Ilam has been a place of pilgrimage since the days of St Bertram, a Saxon saint and hermit who lived here, and today there are more ‘pilgrims’ (in the form of tourists) than ever. The saint was a Saxon prince of Mercia who travelled to Ireland to marry an Irish princess. On their way back to Mercia she had a child and they rested in the forest here while Bertram went off to seek food. When he returned he discovered that wolves had killed both his wife and child and, broken-hearted, he lived as a hermit around here for the rest of his life.
The saint’s tomb lies in the church, a trim little building sitting apart from the rest of the village. The church was originally within the village – but the village was moved by Jesse Watts Russell to improve the view from the hall he built here in the 1820s. Some small parts of Saxon architecture may still be traced on the south wall where there is a walled-up old Saxon doorway, and there are the stumps of two Saxon crosses in the churchyard. Inside the church there is a magnificent Saxon font, which is worth a visit for itself.
Much of the church is Norman and Early English, (the tower is 13th century, for example), but there have been some notable later additions. The first is St Bertram’s Chapel, built in 1618 by the Meverell family of Throwley Hall to house the saint’s tomb, which is still a place of pilgrimage. Also in the chapel is the Meverell family’s own tomb, a fine early 17th century edifice which is almost hidden by the organ. A more recent addition is the Chantry Chapel, added by Jesse Watts Russell in a Victorian Gothic style which jars slightly with the rest of the church. The chapel is a mausoleum to Jesse Watt Russell’s father-in-law, David Pike Watts, and takes its name from the sculptor of the fine marble statue which depicts David Pike Watts on his deathbed