Monday, 1 November 2010

Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex part 1

Stansted is a game of two halves with St Mary playing against St John and Stansted Hall standing in the wings waiting to play the winner. God that's weak.

St Mary the Virgin, in its peaceful and beautiful setting near to Stansted Hall, is about three-quarters of a mile away from the main centre of population which has grown up around what was the main A11 road. Here St John’s Church, which is now the parish church, was built in 1889.

Because of its architectural and historic interest, St Mary was considered worthy of preservation by and for the Church and the Nation and in November 1990 it was vested in the Redundant Churches Fund, renamed The Churches Conservation Trust in April 1994. In 1991, repairs were carried out under the direction of Mr. Henry Freeland of Cambridge, and now this building is safe and its future assured, together with 290 other English churches.

The Domesday Survey records that Stansted had a priest, so it is almost certain that there was a Saxon church here, and therefore Christian worship has been offered here for a thousand years.

William Greno built the castle at Stansted on a hill which was raised artificially about 70 feet above the level of the road. Because of this he was known as William "de Monte fixo", or "Mountfichet" and this name was later used to distinguish this village from Stanstead in Hertfordshire. William was probably the founder of the present church; the chancel arch and the two splendid Norman doorways date from around 1120 and he died in 1126. The size and quality of the Norman work suggest a fine church of the period, although probably only consisting of nave and chancel.

In the 13th century the chancel was lengthened and enlarged. Early English work of the period remains in the wall arcading and in a blocked lancet window. A chapel was built on the north side of the chancel, possibly by Sir Roger de Lancaster, who was lord of the manor of Stansted Hall from c.1285-1291. The effigy beneath the arch in the north wall of the chapel is probably his, although some authorities believe that it belongs to his son, Sir John, who died in 1334. The font is also 13th century.

During the 14th century the Lancaster Chapel was lengthened eastwards, in line with the east wall of the chancel. It was given windows in the Decorated style and a second arch to divide it from the chancel, possibly by Sir John de Lancaster, who also gave the advowson of the living to the Priory of Thremhale. In the chancel floor is a brass inscription to Robert of Bocking, the first vicar to be appointed by the Priory, who died in 1361.

Although little evidence of this remains, the church would have looked at its grandest just before the Reformation - its windows filled with mediaeval glass, its walls emblazoned with wall paintings (remains of which were discovered on the chancel south wall in 1888), and colour and carving everywhere, providing visual aids for people who could not read and could not understand Latin. With the Reformation in the mid 1500s, much of this was swept away, although an inventory prepared in 1552 shows that the church possessed vestments including plate and four bells, a sanctus bell and a silver pyx.

Sir Thomas Middleton was lord of the manor from 1615 until his death in 1631 and his splendid monument may be seen on the south side of the sanctuary. The monument of his daughter Hester, who died in 1614/15 (according to how the calendar was interpreted) was on the north side but later moved to the Lancaster Chapel. In 1692 Sir Stephen Langham, whose only daughter had married the fourth Middleton in line from Sir Thomas, had the present tower built and gave the church new porches.

By 1829 the church had fallen into disrepair and needed restoration. This was not a period for the most tasteful designs in restoration work and churches were often regarded as preaching houses, needing as much seating accommodation as possible for people to hear the preaching of the Word. St Mary’s was drastically restored in 1829 at a cost of £1,450 – in other words butchered. The north nave wall was taken down and a north aisle formed. Midway through the work however it was discovered that the new north wall was not strong enough to support the roof and it had to be supported by buttresses. No arcade was built and the nave and "aisle" formed one vast space beneath a single roof. The contractor was Mr. John Poolman. The Norman doorway on the north side was re-set towards the east end of the north wall, alterations were made to the pews, and the organ (by Flight & Robson, purchased in 1825 for £125) was re-sited.

In 1835 work was done to the cornices at the tops of the walls and a new altarpiece was made, with four panels inscribed with the Lord’s Prayer, Creed and Commandments.

By 1887-88 the church was again in a state of disrepair and it was even suggested that it should be allowed to fall into ruin and that a new church should be built nearer to the village. By this time, thanks to the Gothic Revival in architecture and the Oxford Movement in worship, churches were being restored on mediaeval lines, using "correct" Gothic architecture, proportions and fittings. The restorers had much to put right. The north wall of 1829 was again bulging with the weight of the roof. The nave and aisle formed one "wide and unsightly parallelogram" and were equipped with commodious western (for the organ) and northern (for the children) galleries. The font stood at the east end of the nave, near the great pulpit and reading-desk, and the tiny communion table in the sanctuary was hemmed in on the north side by Hester Salusbury’s monument.

A thorough restoration took place to the designs of Francis Thomas Dollman (1812-1900) who had been a pupil of the eminent A. W. N. Pugin and who designed the churches of St. Saviour’s, Walthamstow, Eye near Peterborough and several in London which have now been demolished. The contractors were Messrs. J. L. Glasscock & Son of Bishops Stortford and the total cost of the work was £5,035 15s. Again the church was transformed, although every effort was made to preserve and reinstate every fragment of ancient craftsmanship. The nave and north aisle were taken down and rebuilt, the Norman doorways re-set towards the west end and a new porch was built on the south side. New roofs were provided for the nave and aisle and an arcade was built to divide them. The galleries were removed, also the old seating and pulpit; and the church was equipped with new pine benches, a stone pulpit, choir stalls and sedilia in the chancel. The chancel received new windows and a new altar, Lady Salusbury’s monument was moved to the Lancaster Chapel and the font to the west end of the nave.

