Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Hormeads, Hertfordshire

Normally I would cover St Nicholas, Great Hormead, and St Mary, Little Hormead, as separate posts but Arthur Mee covers them as one entity so who am I to diverge from the master?

When I visited St Mary in March there was a team of three CCT conservators busy at work in the church on the 12th century north door - if they weren't there I doubt I would have got access to the interior. According to the CCT website St Mary is a small, rural and homely piece of living history, with an 11th century nave and a 13th century chancel, divided by a grand Norman chancel arch. One of the two Norman doorways has its original door (now preserved inside). This is a rare and precious survival, with wonderful craftsmanship in wood and ironwork. Amongst the wealth of interest here is an exquisitely carved 14th century font and an unusual set of Charles II Royal Arms, of 1660. Ancient timbers survive in the roofs and support a later bell turret, containing two bells which may well have rung out over this beautiful area of agricultural north-east Hertfordshire for 600 years.

St Mary, in my opinion, is rather odd for a Hertfordshire church - the shingled belfry is reminiscent of a mid Essex church - but it's a step up from the humdrum Braintree architectural style perhaps because of the whitewashed wooden tower or it's situation. I'm glad that the CCT are fulfilling Arthur's wishes by remedying year's of neglect.

ST MARY. The fame of this small and lonely church is its N DOOR, with the most lavish display of C12 ironwork, two large interlaced quatrefoil patterns in the centre, and borders of scrolls and trails. The door belongs to the N doorway which has one order of colonnettes with scalloped capitals and an arch with a thick roll moulding and a thin unusual triangular moulding. The same capitals and mouldings grouped inside in the awkwardly depressed chancel arch. The S doorway is also Norman and simpler. In fact the whole nave is Norman (see also one deeply splayed small roundheaded N window), the chancel E.E. (the S lancet windows are original). - The roofs are of the late Middle Ages, with rough tie-beams in the nave, with diagonal wind-braces in the chancel. - FONT. Early C14, octagonal, with very pretty blank tracery. - ROYAL ARMS. Dated 1660, small but nicely carved; above the chancel arch.

St Nicholas has the worst extension in the history of church extensions - how it got through planning is beyond me, I suspect corruption. That aside I can see why Mee extolled St Mary over St Nicholas. Although on the face of it St Nicholas is the grander church, St Mary is more charming and intimate - St Nicholas feels Puritan but has some nice features.

ST NICHOLAS. Away from the village street, on a hill behind Great Hormead Bury. The church is much restored (1874), the chancel rebuilt, and the S porch an addition. W tower with diagonal buttresses (late C14 to late C15), nave, and two aisles. Three bays with octagonal piers, moulded capitals, and double-chamfered arches. The date may be c. 1300. The last much shorter arcade bays were added, probably later in the C14. The W tower arch still later, say c. 1400 (shafts with capitals and, in the diagonals, hollows without capitals). - FONT. Norman, undecorated, on thick circular stem and eight shafts set around. - PLATE. Two Chalices, 1740, 1748. - MONUMENT. Lt-Col. Stables, killed at Waterloo 1815, Grecian sarcophagus with the word Waterloo on it in an oval laurel Wreath. By Kendrick. 

Hormead. It is Hormead Great and Hormead Little, and they are half a mile apart, both with ancient churches, one of which we found sadly in need of restoration, hoping that the petition on its 500 year-old bell would be answered, St Margaret, pray for us.

It is Little Hormead that needs St Margaret's prayers. It has a Norman doorway in which a magnificent door has been hanging for 800 years, splendid with 12th-century ironwork, a very rare survival, and the splendid Norman chancel arch; the medieval bell with its silent prayer in Latin was on the floor. Some of the old houses here have fared better than the church, one black-and-white timbered farm making an arresting picture down the road, and the Old Glebe House having given a new lease of life to its long thatched barn by turning it into a home.

The nave and the north aisle are 13th century, the south aisle 14th, while the tower was finished in the 15th, the north chapel added in the 16th century, and the whole church was made to look new when the chancel was built in 1874. There are animal gargoyles on the outside walls showing rows of grinning teeth, and queer stone faces inside staring down from the open timbers of the roof. A rusty helmet hangs over the 17th-century memorial of William Brand, and there is a memorial to a soldier of the manor house, Colonel Stables, who served under Wellington and Sir John Moore, and sleeps near the battlefield of Waterloo, where he fell. A lovely face looks down from another stone, a relief of Betty Romer, who died in 1916. The pillared font is Norman.

Great Hormead has still the sails of its old post-mill stretched to the wind near the stump of a small smock-mill, and two miles down a lane we come upon a queer place called Brick House, which seemed to us to have lost itself in time and place, rising from the middle of an overgrown field, with stepped gables, and forbidding air enhanced by small peepholes in the walls, which command a view of every corner of the house and every point of the compass.

Flickr set (Gt).  Flickr set (Lt).

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