in pairs; each block depicts four vine-leaves and is probably 14th-century work. A set of three plain gargoyles project from the cornice on the north side; the only shield is placed in a central position towards the base, and is charged with a cheveron between two roses in chief and (?) fleur-de-lis in base. On both north and south the western angles of the tower project beyond the buttresses, and are carried by 14th-century corbel-blocks a little below the nave corbel-table; the two corbels are carved as grotesques with bat-like wings. On the south face there are shields, two being over the centre window and one over the window at the base, the latter bearing the Astley cinquefoil; one of those above is similar and the other bears two bars and a chief indented. There is a modern clock dial immediately below the belfry, and on the face of the south-east buttress a stone block, bearing a scratch dial, has been inset; no stile remains, but the dial face, inclined slightly to the east, is grooved in the form of an inverted semicircle with small circular marks about the perimeter, the whole being indistinct.
The interior of the tower has been much altered by the provision of a modern vestry, approached by a stone stair, and an additional loft over, used as a ringing chamber. The latter is screened from the nave, a portion of the timber screen being glazed to admit borrowed light, and this is supported by the modern wall and two-centred arch built immediately to the west of the main tower arch. The vestry below it is lesser in extent, occupying the space to the west of an inner wall, although timber brackets allow it to project a little to the east of this supporting another glazed screen. At ground-floor level there are two store-rooms, one to the north under the staircase and one to the south of the vestibule. An ancient tower staircase commences in the north-west angle and is approached by a passage set in the thickness of the north wall. The 14th- or 15thcentury tower arch is built up with jambs of three chamfered orders which rise without imposts to the two-centred head at the full height of the nave. Beneath this arch, and on the north side, stands the 14th-century octagonal font; the base is moulded and the font-stone has a moulded projection with the top embattled.
The east end of the nave is occupied by 15th-century oak stalls, (fn. 79) comprising nine seats on each side. Each seat supports a tall canopy, 11 ft. 6 in. in height, by means of slender posts; the back of each is formed by a painted panel depicting a Prophet or Apostle. Each row is subdivided into two ranges of four seats by means of a thicker post, and the odd seat backs upon the east return wall. The posts carry cinquefoiled arches corresponding to the seats below; the spandrils between them are pierced in the form of trefoils. The frieze above these arches is painted with a flowing vine and grapes on a red ground, and the cornice above is embattled and has carved rosettes in the hollow. The seats themselves are of the traditional type with misericords, carved on the under sides with representations of the wild boar, birds, human heads, &c.
George Eliot (fn. 80) has referred to the figures in the panels as: 'Apostles, with their heads very much on one side, holding didactic ribbons.' The 'ribbons' refer to the curved scrolls, inscribed with texts, which are held in the hands of Prophet or Apostle; one of these inscriptions bears the date 1624: they are in Old English and beneath can be discerned the original inscriptions in Latin. (fn. 81) The scrolls are arranged on alternate sides of the figures. The painting generally has lost much of its colour through decay and repeated 'touching up'.
Behind these stalls in the south wall three sedilia and a piscina have been found. They are completely concealed behind them (fn. 82) and all the original projections had been hacked off when the stalls were fitted. (fn. 83) The sedilia are each 1 ft. 4 in. wide and spaced out 2 ft. apart; the piscina is to the east at approximately the same spacing. The internal angles of the recesses are shafted and the heads carved with ribs. There are three breaks in the string-course 12 ft. 6 in. above the present floor level, these line up with the positions of the sedilia, suggesting that the latter once had tall canopies. The seats are 18 in. above the original floor level, which can be seen below the floor-boards. Here, and on the north side also, 14th-century tiles have been discovered in situ bearing similar shields to those enriching the corbeltable.
The communion table is of heavy oak with turned legs, probably of the early 17th century. The reredos is panelled with a cresting of scrolls and foliage. Both this and a portion of the communion rail appear to date from the later part of the same century, although the return ends of the rail are constructed in modern wrought iron and oak to match the older part in front. There is a triptych, apparently Flemish, of the 17th century, of which the central subject is the Deposition from the Cross, used as an altar-piece. At each side of the east window there are painted inscriptions giving the Ten Commandments.
Other furnishings and memorials in the chancel are of recent date and include brasses and marble panels commemorating members of the Newdigate family, also a pair of wrought-brass lampstands each bearing a pennant depicting the lion of St. Mark.