In 1951 Hester Salusbury’s monument was moved, once again, from the chapel to the east end of the north aisle.

The nave is 68 feet in length and the chancel a further 34 feet, whilst the width across the nave and north aisle is 37 feet. This is a church of considerable size - a fact which is not immediately apparent from the outside.

The ultimate surprise of St Mary is that it mainly dates from 1888 when an almost total re-build took place - you can see that it’s had a Victorian hoover but I would never have guessed how much despoilment has been inflicted, particularly on poor Hester Salusbury.

ST MARY THE VIRGIN. With its ‘spike’ on the W tower (brick, embattled, of 1692) and its wealth of monuments more a Hertfordshire than an Essex church, and indeed close to the border. Nave and N aisle of 1888; chancel much renewed at the same time. But the chancel arch is remaining proof of the Norman church. Capitals with incised zigzag decoration, arch with zigzag and an outer Norman ‘bell-flower’ motif. The S doorway is Norman too, with three orders of columns carrying scalloped capitals, arch with zigzag and saltire-cross decoration and a tympanum on a curved lintel, with diaperwork. On the N side of the N aisle another (of course re-used) Norman doorway. It has three orders of columns, with scalloped capitals, and the rest also very similar to the S doorway. The chancel dates from the C13 and has inside tall blank shafted arcades embracing the windows. The renewed E end was similar, as is shown by the angle-shafts (with shaftrings). On the N side an E.E. arch into a side chapel and a plain C14 arch. The E.E. arch has responds with capitals decorated with volutes at the angles and between them stiff-leaf in the E, upright three-lobed leaves in the W respond. - FONT. A big heavy circular piece with coarse angle volutes, c. 1300. - FONT COVER. Plain, ogee in outline, with foliage finial; early C17. - COMMUNION RAIL. Graceful; C18. - CANDLESTICKS. Wood, gilt, tall, with foliage decoration; C18. - SCULPTURE. Cartouche of the early C17 at the end of the N aisle. It is surrounded by the thirty pieces of silver, a shield with the Instruments of the Passion and the crown of thorns as a crest, etc.* - STAINED GLASS. N chapel E end. Good Samaritan; three lights, signed by Warrington, 1859. - PLATE. Paten on foot of 1676. - MONUMENTS. Cross legged Knight of c. 1300 (N chapel). - Hester Salusbury d. 1614, coloured recumbent effigy wearing the fashionable high hat. Alabaster sarcophagus with two big shields surrounded by gristly ornament. The tomb is not in its original state. Mrs Esdaile has pointed out that the escutcheon with the Instruments of the Passion indicated Epiphanius Evesham as author. - Sir Thomas Middleton, late Lord Mayor of London d. 1631, and wife. Uncommonly sumptuous standing Wall monument with bulgy sarcophagus-like base decorated with skulls, recumbent effigies, between coupled black marble columns carrying a shallow coffered arch. Straight top with achievement. Outside the columns two standing angels and inside also two, of specially good quality, holding the large inscription plate. - William Harcourt Torriano d. 1828 with mourning female figure leaning over an altar. By E. Gaffin.

* The Cartouche rightly belongs to Hester Salusbury's monument; it must have lost a canopy.

St Mary (4)

Hester Salusbury

Sir Thomas Middleton

STANSTED MOUNTFITCHET. Its houses look down on a Roman road, but its name comes from the Norman family of Mountfitchet, whose castle was destroyed in the year of Magna Carta. There are traces of its earthworks and some rubble foundations. There are Tudor houses here with their imposing timbers, one in Church Road with brackets carved with foliage, and others of the 17th and 18th centuries. A fine tower windmill stands in the background.

The church is a little way off in the 200 acres of Stansted Hall, and has three archways through which men were walking in Norman days, a chancel arch carved with small heads and two doorways with tympanums, all with Norman decoration. The tower is 17th century, but the chancel was refashioned by the 13th century men, and has graceful shafts and a handsome wall arcade. It opens to a chapel by two arches, one of the l3th century, with rich foliage on its capitals, and one of the 14th. Five big linenfold panels are left from a Tudor screen, and from the 17th century are two carved chairs, an attractive cover for the 700-year—old font, and a curious panel carved with the thirty pieces of silver, the Crown of thorns, a kneeling cherub, and instruments of the Passion. There are two fine candlesticks from Italy; a reredos with the Resurrection, the Tree of Life, and a phoenix; and a window of Faith and Hope in memory of a father who died in 1915 and his son killed in France two years later.

The oldest monument is the worn figure of a cross-legged knight in armour, said to be Roger de Lancaster from the beginning of the 14th century. He wears a surcoat, and has his feet on a grinning lion. Far more imposing is the great marble monument, 20 feet high, of Sir Thomas Middleton who died in 1631. He is wearing a fur cloak over his armour, and the collar he wore as Lord Mayor of London; there are angels by the inscription, and seven shields of arms. His wife lies on an altar tomb panelled and carved with elaborate heraldry. She is a coloured figure wearing a cloak, a lace collar, and a tall hat, and her sad little story is that she was killed by a stag in the park.

Flickr set.

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