Monday, 26 July 2010

Dear God


My ancestor John Southmeade of Wray Barton,, gentleman, held the avowson at St. Andrews Church in Moretonhampstead, Devon County, in the early to mid 17th century. He held it during what was a break in the otherwise continuous de Courtenay family's holding. I wondered if you might know of anyone who might be familiar with Sir William Courtenay the 3rd Earl of Devon and hope to find out how it was my ancestor managed to get hold of the avowson in lieu of the de Courtenay's during this period.

Thank you.

To which you can only respond:

Sadly all the people who might be familiar with Sir William Courtenay, 3rd Earl of Devon, are now long dead and this makes it quite difficult to put you in touch with anyone who is, or indeed were, familiar with him. However it is possible that a more scientific interwebz search may render some results - have a look at British History Online or the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography or attend a séance - I recommend a one to one for such a specific question rather than a public forum.......a public forum is bound to return too many hits on John Southmeade much like Google.

Framlingham Castle, Suffolk

I know that Framlingham Castle isn't a church, although Framlingham does have a church - which I appear to have made a huge mistake not to have visited; in my defence I was on my way to Aldeburgh for a long weekend with friends with 5 children; children will accept a detour to a castle but often, in my experience, draw a line at viewing a church (although they can be tempted by cathedrals or abbeys so long ass sugar intake is sufficient).

Anyway the tree has enough connections to the castle to warrant bending the rules - as with Euston.

I loved the castle, it appealed to my weird castle button - a proper old castle with a Tudor house built inside and an attached Jacobean poorhouse...could you ask for anything more? In addition a wall walk, a proper 360 degree walk around the battlements with fantastic views and hanging hearths complete with chimneys, arrow slits and interesting display rooms. Seriously it brings the little boy out of you, I imagine it also brings some little girls out in a paroxysm of pleasure too but it didn't work it's charm on the female teenagers I was with...they merely ate ice cream and sunbathed.

It's strange that castles tend to be a boy thing with the occasional girl getting the excitement - I went to Castle Hedingham with my youngest (boy)and his best friend (girl) and they both loved it and to Framlingham with my eldest (girl) and her best friend (girl) and they were bored witless whilst the rest of us (4 boys) loved it - strange n'est pas?

Normally I would enter Mee's comments but he goes on over almost seven pages and that would be self masturbatory indulgent so you'll have to make do with pictures alone (I apologise for the quality but they were taken two years ago with a Kodak EasyShare V1003 - this was before I had invested in my, utterly awesome, Olympus E-420).

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Fordham, Cambridgeshire

On my way to Hildersham I passed St Mary in Fordham and resolved to stop off on my return journey as it rang a faint bell as being a connection in the family tree - it subsequently transpired that there was no link current but that there could be if I egotistically followed the Cromwell line, as Arthur will flesh out later.

As I've said before I am not a huge fan of the Cambridgeshire style - or, at least the south Cambridgeshire style - finding it, in general, too dour and...I think workaday best sums it up but wish it hadn't been locked as Mee makes the interior sound interesting with poppyheads, corbels and two Tudor brasses. For the life of me I can't remember if keyholders were listed but I think not - this appears to be a recent phenomena as the excellent Ben Colburn & Mark Ynys-Mongained's entry when reviewing the church says that it's kept open (when you visit a church and record its treasures are you actually reviewing it or are you recording it? That was probably rhetorical).

The south porch appears to be redundant and entry, if entry were possible, is now through a rather fine austere north chapel - yes I know this is contradictory but austere can be fine as well as austere.

My only real gripe is that the exterior is difficult to photograph in toto as the, pleasant, churchyard is full of mature pines and cedars rendering a satisfying overall exterior shot nigh on impossible but there were sufficient corbels and two nice gargoyles to compensate (I'm not absolutely certain that one can complain about mature trees rendering an external difficult as grounds for a gripe but there you go). As usual I would also say that I don't understand why it was locked; it's in the heart of the village and seemed very public but perhaps they suffered an 'incident' that I am unaware of and hence its lockedness.

ST PETER. The memorable thing about Fordham is its Lady Chapel. One usually reaches the church through it. But the history of the church is complex, and the visitor should first of all walk into the church and turn r. He will find an odd corner at the W end of the N aisle, Where one Norman W window has been exposed and one and a half N windows. How they were connected with the rest of the church is not entirely clear. Historically there follows the Transitional S doorway with one order of colonnettes, capitals with upright leaves and a pointed arch (altered ?). Then comes the E.E. contribution: N doorway of Purbeck marble or a similar stone, early C13, with one order of colonnettes and fine arch mouldings including keeling. In the E.E. style also the chancel, see the renewed N and S lancets, the S chancel doorway with two orders of colonnettes, the completely re-done Piscina and Sedilia, and the lower parts of the chancel arch with dog-tooth ornament (the upper parts 1871 by Rowe). Again of the same period the E piers of the arcades with dog-tooth. The rest of the arcades is Dec: five bays with slim octagonal piers and double-chamfered arches. Dec also the pride of the church, the Lady Chapel. It is a separate annexe, N of the N aisle, and was planned and placed thus undoubtedly on the precedent of Ely. It is two-storeyed, with a rib-vaulted undercroft. This is reached by a doorway with triple-chamfered moulding and no capitals: The ribs and transverse arches are single-chamfered and rest on the walls and two free-standing piers of an elongated section with semi-polygonal shafts, partly without capitals. The tall Upper Chapel is reached by a narrow newel-stair from outside. Who was meant to use it? It is alas completely altered - it was of course not open towards the church - but its splendid, tall transomed three- and four-light windows remain. The rest is Perp, that is the S aisle and N aisle windows, S porch (doorway with castellated capitals and fleurons, interior with blank arcading; cf. Soham), clerestory and W tower. The tower ground floor may be of the C14 (W doorway), but the upper parts are certainly Perp. Tower arch tall with castellated capitals and wavy mouldings. Large transomed W window, battlements and higher stair-turret. The nave roof rests on head-corbels, the chancel roof with angels against the tie-beams is Perp. - FONT. Octagon, with very flat blank cusped arches. - CHANCEL STALLS with simple Misericords. - PEWS. With angels, musicians etc. as poppy-heads. - STAINED GLASS. Old bits in the Lady Chapel. - BRASS to William Chesewright d. 1521 and wife, the figures 18 in. long (S aisle).

