Pipe Dreams, our renewal and restoration project, will create modern facilities, develop key community initiatives as well as serving as an historic place marker.
Pershore Abbey Church is a landmark church in the heart of Worcestershire and is well-known for its welcoming atmosphere, popular concerts, and both its history and historic architecture. At its heart is a practical and hospitable Christianity that comforts and cares for those in need and inspires all who visit; a place where people of all ages still gather to pray, share their spiritual journey, seek help and mark significant life events. It plays a valuable role in drawing the town and wider community together for important civic and cultural events, reminding us that this church is for everyone
The project aims to enable us to help those in greatest need, and enrich people’s lives through worship, social care and in time internationally renowned musical performances, in spaces fit for the purpose.
Pershore Abbey is both a significant and magnificent building with the present structure dating back to 1020. Although, it is well documented that there were others before then which date all the way back to 689. As one of England’s Greater Churches and a Grade 1 listed building, the Abbey stands at the heart of the Market Town of Pershore. It is believed to be, by many noteworthy scholars, one of the finest examples of Norman and early English Architecture in England. The Abbey was one of the largest medieval abbeys, bigger at one time than Worcester Cathedral. It was part of a vast monastery, with a significant cloister, kitchens, a refectory, a brewery and bakery, gardens, orchards and barns. It was also a wealthy landowner in the area with many farms, woods and quarries, making it almost self-sustaining.
The structure of the Abbey, its contents and its religious life, indeed its very existence, cannot be straightforwardly separated from its local, national and even international political contexts.
One King of Mercia, Aethelred, made Pershore Abbey possible. Another King of England, Henry VIII, dissolved it. The implications of their actions are still felt in the town and the Country today.
The original Abbey was surrendered to the Kings Commissioners at the ‘Dissolution of the Monasteries’ followed in 1540 by the destruction of the monastic buildings, the Norman nave, the Lady Chapel and St Edburga's Chapel. To their credit the parishioners of Pershore rescued what they could, purchasing the monks' quire for £400 for it to serve as their parish church (today that is nearly £370,000 and is equivalent to 13,000 days worked by a skilled tradesman). Nowadays the Abbey church stands in the original Abbey grounds, ‘Abbey Park’, a proud survivor of an extraordinary period in history.
Rebuilding, and remodelling have produced a mixture of Norman, Early English, Decorated Gothic and Victorian architecture. The past of Pershore Abbey since its beginnings in 681AD is fascinating, informing, remarkable but most of all exceptionally important to the historical journey of Britain today.
Pershore Abbey sits in the heart of the community, a place of worship focussed on the life and needs of the wider community.
Often a place without walls, as the Priest -in- Charge and her team would say, as they work tirelessly dealing with all the problems that the 21st century is identifying.
The congregation is robust, engaged and eloquent about their church. Over the last few years, numbers have slightly increased which has bucked the trend that others are seeing nationally. The Abbey is fortunate to have an exceptionally healthy ‘Friends of Pershore Abbey’ and more importantly, a remarkable list of volunteers who work tirelessly for the benefit of the Abbey.
Today funding is the biggest challenge for staff and volunteers. Funding to employ more staff, funding to undertake more parochial work and funding to fix the issues with the building.
The south transept,crossing and stumps of the north transept and nave.
The Quire, the western bay of the Lady chapel and the north and north-east chapels and part of the south-east chapel.
Choir vault, crossing tower, the sacristy in the angle of the south transept and the southern choir aisle and the remodelled south-east chapel area.
Pershore may not have been one of the wealthiest Benedictine abbeys in England, but it did have a tradition of always being at the forefront of architectural development. The Romanesque church was one of only three to be fully vaulted, and the early gothic phase shows the considerable talents of the age; the rebuilding after the fire in 1288 produced perhaps the earliest lierne (ploughshare) vault in England.
