Saturday, 26 June 2010

Felsted, Essex

I'm at a loss - how does Finchingfield get into Simon Jenkin's 1000 Best Churches over Felsted? Both churches are similar in layout and design, although I'll grant Finchingfield the prettier location - I think this swung it - both, however, are surrounded by medieval remnants and houses but, and to my mind it's a big but, Felsted has the Rich Chapel.

I know you're thinking that a tomb to an out out bastard shouldn't swing the decision Felsted's way but the Rich Chapel really does set it apart, in my opinion, from Finchingfield - which anyway already holds the accolade of Essex's prettiest or most picturesque, I forget which, village.

I suspect Arthur will agree with me - I haven't checked yet, honest.

HOLY CROSS. A sizeable, prosperous town-church, excellently placed away from the main street and separated from it by a range of low houses with a gateway through. Unbuttressed Norman W tower with later battlements and an C18 cupola. W doorway of two orders of columns with defaced capitals, zigzag decoration in the arches. The rest of the church exterior appears mostly C14 and is much renewed; Exceptions are the C15 S porch and the S chancel chapel which dates from the middle of the C16 and, while the rest of the church is of pebble-rubble, is faced with clunch ashlar. Inside, the building history appears a little more complicated, as will be seen, directly one enters the church by the S doorway. The water-leaf capitals of this take one at once to the later C12, and to that date also belongs the S arcade. It has short sturdy circular and octagonal piers with capitals decorated with upright leaves. The pointed arches are single-stepped with an odd soffit decoration which recurs in the tower arch and the N arcade (cf. Castle Hedingham). The tower arch is round, the N arcade of octagonal piers with double-chamfered arches, C14 work. Of the same century are the two-light clerestory windows. - FONT. Early C14? Circular with human heads connecting the circular with an upper square part. - EASTER SEPULCHRE, in the chancel, mid C14 and much restored. Recess with embattled top and a crocketed ogee arch; buttresses and finials. - POOR BOX. Iron-bound and studded.- PLATE. Large silver-gilt Cup of 1641; Paten on foot of 1641; Paten on foot of 1700. - MONUMENTS. Richard, first Lord Rich d. 1568 and his son d. 1581, erected probably only about 1620 and attributed convincingly by Mrs Esdaile to Epiphanius Evesham. Lord Rich, great grandson of a London mercer and born in 1496 in the City of London, had risen, by means of ability and absence of scruples, to be made Lord Chancellor in 1548. Big standing wall monument with the figure of Lord Rich comfortably reclining and looking back at his son who is kneeling on the ground by the side facing a prayer-desk attached by a generous scroll to the monument. Behind the figure two coats of arms and three reliefs of groups of standing figures, with all the lyrical intensity of which Evesham was capable. They represent Lord Rich with Fortitude and Justice, Lord Rich with Hope and Charity, and Lord Rich with Truth (?) and Wisdom. One looks in vain for Lord Rich with Intolerance and Occasio. The monument is flanked by two tall bronze columns carrying a pediment. - Brasses to Christine Bray d. 1420 and to a Knight of about the same date, both with figures c. 2 ft long, and both on the chancel floor.

 Holy Cross

Holy Cross

Richard Rich

Richard Rich detail

Robert Rich, 2nd Baron Lees

Robert Rich detail
FELSTEAD. Its fame is wherever the influence of our public schools has gone. It lies off the Roman road from Great Dunmow to Colchester, and has a fine little group of farmhouses and buildings. On one cottage in the heart of the village are the words, "George Boot made this house, 1596," and we must agree that he made it well, for its overhanging storey still rests on a moulded beam borne on carved brackets decorated with dragons and rosettes, and at one corner crouches a remarkable figure of a woman with cloven feet. Near by is the 17th century vicarage, and beyond is a charming group of almshouses made new in the old style with a small chapel in which we found an Elizabethan table with hinged flaps. The almshouses were founded by the Lord Chancellor who gave the village its chief pride, one of the most famous schools in England, older than Shakespeare. He was Lord Chancellor Rich, a melancholy figure in our history but a benefactor of this countryside.

