Holy Cross, Ilam, Staffordshire

Feature Sets (2)


The church stands in the grounds of Ilam Hall; a building of 1821 erected by Jesse Watts-Russell. The present hall replaced a hall built for John Port in 1546, and it was Port's successor, also John Port, who sold up to Russell in 1809. This John Port's son, also John, became vicar of Ilam. Watts-Russell died in 1875 and the house passed to the Hanbury family, who sold it in 1927 to a restaurateur. When he went bankrupt, the house passed to a building contractor, who promptly demolished two-thirds of it. A view before the demolition may be seen in the William Salt Library (SV V 12). What was left was purchased in 1934 by Sir Robert McDougal, who gave it to the National Trust. It now houses a Youth Hostel, and a National Trust shop, and serves as a focus for walkers. Jesse Watts-Russell was also responsible for the curious appearance of Ilam village, which he rebuilt in a Swiss style on a slightly different (and steeper) site, because the surrounding countryside reminded him of the Alps. In the centre of the village is a small-scale copy of an Eleanor Cross that Watts-Russell erected in 1840 in memory of his wife.

The church consists of a nave with a three-bay N aisle and N and S doorways, the latter under a porch, a chancel with N and S chapels and a N vestry, and a W tower. The earliest fabric is in the S wall of the nave, which contains a blocked 11thc doorway. There is also a stone carved with interlace re-set in the W wall of the S chapel, and there are two Anglo-Saxon crosses in the churchyard. The font is 12thc., and is described below. For the rest, the church is largely 19thc. in appearance, although some of the walls are medieval. The lower parts of the tower are 13thc., but its gabled top postdates a drawing of 1839 (William Salt Library SV 12 5a) that shows an embattled parapet. The S chapel is of 1618, but contains a 13thc. chest tomb, known locally as the Tomb of St Bertram, as well as the tomb of Robert Meverell (d.1626) and his wife. The most spectacular feature, however, is the enormous octagonal N chapel; a chapter-house-like mausoleum erected by Watts-Russell in 1831 in memory of his father-in-law, David Pike Watts who had died in 1816. It contains a large group showing David Pike Watts and his daughter and her three children by Sir Francis Chantrey. The church was restored in 1618, but its present appearance results from Sir George Gilbert Scott's restoration of 1855-56.


Ilam is not recorded in the Domesday Survey, but the existing fabric indicates that there was a church as well as a settlement here at that time. In 1004 King Aethelred confirmed the lands and privileges granted by Wulfric to Burton Abbey in his will, including Ilam.

Benefice of Alstonfield, Butterton, Ilam, Warslow with Elkstone and Wetton.




Located at the W end of the nave. A tub-shaped bowl on a modern shaft and step. The bowl is arcaded in six bays carved in relief, with round-headed arches carried on fictive shafts with capitals and simple bases with plain necking rolls. Each arch encloses a figure or pair of figures. In the descriptions that follow, bays are numbered from left to right (anticlockwise around the bowl) beginning at the E.

Bay 1 (E): A pair of frontal human figures; a man on the left and a woman (with breasts) on the right. She is taller than he is, and inclines her head towards him. Both wear belted tunics with skirts that reveal their lower calves and feet. He raises his right hand and holds her right hand with his left; while her left hand is at her belt. Style is simple and schematic, and facial features are simply carved back into the plane of the block. Eyes are drilled. The shaft to the left of this bay is decorated with a vertical row of beading between two fillets. The capital has a cable necking and simplified scallops. The shaft to the right is carved with a pair of nebuly mouldings, defining elongated oval fields between them. Its capital is a triple scallop with wedges between the cones and dished shields, and a plain necking.

Bay 2: Agnus Dei walking right, with a bird facing right perched on the head of the cross. The shaft to the left of this bay is shared with the right shaft of bay 1; that to the right has three vertical fillets and a capital similar to the right capital of bay 1.

Bay 3: A fierce quadruped, in right profile with its head turned back. In its mouth it holds a human head between pointed teeth. The right hand shaft is decorated with inscribed lines in a lattice pattern. The capital is a triple scallop with conical wedges between the cones and a cable necking.

Bay 4: A standing, frontal figure with hands clasped together at its waist. The head is large, and is carved with a tragic mouth, broad nose and circular drilled eyes. There is a cap of hair. The shaft to the right is decorated with a single spiral, and its capital is a double scallop with a wedge between the cones and a cable necking.

Bay 5: A standing, frontal male figure in a belted tunic, his hands at his sides. Features are simple, with drilled eyes. The shaft to the right is plain; its capital worn and perhaps similar to the right capital of bay 4, but with a plain necking.

Bay 6: As bay 3. Both shafts have been described elsewhere.

The bowl has rim repairs at the E and W, and is lined with lead.

ext. diam. at rim 0.80 m
h. of bowl 0.58 m
h. of bowl and shaft 1.03 m
int. diam. at rim 0.61 m
max. circum. of bowl 2.60 m


The church guide reports that, 'some authorities maintain that the font depicts scenes from the life of St Bertram'; Pevsner reports that it is carved 'with extremely barbaric figures and beasts'. Both are probably correct. St Bertram was a local saint, the son of an 8thc. King of Mercia who travelled to Ireland where he met and married a beautiful princess. She went into labour in a forest when they had almost reached home, and Bertram went off in search of a midwife. When he returned, he found that wolves had eaten his wife and the baby, and he spent the rest of his life as a hermit. His shrine in the S chapel became a site of pilgrimage. On this interpretation, bay 1 shows the newly married couple, bay 4 Bertram's wife in labour, bays 3 and 6 the wolves devouring the mother and baby, and bay 5 Bertram alone. The church guide describes the font as Anglo-Saxon, but details of the fictive architecture point to a date well into the 12thc.; notably the developed scallop capitals, some with dished shields and wedges between the cones.


  • Anon., Guide to the Church and Village of Ilam. Ashbourne, und.
  • Drawings in William Salt Library, Stafford, nos. SV V 5a (church in 1839), and SV V 12 (hall in 1826). Available online via Staffordshire County Council, Staffordshire Views Collection at:http://www.staffordshire.gov.uk/portal/page?_pageid=47,71124and_dad=portaland_schema=PORTAL
  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Staffordshire. Harmondsworth 1974, 152-53.
  • P. H. Sawyer, Anglo-Saxon Charters: an Annotated List and Bibliography. London 1968, S906, S1536. Available online at The Electronic Sawyer (http://www.trin.cam.ac.uk/sdk13/chartwww/eSawyer.99/S%20832a-946.html)


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SK 133 507 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Staffordshire
now: Staffordshire
medieval: Lichfield (to 1075); Chester (to c.1086); Coventry and Lichfield (to 1541)
now: Lichfield
now: Holy Cross
medieval: not confirmed
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
G. L. Pearson, Ron Baxter