The first church building here was probably a modest estate chapel provided by Lady Godiva, which was replaced by a sandstone chapel in c.1150. The tower (50ft in height) was built in the 15th century and the north aisle was added in 1530. In 1782 the old Norman chancel was demolished and replaced with the present structure.
In 1815 the Revd. Nunn’s powerful preaching attracted such crowds that the church was enlarged to seat 900! A south aisle was added and instead of stone arcades, slender, cast-iron columns were used, a successful architectural ploy 30 years ahead of its time. Galleries on either side provided the extra seating. A side chapel was added in 1927.
By 1888 the church was in need of radical repair. Look up in the chancel and see how the oak pews were used to provide a new ceiling. The galleries must have been removed at this time. The ancient roof beams in the nave – the oldest woodwork left in the church – have a Tudor rose boss in the centre. The church is a Grade IIa listed building.
The font is possibly Saxon and may be a relic of the chapel founded by Lady Godiva. A double band of chevrons with a cross are carved round the outside and it stands on a fragment of one of the nave pillars, removed in 1816. The pulpit was carved in 1923 by members of the congregation from a local oak tree. A carving on the lectern, also oak, depicts Jesus’ parable about the Sower and the seed. An Armada chest from the 16th century has an intricate locking device in its lid – 11 bolts are worked simultaneously by one key.
The main altar has 5 panels painted by a former Vicar’s daughter in 1870, they show Saints Wulstan, Thomas, Laurence, Paul and Oswald. There is also a small Jacobean table which was probably the original altar. There are several stained glass windows dating from different periods. A particularly beautiful Art Nouveau window is an unusual addition and children enjoy spotting the birds and animals in a modern window of St Francis.
Various memorial tablets in the chancel commemorate famous, past parishioners. Edward Jackson , Vicar 1722-1758, founder of St Laurence CE Primary School, the oldest free day school in Coventry, and also Headmaster of Bablake School. Stonier Parrott (d.1744) a noted industrialist and local mine owner, who pioneered the use of Newcomen’s Pump Engine and Richard Parrott (d.1774) a nationally famous mining engineer.
St Laurence Martyr
Our patron saint was born in Spain and educated at Sargossa in the third century. Bishop Sixtus met him there, recognised his faith and ability and brought him to Rome, where he became the archdeacon or leader of the seven deacons there. His task was to look after the church money and dispense alms to the poor, sick and needy.
The Church had been enjoying a period of relative calm and numerical growth, when suddenly the Emperor Valerian in the summer of 258 issued a severe edict against the Christians. They were ordered to forsake Jesus and return to worshipping the Roman gods and all Christian leaders were to be killed. Bishop Sixtus was arrested and immediately condemned to death. Laurence met him on the way to his execution and was overcome by grief, but Sixtus told him, “In three days time you will follow me and your battle will be harder than mine.”
The Roman Prefect sent for Laurence and demanded that he bring the church treasure to him. Laurence asked for three days to gather it all together. On the third day when the Prefect arrived, Laurence pointed to the crowd of poor, sick and needy people he had gathered together and said, “These are the treasures of the Church.” Furious the Prefect ordered Laurence to be immediately burned alive on a grid iron over a slow fire. The grid iron became his special emblem.
Although in great pain his faith and courage never failed him and he became one of the most popular and widely known saints. All over the world cities, rivers and churches, of course, have been named after him.
In his sermon on St Laurence St Augustine wrote. “It is true that the needs of the poor are the wealth of the Christians. If we put our treasure there we do not lose it. You ask where can I find Christ on earth? If you give to the poor you have fed Christ in Heaven.”
Adapted from The Layman’s Book of Saints: Gerard Sampson