St Laurence's West Woodhay

    St Laurence Church, West Woodhay

The current church was built in 1882 on a new site in the village by Sir Arthur Bloomfield, a well-known Victorian Architect, for William Cole, who had acquired the estate in 1880. It’s initial construction cost was £3,000 and it is built in a simple flint and Bath stone in the then fashionable Early English style.

Today the church, now consists of a chancel, aisleless nave, south porch and tower on the south side containing two bells, the larger one cast by Robert Cor in 1717 for the previous church.

It is the third church to be built in the village, earliest records for the first, built possibly by the Lords St. Amand are in 1302. This was pulled down in 1717 as it was reputed to be falling down. It was replaced by a classical revival building designed by the architect of Blenheim Palace, Sir John Vanbrugh for the previous owner, William Sloper.He had been acquainted with Vanbrugh, through work and social connections. There is some evidence that Sir John’s designs were influenced by Inigo Jones who had planned a new church at when he had designed West Woodhay House in 1635 for Sir Benjamin Rudyerd.

Little remains of both these churches which were situated in the gardens of West Woodhay House. Their foundations are featured as part of a recently created Italian Garden. Ninety-six magnificent medieval floor tiles discovered from the medieval church in 1882, were incorporated into the wall of the Memorial Chapel in the current church as well as the stone memorial to Lt Gen James Butler, which was seemingly the only wall memorial in the old Vanbrugh church.

In 1894, twelve years after construction of the current church the nave was extended by 12 feet to allow for a central heating system to be installed under the church and for the installation of the font. At the same time the vestry and organ chamber were added onto the north side of the chancel.

In 1902 to celebrate the relief of Ladysmith and the safe return of Horace de Vere Cole, who was wounded in the Boer War, a fine Willis (Henry Willis the younger) organ was installed with an oak screen in front of the organ chamber and vestry.

The sanctuary windows are by William Morris, the designer of his day, with the central window of the crucifixion the work of Sir Edward Burne-Jones. The rather lightless nave windows are by Powell of London illustrating the Te Deum and were installed in 1890 in memory of William Cole.

The carvings on the pulpit, lectern and pew ends were the work of Jessie Cole, daughter of William Cole, with another daughter Edith, embroidering many of the hangings including some of the altar frontals. The carvings over the altar are by the Belgium artist Goyer.

Henry William Henderson, who purchased the estate in 1920, panelled the nave in memory of his sister Caroline and after the second world war the family was responsible for lighting the interior oak roof timbers so the work of the Victorian craftsmanship could be admired. His grandson and wife Johnny and Sarah Henderson presented the church with the three cherubs from the castle of Moy.

There are a number of memorials adorning the walls the most notable are the ones to Johnny Henderson, Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire, Sir Howard Elphinstone, who won a VC at Sebastopol, Mrs Neville Chamberlin and her family, the wife of the former Prime Minister and a granddaughter of William Cole plus a fine bronze medallion featuring Lt Com

Donald Lewis DSO, married on the first day of the first war and killed two years later. Other members of the Cole and Henderson family are well represented along with the names of other village inhabitants all of whom have faithfully served their Kings, Queens, country and the West Woodhay village over the last 150 years.

Adjacent to the churchyard is a memorial in memory of Sarah Henderson who was tragically killed, following a hunting accident in 1972.  Johnny Henderson commissioned James (Jim) Russell to design the garden and John Griffin to build the pavilion.

The church is now part of the Walbury Beacon Benifice. Other local churches in the Benefice include Inkpen, Hampstead Marshal, Enbourne, Combe, and Kintbury with Avington.