Saturday, 30 October 2010

Radwinter, Essex

St Mary the Virgin is locked with no keyholder listed and, to my mind, can be summed up as a great porch with a church attached. There must be something more though as she makes it into Jenkins' Thousand Best Churches with a star, mainly for the reredos which Mee also highlights.

The parish shares its vicar with Great and Little Sampford and Hempstead, all three of which are always open - so I fail to understand why Radwinter is inaccessible.

Saint Mary the Virgin, is built of flint and white limestone with bands of tiles of irregular length and spacing. The roofs are covered with tiles and lead.

The oldest part of the Church is the nave - as far as to the last pair of arches towards the East.

On the second and third arches of the North Arcade, remains of mediaeval painted decorations in red and yellow bands could still be seen until the 1960's when sadly, despite Eden-Nesfield's advice in 1868, they were painted over. A West tower was built in c. 1350 and rebuilt with the spire by Mr Temple Moore in 1887-8, after he had taken over from Mr. Eden Nesfield as the Church’s architect.

The restoration and enlargement of the Church was undertaken by the Reverend John Frederick Watkinson Bullock (Rector from 1865-1916) on his own initiative, and largely at his own expense, though he did appeal for co-operation from members of the Vestry before he set to work. Mr. Eden Nesfield was the Architect. Letters of his describing his work are still remaining and have been published by the Friends of Radwinter Church under the title "A Deuce of an Uproar". The Chancel was rebuilt and lengthened to its present proportions; the south and north aisles were rebuilt. The clerestory was remade using old materials. Quaint stone heads, of medieval age, can be seen below the five roof beams. A north vestry and a south vestry and an organ chamber were added. The church was re-consecrated by the Bishop of Rochester (in whose diocese Radwinter then was) on Wednesday 25th May 1870.

The columns north of the nave are octagonal with moulded capitals and modern bases.

The north aisle was added to the Church in 1340 and has in its east wall a reset fourteenth century window showing painted glass of St Alban and St Etheldreda of Ely. This window formerly contained the coat of arms of the Bendysh family.

The tower arch at the back of the church is fourteenth century work reset. The West window is nineteenth century but has some fourteenth century stonework. The painted glass in it shows incidents which have to do with the birth and childhood of Our Lord. The light which shows Him at the age of 12 in the Temple, gives the features of Mr. Gladstone, Lord Salisbury and Sir William Vernon Harcourt to the "doctors" who are speaking with Him.

The flints facing the walls and tower are the work of an old family who lived at Brandon and had been flint knappers for many centuries. In the middle of each outer wall of the bell chamber, below the parapet, a sixteenth century gargoyle is reset.
The south porch was added in about 1350 and also the door. The room above this porch was rebuilt at the restoration and is now used as a muniments room. There had been a room before but it was derelict by 1800. 

The original small chancel of the Church had been rebuilt in about 1325. The present chancel is entirely nineteenth century except for the chancel arch which dates from 1300 and has now been reset one bay to the east of its original position.

Above and behind the high altar is the magnificent wooden reredos of Flemish workmanship of the early sixteenth century. It was bought for Radwinter church from a saleroom in London in 1888. It contains six scenes from the life of Our Lady, with small free-standing figures against shallow carved backgrounds, with elaborate tracery. 

The top middle recess shows the Blessed Virgin as a little girl being presented in the temple. The lower middle recess shows her being espoused to St. Joseph; the top left and right hand recesses show the arrival of the Wise Men and the Shepherds, respectively, at Bethlehem. The bottom left recess gives the scene at her death bed and the bottom right recess is her funeral procession.

The two side wings of the reredos are additionally designed by Mr Temple Moore. On the left wing is to be seen the birth and childhood of the Blessed Virgin, and above, her Annunciation and Visitation. On the right wing Our Lady is shown standing beside the cross on Good Friday; with the body of Her Divine Son in her arms after He had been taken down from the cross; Mary with the Apostles on the first Whitsunday; and finally St. Luke painting her portrait with the Infant Jesus on her knee.

