Bromfield, St Mary the Virgin
Formerly a Benedictine Priory Church built in c. 1155, in the C16th St Mary’s was partially converted into a house, the remains of which can still be seen attached to the south side of the church. The church was restored in 1889–90.
A striking and significant feature of this Grade I listed building is the chancel ceiling depicting the Shield of Trinity surrounded by cherubs and texts. Pevsner described it, rather uncharitably, as “the best example of the worst style of ecclesiastical art”. Painted by Thomas Francis in 1672 it cost the princely sum of £7! The reredos triptych, painted by Charles Edgar Buckeridge, is late C19th. A beautiful C16th stained glass window survives in the vestry and a large stained glass series by Charles Eamer Kempe, the renowned Victorian designer and manufacturer of stained glass, adorns the colourful interior.
An intriguing plaque on the north nave wall, placed in 1930, commemorates Henry Hill Hickman 1800–1830 “the first human pioneer in anaesthetics by inhalation”. His gravestone is in the porch and his last resting place is somewhere in the churchyard; sadly its location is not known.
Bats have been roosting in St Mary’s church for many years. At least three different species of bat are known to use the church—pipistrelles, brown long-eared bats and Natterer’s bats—and there are several maternity roosts. The smell and mess—especially in the summer months when the bats give birth—disrupt worship, limit church activities and damage fittings and furnishings.
Following bat surveys in 2021, the church worked with the Bats in Churches project to come up with solutions in the form of shelves to catch droppings and protect the church heritage and furnishings without harming the bats.
St Mary's and its bats were featured on BBC2 Antiques Celebrity Road Trip Series 10 Episode 10, which was broadcast in November 2021 and again in October 2022.
In May 2023 children from St Laurence CofE Primary School visited the church to learn about the wonderful world of bats and why churches are so special.