St. Michael’s Church was built originally as a Lord of the Manor’s private chapel. It is thought to have been rebuilt in its present form between 1158 and 1189. It is constructed of local stone in the Norman and Early English styles. Until 1966 it was a Chapel of Ease belonging to St. Peter’s, Northampton (i.e. within St. Peter’s parish, and used by those living at a distance from St. Peter’s parish church).
Church ExteriorOver the South Porch is the remains of the coat of arms of the Knightley family, probably placed there when they added the porch to the church, before selling the estate to the Samwells in 1600.
The north and south doorways have three overhead stepped arches, and the priest’s doorway has a two-stepped arch. There is a mass dial at the Priest’s door east side, in the west wall and in the South Porch. Mass dials can be found on old churches to measure time. A piece of wood in the centre hole let the sun cast its shadow on to the dials to indicate when it was Mass time.
The tower has two 14th century belfry windows. At the top of the tower is the old clock. Its iron weights fall down some 40ft to operate the clock, and last a week from their high settings. The clock has only one face, which can only be read, from Upton Hall – a sign that the church was originally a family church.
Church InteriorNear the north doorway is a 17th century oak chest, where parish valuables and documents were stored. Near the south doorway is the 17th century Communion Table, which served as the altar here, until the present altar was installed in 1907.
Walls & RoofThe walls were scraped of their plaster and their stonework exposed during the 1893 restoration. The shallowly pitched tiebeam roofs were also installed during the restoration, and are replacements of the 15th or early 16th century ones.
In the west walls, each side of the 14th century tower arch, are two tiny openings (a quatrefoil to the south and a cross-shape to the north), through which people could look into the church from the upper floors of the two chambers each side of the tower. It is thought that such chambers had upper floors and maybe provided accommodation, when needed, for a priest or sexton.
Beneath the southern quatrefoil is a rectangular opening, which is filled with 15th century traceried woodwork – possibly from the former rood screen or maybe even made especially for it.
ChancelThe church has some interesting remains of the Knightley and Samwell families. Most striking is the chest tomb of Sir Richard Knightley and his wife, Jane in the north wall of the chancel. This has been damaged, partly by its move from the right side of the altar, but possibly also by time, church restorers, or by the deliberate actions of the Cromwellian forces in the Civil War, as is believed locally. Sir Richard is shown in plate armour with his helm, while his lady is richly dressed with flowing hair.
The stained glass east window dates from a restoration of the chancel in 1850, although was not completed until 1870. It contains a representation of the Crucifixion and the Passion.
There are three recesses in the chancel walls. On the south side of the sanctuary is what was probably a piscina, (its drain has now gone) beneath a trefoil-headed arch. Beside it is a small opening, which extends through the wall. In the east wall is a rectangular aumbry (there is another in the north wall, behind the tomb), which was a cupboard for storing the Sacred Vessels.
Chancel, north wall
- 16th and 17th century members of the Samwell family, including Sir William, who purchased Upton.
- Thomas Samwell Watson Samwell, J. P. (died 1831), including biography and an epitaph.
- Wenman Langham Watson Samwell (died 1841).
Chancel, east wall
- Clarissa Woodford, granddaughter of Sir Thomas Samwell (died 1846).
- Catherine, daughter of Sir Thomas Samwell (died 1790) and her husband, Thomas Atherton Watson (died 1793).
- Small rectangular 19th century plaque to Sir William Samwell (died 1627).
- Frances Watson Samwell, widow of Thomas (died 1841).
- Camilla, sister of Wenman Langham Watson (died 1817); beneath it is a tablet to her, once set in the floor.
Chancel, south wall
- Sir Thomas Samwell (the 3rd Baronet of that name, who died in 1779).
- An oval inscription under glass to James Harrington (died 1677), whose mother was the sister of Sir Richard Samwell. He was a friend of King Charles I and of King Charles II and was the author of a book entitled “Oceana”.
- Sir Thomas Samwell (the 2nd Baronet), who died in 1757. There is a long inscription to him and, beneath, a message: “Courteous stranger, disturb not his ashes, which are here deposited in expectation of the great and tremendous Day of Judgement, what a man he was”.
HatchmentsFour diamond-shaped Hatchments hang in the western part of the nave. These coats of arms (depicting back-to-back squirrels cracking nuts: the arms of the Samwells) were displayed over the front door when a death and funeral took place, and were later placed in the church as a memorial. They commemorate:
- Elizabeth, wife of Sir Wenman Samwell (4th Baronet), who died in 1789. The motto means “I will arise”.
- Sir Thomas Samwell (1st Baronet), who died in 1693. The motto means “At rest in heaven”.
- Sir Thomas Samwell (3rd Baronet), who died in 1779. The motto means “Christ is the rule of life”.
- Sir Thomas Samwell (2nd Baronet), who died in 1757.
Around the church are some old and interesting graves, but as the local residents still care for and visit the graves any inspection should be undertaken with care and respect. The graveyard is also a conservation area, so the plants and wildlife should not be harmed.
St Michael’s TodaySt Michael’s was declared redundant a few years ago, and is now cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust. Quinton House School uses the church for occasional services for the pupils, and helps with its upkeep.
Viewing St Michael’sThe church can be viewed by arrangement with Quinton House School during school opening hours. To arrange a visit, telephone 01604 752050.
Friends of St Michael’sFor information about how you can help to restore and enhance this piece of our local heritage, see Friends of St Michael’s.
ReferencesA History of Upton and Berrywood, by Fred Golby (Warwick Printing Company, Warwick, 1994)
A Brief History of Upton, Northampton (second edition 1995) by Kathleen A. Healey BA, Cert. Ed., printed and produced for Quinton House School.
Quinton House School Website