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.

1 comment:

  1. I'm interested as to where you found this information about Elizabeth (Cromwell) Russell. I am trying to trace a Gerard Russell, son of "William Russell Esq. and Elizabeth of Fordham", who was baptized at St Benet Fink in London on 17 Nov 1681 (just three months after the marriage of William Russell and Elizabeth Cromwell at St Mary the Virgin, Dover). He may be the Gerard Russell who married Elizabeth Trelawny (a relative of mine) at St Margaret, Westminster, in 1713. I would be interested to know if you have any more information about William and Elizabeth. I have an Ancestry tree under the username robindunford1 - that might be the easiest way to contact me without sharing too many details on here. Thanks