I always love the way buttresses were randomly placed; covering doors, windows or whatever - perhaps it's an architectural necessity but it just looks like building rape to me.

Our guru says:

FORDHAM. Here the River Snail turns the wheel of the water-mill on its leisured way through the fens, creeping like snail unwillingly to sea. The glory of the village is its church, which was old when our first Stuart king came to it. There is a King's Path by the river, its name explained by a record in the parish register of the day when James the First "did hunt the hare with his own hands in the fields at Fordham, and did take his meal in the fields at a bush near the King's Park."

The tower which saw the dawn of what we call our 15th century building is a landmark in this spacious countryside. It crowns a church with an impressive and lofty interior with soaring arcades of the 13th and 14th centuries, and with some Norman stones in its walls. The fine priest's doorway is 700 years old, and a group of miserere stalls carved with lions and angels on their elbows is 14th century. Old bench-ends have carved poppyheads of Sunflowers, an angel blowing a trumpet, men with fiddles and flutes, and faces peeping out from leaves; and old stone corbels of queens, a king, and ordinary folk hold up the roof. There is modern painting on the chancel walls showing saints, prophets, and martyrs, and a window of David playing his harp, in memory of James Withers, who wrote poems about this countryside and was laid in this churchyard in 1892.

On two Tudor brasses are William Chesewright of 1521 with his wife in a draped headdress and a girdled gown, and there is a 15th century font. But we may think it is the porch which is the best of all Fordham's possessions, for it has something about it quite unfamiliar. A 13th century doorway brings us into it, and we find it like a crypt with a simple and beautiful stone vaulted roof of six bays, the ribs springing from two central pillars. Above this roof is a gabled chapel which for 600 years has been dedicated to St Mary; it is lit by lovely windows with beautiful tracery and is reached by an outside stairway. On one side of the chapel are modern arches opening into the church. In the porch below is a window with a medley of 14th century glass with pinnacles and leaves, and among them a small roundel in black and yellow with an archbishop thought to be Thomas Becket holding two fingers in the act of blessing.

It was in this village that Elizabeth Cromwell, the daughter of the Protector's best son Henry, found her husband, an army officer named William Russell, who lived far beyond his means, keeping a coach and six, and covered himself with debt before he died. His widow, struggling to keep up appearances, took her children (or as many as she could of her 13) to London, where she died of smallpox through keeping the hair of two of the children who had died from it. Her daughter married a man who spent a fortune (Robert D'Aye of Soham) and came to the workhouse, Cromwells begging for bread.†

† This I found genuinely interesting – I had no idea that Cromwell’s descendants ended up in the poorhouse, sadly an interwebz search is remarkably uninformative:

Elizabeth, born just after the decease of the preceding (Elizabeth d. as an infant), therefore taking her name. She married William Russell of Fordham, son of Gerard Russell and grandson of Sir William Russell the first baronet, — consequently first cousin to her mother the Lady Elizabeth. Of this marriage the issue was fourteen children, but the habits of the parents appear to have been very unthrifty. Moving for awhile among the County gentry, and maintaining with that object a style of living far beyond their means, Mr. Russell escaped his creditors only in the grave; and the widow retired with the surviving children to London, where she died in 1711.

Of the daughters, about whom the dates are perplexing, Mary married Mr. Robert D'Aye, of whom presently. Viz: This lady married Mr. Robert D'Aye of Soham and long outlived him, her protracted widowhood being passed at Soham, where her poverty was in some measure relieved by an annual grant from the daughters of the Ex-Protector Richard Cromwell, both of whom also bequeathed her a legacy; but as her own death did not occur till 1765, she must have long survived her benefactors.

So within three generations Oliver Cromwell’s descendant was relying on Soham’s Benefactions to eke an existence! To me this is interesting.

Flickr set.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Hildersham, Cambridgshire

Holy Trinity is a curiosity; built of rubble and flint the exterior and setting is attractive - actually I'll go further and say, as someone who's not hugely enamoured by the Cambridgeshire style, it's really rather beautiful.

The Interior holds a surprise, however, first a two bay nave which feels tiny - you suffer a reverse Tardis effect in that the Interior feels smaller than the exterior leads you to believe. The rubble and flint walls are very prominent, I suspect due to a clean up in 1980, and as a result feels and looks cold and austere.

