Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Wethersfield, Essex

St Mary Magdalene is an architectural melting pot with a quirky tower but is, I think, really rather attractive. It doesn't hurt that she sits on a knoll, in the middle of the village, grandly surveying all around her.

The name "Wethersfield" preserves that of Wutha, one of the many Vikings who crossed the North Sea in the 8th to 10th centuries, landed at Mersea, and then with their families came up the valley of the River Pant. It was he who made a clearing in the ancient forest, and it was given his name. [The Saxon word ‘feld’ = clearing, hence Wutha’s feld].

In all probability a Saxon Church was built on the present site and it is considered that the north-west wall of the Nave abutting the Tower may contain some pre-Conquest work.

The oldest part of the Church now standing is the massive tower, nearly 28 feet (9 metres) square on the outside. It was erected before the year 1200 at a time when round Norman arches were giving way to the pointed style. It is said to have been the gift of a wealthy parishioner, Henry de Cornhill. According to some authorities the Tower was reduced in height in the 17th century, but others consider that the bell-openings, being where they are, prove that it was not intended to be higher. The spire, of a rarer almost Germanic shape, is modern.

The Church built at the same time as the Tower, consisted of the present nave, without side aisles, and a small chancel. The foundations of that building were revealed during the Victorian restoration. The south aisle and arcade were added in the 13th century; and, about the year 1340, the north aisle and arcade were added, and the chancel enlarged to its present size. The later date of the north arcade is evidenced by the octagonal pillars with their delicately moulded capitals. At this time the roof would have been steeply pitched, the tops of the walls being a little higher than the points of the arches. the clerestory was added in the 15th century, and restored in the 17th century.

The building was extensively restored in 1874 to 1876(for once the results of these improvements are not too horrific), when the vicar’s vestry and organ chamber were added on the south side of the chancel. An early 14th century window from the south side of the chancel was reset as the east window of the vestry.

Before this 19th century restoration the building was in a bad state of repair, particularly the chancel. It had been used as a school for some time and had then become derelict.

Wethersfield Church is fortunate in having two porches. The one to the South Door dates from the late 14th or early 15th century. It was restored in 1986, previous repairs having been badly affected by severe winter weather. The North Porch, built later, was rebuilt in brick in 1750. The disused font in the South Porch is from the 15th century.

The recumbent alabaster figures on the tomb in the Chancel had long been considered to be of Henry Wentworth and his first wife, Elizabeth. He was the second son of Sir Roger Wentworth of Nettleshead in Suffolk and the first of his family to settle in Essex. He lived at Codham Hall in the extreme south of the Parish and died in 1482. This identification has been disputed on the grounds that the figure is wearing a Tabard - almost a symbol of Tudor times; and that his hair is cut square across the forehead in a Tudor fashion. It has now been suggested that the effigy is of another Sir Roger Wentworth who died in 1539. The funery helm, set high on the North wall of the Chancel is, according to a note given by the late Dr Charles R Beard to the late F.H. Cripps Day (the compiler of several books on Church armour) associated with the funeral of this latter Sir Roger Wentworth. There are some sketches of it in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The list of incumbents, on the wall near the South Door, omits (perhaps significantly) any mention of Commonwealth appointments. There is no entry between ‘Tennison’ (father of a future Archbishop of Canterbury) who became Vicar in 1642 (Archbishop Laud was executed in 1645), and ‘Clarke’ who was instituted to the living in 1660 - the year in which the Throne of England was restored under Charles II.

Patrick Bronte served his first curacy in Wethersfield from 1806 to 1808. He lived in St George’s House, which still stands opposite the Church. He moved to Yorkshire where Branwell, Emily Aime and Charlotte were born.

