The Building - a brief historical overview


A brief overview of how the shape of the building has changed over the last 800 years.

When it was built about 1190 (on the ground surface, without foundations) Holy Cross was a cruciform shape, though not quite symmetrical; the North Transept, said to be the smallest in England, unusually was smaller than the South Transept. Entrances were at the western end of the nave and the south side of the small chancel, the `priest`s door`. There was no seating. A stone font was installed, probably situated inside the western door.

The building did not remain unchanged for very long and each subsequent century saw some structural modification. In the 13th the chancel was extended to about twice its original length and a century later, probably by 1350, by half as much again. The first major change elsewhere in the church took place during the 15th century , probably by 1450, when a bell tower was added as an extension to the western end of the nave, with the western entrance becoming an arch leading from the tower into the nave. A steeple containing three bells topped off the tower, according to an inventory of 1552. The roof of the chancel was renewed at or about the same time as the tower was built, and it was about then that pews were probably installed. Late in the 16th century the top was redesigned and rebuilt, possibly because the steeple was unsafe.

Following the Reformation, the building`s decor changed from rich colour to austerity, with the Word, both written and spoken, dominating the life of Holy Cross, although an inventory of 1552 shows that the church had retained some of its ornament and objects of religious significance. By 1569, however, these must have gone as in that year John Lane, a noted preacher who had served as one of Henry VIII`s commissioners and been an active supporter of the Reformation, was appointed rector

As the 16th century drew to a close a decision was taken to reconstruct the top of the tower. Whether the reason was that the steeple was in danger of collapse or that there was a desire to install heavier bells is not known, although a new bell was definitely hung in 1606. Probably it was at the time of this rebuilding that the alignment of the tower`s roof ridge became transverse to that of the nave. As well as the new bell a pulpit was also installed in 1606, at the centre of the southern side of the nave.

Perhaps reflecting the decline of the Christian faith during the 18th century, no further modification was made until the second decade of the 19th. The evangelical awakening had no doubt taken root when in 1815, thanks to private contributions, two upper galleries were added, one each side of the tower arch, and three years later a large vestry was built south of the chancel. The external doorway from the chancel was blocked at this time.

Almost immediately on setting foot in Holy Cross as its new rector in 1859, Edward Ryley set about planning a major work of restoration and refurbishment. The build ing was in danger of becoming a ruin and the work, masterminded by architect Sir Gilbert Scott, was extensive. The galleries and box pews were removed, as were ceilings from the nave, chancel and both transepts. The pulpit was moved to its present position, with the pedestal reduced by 3-4 feet. The floor of the chancel was raised and the door from it blocked. The large vestry was replaced with a smaller one, with a door into the South Transept. The major change, however, was the building of a North and a South Aisle, housing the organ and font respectively. Also new were a replacement porch, reading desk, additional pews, and a plain glass window on the south wall of the chancel. See below for the transcript of Edward Ryley`s History Paper given at the time.

No further extension or structural change has been made since 1866, although a great deal of internal furnishing has been modified, including the introduction of much stained glass and panelling, a new organ, and new bells. A coal cellar was dug out in 1914, and six years later a lych-gate was erected.

And finally, right at the end of the last millenium, the roof was renewed with handmade clay tiles as near a match as possible with to those they replaced.