Then there's the Chancel which is, frankly, extraordinary. In 1890 the Rev James Goodwin designed a plan of repair and renovation which was completed by his son, the Rev Charles Goodwin - between them they served as Rectors for 94 years. The result is a Victorian extravaganza with the walls, roof, mullions and window frames being covered with biblical scenes and floral decoration. At first sight it is truly horrendous but it grew on me, slowly I admit, and I now think that it is a magnificent example of Victorian eccentricity.

Sadly the Chancel is locked and although a sign on the door says that details of how to gain entrance to it are posted on the notice board, they aren't. This is a shame but understandable - in 1977 two C14th oak effigies were stolen from the church and have yet to be recovered. Unfortunately this meant I missed the four Paris family brasses which are set at the foot of the altar and that the south chapel was inaccessible.

HOLY TRINITY. Flint and pebble rubble. Unbuttressed C13 W tower with lancet windows and two-light bell-openings with plate tracery. Heightened C19 and C20. Tower arch divided into two, a very rare conceit. Both arches are only slightly chamfered and rest on plain moulded responds. Inside the tower an oak ladder runs up which may be C13. The interior of the church otherwise mostly Dec, as far as the gloom of much Victorian glass allows one to detect. Short and tall nave. Arcade of only two bays with quatrefoil piers, moulded capitals and double-charnfered arches. The chancel arch the same design. Clerestory of cusped pointed quartefoils (not recognizable in Cole’s drawings). They are placed in square frames and pointed rere-arches. The aisle windows and chancel and S transept windows all very restored or renewed (by Buckler 1885-90). - FONT. Octagonal, on polygonal supports. Bowl decorated with shafts carrying trefoil arches under gables; C13. - PLATE. Chalice of 1569. - MONUMENTS. Excellent oaken effigies of a cross-legged Knight and a Lady, early C14, unique in Cambs. but frequent in Essex. - Low funeral Recess in the N chancel wall. - Brasses in the chancel floor to Robert de Paris d. probably 1408 and wife, kneeling figures at the foot of a cross, in the head of which the Trinity is represented; unusual and of much beauty. - Henry Paris d. 1427, and wife (20 in. figures). - Henry Paris d. 1466, under canopy (chancel floor). - Skeleton in a shroud, c. 1530.

Mee's view:

HILDERSHAM. It lies in its wooded dell where the River Bourne slackens its pace on the way to the Cam. Outside it a windmill stands forlorn and sail-less, but an avenue of beeches, or a roadway bordered by firs, brings us to a village of much charm. Its church has for a companion the stump of an old elm four yards round, with its branches trimmed like a cup, and indoors coloured windows in the cobbled walls turn daytime into twilight, while candles in the candelabra light up the dark hours. The tower, with its gargoyles, is 13th century, and is climbed by a gnarled old ladder of 23 rungs made from rough-hewn blocks. It opens to the nave with two small archways, and looks along it to a chancel as old as itself, its walls covered with modern paintings from floor to roof. Hanging in the tower is an old flute played in the choir of long ago.
It is believed that Matthew Paris lived here, and it is a proud association if it is true, for he was the best Latin chronicler of the 13th century, and some of our oldest English paintings are his work. He is thought to have belonged to the family whose brass portraits are here, Robert Paris of 1379 and his wife, and two Henrys of the 15th century. Robert wears a tunic and mantle and has a dagger at his side, his wife has an embroidered gown, both kneeling at a cross engraved with God the Father holding a Crucifix. Henry Paris of 1466 is under a canopy, with short hair and wearing armour, and a Henry of 1472 is in armour with his feet on a lion, and his wife charmingly and simply dressed.

Contrasting with these charming brasses is one of the most gruesome we have seen, a skeleton in a shroud about a yard long, 400 pears old. Much more attractive are two oak figures of the 13th century, carved from solid blocks. One is a splendid knight and the other a dainty lady, the knight six feet long in armour, drawing his sword, with his crossed feet on a lion, the lady at prayer wearing a wimple and a mantle, with her head on cushions and a dog at her feet. There are only about 100 oak figures like these in the country, and two are a rare possession for any village.

Here three generations of Henry Smiths were rectors for over a century, from 1629 to 1736; and Robert Goodwin was rector for three years last century, his memorial being the churchyard, for he left a bequest to keep it beautiful.

The Historian in the Monastery

It is at the abbey of St Albans, in 1217, when he was about 17, that Matthew Paris becomes a historical figure. The abbey was blessed with material and literary riches, and, although development was to be slow, the Renaissance of learning had really begun there, with Matthew as its exemplar.

Godly and gifted, he was the foremost liberal and intellectual spirit of his age, mathematician, theologian, poet, historian. When he sat down in the scriptorum to record the affairs of the world a new force came into operation; the fabulist and the brief recorder of local annals passed, and a historian of worldwide observation was here, to render superb service to his generation and posterity.

Kings, princes, and potentates came to the abbey, and Matthew Paris, who had taken up the history of the world where Roger of Wendover left it, at 1235, Boswellised his illustrious company. He travelled England, he went to Europe on romantic monastic missions, and, like Froissart in a later age, he learned from those who knew the story of events, setting it all down in his incomparable history, the Chronica Major. He made himself as familiar with the affairs of Italy, Germany, and France as with those of England. He had an eye on Spain, he noted the doings of Hungary; he knew all about King John’s offering to become a Moslem if the Emir of Morocco would join forces with him against the pope. Not content with presenting a picture of his own age, this indefatigable scholar went over earlier chronicles and turned the period from 1067 into history in his Historia Minor.

