It was Thomas Sheppard (son-in-law of the Revd Dr William Cotton and Lord of the Manor from 1779-1821) who drastically altered the character of the church in a building campaign which took place sometime between 1780 and 1800. This was a time when convenience rather than conservation was popular in church reordering and, in line with current fashion, Sheppard succeeded in turning St Michael’s into a rectangular preaching box. The work was completed in 1801 when a correspondent wrote in praise of it to the Gentleman’s Magazine; the letter (together with an engraving by J. Richards) appeared in the December 1801 issue. More info…
Sheppard’s work opened out once more the north arcade and rebuilt the north aisle, but walled up the church arch and dismantled the mediaeval chancel and north chapel. A new ceiling was constructed beneath the level of the clerestory windows, which were blocked up. Plan of Church as it is today.

A west gallery was erected and the church was re-floored and re-seated. Subsequent discoveries have revealed how sweeping this transformation was. A carved stone corbel, sections of moulded timber from the roof and the 14th-century effigy of a priest were discovered during the 1994 restoration, buried beneath the floorboards in the north aisle. Fragments of painted Royal Arms over the chancel arch and carved woodwork on the roof still remain in place above the plaster ceiling.

The Vault


The walls and floor are roughly plastered, and the floor is composed of red bricks (nine inches by four inches), and on stone set in the north wall just inside the vault is the inscription: ” This vault was built by order of Thomas Sheppard, 1784″. Within the vault are apparent remains of 21 interments and remains of sundry others.

Section ‘A’

Plan of the vaults at Thornton Church

They are arranged in lines of 10 adult coffins and one of a child (number 4, resting on number 3). The outer wooden caskets have rotted away, leaving only fragile pieces of wood on top of the lead containers. Several of these are bursting or have fallen in, and traces of an inner wooden coffin can be seen. Each lead container bears in raised letters the same inscription as engraved upon the brass plates fixed to the top of the outer wooden casket. These inscriptions are as follows: –

1. Leigh Smith, died March 16 1827. Aged 68 years

2. Thomas Sheppard Bart. died November 21st 1821. Aged 75 years

3. Elizabeth Sheppard wife of Thomas Sheppard Esq., Died September 27 1800. Aged 42 years

4. Charles Sheppard. Died July 25 1801. Aged 3 years

5. W.T. Sheppard Cotton Esq., Died April 21st 1803. Aged …. (not legible on lead, and brass missing) N.B. 24 years.

6. Maria Lowndes wife of William Lowndes Esq., of Whaddon Hall. Died December 14 1798. Aged ….. years. N.B. 22 years

7. Reverend George Turnor of Wragley 2nd son of the late Edmund Turnor, Esq. of Panton House, Lincs. Died at Thornton Hall October 5 1825. Aged 65

8. Ann Eleanora Turnor. Died Feb 22 1845. Aged 82

9. Sarah Gurney. Died March 20 1809 ………… (plate missing)

10. Dame Mary Ann widow of Sir Thomas Cotton Sheppard Bart. of Crakemarsh Hall. Died September 26 1872 in her 80th year

11. Sir Thomas Cotton Sheppard Bart. Died 5 April 1848. Aged 63


Section ‘B’ – The Tyrell Vault

Here are two piles of coffins:

1. Three lead containers for adults, and on top of them a wooden one for a small baby.

The only one which has any isible marking is the topmost adult one, having a brass fixed on the side at its foot end, with the inscription: “Sir Charles Tyrrell Bart. Died Jan 20th 1748. Aged 40”

2. Three adult lead containers, and on top of them three wood coffins for children, with brass studding and traces of a leather covering. These latter were split open and showed inside a few fragments of cloth, and one or two light green metal spicules – presumably the remains of shroud pins. As the bodies were of small children, the skeletons would have been largely cartilage, and this has decomposed to leave practically no trace. The uppermost large coffin still has its outer brass-studded wooden container more or less intact, with fragments of its original leather covering. None in this pile has any discoverable inscription.

3. In the corner, and contained by pile 2 and a three foot high single brick wall, is a heap composed of mouldering wood, coffin handles and fittings and assorted bones.


It would appear that the Tyrrell vault mentioned by Browne-Willis, wherein were interred “no less than six baronets and some of their ladies and children; of above 30 …. in number”, was beneath the north chantry as he states when describing the chantry, “In this chapel is a vault.”

When this chantry was demolished by Dr Cotton (ob.1782) or his son-in-law Thomas Sheppard, it was desirous of discontinuing using the vault – it may have been no longer structurally sound -. So Thomas Sheppard built a new one alongside the nave where the north aisle had previously stood, and over this, the north aisle was built in 1850. The two piles of coffins and the heap of remains at the far end of the vault must surely be what remained of the Tyrrell interments, moved into the new vault, the other rows of coffins containing the remains of Thomas Sheppard and his family. Leigh Smith and Sarah Gurney presumably had some connection with the family, but at present, that is unknown. The others fit in as follows:-

2. Thomas Sheppard
Died 821
Married 1774

6. Maria, born 1776 died 1798
married 1795 William Lowndes

3. Elizabeth Cotton
Died 1800

5. William Thomas Sheppard Cotton
born 1778 Died 1803

11. Sir Thomas Cotton Sheppard, Bart.
Born 1785 Died 1848
Married 10. Mary Ann
daughter of 7. Rev. George Turnor died 1825
and 8. wife Ann Leonora Died 1845

4. Charles Born 1798 Died 1801