St Nicholas’ Church

The earliest known written evidence of a church for laity at Kenilworth is in the Registers of Godfrey GiffardBishop of Worcester, which record a "parson of the church at Kenilworth" in 1285. Pope Nicholas IV's taxation list of 1291 also records the church. It is therefore possible that the church of St Nicholas may have been founded in the 13th century, after 1210 and before 1285.
The original church may have consisted of only a nave and chancel. In the chancel are Decorated Gothic sedilia, which may indicate a phase of building between about 1275 and 1380. In the 14th century the nave was widened by the addition of a south aisle with an arcade of five bays. The octagonal belfry and spire of the west tower are also 14th-century Decorated Gothic. Later in the 14th century the nave was widened again with the addition of a north aisle with Perpendicular Gothic windows plus a northwest porch. The arcade of the north aisle is of only three bays, with the porch occupying the fourth bay. Also Perpendicular Gothic is the clerestory that was added to the nave.

There is a squint just south of the chancel arch, providing a line of sight from the south side of the nave to the chancel. Many squints in Mediæval churches were to allow a priest at a side altar to see the high altar in the chancel. However, position of the squint in this church suggests it may have been for a bell-ringer to see when to ring a Sanctus bell which would have been in a bell-gable outside above the chancel arch.

St Mary's priory was under royal patronage by early in the 13th century and was made an abbey in 1458. But in the Dissolution of the Monasteries it surrendered to The Crown in 1538. The Crown subsequently sold much of the abbey's estate, but it retained the advowson of the parish of St Nicholas.

The abbey was largely demolished by 1547. In the demolition some architectural fragments were salvaged from the abbey and incorporated into the parish church. Most notable of these is the Norman west portal in the west tower, which Nikolaus Pevsner and Alexandra Wedgwood called "the most sumptuous Norman doorway in Warwickshire". This doorway may in fact be a composite, created in the 16th century from elements of more than one doorway of the demolished abbey.

Workmen demolishing the abbey melted down the lead from the roof to make "pigs" or "fothers" to be taken away. One such "pig" was lost until 1888, when it was found in the ruins. It bears the stamp of King Henry VIII's Commissioners. It is now displayed in the northeast corner of the chancel. In 1922 an archæological excavation of the abbey site found the sand-moulds for casting the pigs.

The nave had a steeply-pitched roof until 1580, when Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester had it lowered to its present shallow pitch.  The line of the earlier roof survives as a trace on the east side of the tower. The chancel roof was taken down and re-laid in 1692 under the auspices of the then Vicar, William Best, at a cost of £80.

Although the base of the font is Norman, the stem and bowl are later. They were made in 1664 to replace one that seems to have been broken in the English Civil War.

In the 18th century galleries were added to the nave and aisles to increase seating capacity. A gallery in the north aisle was added in 1751, followed by one in the south aisle in 1760. No record survives of when the west gallery for church musicians was added, but it is known to have existed by 1772. All three galleries were removed in 1850. Two years later a second Anglican church for Kenilworth, that of St John the Evangelist, was completed on the south side of the town, relieving the crowding of St Nicholas'.

In 1775 a three-decker pulpit had been installed in St Nicholas' church. It stood in the chancel arch, which impeded the congregation's view of the altar. Rev William Bickmore, who was Vicar 1855–75, had it removed in 1860. Also under Bickmore the church was "drastically" restored in 1864–65. A painting of the interior before the restoration shows the gallery in the south arcade and the old pulpit in the chancel arch. It shows also that the chancel arch was round-headed, and therefore Norman. Bickmore's restoration included removing this arch and replacing it with a Gothic Revival one to conform with the north and south arcades.

The pre-restoration painting shows also a flat ceiling in the nave. There was a similar ceiling in the chancel. Bickmore's restoration removed these ceilings.

The chancel was extended eastward and a two-bay aisle was added to its south side, originally to increase seating for the congregation in main services. The north aisle was extended eastward by one bay to create an organ loft, to which a vestry was attached. The south aisle was rebuilt, with new Gothic Revival windows matching the new aisle south of the chancel. The easternmost bay of the south aisle was extended southward to form a south transept. However, the south window of the south transept is older, with heraldic stained glass made in 1832. Sources disagree as to the date of the three-light east window in the chancel. It was inserted in either 1867 or 1876. In 1858 lightning struck and damaged the spire, which thereafter was "entirely rebuilt".

Until the 16th century a rood screen occupied the chancel arch. It had a gallery, which was reached via a flight of stairs at the northwest corner of the chancel. It was removed in the Reformation. In 1913 a Gothic Revival chancel screen was inserted, but without a rood. In 1918 the south aisle of the chancel was reordered to form a Lady Chapel.


St Barnabas' Church

Before St Barnabas’ Church was built in 1886, services were held above the Co-op store in Park Road and the room was known as St Nicholas’ Mission Hall. A piece of land was bought in 1884 and, for the sum of £510, the new church was built. It had wicker chairs and a bell to encourage worshippers – the bell was removed during the war.
In 1905 the church was renamed as St Barnabas, a new sanctuary built and coal-fired central heating installed. The original wicker chairs were replaced in the 1920s by wooden pews donated by St Nicholas’ Church.
In 1945 a wooden hut was erected behind the church for use by various groups as their meeting place, and in the early 50s a curate’s house, known as St Barnabas’ House, was built on land adjacent to the church.
Thanks to a donation a mural of the 10 commandments was painted around the sanctuary arch in 1961, and in 1963 1n improved heating system was installed.
In 1966 an electronic organ was purchased, a kitchen created in the basement and a larger hall built. A year later a font made out of chestnut was made to fit on the base of the lectern.
In 1987 the front entrance was altered and in 1992 the roof was replaced. The kitchen was upgraded in 2000, a new kitchen area added to the back of the church and  chairs replaced the pews.
A toilet with disabled access was built in 2014, made possible by fund raising and generous donations. In 2015, thanks to a major bequest, the windows were replaced and the building painted inside and outside.
Anew, much needed, heating system was installed in 2016.


The Friends

The Friends of St Nicholas’ and St Barnabas’ Churches, Kenilworth, was set up by Barrie Rogers, a parishioner of the church, in 2007 at the request of the then vicar, the Revd.  Canon Richard Awre. After a steady start the organisation was re-launched in 2008 at a special service, when the preacher was the Very Revd. John Moses, Dean Emeritus of St Paul’s Cathedral, attended by local dignitaries including the Town Mayor, the Member of Parliament for Rugby and Kenilworth and the Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire.
Shortly afterwards a committee of volunteers was established and the first projects were launched.
Since that time membership has grown, money raised and projects supported at both churches.

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