The result was a magnificent work, full of movement and event, not colourless, but breaking out at times into condemnation, whether of kings or of luxury-loving friars. He is as careful as Livy to record earthquakes, eclipses, and falling stars; and a veritable Gilbert White concerning weather, bird life, or animal life. He died in 1259, the Father of English History.

Flickr set.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Balsham, Cambridgeshire

OMFG - how this survived Dowsing is beyond me and but thank God it did - the chancel choir stalls are, frankly, amazing.

The church itself is stolid in appearance with vast buttresses supporting the Tower which were originally put in place in 1580's and re-built in 1986 - at the same time the tower was internally concrete lined and a reinforced steel ring placed in the parapet to support the Tower. To be honest this is not an attractive exterior.

The churchyard is attractive and there are some good corbels and an interesting grotesque masquerading as a gargoyle and an exhortation over the door that 'Ye shall keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary, I AM THE LORD'.

Over the door are some Benefactions and in the south west aisle - note to self, point out that I always move round a church SWNES i.e. I  enter through the South porch, move West to the tower, shift to the North Aisle, hit the East chancel, do the Nave, go back to the south east aisle and exit - normally having done the exterior first - a couple of monuments.

You reach the tower and font and are confronted by a spire cover, made in the 30's by Richard Burrell, a Rector/Carpenter who also knocked up the St Nicholas Chapel from Elizabethan timber taken from the old Rectory.

Beside the chapel, under the carpet to the right in the picture, is the first brass in the church - the Knight in armour. The identity of the Knight is unknown. The Armour is Yorkist in style and points to the latter 1470s. Balsham was an ecclesiastical manor and there was no influential local family to which he might be related, although the Allingtons of nearby Horseheath may be a possibility. William Allington d.1485 was killed at the Battle of Bosworth, his burial place is unknown; his forbears and descendants are buried at Horseheath but this is only conjecture.

The rood screen dates from the 1380s with a carved canopy from the 1440s, it was restored in the 70s in what was then thought to be the traditional style although it was probably originally much brighter.

In the chancel are the jewels of the church - two brasses to the Johns Sleford and Blodwell and the almost intact C14th choir stalls. 

In 1644 the church was visited by William Dowsing, who broke pictures and crosses, and echoed the order of 1550 to level the chancel but for some reason the fine choir stall carvings were left virtually intact: "Balsham, March 21. (3s. 4d.) We brake divers superstitious pictures, one crucifix, and gave order to take down a cross on the church, and to take down another on the steple, and to level the steps of the chancell within a month". 

HOLY TRINITY. The W tower belongs to the mid C13. It has flat angle buttresses, clumsily strengthened in 1598 by one diagonal buttress between and two more big buttresses up the middle of the W and N sides. For their sake the W portal had to be destroyed and the W window composition of lancets disturbed. The bell-openings represent a curious stage of transition between plate and bar tracery. They consist of two lancets and a circle above them - i.e. plate tracery - but in the circle a quatrefoil of bar tracery. Top with gargoyles and battlements. Tower arch on three-shaft responds with an arch triple-chamfered and in addition enriched by one roll moulding and a hood-mould on stiff-leaf stops. The next part in date after the tower is the chancel, obviously Dec, with a five-light reticulated E window (renewed correctly at the time of the restoration) and similar windows on the sides. In addition - a curious device - a clerestory, also Dec. The nave also has a clerestory, but this is faced with yellow brick. Yet in the drawing of William Cole that clerestory is there. And inside, it carries original corbels for the roof. So it must replace an original clerestory. The aisle details are Perp, the windows of three lights in four-centred arches and with panel tracery. Perp also the arcade: piers with big semi-polygonal shafts and in the diagonals a group of four thin shafts and a hollow between. The arches with two wave-mouldings and a hood-mould on head-stops. The chancel arch is of the same design. If one tried to date the various parts of the church, the tower might just fall within the years when Hugh de Balsham was Bishop of Ely (1257-86). The chancel looks c. 1330 and the aisle windows C15. That is puzzling, considering that the inscription on the brass of John Sleford in the chancel (see below) praises him for having built the church (ecclesiam struxit). He died in 1401. Can the nave be his?

ROOD SCREEN. Tall, of three two-light divisions on each side of the entrance; four-centred arches with thin panel tracery above. The specially interesting feature about this screen is that it ended at first in a straight cornice - see the E side - but that soon after a rood-loft was added with a ribbed coving which is also wholly preserved. - CHANCEL STALLS. A surprising number for a parish church. Ten on the N, ten on the S and three plus three on the W side. The armrests have two projections above each other, each with human figures or animals. Misericords with human heads, beasts and monsters. The lower stall-fronts traceried; their ends with poppy-heads. - STAINED GLASS. Remains of canopy work in the N aisle window. - E window by A. K. Nicholson and G. E. R. Smith 1933, unpleasant in its anaemic colour and sentimental draughtsmanship, and without feeling for the character of stained glass. - MONUMENTS. Anglo-Saxon coffin-lid with a plain cross on a shaft and interlace ornament l. and r. of the shaft. - Brass to John Sleford, rector of Balsham d. 1401 (see above). The brass with its triple canopy and a large efiigy, the orphreys of the cope decorated with figures of saints, seems incomprehensibly ambitious, until one realizes that Sleford was Canon of Ripon, Archdeacon of Wells, Prebendary of St Stephen’s Chapel in the Palace of Westminster, Chaplain of the Queen, and Keeper of the Wardrobe to Edward III. - Also in the chancel floor brass to John Blockwell d. 1462, also rector of Balsham, under a solid broad canopy whose uprights have tiers of niches with saints; small saints on the orphreys. The canopy short and with a depressed cusped arch. 


