Friday, 23 April 2010

Arkesden, Essex

St Mary the Virgin sits atop a hill (or what we in Essex call a hill) overlooking the heart of the village and whilst the church and its position are lovely it contains one of the most over restored monument I've yet seen.

A pretty, small village by a tiny stream.

ST MARY. Traces of a Norman round tower were found, when in 1855 the present W tower was built. At the same time the church was heavily restored. It consists of a C13 nave and a C13 chancel. Roofs, clerestory, and chancel arch belong to 1855. Inside, the S arcade has circular piers, the N arcade octagonal piers. Both have arches with two slight chamfers. So they must both be C13, and not too late. - PLATE. Cup of 1562; Paten of 1567. - MONUMENTS. Brass to a Knight, mid C15, the figure three feet long. - Effigy of a Priest, C15; in a very low two-bay recess in the chancel N wall. The recess has three broad piers with niches for figures. - Richard Cutte d. 1592 and wife. Large standing wall-monument with two recumbent effigies, and the children kneeling against arches on the front of the tomb-chest. The effigies under a heavy six-poster with odd short baluster-columns which have leaves growing up the lower thirds of their shafts. Straight top with obelisks and achievements. - John Withers d. 1692 and wife. Standing wall-monument with an excellent stone-relief of skulls and branches and higher up excellent busts of marble. It is a first-class work and has recently been convincingly attributed to Edward Pearce (cf. Great Canfield). 

Richard Cutte 1592

Arthur Mee:

Arkesden. It lies in a winding valley and has its share of the old farms and cottages which are the pride of Essex. From a little bridge guarded by an ancient elm its green slopes up to a churchyard with a peace memorial on a great boulder between two handsome pines. Higher still stands the church, which has a 15th century tower rising from the massive Norman foundations. The building has been much restored, but is chiefly 700 years old, with double lancets in the chancel, fine round pillars in the nave and an aisle added in 1500 by a wealthy London fishmonger. The font bowl is Norman and stands on low arches not quite so old. A piscina in one of the aisles has been supported by a grotesque head for 600 years.

But the great attraction here is in the ancient monuments. A solemn 15th century priest lies in his robes in the chancel, in a double recess divided by a pillar with a lovely niche. He may have come from Walden Abbey in Bedfordshire, to which this church belonged for nearly 200 years before the Reformation; we see the abbey arms in old glass in the tower. A brass portrait shows Richard Fox of 1439 in armour with his dog and beside him towers the Elizabethan monument of Richard Cutte, who lies with his wife under a rich canopy. His feet are on the heraldic beast of his crest and hers rest on a red dog, but the quaint feature of the tomb is its recesses at the sides, six of them with figures of children, all named.

A boy of the next generation in this family, son of another Richard Cutte, is known to history as John Cutts and shines in the glowing pages of Macauley as he shone on the battlefields of the Duke of Marlborough. He was born at Arkesden in 1661 and lived to be a great soldier. He fought Protestant battles wherever he had the chance and always, as Macauley says, as the bravest of the brave. He is a European figure and was the first to lead the attack at the Battle of Blenheim, his last battle. So much at ease was he in the hottest engagements that his men called him the Salamander and Macauley declared that he was unrivalled for bulldog courage, always the man for a forlorn hope. In peaceful life he made Steele his secretary and Steele dedicated his first book to him. Perhaps it is to the honour of this courageous man that he was himself the butt of Dean Swift's abuse. He died in Dublin and so is not among his ancestors in this village which gave him birth.

Just a century younger is a big monument to John Withers of the Middle Temple, with handsome busts of himself and his wife, by Roubiliac, A side chapel is in memory of Herbert Fearn who, in 1916, finished a ministry of 47 years. Rich glass above its little altar shows the Madonna, St Michael and St Alban.

The churchyard has kept some of its gravestones since the 17th century, one with a cherub and two skulls in foliage deeply carved.

Flickr set.

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