Monday, 13 September 2010

Black Notley, Essex

It appears that pretty much all the churches around and in Braintree are locked and that most of them do not list keyholders which, perhaps, speaks volumes.

SS Peter and Paul is no exception. Built of flint and rubble with a wooden shingled belfry typical of the area it is situated in the grounds of Black Notley Hall, just south of Braintree. Originating in the 12th century the church has been extensively over the years particularly after being damaged in the second world war. Now I have to admit that by the time I got to Black Notley I was on my ninth church of the day (I visited two more afterwards) and eight of them were locked, so I don't think I gave SS Peter and Paul the attention it probably deserves. The location is great with a fine 15th century manor house and accompanying farmyard providing a lovely setting - I wouldn't be surprised if it has been used as a film location at some time.

For all that, this architectural style doesn't really float my boat, I prefer a tower or spire over the timbered belfry which, to me, seems to reduce the overall magnificence of the churches, either that or it's because most churches in this style I've visited have been locked and that, for me, negates the whole purpose of a church.

Anyway what do I know! Mee observes:

BLACK NOTLEY. It lies on the road running down the valley of the River Brain, and has quaint cottages, a little Norman church, and a 15th century hall with a barn of five bays. The church is curious for having neither tower nor chancel arch. The thick walls are pierced with the doorways, and there are great posts in the nave which support the bell-turret, with its shingled pyramid roof and a tiny spire. The most remarkable possession the church has is the ornamental ironwork on the door in the north porch; it is among the rarest old ironwork in this country, having been worked by Norman craftsmen. Soon after this door was made Walter de Wydenal was the parson here, and a marble gravestone under the belfry records his burial in Norman French. He may have used this dug-out chest, and may have seen the men at work on the curious oak frame of the sedilia. The most remarkable woodwork in Black Notley, however, is at Stanton's, a farm a mile away. The house has a 600-year-old hall with moulded capitals on its timber framework. The hall has been divided into two storeys and a 16th century chimney inserted, but the roof remains as it was in the 14th century.

There lies in the churchyard here, under a notable tomb with an obelisk and shields, a village boy who came back to his birthplace to die. He was the village blacksmith's son, John Ray, and was born in 1628. His father was able to send him to Braintree School and then to Cambridge, where John became lecturer on Greek and mathematics, and, taking orders, delivered sermons and discourses forming the basis of books which later established his reputation as a philosopher.

A born naturalist, he explored England, Scotland, and Wales, carefully describing and cataloguing his collections. Driven out of the University by religious difficulties, he visited the Continent with pupils, and renewed there the Nature studies begun at home. With Francis Willoughby, his most famous pupil, he published the results of their discoveries as to the rise and fall of sap in trees. Alone he worked out a system of classification in Nature which, preceding the more perfect system of Linnaeus, led Cuvier to say that Ray had laid the foundations of the science of zoology.

He was elected to the Royal Society and for many years an­nounced his discoveries in the form of Communications to that famous body. His interests were wide, embracing the study of rare words and phrases surviving in our language: observations on mushrooms, maize, musk-scented insects, spiders, the air-bladder of fishes, the anatomy of the porpoise. His observations were clear and exact, and revealed for the first time many of the marvellous adaptations by which life maintains itself in the plant and animal kingdoms.

Later generations built on his foundations. From his data his successors proceeded to new discoveries, and to deductions which would have startled this wonderful pioneer. He spent the last 26 years of his life in Essex, active to the last as student and teacher, and, dying in 1705, he sleeps within hail of the spot where he was born.

Flickr set.

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