Eardisley was originally known as “Herdeslege, and in around 1100 there was a tiny church where the current south aisle of the church is today. Near to the entrance there is the most wonderful 12th century font, which is intricately carved and shows the skill of stonemasons at this time. The carvings tell the story of a sinner being saved from the power of evil. Evil is shown as a lion, and the Holy Spirit is depicted as a dove. There are two men shown fighting each other, and it is believed that these men are Ralph de Baskerville, Lord of the Manor of Eardisley, and his father in law Lord Drogo of Clifford. Ralph actually killed his father in law in a quarrel over land ownership, and was so filled with remorse that he became a changed man and ended his days in Gloucester as a monk.
The Baskerville family arrived with William the Conqueror, and were Lords of the Manor of Eardisley for 500 years – they lived in the castle behind the church, and there are still some reminders of the family in the church today. The gravestone of Sir Humphrey Baskerville, died 1647, is in the floor of the Vestry, and the heads carved at the bottom of the Vestry arch may well be representations of members of the family. The Baskervilles died out in 1666, and the Barnsley family took over as Lords of the Manor. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle spent much time in Herefordshire, and it is thought possible that although the story of the Hound of the Baskervilles is set in the West Country he drew inspiration from Eardisley and the surrounding area. Certainly he used many local place names in the tale, as well as well known Herefordshire surnames.
The heading on the memorial to William Barnsley reads “Bubbles broken, but Death’s the Gate to Life” – maybe a reference to the disgrace of fraud and forgery which brought down the family. Their reputation and pride was restored some time later by the out of favour daughter in law, Elizabeth …..but the legal battle was incredibly lengthy and went on for some 34 years! Charles Dickens is believed to have used this story as a basis for Bleak House.
In front of the pulpit there is the tombstone of Bishop Coke, Bishop of Hereford, showing his coat of arms. Bishop Coke was a Royalist and when Cromwell’s army arrived in Hereford he fled to Lemore, his home in Eardisley, where he died in 1646. His family remained at Lemore for a further 250 years, providing the clergy not only for Eardisley but also for many other parishes – some as distant as Dorset. Francis Coke was one of the last members of the family, and his wife Lily died aged 27 in 1892 in Chicago. The final member was Sir John Coke KCB, who served in the Indian Army and survived the awful first day of the battle for Delhi during the Indian Mutiny; he was so thankful for his life that he donated an organ to the church and this was built in 1860 by Joseph William Walker.
In 1857, the new Lord of the Manor, William Perry Herrick gave land and money to found the Church school, which is over the road from the church, and there is an inscription inside the church which also acknowledges his help with the restoration of the church.