The Victorian additions to the church include the gothic style west window which is filled with glass by Clayton and Bell who also designed the painting which covers the whole of the west wall. In the opinion of Warwick Rodwell, an eminent church archaeologist and historian, this Victorian ensemble is essential and though once glorious It is now seriously in need of restoration before it is lost forever.
Pershore Abbey is unusual in having a ‘quire’ rather than a nave. It did have a nave, but it was demolished during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Pershore’s quire and the aisles and north-east chapel were built after the fire in 1223, and the magnificent ploughshare ceiling was constructed after a further fire in 1288.
These were identified by archaeologists during renovation work in 1996.
This part of the Abbey, along with the base of the tower and part of the north transept, is the oldest part of the current Abbey and dates from around 1100, soon after the Norman Conquest of 1066. The north and south transepts were the ‘arms’ of a much larger cruciform or ‘cross-shaped’ church, with a long nave about 60m long, beyond the current west door. You can still see the Norman arches of the ‘crossing’ at the bottom of the tower where the nave crossed the transepts. There are beautiful Norman carvings on the south and east walls of the south transept.
The tower is one of the Abbey’s most striking features, literally towering above the town and visible from miles around, especially when it is floodlit at night. The four massive pillars at the bottom of the tower, and the stone arches they support date from early Norman times, but everything above the arches was built after 1288.
Sir George Gilbert Scott, the Victorian architect who renovated the Abbey between 1862 and 1864, considered the Abbey’s lantern tower one of the finest in the country, second only to the one in Lincoln Cathedral.
The Abbey’s famous bells have rung for centuries, calling Pershore people to prayer and worship. The current peel of eight bells was cast in Gloucester, in 1729.
There are large patches of pink-coloured stone on the south and west side of the south transept. This is stone that was scorched when fires swept through the Abbey in 1002, 1223 and 1288. The intense heat caused a chemical change in the stone, turning it pink. You can also see patches of pink stone inside the south transept and on the tower piers.
The marks in the stonework are thought to be the roofline of the monks’ dormitory. In medieval times there was an extensive collection of buildings at the Abbey, including a cloister with the kitchens, bake-houses, dining room and other areas used by the monks who lived and worked here.
Examination of the stonework at the south transept east angle reveals evidence of a former chapel that was part of the Abbey church in medieval times. The chapel was dedicated to St Edburga, a well-known Saxon saint who died at Winchester in 960. Some of her bones were given to Pershore Abbey, and people made pilgrimages to her chapel, which gave the Abbey extra income. Arches have been blocked up, and you can see some delicate stone carving, which originally decorated the inside the chapel. A splendid row of carved Norman heads look down from the top of the south transept wall.
The Abbey’s Draft Development Plan, although conceived some time ago, has come together more cohesively in the past few months. The working document contains solid planks of work that have to be undertaken so that the Abbey will survive well into the 21st Century. Underscoring the Plan’s vision is the belief that it belongs to anyone and everyone who is sincere about creating great ‘places’, and who understands how a ‘strong sense of place’ can influence the physical, social, emotional, economic and environmental health of individuals and communities.
The Plan is made up of six individual parts that together form a robust cohesive strategy for the restoration and future of the Abbey and the wellbeing of all its many communities. While shaping and developing such a visionary plan many challenges have emerged or been identified; these have been tackled through research and debate and finally fully agreed upon. The six projects are explored individually at the bottom of the page.
Everyone involved with the Abbey realises that it has a responsibility to continue protecting, practising, and advocating for a community-driven, bottom-up approach that identifies and capitalises on local assets, inspiration and potential with the intention of creating ‘public spaces’ and ‘public environments’ that promote people’s health, happiness, economic and social well-being. The vision is to drive community empowerment through restoration, renovation and renewal using the existing building as the core.
Quite simply put, our desire is:
To be successful, the process requires excellent leadership and a hands-on approach and continued action at all levels. Leading the debate need not, and certainly should not, mean that the Abbey holds all the answers, and in acknowledging this, and providing space for experimentation and collaboration it believes that a vibrant socially inclusive set of ‘Spaces’ for the future can be delivered.