Arthur says:
BALSHAM. Within a mile of it is the only unbroken sector of the once mighty earthwork known as Fleam Dyke. For centuries it was used as a packhorse way, and here in 909 was a great slaughter when Danish invaders were attacked by Alfred's son. A century later another attack swept over East Anglia and left alive but one gallant defender of the village in the Saxon tower.

A memory of the Saxon church was found in the churchyard not so very long ago, a Saxon coffin stone cut with plaits and a cross in a circle; but the church we see crowning the highest bit of Cambridge¬shire in a thatched roof village (with a pretty green and a wayside duckpond) was mostly built by John de Sleford, who added the clerestoried nave and the aisles to the 13th century tower and the chancel, built just before his time. He furnished the chancel with 24 magnificent stalls still here, with traceried fronts and backs, lions and faces for poppyheads, and such an array of creatures on the tops and under the seats that they are like an old bestiary in wood. We remember among them a muzzled bear tethered for baiting and a man on stilts leading a dog. From the same century comes the lovely chancel screen remarkable for having still above it the old rood-loft reached by the old rood stairs. It is a rare survival, for there very few rood-lofts left in this country from the days before the formation. There are ancient timbers in the roof of the chancel, an Elizabethan table in a little chapel.

We found Canon Burrell, the faithful rector here, still adding rich carvings to Balsham's rich collection of medieval woodwork grand enough for a cathedral. He has made craftsmen of his village folk; training the men at woodwork classes, and himself carved the altar rails, the almsbox, and the marvellous font cover which represents nine years of his labour. It rises 30 feet high, having a steeple of delicate tracery and pinnacles, rising in tiers from eight canopied niches with figures in them among which we can see his far-off predecessor, John de Sleford, with two other benefactors, Thomas Sutton, the famous founder of Charterhouse, and Hugh de Balsham, the founder of Peterhouse.

We meet John de Sleford again in the magnificent east window, a glory of colour in a grand stone setting. The rays of Christ's glory light a crescent rainbow of angel wings in the centre, and below are four medieval rectors with the founders of Charterhouse and Peterhouse and Ely, and Prior Houghton, who gave up his life during the suppression of the monasteries. Even the old sexton cutting the grass outside this church has a corner in this window, and Charterhouse boys playing cricket have another. The window is by A. K. Nichol¬son. In another chancel window by Christopher Webb is a charming St Nicholas with the three boys in a tub, and next to them stands St Felix, with a long candle as if he were lighting them to bed. There are fragments of old glass in other windows.

There are three brass portraits, one of an unknown 15th century knight, and the two grand ones of rectors, wonderful treasures for a village church which has already so much. Both brasses are over eight feet long. John de Sleford appears in rich vestments, his cope embroidered with canopied saints all neatly named, while on the points of his canopy are seraphim and shields, and a representation of the Trinity above two angels carrying the rector's soul upwards in a sheet. The inscription tells us that this rector, who was Edward the Third's Master of the Wardrobe, was beloved of the king to the slow sad end, and also that he opened wide his purse and wrought with bounteous and free spending hand. No less sumptuous is the brass of John Blodwell, whose inscription begins "Wales gave me birth, Bologna taught me Law, and Rome its practice," but omits what is to us the more interesting fact that he was locum tenens for the Bishop of Ely who, as Archbishop of Rouen, assisted in the trial of Joan of Arc. We see him in vestments and a skull cap, with lions' heads and saints embroidered on his cope, and more saints on the shafts of his canopy.

Kept in a case is the old hourglass and the choir's old musical instruments with some handwritten music of 300 years ago; and still in the tower is a bell 400 years old on which is engraved in Latin the assurance that “The voice of Michael's bell thunders from Heaven.” It is the only bell still in the county made by John Tonne. On the font are several figures of friends of the church, the 13th century Bishop of Ely who founded Peterhouse, and Thomas Sutton again. Nothing is left here of his old home, unless it be the 16th century doors and fireplaces in Nine Chimneys House.

Flickr set.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Finchingfield, Essex

St John the Baptist in Finchingfield makes it, as previously mentioned, into Simon Jenkins' Thousand Best Churches having "the finest screens in Essex" but he seems as taken with the village as he is with the church. I'm not so sure that he's right so I'm going to go and have another look - now.

Right, I re-visited yesterday afternoon and am still convinced that, although it's a pleasant enough church, St John does not merit being in the top one thousand when taken as a church alone rather than with the village. It has some great corbels and the Berners tomb is not without interest but I would still submit either Felsted or Debden ahead of St John.