His school has now about 300 boys, and the main modern building, with its towers and gabled windows, faces one of the finest cricket fields in Essex, on which is a pavilion built from the beams of old cottages that have gone. A cloister leads to the noble hall sheltered by a pair of lofty elms, and beyond is the gracious memorial building designed by two Old Boys. The school began in Tudor days in the delightful timbered and plastered building still standing in the heart of the village, the old schoolroom occupying four bays of the upper storey overhanging the street. The original roof beams are still visible. Next door is the 15th century cottage in which the schoolmaster lived, its three gabled windows projecting from the tiled roof.

In this small schoolroom four sons of Oliver Cromwell learned their lessons - Robert, who may have died at school; Oliver, the Captain Cromwell killed in battle; Henry, wisest and best of all the Protector's boys, and Richard, one of the pathetic figures of our history. To this school also came John Wallis, well known as a mathematician in the early 17th century. His amazing mathematical feats made him famous everywhere, and the rapid deciphering of a cryptical letter during the Civil War set him on the road to fortune, though indeed he was well off, his mother having bequeathed to him an estate in Kent. He is regarded as the chief of all the forerunners of Sir Isaac Newton in mathematics, for which he invented the symbol of Infinity. He would solve the most intricate problems in bed at night and startled even those who knew his great abilities by his wonderful ingenuity with figures, and his easy dealings with them. He knew Pepys, and one of his sad little notes was written to the diarist saying that till he was past 80 he could pretty well bear the weight of years, but he was now an old man, and his sight, hearing, and strength were not as they were wont to be.

There followed John Wallis as a scholar at this school that other mathematician whom we meet in the Poets Corner of Westminster Abbey, Isaac Barrow. Here he had his first lessons in mathematics, and it is no small tribute to this little grammar school that Isaac Barrow grew up to be the mathematical master of Sir Isaac Newton. That was the proud office he gave up in order to travel abroad, and he had great adventures, and when he fell asleep the last words on his lips were "I have seen the glories of the world."

Under the old schoolroom is a wooden arch leading to the ancient church, which has a Norman tower capped by a cupola set up about 1700, when the clock was made. Tiny Norman windows light the stair turret within the tower, which has a fine Norman doorway with a column on each side and two rows of zigzag ornament on its arch. We come into the church by a Tudor porch with a roof which still has its original rafters. The doorway into the nave was built about 1200, and has four columns with carved capitals. The south arcade is from the end of Norman days, the magnificent piers having foliage capitals. The tower arch is also Norman, though it has been restored with Tudor bricks. The chancel and the fine rafters in its roof are 14th century, and so is the grand roof of the nave, the clerestory, the north arcade, the walls of the aisles, and the much-worn font with its sculptured heads. Probably by these same 14th century craftsmen is the Easter Sepulchre carved with elaborate foliage and rich with pinnacles in which tiny arches are flanked by faces. There are two 500-year-old brasses, one with the portrait of Christine Grey in a veiled headdress, and the other showing a man magnificent in armour.

But the glory of this church is the great monument of Lord Rich. It is in a chapel built by him as the resting-place of his family, and his tomb is one of the most captivating pieces of carving in Essex. It is, moreover, a significant monument surviving from Tudor days, being one of the few works that are definitely known to be by our first eminent English sculptor, Epiphanius Evesham, whose work we have come upon in two or three places in Kent and in other counties. Here the sculptor has shown us a remarkable figure on a remarkable tomb. Lord Rich is leaning on his elbow in his robe of state, a living portrait of craft and guile with his long beard, and wearing a flat cap. The canopy over him rests on two black columns, and his coat-of-arms and scenes from his life are worked into panels behind him. We see him as a youth holding a cross and a document, Truth and Wisdom standing by him. A second panel shows him as Speaker in the House of Commons with Virtue and Justice behind him, and in the third, where his companions are Hope and Charity, he is represented as Lord Chancellor, carrying the Purse of State. We see him again engraved in black marble on the front of the tomb, riding on horseback, and, last scene of all, we see him on his funeral hearse elaborately canopied, with mournful watchers paying the last homage. The second Lord Rich kneels at a prayer desk let into the tomb, and as a background to the monument are pilasters framing the family arms supported by finely carved stags.

For all Cromwellians this church has much human interest, for here lies Cromwell's first-born son and here was married his last born daughter. They could never have known each other. Robert Cromwell died at Felstead when he was 18, a scholar in the old schoolroom; there is an exceptional tribute to him in the register by his friend the rector, who wrote, "Robert Cromwell, son of the honourable man Squire Oliver Cromwell. Robert was an uncommonly pious youth, fearing God beyond many." Like his three brothers, who were pupils here, Robert would spend his leisure hours at Grandcourts, the 16th century home of the Bourchiers.

In a grave near by lies that Robert Rich who married Cromwell’s youngest daughter, Frances. His death was full of pathos, and her life crowded with romance. She is the subject of a remarkable group of marriage stories. It is said that Charles the Second was willing to marry her but that Cromwell would not agree to this plan of bringing peace to the kingdom, because, as he said, "Charles would never be such a fool as to forgive him the death of his father." Cromwell's chaplain, Jerry White, then made love to her, and, being caught by Oliver in the act, timidly protested that he was pleading for her support for his suit to the lady's maid, whereupon Oliver insisted on his marrying the lady's maid on the spot. The third marriage story is that Robert Rich, heir to the Earl of Warwick, fell in love with Frances and married her, so that she would have become Countess of Warwick in due time; but they were married in November in this church at Felstead and Robert Rich died in February leaving no issue. His widow now married into the Russell family, giving Sir John Russell several children, but burying him at last and remaining his widow for more than half a century.

Another figure still remembered here (pupil, master, and governor of the school) is Edward Gepp, a clergyman who spent most of his life at or near Felstead, retiring at last to Chaffix, a Tudor cottage at the end of the village. Here in our time he produced his Essex: Dialect Dictionary, a rich fund of rural speech gathered from the neighbourhood. It is a careful and scholarly work, and the only book of its kind.

In the chapel of Felstead School is a memorial to 239 Felsteadians who gave their lives for England in the Great War; it is a fine screen made of English oak, designed and painted by Frank 0 Salisbury. It has a statue of St George and the Dragon flanked by figures of Sir Galahad and King Arthur. The embattled cornice is carved with foliage, and on the back of the stalls below the screen are carved three wreaths for the Army, Navy, and the Air Force. Above it all is Mr Salisbury's beautiful window of Our Lord supporting a soldier in khaki, and on the panels are the names of the 239 fallen, among them the name of John Leslie Green, who was with the Royal Army Medical Corps in the Great War, and was awarded the VC for bringing a wounded man from the enemy's wire entanglements, dressing his wounds in a shell-hole amid a storm of bombs and rifle grenades, and bearing him to within reach of safety.

RICHARD RICH, Lord Chancellor, who has slept at Felstead since 1567, was one of the sinister figures of Tudor England. It has been said that he made stepping-stones to fortune of the dead bodies of his benefactors. After a wild youth he became a foremost lawyer and was made Solicitor-General, making use of his office to visit Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher in the Tower and to betray both to death. Under a pledge of secrecy he extracted statements from Bishop Fisher which he treacherously used at the trial. When More was brought before his judges Rich put into his mouth words he had never uttered, leading More to declare that Rich, who had been a great gambler, was loose of his tongue, and such a man as no one could communicate with on any matter of importance.

Rich marched to power by servile flattery of Henry the Eighth, and was rewarded with part of the king's ill-gotten gains from the monasteries. Having worked with Thomas Cromwell, he now helped to manoeuvre his fall, and with his own hands he tortured Anne Askew in the Tower. In the troubled years which followed he sup-ported whichever side seemed uppermost, betraying his friends in turn. He signed the proclamation for Lady Jane Grey and then came down into Essex and proclaimed Mary. He sent Roman Catholics and Protestants to their death. He rode with Queen Elizabeth into London, and was one of those summoned to discuss the question of the queen's marriage, but he was unworthy of his office, a base intriguer, one of the most selfish of men in spite of his benefactions.

Flickr set.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Exning, Suffolk

Another locked church which I came across whilst trying to find Landwade church (sadly my sat nav wasn't up to the job which will necessitate a further journey). A lot of modern cement rendering but some nice corbels and a pleasant heart of village setting. This is/was a cruciform church which should instill a certain frisson but has been so thoroughly over restored that it is anodyne.

I stopped off on my way to Landwade almost a year later and found the lady Vicar preparing for Ash Wednesday and she let me have a look around. Sadly the interior is very dull.

ST MARTIN. Much renewed. E.E. chancel with lancet windows on the N and S sides. The E window cannot be trusted. W tower late C13 to early C14. Triple-chamfered tower arch with continuous mouldings. W window with reticulated tracery. S transept Dec. The four-light S window also reticulated. The N transept has the same forms, but they seem all new. C14 arcade of four bays with octagonal piers and double-chamfered arches. - PULPIT. C18 with tester; simple. - STALL. With traceried front and poppy-heads. - BENCH ENDS. Straight-headed, with linenfold panelling. - COMMUNION RAIL. C18, with slender turned balusters. - PLATE. Elizabethan Cup; Paten 1637; Paten 1825; Flagon 1830.

EXNING. It is said that St Etheldreda, Queen of Northumbria, was born here about 600 years before Magna Carta, and it is said also that this old place is the mother of Newmarket which grew up when Exning lost its market through the plague.

A corner of Suffolk nearly surrounded by Cambridgeshire, it has a house with iron gates of the 18th century, a wood with three springs where Etheldreda is said to have been baptised, a few pleasant old houses, and a church which was here when Newmarket was a hamlet. With a lofty 14th century tower standing proudly on a little hill, it has a 13th century chancel and a nave with pillars that have stood 500 years. There is a beautiful niche by the north door, a room over the south porch, the roodloft stairs intact, and a double piscina with two openings like pigeon-holes, the work of a sculptor of Chaucer's day. Some of the benches have old linenfold panelling, and near the altar is the tomb of an unknown 15th century priest.

Flickr set.

Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Grafton

Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Grafton. (1663 – 1690) was the second illegitimate son of Barbara Villiers and Charles II but he was not recognised as a natural son – Villiers was somewhat loose in her attentions to Charles – until 1672 when he was nine and Charles saw a likeness to himself.

Having been acknowledged as a natural son he was formally engaged to Isabella Bennet, the daughter and heir to Henry Bennet, Earl of Arlington, – she was five at the time – so consummation would have to wait a while but to keep him interested he was created Earl of Euston, after his future father in law’s estate (which must have concerned his in laws) and, subsequently, in 1675, Duke of Grafton.

He and his brother, George, Earl of Northumberland, who I have no interest in, then went to Paris – I imagine on a mini Grand Tour – and following his return, despite his mother’s attempts to break the contract, he married Isabella in 1679…he was 16 she was 12. Evelyn recorded that “the sweetest, hopefulest, most beautiful child, & most virtuous too, was sacrific'd to a boy that had been rudely bred” but hoped that the Duke would “emerge a plaine, usefull, robust officer, & were he polish'd, a tolerable person, for he is exceedingly handsome, by far surpassing any of the King's other naturall issue”. Apparently the marriage was consummated in 1681.

Charles wished for a military career for Henry and in 1678-79 he served aboard the Happy Return in the Mediterranean and in 1680 served under Sir John Berry and saw service in Tangier, Izmir, Alicante and Malaga until leaving his service in December. Meanwhile he had been inaugurated as a Knight of the Garter and in 1681 became a colonel in the 1st Foot Guards and in 1682-3 served as Master of Trinity House (the body responsible for the Pilotage of the Thames). At the beginning of 1683 he succeeded Prince Rupert as Vice-Admiral and in April of the same year he was promoted to Admiral and Commander in Chief of the narrow seas (the coasts and hinterland between southern England and northern France) but was replaced at the end of July by Lord Dartmouth.

Following Charles II’s death in 1685 Henry found favour under James II, acting as Lord High Chamberlain at his coronation and taking a prominent part at the Battle of Sedgemoor – the final action of the Monmouth rebellion following which his half brother, James Crofts, Duke of Monmouth, was executed.

In November 1685 John Talbot, the brother of the Earl of Shrewsbury, gave him “an almost insufferable provocation” which resulted in a duel during which Henry was wounded in his hand but Talbot was killed, for which he was forgiven. Almost immediately afterwards he was involved in a plot with his brother George to incarcerate the latter’s wife in an overseas convent – George had married beneath his station and without royal permission. However after complaints from her family the king intervened and ordered her return.

In 1688 James II once again preferred Dartmouth over Henry as Commander in Chief of the fleet opposing William of Orange and also abolished the position of Vice-Admiral in order “to be rid of the Duke”. Fitzroy violently opposed the promotion of Roman Catholics in the services and James’s policy regarding France and had publicly disagreed with the king. In a fit of pique he visited William and afterwards was involved in a conspiracy, which never came to fruition, by which he was to usurp Dartmouth as Admiral. Despite this he joined James’s army swearing to fight and die for the king but later defected with John Churchill at Axminster.