ST MARY MAGDALENE AND ST MARY THE VIRGIN. Low massive early C13 W tower without buttresses. Small lancet windows, bell-openings of two lights separated by a polygonal shaft. Their existence in the place where they are proves that the tower was not meant to be taller. Short shingled spire of a rare, rather German than English shape. Early C14 chancel, see the E window with reticulated tracery (also the re-set E window in the C19 Vestry) and the blank arcading, low N recess, and Piscina inside the chancel. The N and (renewed) S aisle windows are late C14 - straightheaded with the Early Perp version of reticulation (cf. Shalford). The interior confirms the date of the tower; low, unmoulded, but pointed arch towards the nave. It also introduces a new period. The S arcade is clearly C13, but probably later than the tower. Circular piers and double-chamfered arches, and the E respond with stiff-leaf on a defaced head-corbel. The N arcade is yet later; octagonal piers and double-chamfered arches, but a short vertical piece first, rising from the capitals and dying into the arch. That goes with the date of the aisles. - C15 clerestory and nave roof. - SCREEN. Quite tall, of one-light divisions, each with an ogee arch and panel tracery above. - STAINED GLASS. Many fragments, in various windows, mostly C14, though also C15. - PLATE. Paten of 1561; Cup of 1561(?), both richly chased. - MONUMENTS. Possibly Henry Wentworth d. 1482 and wife. Tomb-chest with alabaster effigies, not of high quality. - Mott Family, c. 1760, one of the many, often very fine, and hardly ever signed Rococo tablets of various marbles which occur in Home County churches. Urn above, as usual, and cherub’s head below. - Joseph Clarke d. 1790, by E. Tomson, large tablet, also of various marbles.
St Mary Magdalene (2)

wentworth monument (2)

Simon Delloe

WETHERSFIELD. Some of the houses of this big village are very old, projecting over the street with gables enriched by carved bargeboards. They have a quaintness all their own; in a thatched cottage which was a chapel in medieval days is the relic of a piscina, now used to make a window.

The tower of the church begins with Norman windows and grows younger with pointed ones as it rises to a square wooden lantern, then to a copper-covered spire, adding to the curious effect by hanging one of its bells outside. Part of the nave wall is so thick that it may be Saxon, but nothing else so old is left. Two doors have been swinging here 600 years, one in a 15th century porch; the nave has round columns of the 13th century and octagonal ones of the 14th; the clerestory is 15th century with a Tudor roof; and on each side of the 14th century chancel are stone seats in recesses with pointed arches. With them are two sedilia and a finely decorated piscina. A remarkable corbel was first carved as a woman’s head, but her face has been turned into a flower. The traceried screen is 15th century and so is a font no longer used. Among fragments of old glass in the windows is a striking head with a yellow beard and the name Daniel above it; it has been here 600 years.

The most striking monument is a richly panelled tomb with sleeping figures of Henry Wentworth and his wife as they were in the 15th century. He is in armour with his feet on a unicorn, and she wears an elaborate necklace of roses; but the tomb is pathetically disfigured with names and initials scratched on it by louts, some as long ago as the 17th century. We have seen few monuments so wantonly disfigured. Hanging on the wall above is a Tudor funeral helmet, with the head of a bearded unicorn.

Among memorials to families worshipping here is one to Mark Mott, who founded a charity in the 18th century, and of much interest is the big tablet to the Clerkes, for it records the name of Captain Charles Clerke who must have seen as much of the globe as any man of his day. Three times he sailed round the world, meeting his end in attempting to go a fourth time with Captain Cook. He had the poignant experience of lying helpless on his ship, and seeing the natives kill the immortal captain. He saw the tragedy through his glasses and could do nothing. He was senior officer and took charge of the expedition in place of Cook, but his health grew worse and before he reached Kamchatka he was dead, only 38. They buried him under a tree, a man mourned by all his companions, for he was a frank and merry sailor, a line seaman, and an honest kind-hearted Englishman.

A window of Our Lord appearing to Mary Magdalene is in memory of Captain Gordon, who died in the Indian Mutiny, and of his wife, who lived on for half a century without him. A brass tells of General Gordon of the Black Watch, who fell in the Great War.

Three miles from Wethersheld stands one of the oldest houses in the county, