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Beachampton & Hanslope Church Spires
Weather-hound of Hanslope church
St. Mary the Virgin, Beachampton

180 feet high spire of Hanslope Church
Since at least 1414 a spire has graced the church at Hanslope, and from this vantage on clear days locations as distant as Dunstable Downs may be seen.

However, with the original having been destroyed by a bolt of lightning, which struck during a severe storm on June 23, 1804, the present spire is some 20 feet short of the original glory, and was built at a cost of £1,000 in 1806.

When a large crack was discovered in March, 1962, a Spire Fund Appeal was launched to cover the cost of repairs.

During the 18th century the need had arisen to replace the church weathervane, and after the churchwardens had accordingly advertised for a steeplejack, Robert Cadman was duly employed.

Spurning the use of ropes and tackle he climbed the spire by just using hand and footholds, and during the ascent in order to entertain the watching crowds he beat on a small drum, which he forgetfully left dangling from the weathervane.

Not surprisingly, on completing the job he was liberally feted in a village inn by the locals, who when he remembered his drum, thankfully managed to dissuade him from retrieving it until the following morning, wher sufficiently sober!

Robert's lofty antics were not confined to Hanslope, for at All Saint Church, Derby, he strapped a grooved board to his chest and, with arm and legs extended, slid down a rope from the top of the spire to the ground firing a pistol, blowing a trumpet, and trailing clouds of smoke from the friction on the rope!

This he repeated twice a day for three days, but in 1740 he was killed when the rope snapped during a similar feat at Shrewsbury where he lies buried in the churchyard.

As for the weathervane of Hanslope church, while many steeples are graced with a weathercock, that of Hanslope is shaped as a 'weatherhound', and the reason begins with William Watts, who purchased the manor of Hanslope in 1764.

A former Governor of Bengal, during his service William had been viciously attacked in India by a mad dog, and only when a bystander fired an arrow through the animal's paw was he saved from a severe mauling, or worse.

Therefore it was in gratitude for this deliverance that he had the design of a hound with an arrow through the paw incorporated into the family coat of arms, causing the weatherhound to be placed on the top of the Hanslope church spire as a further commemoration.

Apart from the spire at Hanslope, another local example of note is that of Olney, although in June 1783 this also had a close encounter with lightning, during a time of heavy thunderstorms. In fact the event was witnessed by the Olney poet, William Cowper, who wrote of the incident: "Yesterday morning, however, at seven o'clock, two fire-balls burst either in the steeple or close to it."

William Andrews saw them meet at that point, and immediately after saw such a smoke issue from the apertures in the steeple as soon rendered it invisible.

"I believe no very material damage happened, though when Joe Green went afterwards to wind the clock, flakes of stone and lumps of mortar fell about his ears in such abundance, that he desisted, and fled terrified."

"The noise of the explosion surpassed all the noises I ever heard - you would have thought that a thousand sledge-hammers were battering great stones to powder, all in the same instant."

On a smaller scale, but no less interesting, is the 'mini' spire of Beachampton church.

This surmounts 'the stunted heights' of a square stone tower, and as evidence that there has long been such a feature the comments written at a visitation of 1637 include 'the Cross of the steeple wanting.'

However, it seems that the structure would soon also be found to be wanting, since around 1680 woodwork was put up 'on the Decay of the Stone Work', although 'the Church Wardens who did it, incurred the Displeasure of the general Part of the Parish.'