He was in favour of a Regency but carried the orb at William and Mary’s coronation. Perhaps because of his advocacy of a Regency he was soon out of royal favour and lost all his positions. He entered the navy in 1690 as a private captain and fought at the Battle of Beachy Head, where his actions earned him a letter of commendation from William.

Henry then joined Churchill’s expeditionary force to Ireland and was wounded at the siege of Cork in August. He lingered until the 9th of October when he died aged 27.

His death seems to have been genuinely and widely mourned, the Earl of Nottingham wrote “‘[he was] a very gallant man, and extremely beloved by the seamen, with whom he was very familiar and often joined them in their rough sports, and had he lived, would have deserved to have been Lord Admiral”.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Euston Hall, Suffolk

Euston Hall is a gem which is well worth a visit if only for the fantastic picture collection which includes work from Lely, Stubbs and Van Dyke. It is the residence of the Duke of Grafton and is open on Thursdays between June and September and for two Sundays in August and September.

Be warned that the volunteers who man it are almost exclusively aged blue rinse brigade women who frown upon youthful exuberance and mobile telephones – I was almost ejected because my daughter called me whilst I was in the house. The disapproval I incurred deterred me from taking anything other than external shots which even lasted when I visited the Church – albeit I visited before my interest in Churches and their interiors had been fully inflamed.

St Genevieve, in the grounds, has, as far as I remember, some fine memorials and monuments – Ok this is a revisit to be done with no children, no mobile phone and larger balls.

Arthur says:

EUSTON. It is the Heart of Robert Bloomfield's country, with everything that Suffolk's poet loved most. We come to it from Barnham along a mile of road between grand oaks and over a little bridge by the vicarage. Here are splendid firs and chestnuts, a peep of the vicarage garden with its flowers and lawns by the Blackbourne stream, and another peep of a stately hall beyond weeping willows, as enchanting as anything Robert Bloomfield saw when he walked this way over a century ago. To this very spot he loved to come:

Where noble Grafton spreads his rich domains
Round Euston's watered vale and sloping plains;
Where woods and groves in solemn grandeur rise,
Where the kite brooding unmolested flies;
The woodcock and the painted pheasant race,
And skulking foxes destined for the chase.

Only a minute from the bridge are gracious old houses and cottages near the green with its cross of peace; and here among the great trees we found a cedar 300 feet round the branches, a sort of green cave in which the children play.

Euston was long the home of the Dukes of Grafton, and was once proud of a hall built by the Earl of Arlington, who was one of the famous Cabal Ministry. The house, rebuilt after a fire in 1902, stands proudly in 1200 acres of parkland, and among its treasures are portraits by Lely, Janssen, and Mytens. But of the original house, built in Charles the Second's day, so little is left that we cannot tell whether Walpole was right in calling it large and bad or Evelyn in describing it as a very noble pile. But the woods round about are famous, and one of over 300 acres is said to be the biggest in Suffolk. Many of the trees were planted by Evelyn himself, and much of this loveliness is due to his passion for beautiful things.

The church by the hall is in Italian style and was built by Lord Arlington, who lies in a crypt below and has an elaborate memorial. There is a fragment of a 17th century screen, some rare copper-gilt, altar plate that Evelyn must have seen, and a brass of a Tudor man and his wife.

But the greatest treasures are a pulpit and a reredos said to have been carved by Grinling Gibbons, the pulpit wonderful with cherubs and foliage, the reredos still more wonderful with flowers and leaves and festoons all exquisitely carved.

There are memorials to several of the Dukes of Grafton who lie here. One of them, the third duke, was prominent in the politics of his day and led the government for a year or two when William Pitt became Earl of Chatham. Another, more interesting and less known was the first Duke, Henry Fitzroy, the most popular and perhaps the best of the sons of Charles the Second.

He was married as a boy of nine to Lord Arlington's little daughter of five, whom Evelyn called "a sweete child if ever there was any." He grew up to be a gallant and handsome officer, showing his bravery in fighting Monmouth's rebellion, and later in helping distressed ships of the enemy at the unlucky Battle of Beachy Head. Only a few weeks afterwards he was fighting under Marlborough in Ireland, and at the storming of Cork fell mortally wounded. Here he has been sleeping since 1690, his brilliant career cut short before he was 30.

