The present church building dates from 1853 replacing a much earlier structure going back to at least a building of the 16th Century. There is evidence that the monks of Gloucester Abbey and later St Guthlac Monastary of Hereford, held lands and influence in ‘Feltone’ during the Middle Ages.
Evidence of a Benedictine Priory, founded in 1100 has been found at Lyvers Ocle just over the southern boundary of Felton Parish. The Doomsday Census of 1078 records that the Monastery of St Guthlac held extensive lands and ‘(land) are three ploughs (each with eight oxen) and five serfs (labourers ) and one border (tenant squatter on the edge). There is one French man there (Norman Conquest 1066) with one plough.
During the desolation of the Monasteries’ Henry VIII granted lands and title (Sir) to John Pryce of Brecon. The first Vicar to be recorded at Felton is John Lyllwell (1554) and Sir John Pyrce was his patron.
During the 17th and 18th Centuries three of the four farms in Felton belonged to the Coningsby family as part of their ten thousand acre estate at Hampton Court four miles west of Felton church. The farms were auctioned in 1919. Two Coningsbys are buried at Felton. The Coningsby Hospital in Widemarsh Street, Hereford is the families foundation.
In 1851 Rev Henry Thomas Hill became vicar and set about rebuilding the parsonage on a new site alongside the existing church and followed this in 1853 with a re-building of the church itself. In layout the church has remained the same for the past 160 years (2012). The churchyard with a small western extension in 1966 has probably remained the same area for over five hundred years it was ‘significantly tidied-up’ in 1965.
Rev John Henry Carter Evelegh (Shakespeare)
In 1913 the Rev John Henry Carter Evelegh was appointed rector of Felton and Vicar of Preston Wynne (the adjacent parish to the west). After the First World War ended he set about promoting his love of Shakespeare among local people. Throughout the 1920 and 1930s he produced a different Shakespeare play every year as part of an August Fete which included music dance and drama over a period of two weeks. The last such event took place two weeks before Hitler marched into Poland at the start of the Second World War. Rev Everlegh lived alone in the Rectory throughout that period and retired in 1945.
In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries there was a nationally well-known chair maker, Philip Clissett at Bosbury, whose particular design of domestic furniture, ‘Clissett Chairs’ was promoted by the Art & Crafts movement in London. Two of his sons took up the trade and one, Philip John Clissett, lived at ‘Clissett Cottage’ (now Jauncy Cottage) at Felton and he is buried in the Churchyard. He was Parish Clerk for twenty-four years.
Rural Countryside and Farming
For four hundred years from Elizabeth I (1553) to Elizabeth II (1953) the Parish of Felton remained very rural and labour intensive. At the beginning of this period Sir John Pryce drove out Tennant Farmers so the land could be turned over to more profitable sheep grazing. The 1552 De-Population Return indicates each large farmstead, like Hinton in this Parish, had been a village nucleus. In the 17th and 18th Century large areas of the Parish grew grass and roots with horses and oxon, the main forms of transport and power.
Mixed farming included cereals, fruit and hops. The agriculture was once more labour intensive so a high church attendance could be expected at Felton. The Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century would have little effect on this rural community. The Population Census for 1850 showed Felton to have 112 persons.
In the rebuilt church of 1854, pews were named for five farms in Felton and two others in neighbouring Parishes once part of Felton. The pews in total will hold 80-90 people. The ‘two-up, two-down’ (rooms) cottages were commonly each house two adults and up to ten or more children. Burials in Felton churchyard indicate that life expectancy was generally 50-60 years and there are a number of gravestones for children under five years.
Fruit and Hops
For a hundred years from the 1850s Felton Parish became an important part of cider fruit and hop growing which required a significant increase in labour, particularly at harvest time (September hop picking). The Parish population was estimated to have risen to 1000 as families migrated from industrial South Wales and the Midlands. The gypsies were an integral part of the community during the Spring and Autumn activities on the farms. The succession of Clergy (Hill, Rusby and Evelegh) would have been kept busy during that period punctuated by two World Wars and The Depression.
From the 1960s the pattern of agriculture began to change and over a twenty year period hop yards and orchards declined rapidly. Hedgerows were ripped out to create large fields more suited to mechanisation. Farm labour declined and family size reduced from 10 to fewer than 5. This process of change has continued into the 21st Century with ‘new’ crops and increased mechanisation in response to economic demand and competition.
Social mobility has increased. Young people must leave to find employment in other areas and there has been an influx of people from elsewhere. The social demographics of the area have change seeing a decline in size of community combined with a decline in ‘community’ and ‘spiritual’ participation.
Fortunately three of the four principal farms have remained in the same families for up to 90 years. This has provided important stability in both the community and in the church.
For thirty years in the second half of the 19th Century, Rev Hill was the incumbent at Felton in a Parish that must have changed little over that time. A largely self-contained tight-knit community. His successor, Rev Rusby (1882-1913) was succeeded himself by Rev Evelegh who, over the next 32 years witnessed dramatic events. The effects of two Wars and the Depression upon local people are not recorded. His plays suggest that life continued as ‘normal’. In 1913 Felton church twinned with Preston Wynne church and around 1920 established a joint Memorial Village Hall in that Parish. The strong community spirit of the two Parishes was born.
The Maund Group (Parish)
In the 1960s Felton and Preston Wynne churches were joined with Bodenham and Dinmore churches. In the early part of the 21st Century Dinmore was ‘lost’ to Leominster and ‘The Maund Group’ was created by adding Marden, Amberley and Sutton St Nicholas.
Over a 1000 years Felton Parish and it’s church has coped with change; from the 9th Century Monks of Gloucester and Hereford; the French invasion and settlement in the 11th Century; Henry VIII’s handing over of the Parish to a Welsh man (Lord of the Manor) in the 16th Century; ‘The Landed Gentry up-the-road’ at Hampton Court for the next 2 Centuries and repeated Diocesan re-organisation in the last 100 years.
Never have so few local people done so much for St Michael the Archangel at Felton, over particularly the last 50 years, to ensure that the doors are open 24/7 for locals and visitors to pray or to simply admire this lovely little church and to find peace with God.