ST PETER AD VINCULA CHURCH
AND THE REV’D JOHN LUCY
The life and work of the Rev’d John Lucy still dominates the physical appearance of our village after nearly two hundred years. If you glance at the homepage photographs you can appreciate that the dominant features of the present day are the imposing rectory and a church capable of seating four hundred people. The view would have been very similar in the 1800s when the village was an even smaller purely agricultural community.
John Lucy was born in 1790. He was the younger son of John Hammond Lucy and brother of George Lucy of Charlecote Park. He became rector in the parish in 1815 and enjoyed the Church Living until he died in 1874, during which time the village was transformed. When he moved to the village, a small mediaeval church served the parish.
In the early nineteenth century, before the Reform Act was passed, Government was both by and for the landed and Church interests and there were few restrictions on the power of the ruling classes in matters concerning their perceived ambitions. The economy was essentially agrarian – steam power and railways were still to make their mark. Political and clerical advancement was largely by patronage and family connections. There were huge disparities in church incomes but John Lucy was one of the fortunate ones. In addition to the income from Hampton Lucy he also held the advowsons of Charlecote, Wasperton and Alverston.
In 1778 his mother had made a bequest of £900 for specific improvements to that church. They were never carried out but, with cumulative interest, the endowment had increased to £9000 by the early eighteen hundreds! Her son decided to use the funds, together with a substantial amount from his own resources, to build a completely new church. (His sister-in-law, Mary Elizabeth Lucy, embarked upon a similar course of action with St Leonard’s Church, Charlecote, some twenty-five years later.) The combined tithes and church fees, plus his mother’s bequest, provided the money for his ambitious plans.
He improved many dilapidated tumbledown cottages in the village before turning his attention to the church itself. His chosen architects were the Birmingham partnership of Thomas Rickman and Henry Hutchinson – outstanding ecclesiastical architects of their time. The first ston was laid by his father, John Hammond Lucy, in 1822 and St Peter’s was consecrated by the Bishop of Worcester in 1826. The initial cost was £23,000 at a time when more than half of the ordained clergy had annual incomes of less than £100! The old mediaeval church was simply demolished. Henry Hutchinson was so proud of the new St Peter’s, their magnus opus, that he lies buried there.
The style of John Lucy’s new church is Decorated, a term coined by Thomas Rickman himself, and was built in Gloucestershire sandstone with octagonal pillars and a lofty arched ceiling. Changes were later made to the chancel and the addition of an ornate apsidial sanctuary by the eminent Victorian architect, Sir Gilbert Scott in 1856. There is no doubt about the beauty of Scott’s additions. Some critics claim they are not in harmony with Rickman and Hutchinson’s original creation but Nikolaus Pevsner shows no such reservations in his detailed and universally admired architectural guide: ‘The Buildings of England.’
The stained glass windows, especially those behind the altar, are of outstanding beauty.
The glorious windows in the apse are by Willement and date from 1837. They depict scenes from the life of St Peter. Also displayed are the Royal Arms of Mary Tudor and Philip of Spain – interestingly as, in the sixteenth century, Sir Thomas Lucy was very much involved with the search for recusant Catholic priests and the families who concealed them! The windows also feature the coat of arms of The Bishop of Worcester and a representation of the arms and the three pikes of the Lucy family.
On the north aisle there is a window dedicated to John Lucy. The twelve clerestory windows on the south side are in geometrical designs with deep reds and blues. To fully appreciate the beauty and magnificence of the stained glass, choose a clear morning in high summer.
The windows of the apse shine with incandescent beauty in the morning sun and the vibrant colours of the south facing clerestory windows are projected onto the opposite wall with stunning effect.
Let us return to Rev’d John Lucy’s influence on the parish. He farmed, rode to hounds, was a keen shooter of game birds and deer, and entertained guests regularly and lavishly. He harried village backsliders and put the fear of God into the school children, whom he catechised. In common with other gentry who could afford it, he held frequent and grand dinner parties but the ford across the Avon was often impassable following heavy rain, preventing guests from arriving at a fine rectory which they could see but could not reach. John’s solution was as dramatic as it was typical – to commission, at his own expense, one of the earliest cast iron road bridges. The beautiful ironwork was cast at the Horsley Iron Works in Shropshire and erected in 1829. It still provides the only eastern approach to Hampton Lucy.
Why did he do it? Because he could and was able to fund the lifestyle into which he was born and wished to continue to enjoy. He employed curates to minister to the souls of his parishioners whilst he enjoyed the society of his own class. Having said that, he was a generous benefactor to those in need, was respected and loved by most, and greatly mourned when he died at the age of 84. He was not, in fact, a true Lucy – sharing an indirect distaff lineage with the original Norman family. Nonetheless, he left a lasting legacy. At the time of building his new church, the Napoleonic Wars were a recent memory and goods were still transported by horse and cart or canal barges; when he died in 1874, canals were starting to lose trade to the national railway network that was being built and the Reform Act of 1832 had transformed the political landscape of Great Britain. In his day, the village was populated by agricultural workers – today few local residents work on the land. As was usual in those times, he was able to build the church and the iron bridge without any need for reference to or approval of a public authority. By comparison, in today’s structured environment it can take several years to plan and build just a few extra houses. John Lucy would not have recognised our modern society or our social values, just as we have little instinctive understanding of the autocratic independence and power that was then vested in his class.
He died a wealthy bachelor without a direct heir, leaving his money and property in trust to the parish. Those charitable funds are still administered by The John Lucy Trust for the benefit of St Peter ad Vincula Church and the Hampton Lucy Church of England Primary School and Nursery.
Nearly two hundred years after his death we continue to benefit from his financial legacy and can appreciate and enjoy his magnificent church, his splendid eighteenth century rectory and a fine, historic and invaluable road bridge over the River Avon.
Peter Rodgers (November 2016)