Which has to lead on to the first family post rather than a church post – surely.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Elsenham, Essex

I visited St Mary in March and can remember that although it was the last visit of the day, it was also, at the time, the best church of the day. At the time I loved the location, the big Hall and walled churchyard but looking through the photos I’m left strangely flat. Perhaps it’s because it had become overcast and then started raining which resulted in grey and dull exterior shots and the interior wasn’t the most exciting I’ve seen to date.

I like the workaday exterior with lots of recycled material from Roman tiles to re-used bricks in the flint work walls and its stolid, foursquare stance – nothing flashy, just a solid Essex church saying take me as you find me. The location though is lovely, so perhaps I need a sunny day revisit to get some better pictures and re-adjust my memories to a more positive slant.

CHURCH. Norman windows in nave (N and S) and chancel (N) In the nave on the S side in addition a three-light mid C16 brick window and a brick porch with brick doorway and two-light side openings. But inside the porch the best piece of Norman decoration of the church, a doorway with zigzag carved columns, oddly decorated capitals (do they mean Sun and Moon?), a tympanum with chip-carved stars and tiers of saltire crosses, and the extrados of the arch with another two strips of saltires. Inside the church against the tympanum a re-used COFFIN LID of the same early date, with a‘ rough cross and bands of saltires. - The chancel-arch also is Norman. It has, like the doorway, columns with zigzag carving and two bands of saltires in the extrados of the arch. In the chancel a C13 addition, a Double Piscina with a shaft carrying a stiff-leaf capital and arches with dog-tooth decoration. - PULPIT Early C17 with strapwork and arabesque motifs. - PLATE. Cup of 1562; Paten of 1595; Paten on foot of c. 1700; Almsdish. - BRASSES of 1615 and 1619. 

 St Mary

St Mary

Anne Field


St Mary

1614 - 1619

Anyway Arthur Mee is more positive than me:

ELSENHAM. A Roman must have set up house here, for we find his red tiles in the church across the valley. The inner arch of one doorway is entirely made of them. They are in the 15th century tower, and were used in the walls of the chancel and the nave by the Normans whose simple carving turns the narrow south doorway into exquisite beauty. It has spiral shafts, and a tympanum repeating the pattern round the arch. A most curious thing is behind this tympanum, a Norman coffin lid with a patterned border and a raised cross, made for a Knight Templar who died about the time the doorway was made, but probably picked up from the chancel floor and put here to strengthen the tympanum by some casual workman when the 15th century door with its metal plate was put in. For 400 years a high-pitched brick porch has sheltered this old door and the older doorway.

High and narrow are the splayed Norman windows to the nave, but most of the light pours in through the lovely 20th century glass in the medieval east window, which we see perfectly framed in the Norman carving of the chancel arch. A mother and her stepdaughter face each other on the jambs of this arch, their brass portraits made to match with twice as much lettering as picture. Though only four years passed between their deaths, early in the 17th century, their costume shows great changes. They were the wife and daughter of Dr Tuer, the vicar whose initials are on the Elizabethan chalice.

A Norman peephole to the altar is cut on one side of the arch, and red bricks frame the doorway to the old rood loft. The 15th century kingpost roof has been saved from the death watch beetle, except for one beam which it had almost completely devoured. The pulpit on an oak stem has Jacobean carving. In the chancel, where a fine double piscina was carved 700 years ago, are some coloured metal panels with portraits of saints, brought from France by Sir Walter Gilbey. Edward the Seventh used to come here to talk with this man who in his youth drove a coach hereabouts for a living and in his old age drove the most splendid coaches in England for the joy of it.

Sir Walter lived in the big hall seen by the church against a dense background of trees, and by the road is a well in memory of his wife, with oak pillars supporting a gilded dome. A lover of horses, he wrote many books about them before he died in 1914.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Earls Colne, Essex

Ah the chance for another rant. Earls Colne is a large village, actually I suspect it's a town, with St Andrew pretty much in its heart in a very overlooked and open setting. Now I don't know the history of crime committed on the church but when I visited the amount of passers by on foot and bicycle in the churchyard and the volume of traffic passing by on two sides pretty much dissuaded me from even thinking of a daylight heist. Despite my natural disinclination to commit daylight robbery the church is locked up tighter than Fort Knox without a whiff of a hint of a keyholder - even if there had been a keyholder I doubt I would have been able to carry the keyring.

