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Holy Cross, Ilam, Staffordshire

(53°3′12″N, 1°48′10″W)
SK 133 507
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Staffordshire
now Staffordshire
  • G. L. Pearson
  • Ron Baxter

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Feature Sets

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.





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)