Leominster, Pembridge, Weobly, Eardisland; all have exquisite churches dating from the twelfth, thirteenth, and fifteenth centuries. Kilpeck, on the other side of the river [Wye], has another, which, although one of the smallest in England, is one of our richest examples of Anglo-Norman Romanesque architecture.
Unfortunately, Victorian prudes defaced many of the quaint corbels that encircle the outside of the building*, but that is nothing to what happened at Shobdon when, in 1753, the second Lord Bateman pulled down a church which was at least the equal of Kilpeck, and probably grander. He did this not only in order that he might indulge his taste in ‘Strawberry Hill Gothic,’ but also that he might have some ruins as features in his park, a form of absurdity then very fashionable.
We read in one of Horace Walpole’s letters of the same year to Richard Bentley: ‘A little way from the town are the ruins of Llantony Priory: there remains a pretty old gateway, which G. Selwyn has begged, to erect on the top of his mountain, and it will have a charming effect.’ Walpole himself was, of course, the arch-priest of this kind of vandalism, but the high-water mark of stupidity and insincerity was probably reached by ‘one of the most notorious debauchees of the age,’ who added a church spire to a country cottage in order that there should be a point of focus in the vista from his windows.
The noble Bateman has left us the present Shobdon church, which, though dedicated nominally to the Almighty, was more certainly intended for the greater glory of his lordship. It certainly helps to perpetuate his memory.
I am surprised that his lordship allowed the fine old Norman font to remain in the church, but perhaps he thought of it as ‘a feature,’ as he certainly regarded the carved doors and tympana of the old church when he re-erected them on the summit of a windswept hill. There, exposed to frost and rain, these carvings, in soft stone designed for the interior of a building, have slowly mouldered so that they are now but ghosts of their former glory.
‘Coming Down the Wye,’ Robert Gibbings. J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1942.
*Gibbings’ assertion of an attack by Victorian prudes may be a mistaken impression. In fact, the carvings at Kilpeck are known for their remarkable state of preservation.