Later Years


Following the heights of the 15th century, the fortunes of Northleach began to wane. Wool prices, which had peaked in 1480, slowly declined and England’s pre-eminence as a wool producer gradually diminished.

Northleach adapted, with clothmaking becoming the mainstay of the town’s trade in the 16th century. The town’s market also did good trade, especially for meat and livestock, until the early 17th century.

By the early 18th century, however, Northleach had lost its clothmaking, in part because the small River Leach wasn’t sufficient to power loom machinery; and by the 1770s the town’s fortunes were at their lowest ebb, with many houses having fallen down, many uninhabited, and most of the rest going fast to decay.

Fortunes revived to some extent in the early 19th century when the town became a centre for coaching, with several inns, although this was short-lived: Northleach suffered a further blow at the end of the 19th century when it was bypassed by the Cheltenham to Cirencester branch line.

After some centuries of struggle, Northleach fared better in the 20th century, especially once the east-west bypass took continual heavy traffic away from the town’s narrow main street. The town is now thriving, larger than at any time in its history, and looks to the future with confidence.

Against this background, the church appears to have endured through the 17th and 18th centuries with few changes. A peal of six bells was installed in in the tower in 1700, as was a clock. The gallery in the tower and box pews in the nave were replaced in 1813.

A major restoration was undertaken in 1884. As well as making extensive repairs to the fabric of the church, the tower gallery was removed, an organ was installed in the North Chapel and choir stalls in the chancel, and the pews were replaced. This restoration is commemorated in the stained glass window at the western end of the south aisle.

Two further bells were added in 1897 to celebrate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria, making up the full peal of eight bells.

A new clock was installed in the tower in 1907, together with a carillon, both manufactured by Smith of Derby. The unusual quarter chimes were originally composed in 1843 for Holy Trinity, Guildford, by the then organist George Wilkins. The carillon plays three verses of the hymn tune ‘Hanover’ every three hours. Between the quarter chimes, strike and carillon, there are a total of 2,460 bell strokes in every 24 hour period.

A major reordering was undertaken in 1964. This included the installation of the nave altar and its curved dais beneath the chancel arch. The organ and the choir stalls were moved to their current location in the north aisle, and new oak chairs designed by Sir Basil Spence replaced older, rush-seated chairs.

A new east window was also installed in 1964, replacing a Victorian predecessor. Designed by Christopher Webb, it represents Christ in Glory. Kneeling devoutly in one corner is a figure offering up a model of the church to Christ; this depicts John Fortey, and commemorates his great gift to the church in 1458.

Most recently, a major restoration of the clerestory windows has been undertaken. Following a fall of masonry in 2004, the stonework of the clerestory was inspected and found to be in a very poor state, with many of the problems arising from cast iron pins inserted during the well-meaning restoration of 1884. After a major fundraising appeal, the stonework of all the clerestory windows was renovated, the lower level windows were inspected and repairs made where necessary, and the interior stonework was cleaned throughout the church. It is an amazing testament to the 15th century masons that this was the first complete renovation of their work in over 500 years.