Friday, 16 July 2010

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.

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