This seems to underscore my theory that you're more likely to gain access to an utterly remote church in Essex and have the uninterrupted pleasure of stripping lead, removing monuments and committing untold desecrations than you are to have the pleasure of looking around a church in a busy village/town centre.

Rant over. The exterior and setting is lovely but I wish I could have looked around inside!

UPDATE: I had been led to believe that it is now an open church so visited the Wednesday to find a sign advising that St Andrew is open from 10 to 3pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays (which I found slightly odd! Why not every day?). As it's not that far from home I returned on Thursday (in case they changed their minds) and took interiors - sadly a severe restoration means that there's not much of interest here.

ST ANDREW. A large but disappointing church. The most rewarding part is the W tower. Big with diagonal buttresses, and three-light bell-openings. Battlements with flushwork decoration dated 1534 and bearing the de Vere arms. Stair turret, in its top parts of brick and carrying an iron openwork ‘corona’ for the weathervane. This latter adornment dates probably from the early C18. It is the only feature easily remembered of the church. The rest mostly 1884, except for the S aisle with C14 windows, and the S arcade with octagonal piers. The chancel inside has nice Victorian stencilled decoration on walls and ceiling panels. - PLATE. Early C16 Paten with incised figure of Christ in the middle; large late C16 Cup with bands of ornament. - MONUMENT. Richard Harlakenden d. 1602 and four wives, the usual type of epitaph with kneeling figures. - John Wale d. 1761, tablet by Roubiliac with relief of Mercury and Justice (R. Gunnis).

A number of good timber-framed houses to the W.

 St Andrew

 de Vere Stars

Hard to tell but maybe de Vere Arms

I hope one day someone will eulogise me like this

Arthur Mee:

The Vanished Tombs

EARLS COLNE. How are the mighty fallen! Here are old cottages in plenty, but the medieval priory founded by the Earls of Oxford has gone, and so have their splendid monuments. It was one of the delightful surprises of our countryside that we used to be able to open a door in a farmhouse and find four of their tombs.

They made one of the grandest groups in the county, decoratively arranged along a white wall with a wonderful oak beam set over them, grotesque faces looking out from its flowery carvings. Now, alas, Earls Colne has lost this great attraction, for the tombs have gone to Bures in Suffolk. Two by two the weepers stood in niches round the first of the tombs, on which lay the armed figure of Thomas de Vere, eighth earl, who died in 1371. Other niches completing the scheme came from the hidden side of the tomb at the far end, the earliest, made with its buttresses and pinnacles and lovely niches in the middle of the 14th century, though the mailed figure on it died in 1296. He was Robert, fifth earl, with a boar at his feet and angels at his head. Between these tombs lay Richard the 11th earl and Alice his wife, united no longer, for their tomb had been split so that we might see the full glory of each panelled side. Richard was in armour, his boar crest on the helmet under his head, his feet on a lion. His lady wore a dainty horned headdress and had two small dogs at her feet.

Their tombs were the greatest things these three earls left us, but King Richard the Second came here to clasp the dead hand of another de Vere whose meteoric career was the talk of all England. He was Robert, ninth earl, whom the king loved more than his throne, for he endangered the throne itself for this young man. He made him Duke of Ireland with despotic power and then could not bear to part with him and sent a deputy instead. Soon, however, the worthless earl was in danger of being tried for treason by his peers and Richard had to part with him, only to see him again when his body was brought to Earls Colne for burial, after he had been killed in a boar hunt. The king came to the village and the coffin lid was raised that he might touch his friend's hand again.

The star of the De Veres was even then in the descendant; yet it shines still in the parapet of the church tower on the hill. It is 200 years since the village blacksmith gave this tower a copper crown and a weathercock. The chancel and the nave roof are 14th century, but the rest is mostly modern. There are Jacobean chairs and an altar table in the chapel, where Richard Harlakenden kneels with his four wives on a small painted monument of 1602, but the chief treasure is a medieval paten engraved with the figure of Christ.

I plan to re-visit Bures and track down the Chapel of St Stephen - which I missed when I last visited and where the only 3 surviving de Vere tombs out of 21 were relocated - sometime this summer. St Stephen and Landwade are must finds!

William Dowsing

I note that I have only mentioned William Dowsing once in this blog to date - which surprises me since virtually all the churches I have visited or will visit in Cambridgeshire or Suffolk have, or rather would have, been subject to his attentions.