It is important to note that during the period that the Abbey sought answers to its aspirations that The Taylor Report (December 2017), commissioned by the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for DCMS reported. The Commission aimed to examine the funding and sustainability of listed Church of England buildings, and consider how to ensure that the thousands of listed church buildings, many of which define our towns, cities and villages, are conserved for future generations. The Review made it clear that churches and their communities need to work hard to sustain the buildings that they use by opening them up to the broadest community use while acknowledging the part Government must play.
Placemaking is not a new idea. Some of the thinking behind Placemaking gained traction in the 1960s when Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte introduced ground-breaking ideas about designing towns, cities and eventually places for people, not just cars and the shopping experience. Their work focused on the social and cultural importance of lively neighbourhoods and inviting public spaces - the therapeutic and charitable outcomes of investing in the areas that are shared.
Placemaking continues to show how adopting a collaborative community process it is the most effective approach for creating and revitalising public spaces.
It is centred around observing, listening to, and asking questions of the people who live, work, worship and play in a space to understand their needs and aspirations for it and their community as a whole. This will build on the 2017 Town Plan that was key to enabling and opening up current dialogues. With this knowledge, we can come together to create a shared vision for Pershore Abbey and St Andrews together with the surrounding area. By defining the whole area around the Abbey as our “space”, we look to build a welcoming and engaging vision to deliver economic, social and environmental change. We are beginning with small-scale improvements that bring immediate benefits to the Abbey, the space around it and the people who use them while creating a strong vision and strategy for the future.
Saying YES has been the focus of The Reverend Claire Lording since day one. Her first sermon, paraphrased, said “Yes, we are a Church, Yes, we are always open, and Yes, we will always say YES”, and she and the Abbey have lived up to that promise.
One only needs to look back at the remarkable history of Pershore Abbey to realise that it’s been saying YES, sometimes through adversity, since 689 AD when the first “Religious House” was founded and it made reaching out to the community a priority. In 1065 Edward the Confessor confiscated the Abbey’s land and half of Pershore itself and gave it to the Abbot of Westminster to rebuild the Abbey in London, dividing Pershore into two parts with two different power bases. Pershore’s positive view of the loss of land to Edward, a just and religious man who only wanted to glorify God in his new Westminster Abbey, is that it gave all of us the most magnificent building at the centre of the Church of England today in which to celebrate coronations, weddings, national funerals and many state occasions alongside daily worship on a worldwide stage.
For well over twenty years the Abbey has been in need of a new organ and has had to rely on temporary solutions to make things work, unfortunately even these are now failing. We cannot continue.Read More
The cohesive plan for the future of the Abbey depends on getting this part of the building right. Everyone knows that it's behind the scenes areas that hold the business together and by doing so it makes the rest somewhat more manageable.Read More
The Abbey’s famous Bells have rung for centuries. They have a beautiful tone.The current peel of eight bells was cast in Gloucester in 1729. The earlier bells were probably made or cast near the Abbey as their weight and size would have had a prohibitive effect on moving them.Read More
The Abbey plans to undertake an architectural competition to enclose this valuable piece of history, which lends itself to such a strategy. By doing so, it will create three significant and differing parts as economic drivers for the Abbey through tourism and community engagement: an exhibition centre and event space; a café and a shop.Read More
Commissioned in 1864 to honour the memory of the principal instigator of the Pershore Abbey’s restoration programme, the Reverend Williamson, the west end wall painting was designed with the collaboration of Gilbert Scott, probably the most famous church architect of the Victorian period and Clayton and Bell, who were regarded as the leading exponents of church decoration and design of their time.Read More
To the east of the Abbey stands a small church building, now de-consecrated, dedicated to St Andrew. In 1972 the church was remodelled in order to become the Parish Centre, and since then it has served all parts of the Pershore Community.Read More