The Wolford Bier

Wolford Bier

A bier is a stand on which a corpse, or coffin, is sometimes carried from the deceased’s home to the Church, into the Church for the Funeral service and, finally, to the grave for burial. An 1899 advertisement announced “biers are especially suited for Country Parishes where hearses are not kept, and for the convenience and saving of expense to the Poor, as half the number of Men required to carry a coffin can take it any distance with ease on the bier”.

It is almost certain that the use of a bier was available to all residents of the SW7 parishes, from the late nineteenth century onwards. The earliest known local reference is of the use of a bier at an interrupted funeral in Long Compton in 1887. Other than this, the only surviving evidence records the existence of biers in Cherington and the Wolfords.

The Wolford Bier was given to the Church by the Misses Bull, who lived at Manor Farm for many years prior to the sale of the Village in 1920. It has not been possible to establish precisely when it was given. The Bier was not made in the Wolfords but by J Smith of Pershore, whose name is to be found in nineteenth century Trade Directories as a carpenter and wheelwright. Bringing a coffin from Little Wolford for burial in the 1950’s was remembered by a now deceased parishioner.

The first known reference to the Bier in the local records occurs in 1976. In May, Mr Payne asked if he might have “the wheels and undercarriage of the old bier, which had been removed from the base of the bier when it was set up in the porch as a stand for the old clock working”. This was referred then to the Parish Council. Ultimately sixty seven parishioners signed a petition objecting to the proposal. The idea was dropped, but it was noted that the bier was “in need of some restoration work”.

It would seem that, at some time between 1976 and 1987, the bier was returned to the main body of the Church as, in August 1987, “at the end of Family Service on July 5th the grown-ups played a new game called “Move the Bier”. Ably captained by Mr Guy Ward, the old Parish Bier was moved out from the church into the church porch in a series of skilful heaves.

Restoration commenced in 1989 and, in October 1990, The LINK reported that the restoration was finished and the bier returned to the church porch. Lynn Matthias kindly provided a work area, Jean Parsons did the new sign-writing and the Singer Trust sponsored the work time of Dennis Archard which paid for the materials, especially the new leather straps.

It’s still there!

Lawrie Thompson