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St Mary Magdalene, Stretton Sugwas, Herefordshire

(52°4′25″N, 2°47′26″W)
Stretton Sugwas
SO 459 420
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Herefordshire
now Herefordshire
medieval Hereford
now Hereford
  • Ron Baxter
24 June 2006

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Stretton Sugwas is 4 miles W of the centre of Hereford, just off the A438 Brecon road. Although it is far enough outside the city to be largely unaffected by its expansion, the village lies between a new bypass and the former RAF base at Credenhill, now the headquarters of the 22nd SAS Regiment, so its ancient communications are massively disrupted, including a Roman road that runs westward from Hereford through the village centre . A mile and a half to the NW is the important Iron Age hill fort of Credenhill. The old church was situated at the N end of the village; its site is now in the grounds of Stretton Court Hotel. The present church was built in 1877-80 on a site outside the village to the S, 0.7m SW of the old church. The architect was William Chick of Hereford, who used some pieces taken from the old building. Chick’s church consists of a nave with a S porch and a two-bay N aisle, with a tower at the W end of the aisle, and a chancel with a N organ room. The ground storey of the tower is a vestry, entered through an external W doorway, or through a S doorway inside the church. Stretton Sugwas is justly famous for the great tympanum of Samson and the Lion, brought from the old church and set over the S entrance to the vestry. The S and W doorways are also 12thc. as is the font. The church is of sandstone except for the timber-framed upper part of the tower, based on Holmer.


In 1086 Roger de Lacy held 2½ hides of ploughland and a mill in Stretton Sugwas and Robert (de Baskerville) held from him. A smaller holding of half a hide was in the hands of Hugh l’Asne. In neither case does the Domesday Survey record a church. In 1142 a Bull of Pope Innocent II recorded the gift of the churches of Eardisley, Stretton Sugwas and other churches on the lands of Robert de Baskerville’s heir, Ralph de Baskerville, to the Augustinian house of Llanthony Secunda. Thurlby attributes the patronage of the tympanum to Ralph de Baskerville.


Exterior Features


Interior Features

Interior Decoration





The tympanum is one of the masterworks of the Herefordshire School; photographs alone cannot convey the boldness of the carving or the sheer monumentality of the work. Zarnecki attributed the tympanum to his Chief Master, whose bold style is also seen on the chancel arch at Kilpeck and the fonts at Eardisley and Castle Frome. The treatment of the lion is almost exactly the same as on the Eardisley font and the Virgin and Child tympanum at Fownhope. The treatment of Samson’s dress, in parallel vertical pleats, is a signature feature of this sculptor, and can be most closely compared with the fighting warriors on the Eardisley font, the figures entangled in foliage at Billesley (Warwicks) and Alveley (Salop), and the figure of St George at Brinsop. The comparison with Brinsop is especially illuminating, and Thurlby has remarked that “in composition it is in many respects a mirror-image of Brinsop.” It is worth noting too that both tympana are significantly taller than a semicircle. As Zarnecki pointed out, the motifs of Samson and the Lion at Stretton Sugwas and St George and the Dragon at Brinsop have their parallels in two lunettes on the W front of the church of Saint-Pierre in Parthenay-le-Vieux (Deux-Sevres), and such comparisons were important in establishing Zarnecki’s view that the origins of the Herefordshire School lay partly in a pilgrimage undertaken by Oliver de Merlimond, founder of Shobdon, that must have passed through Aquitaine on its way to Santiago de Compostella. It may be significant that the Parthenay lunettes are not semicircular either, but stilted in form. The Samson and the Lion motif appears elsewhere in the work of the school; at Alveley and in a tiny form on the N impost of the first order interior capital of the W doorway at Leominster. Zarnecki dates the tympanum c.1140. Thurlby agrees that it was carved before the church passed to Lanthony Secunda in 1142, but suggests that it may be even earlier; before the Welsh rebellions following the death of Henry I in 1135. The font is of a common Herefordshire form, and may be compared with the restored example at Sutton St Nicholas, and the more elaborate type with a cable-moulded roll found at Peterchurch, Blakemere and Humber.

(benefice of Stretton Sugwas)


Herefordshire Sites & Monuments Record 2207, 2208. Now available online at http://www.smr.herefordshire.gov.uk/db.php/p

G. Zarnecki, 'The Priory Church of Shobdon and its Founder', in: D. Buckton and T.A. Heslop (ed), Studies in Medieval Art and Architecture presented to Peter Lasko. Stroud 1994, 211-20.

G. Marshall, Fonts in Herefordshire. Hereford, Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club. Published in 3 parts: I (1949); II (1950); III (1951).

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Herefordshire, Harmondsworth 1963, 295-96.

RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Herefordshire, 2: East, 1932, 176.

M. Thurlby, The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture, Logaston 1999, 127-28 & passim.

G. Zarnecki, Later English Romanesque Sculpture 1140-1210, London 1953.