"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

A Bookshop, a Church and a Castle

Recently I was reminded of a bookshop - Astley Farm Bookshop - in North Warwickshire which is Warwickshire's largest second-hand bookshop containing 75,000 titles - well, of course I had to visit! So I went along with D last Sunday.

For a book lover this shop is just paradise - it is huge and the books are all well arranged with a massive fiction section in alphabetical order and then the non-fiction books by subject. To be honest on a first visit it is all a bit too much to take in and it is a place I will definitely be returning to.

There is also a rather good tearoom serving the most delicious cakes - we had Strawberry and White Chocolate Gateau and the servings were very large! Sorry no picture - unfortunately I had left my camera in the car.

I did make two purchases - the book by Timpson I have been looking for for ages.

I have thought about visiting Astley Church in the past and it is open on Sundays between 2.00 and 3.30 p.m. when there is a service so we stopped off in the village on the way home.

There is a lovely story connected to the original 1343 church which was built in the shape of a cross with a lead-covered spire on top of a central tower. At night-time a light was lit from the spire called "The Lantern of Arden" to guide people through the huge forest which covered the area in those days.

Today there is a new "Lantern of Arden" created by artist Johnny White as part of the North Arden Heritage Trail. It is built from red sandstone (the same as the church). Parts of the lantern are inspired by the church - stainless steel panels mirror ancient themes and the history of the village; George Elliot, Astley Castle and 3 queens are also commemorated.


St Mary the Virgin Church

A church has existed on this site from 1285. The church today contains remains of some of the church built in 1343 as a chantry for Sir Thomas Astley and alterations and additions were made in 1607/08.

Unfortunately because we had dallied over tea and cake it was nearly 3.00 p.m. so I only had about 15 minutes to have a quick look round the church.

Altar and East Window

The Triptych is Flemish and given to the church by the Newdigate family.

The North and South Chancel windows hold remnants of stained glass from the original East Window.

The Venetian Gondola lanterns were given to the church in 1903 by Sir Francis Newdigate.

Above the stalls are painted Apostles and Prophets.

The walls of the Nave contain nine very beautiful 17th century painted texts showing quotes from the Bible and Prayer Book. They were conserved in 2010 by Tobit Curties Associates.

Original East window of the church on display high on the wall between Nave and Chancel.

The Grey Monument consists of 3 alabaster effigies (originally there were nine).

On the far left is an effigy of Cicely Bonville d1530 - 2nd wife of Thomas Grey, eldest son of Elizabeth Woodville from her first marriage. He was made Marquis of Dorset by Edward IV (who had married Elizabeth after the death of her first husband). Cicely and Thomas's eldest son was the grandfather of Lady Jane Grey.

In the centre the effigy is believed to be Elizabeth Talbot d 1483, wife of Edward Grey's young son Edward Lord Lisle.

On the the right is a representative of Sir Edward Grey d1437 - in the photo of the picture on the church wall showing the tomb from above you can see a stylised lion at his feet.

A headless brass of a woman who died c.1535.

I bought a few postcards as I was leaving and realised I had missed the 14th century misericords - too late to go back and get photos as more and more people were arriving for the service so here is a photo of a few on a postcard. There are 18 altogether!

I also missed the floor tiles but no postcard of those.

Post card of a painting of the church by Miles Sharp (1887 - 1973) - Principal of Nuneaton School of Art

Photo of another post card of a painting by Roger Orton of Nuneaton.

George Elliot, the author, was born within a mile of the village of Astley and in her novel "Scenes of Clerical Life: Mr Gilfil's Love Story" the village of Knebley in the novel is based on Astley and the castle here is used as Knebley Abbey. Her parents were married at the church in February 1813.

What look like old bricked up doorways in the side wall - I believe one of them originally led to a 14th century chapel.

The South Door and Porch are believed to be 17th century built when the church was altered in 1607.

Gravestones of varying ages.


