The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin is a little gem, with significant national history and interesting features that make it quite unique!
The church is open for worship, on various South Yorkshire Heritage Open Days that we participate in or by appointment. If you would like to take a look please contact Fr Keith.
Only a small part of the original Norman church remains, namely the chancel and the lower part of the tower. St Mary’s dates around 1170, probably founded by William de Lovetot, Lord of the Manor or his father Richard; the estate passing to the Lovetots from Robert, Count of Mortain (half-brother of William the Conqueror). Richard de Lovetot, is believed to be the Lord who founded Sheffield alongside his castle and probably responsible for building a new parish church, which is now the Anglican Cathedral. Maude de Lovetot, a ward of Henry II from the age of 7years, was given in marriage, by Richard I, to Gerard de Furnival, Lord of Hallamshire. He died on crusade in 1218. At this time it appears the church was a Royal Peculiar, belonging to the Dean and Chapter of York. Maude built the side chapel to the north of the Chancel as a Chantry Chapel for her late husband between 1241-1284 and dedicated it to St Katherine of Alexandria, a popular Saint of the crusaders. What is now the Cross Keys Public House, situated in the graveyard, is believed to have been the Chantry House. 1313-1316 saw Adam de Brome as Rector of Handsworth, he was the founder of Oriel College Oxford and had been Almoner to King Edward II. In the 15th Century the estates of the Lovetots and Furnivals passed to the Earls of Shrewsbury. George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury (1528-1590), was Earl Marshall, Lord High Steward, Justice of Ireland, Knight of the Garter; a leading aristocrat in the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. He was Henry VIII’s henchman for those who led the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 and one time gaoler of Mary, Queen of Scots. He gave a bell to commemorate the defeat of the Spanish Armada of 1588, which has been recast and is still rung. He was the fourth and last husband of Bess of Hardwick. Sir William Cavendish, born at Handsworth Hall (built by George, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury) was grandson to Bess of Hardwick and William Cavendish of the wealthy Cavendish family of Handsworth and later Dukes of Devonshire, was govenor to Charles Stuart, Prince of Wales and a royalist during the Commonwealth. At the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 Charles II rewarded Sir William’s loyalty by making him 1st Duke of Newcastle. In 1651 the Barony fell to the 5th Duke of Norfolk via Alethea Howard. The Protestant dissenters, Thomas Towndrow and William Spray were imprisoned in 1651 for testifying in this church.
A certain amount of rebuilding is likely to have taken place around 1492, since we read in the fabric rolls of York “Hannesworth Church is ruinous, it is now, however being rebuilt”. Further building is evident in the south aisle, of the Victorian era. Thus the columns are in sharp contrast with the transitional Norman period ones of the north aisle. In 1833 the medieval north wall was demolished and the Early English columns raised to extend the north aisle and house a gallery. 50 years later the gallery was removed. The south aisle was also extended in 1904, building over the original south porch. Before its present location, the organ was situated in the south aisle. The organ, built by the German John Snetzler who moved to London in 1740, was heavily restored in 1989 during the reordering of the church by Rev Bruce Leng.
The roof of the nave is Tudor in origin, with bosses of the Tudor Rose and the Talbots (Earls of Shrewsbury). This roof is low pitched in comparison with the 13th century chancel roof. Some of the roof beams in the cancel are original. The present chancel arch was built in 1870. Before the iconoclasm of the Reformation a Rood Screen would have been there. The chancel itself was extended in the 13th Century, from the high altar rails to its present location. The tomb of Rev Michael Adams (Rector 1612-27) now lies where the 12th Century high altar would have stood before the extension of the chancel. It is also the entrance to vaults under the sanctuary.
Unusually the east window depicts the Last Supper and agony in Gethsemane and is in memory of Rev John Hand (Rector 1830-70). The Aumbry dates from the Middle Ages and may have housed the the Holy Oils. The Blessed Sacrament is currently reserved there. There is a sedilia and piscine of trefoil design. The oak reredos was erected in memory of Rev James Mowat (Rector 1871-1915) and wife, Anna. The chancel also houses a now sealed 12th Century Rector’s door over which is part of a Norman coffin lid re-cut and used as its lintel. The chancel has three lancet windows of 13th century origin, which depict the Annunciation, the Risen Lord and the Nativity. Also, there is a 15th Century the low-side widow, now sealed, in which the sanctus bell was rung at mass. Hinges of the window can still be seen.
In 1904 the pulpit was moved to its present location from the south aisle not far from the current position of the lectern. The font is late 19th Century. Prior to the present location of the organ the coat of arms of William IV hung there. It is now hung above the main door. The tower arch is a good example of transitional Norman work.
Lightning Strikes Twice: In 1698, the Church spire was destroyed by lightning. A new steeple was built which was so small and squat it was nicknamed “the Handsworth stump”. This was replaced in the 1820’s by another and present tower, which was also struck by lightning in January 1978. In 2002 St Mary’s underwent vital repairs to the spire, clock and bell tower. For many centuries there were three bells, the oldest dedicated to the Holy Trinity and cast in the 15th Century. Another of those three was cast in 1590, presumably to commemorate the defeat of the Spanish Armada two years previously. The bell was presented by George, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. One of those bells remains in use and is rung as a toll before a service and to ring the Angelus. A peal of eight bells (with clock and chimes) were added in 1920 in memoriam of those who fell in the Great War. Mention is made of a tower clock in 1764. The choir vestry, now the sacristy, was built in 1930 in commemoration of the Handsworth Deanery in 1927.
St Katherine’s Chapel About 1225, a chapel dedicated to St Katherine of Alexandria, a popular Saint of the crusaders, was added. It is believed to have been built by Maud de Lovetot as a chantry chapel so that masses might be said for the departed soul of her husband, Gerald de Furnival, who died during the fifth crusade in the Holy Land. It was during this crusade that St Francis of Assisi preached to the Sultan of Jerusalem. The Lords of the Manor, (Earls of Shrewsbury, and later Dukes of Norfolk), had a reserved pew for some 300 years. Note the squint that allowed people in the chapel to see the priest elevate Host and Chalice as he offered mass at the High Altar. Unusually the squint is combined with a piscine (basin with drain).
Take a look at the east window which depicts St Katherine of Alexandria, Our Lady and Child and St Margaret of Antioch (two early Church martyrs), which is of early English style. Originally there was a separate door into the chapel from the graveyard in the north wall. There are now two windows in the north wall from the Victorian period. Prior to the Reformation there was a screen between chapel and chancel. The arch of transitional Norman style was lowered, at an unknown date, possibly to allow an organ gallery which was erected in 1807. The chapel underwent a restoration in 1934 and is newly restored following extensive rain damage from the thefts of lead from the roof in 2007/8.