A video tour exploring the history of the Church of St Boniface in Bunbury

The Church of St Boniface, Bunbury

The Church of St Boniface, Bunbury - Credit: James Balme

To Bunbury, in search of the well-endowed wife of a dancing master and a seven-foot hero.

There is little known about the history of Bunbury prior to the Norman conquest but it’s believed the name is derived from Saxon times. The church of St Boniface that stands in the village is thought to be the site of a much earlier Christian place of worship where a timber structure stood around the year 755 AD.

Bunbury was recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086 AD under the name of Boleberie and the lord of the manor was named as Robert Fitzhugh, whose lands included Beeston, Burwardsley and Spurstow. The Domesday survey also recorded the presence of a priest at Bunbury, which was rare for Cheshire at this time.

Sir George Beeston, at rest after a life of warfare, in St Boniface's Church, Bunbury

Sir George Beeston, at rest after a life of warfare, in St Boniface's Church, Bunbury - Credit: James Balme

But it’s the area known as Higher Bunbury, where St Boniface’s Church stands, which is considered the oldest part of the village. In the year 1135, the first stone church was built here by the Normans, and then in 1320, was rebuilt in a more decorative style. The reconstruction was carried out under the instructions of Sir Hugh Calveley, a giant of a man standing almost seven feet tall. Sir Hugh was an English knight and commander who fought in the Hundred Years War. He held various military posts in both Brittany and Normandy. It was at Bunbury in the 1380s where Sir Hugh endowed a college of priests. He died on the 23rd April 1394 and his alabaster tomb effigy stands to this day in the centre of the chancel of St Boniface’s.

READ MORE: Cheshire walk - Bunbury

Within the chancel can also be found the painted tomb effigy of Sir George Beeston of the manor of Beeston and Beeston castle during the 16th century. He lived his life as a soldier and sailor and was recorded as one of the captains ordered to keep the ‘Narrow Seas’ open in the year 1562. But his greatest honour came on the July 26, 1588, when he was knighted on the deck of the Ark Royal by Lord Effingham for his role as captain when he engaged the Spanish Armada. Sir George served four English monarchs, from Henry VIII through to Queen Elizabeth I. He died on September, 13th 1601

Jane Johnson, the young wife of the dancing master of Nantwich, whose statuesque figure so offended

Jane Johnson, the young wife of the dancing master of Nantwich, whose statuesque figure so offended the vicar of Bunbury he buried her effigy in the church grounds - Credit: James Balme

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The church’s statue of Jane Johnson also has a wonderful tale to tell. Jane was the young wife of the dancing master of Nantwich until her death in 1741. The statue stood close to the altar but in the year 1760, the vicar was so disturbed by her “bulging udders” he had the statue secretly buried outside. In 1882, Jane’s statue was found by chance by the then vicar, William Lowe. Convinced he had unearthed a statue of the Virgin Mary, the Reverend Lowe returned her to the church with much pomp and ceremony. 

For more videos exploring the history of Cheshire go the TVPresenter4History Youtube channel

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