Friday, 17 September 2010

Hadstock, Essex

St Botolph - I was about to be quite sniffy but then turned to Arthur who is quite fulsome so need to rethink.

I chanced upon Hadstock by taking an alternative way home from a visit to West Wratting - one of those long short-cuts you do in the hope of stumbling across something new. Unfortunately the light was from the west when I arrived but, with a bit of Photoshop help, I got some satisfactory pictures.

From the east side my first thought was WTF is going on with this church and looking at the photos now I still think that it's one of the most bizarre church designs I've ever seen. The chancel looks like a lady chapel from an abbey tacked on to a standard Norman church with an outsize family chapel tacked on to a largish porch both of which make the tower look disproportionately short. Actually the more you look at the building the stranger it gets.

This is odd and deserves a Google search - which reveals: St Botolph's is the main feature of interest and is an early Saxon building. In AD 654 Abbot Botolph started to build a monastery at Icanho. In AD 680 he died and was buried there. From ancient documents in Ely Cathedral it would seem that Icanho was the early name for Hadstock. During extensive archaeological excavations inside the church in 1974, an empty early Saxon grave was found against the east wall of the south transept. It was very shallow, so that most of coffin was above ground and that fact, and its position, denoted that it had been the burial place of a very important person. The body been exhumed at a later date, and it is known that the body of St Botolph was removed and his relics distributed to the monasteries of Ely, Thorney and to the King's reliquary.

From circumstantial evidence, therefore, it would seem that this was site of St Botolph's monastery. The chapel where the coffin was found has always been known as St Botolph's chapel. From further finds during excavations this feeling has been reinforced.

There are many interesting features of Saxon origin in the church, but the main door is of special note. It is the oldest door in the UK to be in constant use and is mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records.

A 'holy' well is situated by the western wall of the churchyard and was said to possess healing properties. It was known as a cure for scrofula. It is fed by a spring that never dries up, and until 1939 was the source village's drinking water. On a certain day a young girl would drop a 'ring’ into the well and she was supposed to dream of the lad she would marry. This seemed like a fairy tale until two rings were found in modern days. In the late Victorian era, the rector of the day built a new rectory on the slope above the church and installed a 'modern' drainage system. It is said that one member of the rectory staff was a typhoid carrier, and leaks from the drains trickled downhill and into the well. Rumour has it that 40 folk from the village died, although no account of the deaths can be found in registers of the period. Presumably any illusion of the water's healing powers must have vanished!

The interior is a disappointment presumably over restored by Victorians.

ST BOTOLPH. The church contains rare and interesting evidence of an C11 building, probably of before the Conquest. To this belong the double-splayed windows of the nave, the N doorway with one order of columns, a square abacus, an inner roll moulding of the arch and an outer band, quite distant from it (cf. Strethall). The capitals, abaci, and the band around the arch are decorated with an irregular pattern of diagonal lines which may signify leaves. Inside the church the evidence is even more interesting. It concerns the arches towards the two transepts. That on the S side is complete to the abaci. Of that on the N side only the bases survive. Saxon transepts are a rarity (cf. e.g. Dover). The rest is C14. The arch on the S side is earlier, probably C13. The Saxon jambs have one order of colonnettes at the angle towards the crossing and again a quite unskilled abacus. The capitals of the colonnettes, again decorated with the same sketchy leaf pattern, have basically a shape so similar to the Norman one-scallop that they may well be a Saxon craftsman’s version of this unfamiliar motif introduced with the Conquest. The N transept has an early C14 N window with flowing tracery. The W tower was added in the C15, see its tall arch towards the nave, the flint and stone chequer decoration at the base and the diagonal buttresses. - SCREEN (to S transept). C15, damaged, with broad single-light divisions, ogee arch inside pointed arch, with quatrefoil and other motifs between the two. - LECTERN. Good, C15, on octagonal concave-sided base. - BENCHES. Throughout the nave, C15, plain. - DOOR. In the N doorway is that unique thing, an Anglo-Saxon oak door. It is treated quite differently from the Norman way. It has plain oak boards and three long undecorated iron straps riveted through to circular wooden bars at the back.

HADSTOCK. We are on the borders of Cambridgeshire, and from the churchyard is a wonderful view over the thatched roofs of the village to the downs and woodlands beyond. Close by is the timber-framed manor house, with the original chimney-stack built in Shakespeare's time, and not far away is a farmhouse a century older, with a projecting storey and three terracotta niches in the walls.

All this has its own beauty, but it is to the church that we must come if we would feel ourselves back in the old world, for here is one of the oldest churches in the county, into which we come through the oldest door in all England. This door of Hadstock church has been opening and shutting for about a thousand years. Had the Conqueror come this way he would have found it swinging on its hinges. It is the only Saxon door we have come upon in our tour of 10,000 towns and villages. It must be the door the Saxon carpenter hung when this church was built. We do not know exactly when that was, but it is believed that the church may have been built to celebrate the victory of King Canute over Edmund Ironside in 1016.

The nave and one of the transepts remain from the Saxon building, though there is evidence that they were repaired or refashioned after the falling of a central tower in the time of Magna Carta. The other transept, with its original gable cross, is 14th century, and the present tower is 15th. In the walls of this 500-year-old tower, however, is something older than the Saxon door, a number of Roman bricks.

We come to the wonderful doorway through a 15th century porch, and open with a thrill this plain oak door with three iron straps riveted through it. If we have been to Saffron Walden and called at the museum there we shall remember a piece of human skin which was found under these straps of iron, the skin of a sacrilegious Dane which was nailed to the door in the days of King Canute; it is one of the brutalities which were practised in those days.

Above the doorway is a blocked-up Saxon window, and there are two other windows between a doorway and the tower, 15 feet up from the floor, both still with their Saxon window frames. It is almost incredible that these timbers should have survived in the door and windows of this little church. We have come upon half a dozen Norman doors and about the same number of Norman roofs in our tour of England, but nowhere except at the timber church at Greensted have we found Saxon timbers still in their place.

As if all this were not enough, Hadstock has three other ancient doors, one 700 and two 600 years old. They are all in the tower, and the oldest leads into the churchyard, the other two leading to the stair turret and the belfry. Still another wonder, a remarkable ladder, has been in use for 500 years, its rungs cut in a curious shape; and under the tower arch are the remains of a 15th century screen on which one of the spandrels is carved with the quaint scene of a fox dressed as a priest, standing in a pulpit and seizing a goose by the neck. Here, therefore, are timbers from the 11th, 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries, a unique collection. The lectern is a dainty piece of work in oak, its stem carved by a Tudor craftsman (and therefore probably adding another century to this remarkable collection of timbers).

Flickr set

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