St Andrew's Church
Links between the parish church and Bradfield College go back a long way
A letter written by Thomas Stevens in 1849
In 1848, two years before the foundation of St Andrew’s College, the Rev. Thomas Stevens undertook a significant remodelling of the village church as a memorial to his parents. This ambitious project designed by Stevens’ old friend, the great Gothic revival architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, cost Stevens in the order of £30,000 and its completion involved the demolishing of a great amount of medieval building. The old church was Early English pre 14th century, with the addition of a brick tower in the 16th century which still remains. In Blackie’s Bradfield 1850 -1975, it is said that having rebuilt the church, Stevens wished to have full cathedral-like choral services and so he founded a school for sons of gentlemen to supplement the local village choristers.
Below is a photo from Easter 1887 showing the church choir of villagers and College boys, just as Stevens had envisaged it.
The roof of the church and the internal fittings were all carved from Bradfield oak, the iron work was made by the local Bradfield blacksmith, the interior was entirely faced with chalk ashlar, quarried in the village quarry (now the Greek theatre), and the exterior of the Church was made entirely from local flint.
Gilbert Scott, wrote in his Recollections, ‘The period over which the work at Bradfield Church extended was a time of great pleasure, owing to my constant and most friendly communication with Mr Stevens…’ and he goes on to describe Stevens as ‘...perhaps the most valued friend I have…’
In the archive here at Bradfield we have the original letter books of the Rev. Thomas Stevens, detailing this project and daily life from around the time St Andrew’s College was founded. The image above is a letter from Stevens to a neighbouring clergyman from 1849, describing the temporary lack of stained glass in the remodelled church windows. William Wailes was the stained-glass maker for the project. It reads:
“…we are still obliged to wait for our windows. Poor Wailes has been and is very ill, confined to his bed unable even to write…our patience has been happily well trained, or we should be desperate, quite! The drafts on south side of our choir are most truly rheumatic…”
Also in the archive, is the drafting of an act to authorise the consecration of a new chapel for St Andrew’s College. It is not dated but it outlines the early plans – probably in the early 1870s - to build a dedicated chapel for the school. Thomas Stevens was the Warden of the College, but also Rector of the parish and he was concerned that after his death, the close relationship between parish church and College may not necessarily be continued. The Warden wished a new chapel to be built “exempt from any control or interference whatever by the Rector of the Parish.”
Longstanding tensions had not taken long to arise from the Church’s dual role as Parish Church and College Chapel: school sermons were not always fitting for the general public; the parishoners could not usually sit in their preferred seats and the best part of the choir – the school boys – were away for fifteen weeks of the year.
Below are views of St Andrew’s Church from the time when the Chapel and College were closely interlinked. The view was fittingly much more open than it is nowadays, as there was no thick boundary hedge to separate the church from the College grounds and playing fields.