In 1643 the Earl of Manchester, as Commander of the Parliamentary Army of East Anglia, commissioned Dowsing to implement the 1643 Ordinance of Parliament by which all idolatrous and superstitious church monuments should be destroyed and removed with particular reference to fixed altars, altar rails, chancel steps, crucifixes, crosses, images of the Virgin Mary, pictures of saints and superstitious inscriptions. A year later the Ordinance was widened to include representations of angels, rood lofts, stoups and images in wood, stone, glass and on plate.

Whilst many churches all over the country were plundered or defaced during the Reformation (ironically under the direction of Thomas Cromwell) and then, subsequently, following the civil war by Oliver Cromwell's followers William Dowsing stands out as the most destructive of them all. For almost a year, between December 1643 and October 1644 - when Manchester fell out of favour and thus Dowsing's reign of terror also ended, he swept through Cambridgeshire and Suffolk co-opting like minded locals to wreak havoc in and on the churches of the two counties.

The reason he was so successful in his destruction seems to me to be threefold.

Firstly he was on a pro rata commission, so the more he destroyed the more he earned - this may seem a cynical C21st view but consider this, he kept an extensive diary of his despoilments and presented both the churches and Manchester with invoices for his 'work'. See

Secondly he was operating in a largely Puritan area - this was Cromwell country, particularly Cambridgeshire - and so he had largely sympathetic co-optees to work with or rather do his work for him. This enabled him to visit a church, leave instructions for what should be despoiled and then move on, confident that his instructions would be acted on.

Thirdly, and probably most importantly, he was a through and through iconoclast - I think he genuinely believed he was doing God's work and therefore set to with genuine zeal.

Having seen his work, or the effects of his instructions, at first hand I think we can only be thankful that the Earl of Manchester fell out of favour so early in Dowsing's chosen career and that Dowsing went with him - I dread to think how much damage he could have done if he had remained in the ascendancy.

Dry Drayton, Cambridgeshire

When I visited SS Peter and Paul in Dry Drayton it was nearing the end of what had been an extensive restoration programme and the interior was spartan. A nice Brass was under perspex protection and was impossible to photograph and the arcades were covered with protective material so Mee's "angels and human folk" were invisible. I liked the exterior with many fine corbels (33 in total) and the location is peaceful and attractive. I think another visit in the future when the restoration, or perhaps conservation, is complete would probably be rewarding.

SS PETER AND PAUL. Tall impressive chancel with slender transomed side windows. The tracery below the transoms is identical with that at Swavesey. The tracery of the heads is plain quatrefoil. The date may be mid C14. The E window dates from 1851. The aisle windows (all renewed) are simple two-light C14 types, probably c. 1320-30, except near the W end, where they are as in the chancel. The clerestory is contemporary: quatrefoils in rere-arches. The tower also has one quatrefoil window, and bell-openings which seem to be C14. Brick battlements. C14 the three-bay arcades (octagonal piers, double-chamfered arches, and hood-moulds with corbel heads), the tower arch and the chancel arch. - STAIINED GLASS. E window, typical of c. 1850. - BRASS. Thomas Hatton and wife, c. 1540, 30 in. figures.

Arthur Mee says:

Dry Drayton. It lies among pretty byways and in peaceful meadows, between two busy roads. On one side of it runs the Roman road to Cambridge, and on the other side stands Childerley Hall, hidden in the trees.

Here it was that the Spanish Ambassador was sent to escape the plague in Queen Elizabeth's reign, and to this hall there came a more reluctant guest in 1647, for Charles Stuart was brought here to be interviewed by Fairfax and Cromwell. The house has been rebuilt and is now on a farm, but the room in which Charles slept is still preserved, with the old barn 100 yards long.

The long grey church has crazy stone walls, medieval windows, and a squat tower of the 15th century, when the chancel arch was built and the font was made. We come in by a 14th century doorway to find angels and human folk looking down from the arcades they have adorned for six centuries. There are brass portraits of Thomas Hutton at prayer with his wife, he in knightly armour with a quaint little face, carefully dressed hair, rings on his fingers, his head on a helmet; she in a pretty pointed headdress and a gown with lace-trimmed cuffs. They are 16th century. In the east window the glass is in memory of Samuel Smith, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and rector here last century. It has a portrait of him in his robes kneeling at an altar, and a sculpture with seven coloured medals in the south aisle is to one of his sons who was at the Relief of Lucknow.