Fragments of 14th- and 15th-century glass have been collected in the chancel, both in the east window and the one to the north. In the former there are parts of canopies in the heads of the three lights, and in both there is a tangle of diaper, drapery, and foliage in the form of oak- and vine-leaves; in the latter there are fragments of inscriptions, three yellow crosses on a red field, and above, a shield with the yellow figure of a boar. The glazing on the south side is modern.
Similar portions of ancient stained glass remain in the upper portions of the nave windows, most being on the north side, of which the centre consists of animal and human figures which have survived undisturbed except for a few broken pieces; the windows on either side contain animals' heads and portions of canopies, though one of these indicates the resetting of fragments. On the south side there are small heads remaining in the small tracery lights. A number of loose fragments have been discovered recently beneath floor boards.
On the south wall close by the tower are two wroughtiron brackets. One holds a painted cartouche of the Chamberlaine arms (fn. 84) and the other an ancient steel helmet surmounted by the Chamberlaine crest, of an ass's head and coronet, together 2 ft. 6 in. high. Both crest and cartouche are of carved oak.
The pulpit and reading-desk are of carved oak and of late-17th- or early-18th-century workmanship; they are square-panelled, enriched by baskets of fruit, garlands, and acanthus on the former and braided feathers on the latter.
At the time of its rebuilding in 1608 the church was rich in the monuments of the Greys, of which family Dugdale mentions four tombs comprising nine alabaster effigies. (fn. 85) Of these only three (fn. 86) have survived, and are now preserved in the south-east corner of the tower. The earliest is that of Sir Edward Grey, Lord Ferrers of Groby, who died in 1457. He is shown in armour of the period, with a collar of S.S., his bare head resting on a helm and his feet against a lion; both sword and dagger are broken away. The other two are women. One, now the centre of the group, is probably Elizabeth Talbot, wife of Edward Grey, Lord Lisle, who died c. 1483. She lies with her head on two cushions, with an angel on either side, her long hair down her back, and a rich chaplet round her head. She wears a kirtle cut low at the neck and with tight sleeves; a cote-hardi over it, and a mantle hanging from the shoulders. The third is probably Cecily Bonville, wife of Thomas Grey, 1st Marquess of Dorset. It has been badly damaged, apparently by the fall of the tower. She is shown wearing a pedimental head-dress, high-cut kirtle, cote-hardi, and mantle, at the corners of which were two little dogs.
Fixed to the north wall of the nave is the headless brass of a woman, with a fragment of an inscription in French giving the date of her death as 1 April 14-. The inscription was imperfect when the brass was crudely figured in Dugdale's Antiquities, (fn. 87) with three others of which only indents now remain. These were (1) a member of the Astley family, probably Sir Thomas who founded the college; (2) Elizabeth his wife, daughter of Guy, Earl of Warwick; and (3) Guy, their younger son, who died at Dunstable on the day of St. Nicholas (6 December) 1427. There was another brass, of which only the inscription remained, to Sir William, eldest son of Sir Thomas, who died in 1420. (fn. 88) On the west wall of the nave is a small inscribed brass to William Beck, 1623. Small slabs in the pavement against the east wall commemorate William Wyat (formerly precentor of Lincoln), 1685, and John (infant son of Richard Newdigate, 1666, whose monuments (fn. 89) have disappeared.
The first record of a priest in Astley is in the reign of Henry III, when Thomas de Astley presented a certain William, as stated in the course of a suit between his widow Edith and son Andrew regarding the advowson, (fn. 90) Andrew having assigned her his right of presentation on his restoration to his father's estates, though he stated in his defence that after this assignment he had presented his brother John. (fn. 91) The case arose through John being deprived by the bishop; Andrew in the end recognized Edith's right and gave her 40 marks for damages and costs.
The advowson remained with the Astley family till 1343, when Sir Thomas de Astley founded his college in the parish church, assigning the rectory to the dean. (fn. 92) The patronage of the deanery, and since the suppression of the college in 1545 of the vicarage, (fn. 93) has followed the descent of the manor.
The above-mentioned charities are regulated by a scheme of the Charity Commissioners dated 7 February 1936 which appoints a body of trustees and directs the annual income of the charities, amounting to £7 10s., to be applied under various heads for the general benefit of the poor of the parish.