ST JOHN. Norman W tower, originally unbuttressed, though the one C19 diagonal buttress no doubt adds punch and the C18 cupola grace. Doorway of three orders of columns with scalloped capitals and decorated zigzag arches. Defaced heads at the top of the inner jamb like crockets. The tympanum has been removed. The tower arch towards the nave is low and completely plain. To its l and r., inside the tower blank arcading continued along half the N and S sides of the tower. What was its purpose? Was it connected with former altars? The next period can only be discovered inside, the C13, to which the chancel arch, the N chancel arcade of two bays and the S nave arcade of five bays belong (octagonal piers, double-chamfered-arches). A little later, early C14, the more handsome N arcade with four major and four minor shafts, all with fillets, and complex arch mouldings. The W bay alone is different. It has a characteristically Perp pier, similar to that of the S chancel chapel. The window tracery is mostly of the same date, say the last third of the C14, and of interesting shapes. The cross of figures of eight especially which one meets so often in Essex C14 tracery is prominent. The chancel has, an unusual and successful feature, a clerestory. Its windows are straightheaded of intersected pointed and cusped arches. Straight-headed also the side openings of the (C19) S Porch. The nave clerestory is C15. It is like all the rest of pebble rubble, the typical material of this part of Essex. Flat-pitched chancel and nave roofs on stone corbels. - FONT. Octagonal with quatrefoils and shields. - SCREENS. The S aisle screen is the earlier, of the same date as the aisle; see the Dec details inside the Early Perp panels. The rood screen is one of the most elaborate in Essex, with tall divisions with big crocketed ogee heads and much fine panel tracery between it and the straight top. - S DOOR. C14 with much tracery, also Christ crucified, a Pelican, a Dove etc. - MONUMENTS. John Berners and wife d. 1523, tombchest with Purbeck marble top and brass effigies. The tombchest decorated with the inescapable quatrefoils. - William Kempe d. 1628 and wife, erected 1652. Tablet with inscription on an oval plate and handsome scrolls and flower bunches. - Thomas Marriott d. 1766. Large monument with bust in front of a medallion. Signed by W. Tyler. - Anne Marriott, by R. Westmacott, 1811. With large Greek female figure and urn.

Having said that I am prepared to accept that my opinion may be wrong as Mee waxes almost as lyrical as Jenkins:

FINCHINGFIELD. Part of its charm is set out round a big green dipping to the River Pant, which widens to add to the beauty of the scene. It is one of the rare villages not soon forgotten, a place where hardly a house or a cottage lacks charm, where the farms have seen four centuries come and go, and where the church is a feast in itself. Two roads wind over the hill from the green, one past an old windmill and the other past the Guildhall, a timber and plaster building with old casement windows and chimneys, and a fine kingpost truss in its roof. Among the other old houses are two from Elizabethan England: Parsonage Farm with five original doors and grotesque beasts carved on the eaves, and Cornish Hall, with a weather-boarded dovecot. But the pride of the neighbourhood is Spain's Hall in grounds of 100 acres, a lake formed from two mill-ponds, and a brick dovecot now cleared of its nests. A lovely old hall it is, with gables and splendid mullion windows, a porch rising the full height of the house to a gable of its own, and an original oriel window, all the work of our incomparable Tudor builders in brick. Even the rain-water pipes put up by the Kempes in the 17th century add their touch of beauty, having elaborate straps ornamented with leopards and cherubs and other things. Within the house is much old panelling lining the walls, and there are richly carved overmantels from the 17th century.

Yet Spain's Hall seems young when we remember the beginnings of the church boldly set on the hill, for it began in Norman England. Its striking western tower is crowned by a wooden lantern of the 18th century, but the masonry below has been standing 800 years with a splendid Norman doorway. The doorway is an arch of four orders, adorned with chevrons and zigzags and other rich patterns, and with corbel heads which we may imagine to be asking each other what has become of the vanished tympanum. The south porch has stone panels and beams and a handsome doorway, all from the 14th century; but a far rarer sight is the original double door still in use after 600 years. It is enriched with six traceried panels and quaint carvings of the Crucifixion, a pelican, a dove, and other figures cut from the solid oak.

The interior of the church is impressive, and we can well imagine its growth through the centuries. Here is a Norman tower arch from the oldest building of all. Here on the south of the nave are arches pierced in the 13th century, when the long narrow chancel and its entrance arch were built. Here on the north are beautiful 14th century arches, the same age as both the aisles and both the chapels. Above us are a 15th century clerestory, a 16th century nave roof, and a 17th century chancel roof with the names of Robert Kempe and John Glascock who set it up. So long does it take for a church to grow. Among the carved heads we noticed one with very long hair, several saints, a king, and a queen. The font has shields on its 14th century bowl, and angels just below. There is a very fine chancel screen carved in the 15th century with tracery and cusps and grotesques; and the side screen is even older, enriched on the cornice with carvings which include men playing pipes. Most handsome of the monuments is the 400-year-old altar tomb of John Berners in the south chapel. Heraldic shields are on the sides, and standing under canopies between the panels are beadsmen hooded and robed. John is shown in brass with his wife, both of them on the marble top of the tomb. He wears a tabard over his armour, and she has a heraldic mantle.

Passing to the chancel we see an 18th century altar tomb and a tablet with a bust, both to members of the Harriot family; and in the north chapel is a plain altar tomb to one of the Kempes 400 years ago. William Kempe, who lived at Spain's Hall in Charles Stuart's time, has a tablet rich with heraldry and festoons, and it is recorded that he was so much master of himself, that what others could scarce do by force and penalties he did "by a voluntary constancy"; he held his peace seven years*.

A modern inscription tells us that Daniel Shed was baptised here in Stuart days, that he was one of the founders of New England in 1640, and that in his memory his descendants restored the church.

A fascinating relic on a window ledge in one of the aisles is a diagram of the old game of Nine Men's Morris. Did the village boys of Shakespeare's time shelter here, we wonder, playing this old game when the rain was falling in the churchyard?

* Kempe incorrectly accused his wife of infidelity and subsequently took, and kept, a vow of silence for seven years.

John and Elizabeth Berners

 William Kempe

Elmdon, Essex

St Nicholas is enormous and strangely incongruous in the lovely village of Elmdon, as if it has been transplanted from a much larger village. That said it is utterly awesome with a huge array of corbels (although many are plainly Victorian) and gargoyles and some excellent carving on the outside with a pretty spectacular interior.

The church is on an ancient Roman site with elements remaining from the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries but was basically rebuilt in 1879/80; however the restoration, to my untrained eye, was sympathetically done and unlike many others isn't too intrusive. The tower is all 15th century apart from Victorian battlements.

Inside the main attraction, to me, were the brasses and some of the glass although I was generally impressed with the overall church furnishings.

ST NICHOLAS. 1852 and 1879, except for the W tower which dates from the C15 (angle-buttresses and battlements). - PLATE. Paten on foot of 1633; Cup of 1634. - MONUMENTS. Tomb-chest probably of Sir Thomas Meade d. 1585. Three decorated quatrefoils and shields, under depressed arch, with quatrefoil decoration inside, quatrefoil frieze over, and cresting. Large coat of arms against the back-wall of the recess. - Brass to a man and two wives, c. 1530, the figures 2 ft 6 ins. long (chancel).

Unknown C16th brass

William Lucas c1460

C17th glass

Arthur says:
ELMDON. It is charming, tucked away on the chalk hills close to Cambridgeshire. Its tower, with quaint gargoyles 500 years old could tell a fine tale of village comings and goings. It saw the building of the Tudor cottages below, with their carved bargeboards and ornamental plaster bands; it saw the coming of an Elizabethan judge to sleep his last sleep here; and it has seen the rest of the church so refashioned that it is almost a modern building. Only one thing it has not seen - the making of the earthwork which hides in a grove of trees up the hill. The church has much ornament in the old style, including among its heads a monk and a demon; and it has kept a 15th century piscina with an elaborate arch and two longhaired heads. But the chief interest is in its ancient monuments, two brasses and an imposing altar tomb. The tomb is adorned with shields on the canopy and sides, and in it sleeps Judge Thomas Meade, who died three years before the Armada. One of the brasses shows a Tudor man in a furlined cloak, with his two wives and a group of children. Their names are not recorded; but we know that the four boys and eight girls on the other brass are the children of Thomas Crawley, who died in 1559 after founding a free school in the village.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Duddenhoe End, Essex

There's not a lot to be said about the Hamlet Church at Duddenhoe End other than that it's clapboard and thatched - I rather suspect that it is a converted barn. However it is different and rather charming in it's own way, it could do with a lick of paint though.

Arthur Mee didn't write up Duddenhoe End so I can't tell you what he thought about it but imagine he was unimpressed.

Castle Camps, Cambridgeshire

All Saints was locked with no sign of a keyholder but in this case it is understandable since the church is remote, well remote for an Essex church ("hold on" I hear you mutter "the title says Cambridgeshire", technically it is but in reality it is in a bit of that county that pokes into Essex and as such it feels like Essex).

Since it is locked it's probably not worth going out of your way to visit but if you're passing I'd stop and have a look - well I was and I did.

ALL SAINTS. As the church was built near the castle and the castle has gone, the church lies now impressively alone on an eminence overlooking the country to the S. Flint and stone. W tower with diagonal buttresses (three set-offs), blatantly Victorian W window. Nave much renewed, with a king-post roof, the tiebeams on head-corbels. The chancel S doorway looks earlier: plain double-chamfered surround. - ROOD SCREEN. Only the dado remains. - COMMUNION RAIL. Sturdy turned balusters; late C17. - STAINED GLASS. Canopies in one S window. - MONUMENT. Sir James Reynolds d. 1717, standing wall monument, with short boldly modelled sarcophagus in front of a grey obelisk; vases l. and r.; no effigy.

Arthur is remarkably reticent merely saying:

CASTLE CAMPS. In this pointed corner of the county, surrounded on three sides by Essex, Aubrey de Vere, first Earl of Oxford, built his castle as a defence against all comers. It was held by the de Veres for nearly 400 years after their fighting ancestor died in 1194, and its last remnants fell in the 18th century. Now only the great moat with overhanging trees is left as a reminder of its story, with a farmhouse on the site. The church stands by the moat in glorious isolation, in a lovely bower of trees which crown the hilltop. The best thing about it is the picture it makes as we approach. What it has of old work is chiefly 15th century, with a tower rebuilt after falling last century, and many modern windows. Only the base of the old oak chancel screen is here. The baluster altar rails are 17th century, and there are arms among fragments of old glass.

Flickr set.

Berden, Essex

St Nicholas is a fantastic church, absolutely stunning and although the interior is fairly austere there are some lovely brasses and a rather nice monument to Thomas Aldersey. Definitely worth a visit.

The alabaster Aldersey monument is on the south wall of the chancel and records the death of Thomas Aldersey in 1598. Originally from Cheshire he became a citizen of London, moved to Berden and built Berden Hall.

He was educated at Bunbury, apprenticed to Thomas Bingham in 1541 and given the freedom of the city of London and livery of the Haberdashers Company in 1548. He was a staunch protestant and came under the suspicion of the Marian authorities as an active supporter of Princess Elizabeth and protestant reform. His religious leanings stood him in good stead as a merchant dealing with the German port of Emden and he was in contact with William Cecil which led to his appointment as deputy governor of the Merchant Adventurers Company. He also contributed, financially, towards the establishment of the Royal Exchange.