Astley Castle


The Astley family held the Manor of Astley from the 12th century. The original castle was possibly built in 1170 by Philip Astley. Sir William Astley died in 1420 leaving the estate to his daughter who was married to Reginald Grey, 3rd Baron Grey de Ruthvyn who was a Border Lord from the borderlands between England and Wales. The Grey family rebuilt the castle (the building that can be seen today) in 1555. The Grey's lost the castle (after proclaiming Lady Jane Grey Queen - see below) and it was sold by the Crown.

The castle has connections with three English Queens. In 1452 when she was 15 Elizabeth Woodville (1437 - 1492) married John Grey and lived at the castle in the mid 15th century. John Grey died fighting for the Lancastrians at the Battle of St Albans in 1461 during the War of the Roses. Elizabeth was later wooed by Edward IV, the Yorkist's claimant to the throne and married him in 1464 when she became Queen. Two of her sons were the Young Princes who later died in the Tower. Some of you may have read The White Queen by Philippa Gregory (a book I had sorted out to take to the charity shop but have now retrieved!). Elizabeth's daughter, Elizabeth of York, became Queen in 1486 when the married Henry VII. Frances Brandon, grand-daughter of Elizabeth of York married Henry Grey and their daughter Lady Jane Grey was put on the throne in 1553. Her reign lasted 9 days. She, her father and husband were executed in 1554.

The castle was an important parliamentary stronghold during the Civil War. In the 1960's it became a hotel but was devastated by fire in 1978. It is currently being restored by The Landmark Trust after standing derelict for many years.

The castle is surrounded by a moat and mossy walls can be seen along the inner edge - possibly remnants of the original castle.

Dark Lane near the Castle leads to a holloway. These are made by the passage of people and vehicles over centuries which case a hollowing of the road which collects water speeding up the process of erosion. Eventually the holloway is well below the level of surrounding land and from the depth of this one it is believed to date back to medieval times. To be honest I always connect holloways with counties like Dorset so it was a pleasant surprise to discover one in Warwickshire! Sadly, I didn't have time to explore far as I had no idea where D had gone while I was in the church and it was time to go and look for him.

The castle is open occasionally (Heritage weekend in September is I think the next occasion) so I will go back at some stage to see more of the castle and church and walk around the castle trail and along the Holloway.

Sculpture seen in the village of Fillongley on the way home. It is entitled "The Family" and was erected in 2011. The sculptor/designer is Graeme Mitcheson and the statue is made of Kilkenny Limestone.


Green Man pub sign in Coleshill


*D - Photos taken by D with the Canon SX50


Various information boards at the church and castle


Leaflet on St Mary the Virgin Astley Church


Deborah RusticPumpkin said...

Shame we didn't get to see the cake on this visit, but, once again, jam packed with great photos and information! Thank you.
Well done on securing such a long sought after book.

Ragged Robin said...

DeborahRusticPumpkin Thank you. I nearly went out to the car to get the camera but tea room was full and tbh sometimes get a bit embarrassed at taking photos of cakes!! But one of the best slices of cake I have eaten out - only beaten by a Strawberry and Cream Victoria Sandwich at NT Upton House! :) Very pleased with the book :)

Simon Douglas Thompson said...

Tryptych and the stalls are very impressive

Ragged Robin said...

Simon Douglas Thompson - Thanks so much. A lot to see in that church :)

Margaret Adamson said...

Great informative post with lovely shots. that large bookshop woujld overwhelm me but glad you found the ook u were ooking for.

Rosie said...

What a wonderful post1 So much to take in about all the wonderful things in the church, I will come back and read some more later as we have a busy day ahead today. The book shop sounds wonderful, just the kind of shop I love and with the added bonus of cake too. It sounds a bit like a bookshop we love to visit at Brierlow Bar near Buxton. The two books you bought look great and I'm fascinated with the Grey connection to the church:)

amanda peters said...

