History

Astley is a small village in the Borough and Liberties of Shrewsbury and from the time of the Anglo-Saxons until 1860 the church was a chapel to the Collegiate Church of St Mary in Shrewsbury.  At the Danegeld Survey (circa 990 AD) the parish was calculated to be 3 hides in size. At the Domesday Survey (1086) St Mary’s Church, Shrewsbury held 3 hides in “Heslie”.  It was further recorded that “a priest with 9 villagers and 2 smallholders has 3 ploughs; a further 2 ploughs would be possible; woodland for fattening 50 pigs. The value was 20s now25s.”  The mention of a priest indicates the presence of a church building in Astley at that date.

During the 12th and 13th Centuries, Haughmond Abbey owned more and more land, and the Manor of Astley, owned by St Mary’s Church, Shrewsbury, blocked the Abbey’s expansion to the North.  There were frequent disputes between the monks and the canons of St Mary’s over land boundaries and in 1257 a charter declared that the boundaries were “from ye field of Sundern direct to Blakelake and to ye white sicket towards Witheforde.” While the monks could not get the land in Astley they were granted pasture rights in the Manor on payment of 12d a year to St Mary’s Church.

At the dissolution of the Chantries in the reign of Edward VI the land at Astley was leased for 21 years to Robert Clyve “one of the Clerks of the Checker with the King’s Majestie.”  In the reign of Elizabeth I the land was given to the Corporation of Shrewsbury for the benefit of Shrewsbury Schools.  The Governors of Shrewsbury Schools became patrons and frequently the Minister of Astley was the Under-Master of Shrewsbury Schools. The Governors ceased to be Patrons of Astley in 1986.
 Although there was a priest in Astley before the Norman Conquest there is no evidence of the church building of that period.  Eyton, in his Antiquities of Shropshire, suggests that, as Astley Church was a church in which baptisms were celebrated, it was therefore in no “low subjection to St Mary’s”.

Dean Cranage, in his Architectural Survey of Shropshire Churches, states that the chief item of interest in the church is the blocked South doorway of the transitional period (1173 -1273).   The dripstone is moulded in the Norman manner and has a series of rudimentary dog-tooth ornaments upon it.  Over this doorway can be seen evidence of a porch.  The outside South wall also contains a series of indentations which tradition says were made by men sharpening their swords and arrowheads.  The small window by the South doorway has the date 1586 carved on the tracery outside.

The East wall was built in the decorated period (1300–1400) and contains stained glass which is reputed to have come from St Mary’s Church, Shrewsbury.  The 3 figures depicted are King Edgar, St Michael and St Catherine. King Edgar founded St Mary’s, Shrewsbury, which church has chapels dedicated to St Michael and St Catherine.
 In the chancel is a square-headed door which dates from the Elizabethan period.  The Western end of the North wall may be from the decorated period.
 In 1830 it was decided to build a vestry on the North side of the church and at a meeting in 1839 it was decided to purchase a small looking-glass, a small stove and a chamber pot for the vestry.  According to Cranage there was a roundel containing the Royal Arms of William IV but this has been missing for at least 40 years.

The church tower, which has been described as a “poor gothic structure” was built in 1837. It seems likely that the bell was moved from a small housing over the main roof to this tower at that time (a watercolour of 1786 in the Shropshire Archives shows this housing and the porch referred to earlier). It has subsequently been discovered that this bell is the oldest in the Lichfield Diocese, having been cast in around 1270, probably on site, by a travelling bell founder.

The church was restored in 1883 because the roof was leaking. The roof was repaired, although there are remnants of the medieval beams in the roof. A new heating system was installed and it was also decided to convert the pews to open seats and to pull down the gallery.

In 1898 the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria was celebrated by a tea and supper being held in Astley House for all the parishioners.

In 1918 a public meeting decided to install a new church clock as a war memorial and the Memorial Tablet was unveiled on 14th August 1919.  The old medieval clock was given to the Shrewsbury Museum; according to tradition, this clock originally came from St Mary’s, Shrewsbury and was the one referred to in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I “fought a long hour by Shrewsbury clock.”
The rood screen, altar and reredos, designed by Sir Charles Nicholson, together with the re-ordering of the chancel were carried out in the 1930s. The Priest’s stall is a memorial to the Reverend A Meggison (Vicar 1926-1949), and the Lectern is a memorial to the Reverend D D Price (Vicar 1950-1982).  The font cover was made by the carpenters at RAF Shawbury and dedicated to the memory   of George Dodds at a commemoration service in February 2008.

Please go to the Bell Restoration page to read about the re-hanging of our bells in 2012.

Click here to see the list of incumbents at St Mary's from 1903.