He married Alice Calthorpe and her family's influence, along with Cecil's, meant a rapid rise of power within London's merchant classes and an influential voice in the privy council.

Meanwhile on the south side of the chancel there is a brass to the memory of Ann Thompson, one of his daughters (although the inscription calls him John rather than Thomas), who died in 1607 aged 31 after contracting an infection during childbirth, leaving behind a husband and twelve children.

Her sole herself to virtue she did give
To tread the steps of truth & piety
She died in life & now by death doth live
The lasting joys of heavenly bliss to see

              Thomas Thompson      Ann Thompson                

Interestingly, to me at least, whilst researching Thomas Aldersey for this post I discovered that he, and therefore his daughter, are in my family tree which I didn't know when I first visited Berden.

In the north transept is a great brass to William Turnor and his two wives, Margaret and Margery, dated 1473:

Arthur Mee's take:

BERDEN. A very old village close to Hertfordshire, it has among its old houses Berden Hall, built in Queen Elizabeth's day and still keeping its wide staircase with a handsome balustrade. From Tudor days also comes Berden Priory, though it stands on the site of a 13th century priory and has two ancient coffin lids for doorsteps. Its well is covered by a 17th century building, and a big treadmill is still used to draw the water from the deep chalk below. In a square of elms stands the church, its medieval tower capped by a pyramid above the battlements. It is cross-shaped, the nave being the oldest part, with Norman work in its walls and Saxon masonry at the corners. The attractive chancel and transepts are 13th century, and on the chancel arch is the name of the man who built it, Geoffrey the Mason.

The windows and doorways have hardly changed for 600 years, and there are roofs that have been with them most of the time. A remarkable piscina of the same age is carved with the head of a woman wearing a wimple; and upside down in the east wall is part of a 13th century coffin lid set up as a bracket. Another ancient stone lid is in the north transept. There is much old woodwork about the church, some in the beautiful pulpit some in the modern pews, and some on the back of the organist's seat. The traceried panels are probably from a medieval screen, and a door with six panels of Iinenfold came from Berden Hall. There are brasses of a 15th century man, William Turner, with his two wives, all rather squat figures on an altar tomb; and of Thomas Thompson of Shakespeare's day, with his wife and 13 children. High in the chancel is a tablet with the arms of an Elizabethan haberdasher, Thomas Aldersaie, founder of a school in his Cheshire village of Bunbury.

Flickr set.

Barley, Hertfordshire

A rather beautiful exterior is spoiled by a heavily, and unsympathetically, restored interior. The position of the church is perfect though and Barley is lovely. When I visited the south aisle was being restored and was closed to the public and I suspect that this may be where any surviving monuments are located; it's certainly where the Andrew Willet brass is.

ST MARGARET. 1872, by Butterfield, except for the W tower and the S aisle. The W tower is of the C12 with a typical Norman tower arch, a ground-floor window with deep splay and also roundheaded upper windows. The top stage Early Perp. The S doorway with the aisle is of the C14. The S arcade may be a little earlier than this doorway: octagonal piers, plainly moulded capitals. One typical C14 window. The Butterfield interior is not imppressive. The master’s hand is only noticeable in the tower top, not a Herts spike but a Butterfield spike. - SCREEN. C15. Parts of the tracery re-used against the N wall of the chancel. - PULPIT. Good 'Jacobean' work, with bookrest, fine back, and fine tester with pendants. The actual date is 1626. - STAINED GLASS. Crucifixion N aisle E window and Head of God N aisle W window, C14 to C15. Some demi-figures of 1536. - PLATE. Steeple Cup, 1612; small Paten, 1618. The inscription in an exquisite script. - BRASS. Andrew Willet d. 1621, praying, not quite frontal.

Barley. We turn a corner and look up the hill, and there are the hounds and huntsmen in full cry, with the fox just creeping into a hole in the roof of the inn. They are painted figures spanning the road on a beam, the delightful sign of a 3OO-year-old inn. At the top of the hill is a wooden lock-up where many an unruly villager spent the night during those 300 years, and beside it is a wooden smithy where good ironwork was still being wrought when we looked in. Some old cottages by the church looked as though un¬certain whether to fall backwards or forwards, and may have fallen altogether by now, but the Town House, built in the days of the Tudors, with a jutting out porch at each end, stands firm enough for dances to be held under its great oak beams, above the small ground rooms which once were almshouses.

The church was already old when these houses were growing up round it, for its foundations were laid by the Normans, though only the lower part of the tower with its strong arch is left of their work. Three of the arches in the nave arcade are 13th century, and there is a window and a blocked doorway of the 14th in the south aisle where are also some fragments of 16th-century glass. The rest was mostly rebuilt in 1872. Carvings from the 15th-century screen are used in the stalls. There is a covered chalice from the time of James I and a pulpit richly carved in the time of Charles I. A brass of 1621 pictures Andrew Willet, who published numerous books during his 23 years as rector here, out of which Bunyan borrowed ideas for his Pilgrim's Progress. Two other rectors of Barley became Archbishops of Canterbury: William Warham who crowned Henry VIII and his first Catherine, and Thomas Herring.

Some of Barley's wealth in old houses and thatched cottages has overflowed into Shaftenhoe End, where a house of 1624 has an overhanging gable supported by two half-animal figures blowing trumpets, while the builder blows his own in these delightfully complacent lines written on the beam between them:

So God may still me blesse,
I care the lesse,
Let envy say her worst,
And after burst.