UPDATE: I saw in my local paper that Radwinter was having an open morning last Saturday so having dropped the youngest off at football training headed straight there. Now I have to say that after an initially suspicious reception - they have been broken into several times and suspect that photographers recorded the stolen items to then steal to order - and having to agree to sign the visitors book as having taken pictures I was given a warm and enthusiastic welcome but found it hard to like the interior.

Yes the reredos is magnificent but somehow looks out of place and the Rev JFW Bullock did so much restoration that this is, to all intents and purposes, a Victorian interior - and not a very good one. Still at least I've at last managed to see what all the fuss is about but am becoming increasingly confused by Simon Jenkins choices.

ST MARY THE VIRGIN. The church was all but rebuilt by Eden Nesfield in 1869-70. He used some old materials and left the remarkable S porch as he found it. It has very heavy timbers and brackets to carry an over-sailing upper storey - quite different from any other of the Essex timber porches. The date is C14 and probably not too late. Nesfield added the pretty, pargetted, domestic upper storey, very much in his Essex style. As for the church, the material is flint with bands of tiles of irregular length and spacing. The tracery of the windows is geometrical and of no interest. The good embattled W tower with a spire was added by Temple Moore in 1887. Inside, Nesfield kept to the surviving arcade piers which are on the S side of the late C13 type, quatrefoil with thin round shafts in the diagonals - all shafts carrying fillets. Moulded arches. On the N side the arcade is mid C14: octagonal piers and moulded arches. The chancel arch also is old; it goes with the S arcade. The nave roof is C14 too; tie-beams, curved braces with traceried spandrels, octagonal king-posts with capitals and four-way struts. The chancel roof is panelled and painted and belongs to Nesfield’s time. - REREDOS. A Flemish early C16 altar with six scenes with small free-standing figures against shallow carved backgrounds. - CHANCEL SCREEN of metal. Very pretty scroll-work. Made c. 1880-5. - PAINTING. Triptych in the N aisle. C15, Italian, perhaps Sienese. Demi-figure of Virgin and Child in the centre, two Saints on the wings.

St Mary the Virgin

St Mary the Virgin (2)

Reredos (1)

RADWINTER. Here is a woodland setting for delightful old houses, chief among them 16th century Grange Farm with its chimney stack as lovingly finished as a work of art, and the Old Vicarage with elaborate bargeboards carved 300 years ago.

But best of all is the church porch, where 14th century wooden arches hold up an overhanging black and white room, with sunken carving on the great beams forming the outer entrance, and a medieval handle to the new inner door. A door on the other side has more medieval ironwork.

From the black and white of the porch we pass into a church bright with colour. It has 14th century arches to the tower and the chancel, but most of it was rebuilt last century, when the massive tower and spire were taken down and put up again and its old bells re-hung. The tower has kept its 16th century gargoyles and the nave roof its corbels, one open-mouthed with a hand clutching its tongue. Some of the beams are 600 years old.

A medieval decorator painted two arches of the arcades with red and yellow bands, and ever since the church has been turning itself into a gallery of art, some good, some poor. Most impressive is the huge 16th century reredos, which presents the story of the Madonna like a pageant, its six deep recesses crowded with wooden figures in realistic scenes. We see her as a baby and then with her own baby; we see her marriage, death, and funeral. In striking contrast with the many shadows cast on the dark wood by the figures is the case of richly coloured 19th century panels made to fold up and enclose the precious reredos, Each panel is painted with another scene in the Madonna’s life, and she appears yet again between two saints in a simple triptych painted by a foreign artist 500 years ago.

Other paintings include a striking 19th century picture of Christ and the Children, a complete series of the Stations of the Cross, brilliantly coloured saints on the organ screen, and a vivid picture of the Ascension in memory of 120 years of service by rectors of the Bullock family, one of whom was here for 5l years. It is mainly due to this family that the village has so rich a church. There is good woodcarving, too, both new and old, including three old chests, a Jacobean chair, and a tall font cover with saints under canopies, a copy of medieval work. Between two huge vestment chests hangs a 12-branched candelabra of the 18th century.

Flickr set.

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