Exterior

 

 
Northeast corner of chancel with mediaeval foundations and reused sil

The site chosen by the Augustinians for the priory was the former bed of a glacial lake, one of the few level tracts of land in the valley. There are no visible remains of the domestic buildings, though there is a tradition that foundations could formerly be seen to the north of the church. This was largely rebuilt and nothing of the architectural detail appears to be mediaeval, aside from a single dressed stone incorporated in the north-east quoin, which seems to have been part of a window sill. The somewhat irregular foundations of the original church can be seen at ground level, particularly to the east and north, and it could be that sandstone quoins, possibly from Grinshill, were re-used for the present church. An excavation outside the north wall of the chancel was made during an archaeological survey prior to the 1992 restoration and this revealed foundations constructed of small blocks and fragments of local stone, roughly coursed and bonded with brown clay. Two fragments of an early mediaeval earthenware cooking pot were recovered, one being embedded immediately beneath the lowest course of the foundations, indicating that the latter were evidently part of the priory church. In another trench, near the north-west corner of the churchyard, what appeared to be the cobbled surface of a yard was discovered at a depth of about 2 feet (0.6 m). At the time of the Dissolution (c. 1535) the church was presumably in a useable condition, since an incumbent (Sir Lances Philson) is recorded for 1549.

1625 inscription on door

The massive oak south door is heavily studded with wrought-iron nails and bears the inscription 'Anno Domini 1625 made and given by Humpfrey Biggs and Tho. Bright then Churchwardens'. The present church and porch may therefore date from the first quarter of the 17th century. All walls which could be seen from the road, or when approaching the church from the south, were faced with blocks of Stiperstones quartzite.

Longmynian rubble masonry and blocked window of north wall

The restorers did not take the same trouble over the north wall, which is mainly of darker and irregulasr Longmyndian rubble-masonry, with some patches of paler quartzite. There is also evidence of a blocked window in this wall. The most suitable local material for building purposes is the Pentamerus stone, known as 'Government Rock', due to its abundance of arrow-like fossils, and this came from quarries near Norbury. However, there is no evidence of it in the fabric of the church, though it was used in the mill, barns and other buildings in the valley from later in the 17th century and subsequently.

Part of 1698 map of ‘The Town of Ratchop’

On a semi-pictorial map of 1698 the church dominates the village; it is shown as having a high roof over the nave and a tall tower at the west end, surmounted by a large cross. However, this was clearly more fantasy than fact, since then, as now, the church had a simple plan, with a continuous nave and chancel, and a weatherboard belfry.

 

After acquiring the manor in 1845, Robert Scott's main contribution to the fabric of the church was the insertion of a double iron-framed window in the south-west corner of the nave, just visible behind the yew tree in the c.1868 photograph. This was then the only one on the south side of the church and, from the dimensions of an infilled aperture, there was a similar one in the north wall. This type of window, with distinctive lancet lights at the top, was installed c.1850 in farms, houses and inns throughout the Scott estates. Examples can still be seen in the parishes of Norbury, Ratlinghope and Wentnor, though they have gradually been replaced by modern windows.

St Margaret's Church about 1868, showing shingle roof and stove pipe in southeast corner. 'Scott' window just visible behind yew tree.

A major restoration of the church was undertaken in 1905 by Scott's daughter-in-law, Mahlah, in memory of her husband's family and also her parents, who lived at Cradley in Worcestershire. The heavy roof covering consisting of reducing courses of shingle was replaced by Welsh slate and an oak Celtic cross, which was renewed in 1980, was mounted on the eastern gable. The main structural alteration was the replacement of all the existing windows and the provision of two additional ones in the south wall, all in neo-Gothic (Early English) style except that in the west wall. A plaque high on the outside of the west wall commemorates the restoration and the reopening of the church by the Bishop of Hereford in October 1905. Re-roofing was again necessary as part of a substantial restoration in 1992.

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