The Church of St. Nicholas Hardenhuish, Chippenham, Wiltshire.
This church is dedicated to St Nicholas, the 4th Century Bishop of Myra (on the south coast of Turkey), and traditionally associated with sailors, merchants, children and Christmas. St Nicholas is also the Patron Saint of Turkey!
Hardenhuish was originally an old Saxon village where Heregeardinge established his Hivisce or family holding. Its first traceable mention was in AD 854 when Aethelwulf, King of the West Saxons, granted the Charter of Heregeardinge's Hivisce to Wilferth the thane. Through the years that title became various forms of Hardenhuish and although officially spelled that way today, it has always been pronounced 'Harnish' by the locals. (Aethelwulf was the father of King Alfred the Great, 849-99, who, recognising the strategic advantages of Chippenham, made his stand there against the Danes and repulsed them.)
The present church was built in 1779 in classical Georgian style to the plans of architect John Wood (the younger), renowned for his designs of The Royal Crescent and The Circus in Bath. The church was consecrated on the 4th November of that year by Robert, Bishop of London. This perfect little Georgian church is the only one in Wiltshire and is widely considered to be a gem of its period. The original nave was almost square, built to accommodate fifty, but in 1856 the church was enlarged to the present size, mainly at the expense of the Clutterbuck family, the then owners of Hardenhuish Park, to hold a hundred (with a rather tight squeeze, if they are sitting down!). It is built in Bath stone, quarried from nearby Box.
The old parish church of Hardenhuish, recorded in contemporary documents as 'Norman' and 'a chapel', was demolished around 1778. It stood about 200 metres in front of and below the present Hardenhuish House. Records show that Richard de Kanyggs was instituted to this benefice in 1299. Stones from that church were used in the footings of the present St Nicholas' Church.
St Nicholas' Church was built at the 'fole Expence' of Joseph Colborne, then owner of Hardenhuish House and Park. A Vestry Minute dated 7th July 1776 reads: 'At a Vestry held in the parish church of Harnish this day in consequence of notice being given on Sunday last on particular business, it was to consult a proper place to build such church on in case a Faculty can be obtained of the Bishop; the spot now thought on is infinitely more convenient and nearer the inhabitants of the said Parish. Paget Tayler, Church Warden.'. . . The Minute is countersigned Jos. Colborne.
Coming nearer to the present day, in 1979 Hardenhuish parish was combined with three others to become the North Chippenham Group ministry, the other three being St Paul's, Chippenham, St Peter's, Langley Burrell, and St Michael and All Angels, Kington St Michael. Then in 2014 Kington St. Michael was transferred to the Bybrook beniefice. The peaceful old Hardenhuish Lane alongside the church has become a busy highway for traffic travelling between the M4 and towns to the south. The old Rectory opposite was sold in the 1970s but part of its land was retained for use as a car park. The major part of the old Hardenhuish Park has been occupied by three schools which enjoy a most enviable campus with an extensive sportsfield.
Just beyond the East end of the church stands the Ricardo Monument, built over a vault containing the coffins of nine members of the Ricardo family. David Ricardo was born of Jewish stock on 19th April 1772. He started work at the Stock Exchange at the age of 14, and married Miss Wilkinson, a Quaker, at the age of 21 and became a Unitarian, by which time he was well established in the financial world. His ability, and above all his integrity became well known. By the time he had reached his forties he had amassed the then enormous sum of one million pounds, made fairly and honestly (at least according to the standards of that time). He is famous for his papers and treatise on economics and was the first to propose the control of money supply and credit. He became an M.P. and died on 11th September 1823 at Gatcombe Park. His daughter, Henrietta, married into the Clutterbuck family, which had taken up residence in Hardenhuish House in the previous year.
Against the South wall of the church is an iron slatted seat where Robert Francis Kilvert, the diarist, loved to sit and admire the view in tranquility. Of his diaries only those for the years 1870-79 survive, but these give a unique picture of Victorian life. He was born on 3rd December 1840 in the Rectory opposite, one of six children of Rev. Robert Kilvert, Rector of Hardenhuish at the time. In 1863 he was ordained Deacon and became a Priest the following year. He was curate to the neighbouring parish of Langley Burrell to which his father had moved in 1885. For the years 1865-72 Francis served as curate to the Vicar of Clyro in Powys before returning to Langley Burrell for another four years. While serving as Vicar of Bredwardine in Herefordshire, he died suddenly from peritonitis at the early age of 38 on 23rd September 1879, only a month after his marriage.
Perhaps the most prominent feature is the Chancel, where The Lord's Prayer, The Ten Commandments and The Apostles' Creed are written in gold leaf for all to see and read. In spite of this dark background, the church is full of light and its classical proportions give a pleasing and almost cosy effect. The musicians' gallery over the West end would have held a small band in the earlier years of the church's history but now is occupied by an organ which used to be handblown by means of the pump handle still in view.
To the right of the Chancel is the memorial to the church's benefactor which reads: 'Here reft the remains of Joseph Colborne Efq. Who poffeffed all thofe Virtues which rendered him efteemed and beloved while living and fincerely regretted now dead. On the 7th day of Feb.y 1783 he departed this Life in the 66 year of his Age. This Church was erected at his fole Expence.'
A number of other memorials are found on the walls, mainly to members of the Colborne family and their successors at Hardenhuish House, the Clutterbucks. Two other plaques commemorate David Ricardo and Robert Francis Kilvert.
On the South wall hangs a 5-foot square painting of the Royal Coat of Arms by R. A. Hanover, dated 1764, so it probably came from the old church. It was cleaned and reconditioned exactly 200 years later.