The ancient church of St Bartholomew, Churchdown, was originally the parish church of the villages of Churchdown and Hucclecote, and the central point of a barony belonging to the Archbishops of York. It stands on Chosen Hill which is more than 511ft above sea level and is isolated from the villages below it. The church is positioned on a mound, at least partly man-made, within the enclosing banks of an Iron Age Camp. It has been almost certainly a site of ritual or military significance over a very long period of time, dating perhaps from the Bronze Age or even earlier.
The present church is Norman in foundation, with the nave being the main surviving part from this era. Roger du Pont L’Eveque, Archbishop of York from 1154 to 1181, is thought to have been the builder in about 1175 AD. Archbishop Roger was contemporary with Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, and there was much rivalry between these two primates. Therefore, it has been suggested that Roger erected his church on such a prominent spot in Canterbury’s southern province as an act of defiance.
The church was extended in the 13th century by the addition of the south aisle, the south wall of the nave being opened up by an arcade of piers in the Transitional style (and, surprisingly, one has a millstone as its base.) The Early English south doorway has an arch of Norman chevrons and sculptured heads on the inner face and this may have been removed from an arch in the original building. Possibly the most interesting feature of the church is the Early English north porch and the room above it which is reached by narrow stairs in the north nave wall.
It is thought that the canons of St Oswald’s Priory in Gloucester— who served the parish in the office of priest— lodged in this upper room as it has a fireplace and is furnished with cupboards. In the entrance porch below are stone benches and a number of examples of medieval graffiti including a spouting whale (considered a symbol of resurrection) a haloed head, possibly of Christ, and a crude figure of a mermaid. Masons’ marks and votive crosses are also scratched on the wall surfaces. There is a holy water stoup in the inner nave wall by the porch door.
The font is 14th century and stands on stone blocks which may have come from the Norman building. The chancel, extensively restored in the nineteenth century, is late medieval. Some fragments of ancient sculptured stone, possibly Saxon, have been built into the north wall and the Tudor south window possibly replaces an earlier opening. The glass in the Perpendicular east window was given in 1890 as was that in the south window. The altar contains some of the Jacobean woodwork, preserved during the restoration work undertaken in 1880. It is thought to have been part of panelling originally in the tower. This was built in 1601 and houses a peal of six bells, the heaviest being the tenor (11 cwt. 2 qr.)
The carved oak pulpit, with sounding board above, is also a fine example of Jacobean craftsmanship and is inscribed with the date ‘1631’. The minstrels’ gallery which once existed across the west end of the church was removed in the nineteenth century during the course of the extensive restoration project and when this had been completed the church interior would have looked much as it does today except for where new seating has been provided.
In 1953, a local business man provided for an illuminated cross to be erected on the tower to mark the Coronation celebrations and this proved so popular that a permanent cross was donated as a family gift in 1976. When this needed replacement in 1988 the present cross was given anonymously as a personal memorial.