What a great place, book shop, church ,castle and cake !
There is a large book shop at Alnwick northumberland and that is a bit to much to take in when you first walk in, so glad you managed to find these books, but you are costing me money as I've had to buy them too :) (any excuse)

The church inside is very fancy with so much to see, the lanterns look great, and the paintings on the stalls. What a great shape for the church too.

Sir Edward Grey looks very tall laying there, hope you get chance to go back. Astley castle another great place with lovely photos.
Have been looking at some of the events going on in Heritage week, so many I would like to do but they are on the same day ! I like the family sculpture and the pub sign for the Green man.

Great post and a good read.
Amanda xx

Ragged Robin said...

Margaret Adamson - Thanks so much Margaret. Yes, it was a little overwhelming. Once inside it just went on and on and then there was more round the corner! I had list of a few books I was looking for which helped and we never did visit the "ten bob" shed!!!

Rosie - Thanks very much Rosie. Hope you have a good day :) I think you could spend hours and hours at the bookshop! Yes, the Grey connection has fascinated me too as well as George Elliot - amazing what is within 30 minutes of home that I wasn't really aware of!

Amanda Peters - Thanks so much Amanda. So glad we explored the area and will return! lol! re: buying the books - I do hope you enjoy them - not started on them yet as I am working my way through the Beautiful Churches book :)

Yes, there was a lot to see in the church - felt a bit embarrassed as there were people there handing out prayer books and I never like taking photos in those circumstances so it was no wonder I missed some of the features - should have got there earlier!! Will return at some stage - would also like to see more of Astley Castle - you can stay there as there is a holiday home inside!! Would imagine it has an incredible atmosphere!

Yes Heritage week can be difficult as so many places you want to see open on the same day - last year it was around the time we went to Yorkshire so missed out. Apparently the Sutton Coldfield church I visited recently that was closed is open sadly I think on the same day as the Astley buildings :( Nearer the time will check all events and make decisions!

Rosie said...

I've just popped back to finish reading your post and thoroughly enjoyed the information about Astley Castle and all its connections. I hope you can get back at Heritage Open Days weekend to see more. There ae so many lovely places to visit it's hard to choose which ones:)

Ragged Robin said...

Rosie - Thanks so much - am so pleased you enjoyed :) It was so interesting to learn of Astley's connections with 3 queens something I was totally unaware of before the visit! Wonderful as Heritage Weekend is it is very difficult to decide where to go!! :)

Midmarsh John said...

The bookshop looks inviting, and in nice surroundings. I wonder what bargains are to be found in the 'ten bob barn'.

Ragged Robin said...

Midmarsh John - Thank you - it was a great discovery and I will report back on "ten bob barn" when we next visit :)

Caroline Gill said...

The bookshop looks right up my street! And the Timpson book looks an excellent find. What a difference it makes when our churches are able to be open... even if only at certain times. And I'm glad you had time for cake!

Ragged Robin said...

Caroline Gill -Thank you - you could spend a whole day browsing in that bookshop :) It is good when as you say churches open sometimes - this one every Sunday for a few hours and first Saturday in month again for a few hours and possibly bank holidays.

John Scurr said...

I have just been reading Northernvicar’s Blog and I realised the church he was writing about was in your part of the world, well North Warwickshire on the borders of Nuneaton and Bedworth which was probably also Warwickshire long ago.
I then found you had visited last year as well, although I have to admit I had forgotten that.
If you haven't read his blog you might like his take on the church, he does have a professional interest as well as an an interest in the history. The link is:

Ragged Robin said...

John Scurr - Thanks so very much for sending that link - I so enjoyed reading his post on the bookshop, Astley Church and Castle and seeing his photos. It looks a great website and I have bookmarked to return to and explore more.

I nearly went to Astley Castle a few weeks ago when they had an Open Day but there was another event on at the time (may have been Maxstoke Castle Open Day?) so I will try and go later in the year when I think Astley Castle and Church will be open for Heritage Weekend. The links with the three queens (and George Elliot) are fascinating.