The Church of Saint Mary, Humber
The shingled spire of Saint Mary’s Church, Humber rises gently above the trees indicating its location beside the south bank of the Humber brook. The steps within a lovely lychgate lead into the churchyard of ancient sandstone memorials.
The present building is now largely of thirteenth century origin consisting of the nave, chancel and unbuttressed west tower, but there has probably been a place of worship on this site in earlier times. The Domesday book of 1086 records the ploughland of Humber belonging to the King’s manor of Leominster and held for him by Roger de Lacy, a formidable Norman knight whose family were instrumental in building and fortifying Ludlow castle. The font retains some early Romanesque carving of a single cable roll moulding which encircles the stone bowl, a remaining artefact of the time.
In 1148 the Bishop of Hereford consecrated a cemetery at ‘their Chapel in Humber’ for Walter del Mans and his wife Agnes. Walter and Agnes subsequently gave their church at Humber to the monks of Brecon Priory. Why they should do this remains a mystery. However, their gift enabled careful chronicles to be kept of the clergy and ministers of Humber from the year 1217, which have been continued until the present day. These records provide a fascinating insight into the life and times of the incumbents of Humber.
In his book ‘Saints and Sinners of the Marches’ our Dean, Michael Tavinor writes of Richard Hawes the clergyman who became Rector of Humber in 1630. Several years after his ordination ‘he continued, much addicted to vain company and was sometimes guilty of excessive drinking ‘.
When the Civil War began, and Hereford was garrisoned by the Royalists he was imprisoned for a time. This experience seems to have changed him, for on his release he turned to nonconformity and became ‘a plain, earnest and useful preacher ‘.
The Restoration of Charles II turned his life upside down again, as he found himself back in prison. As he refused to conform to the Prayer Book in 1661 he was ejected from the Diocese by the Bishop of Hereford, but retired to live the rest of his life with his son in law, who was then vicar of Weobley, where he was said to be greatly satisfied with his nonconformity!
A quite different rector Oliver Hughes MA who died in 1671 is remembered by a memorial of slate and freestone carving with a shield of arms on the south wall of the chancel.
In 1869 Philip John Scudamore Stanhope MA was installed as Rector where he was to live until the end of his life. As a Magistrate and Chaplain to the 6th Herefordshire Rifle Corps based at Leominster, he was influential. As the youngest son of Sir Edwyn Francis Scudamore Stanhope he followed his elder brother Berkley into the church. Berkley married Caroline Arkwright whose father John Arkwright was patron of Humber Church. Philip’s elder brother Chandos entered the Navy becoming Private Secretary to the first Lord of the Admiralty. He died in Malta of smallpox while in command of HMS Caledonia (one of the first ironclad ships) .He received the Royal Humane Society Medal in 1851 for saving the life of a seaman and is remembered to this day by the Stanhope Gold medal awarded by the society. His memorial is at Holme Lacy church showing an angel rising from a rock alongside an anchor and a fleet of ships.
The memorial to his brother Philip, the Rector of Humber, is in many ways no less impressive and certainly tells us something about the regard that his parishioners held for him.
In 1884 Francis Bacon the architect was instructed to draw up plans to ‘restore and raise the tower of the church twelve feet and the spire thirty-six feet’ making a total of eighty one feet in height, all in memory of their late Rector.
The spire was carefully restored by the parish in 1980 and faced with new wooden shingles, where it can be seen drawing our attention to the presence of Saint Mary’s church and reminding us of the people who lived , worked and worshipped in the valley of the Humber brook .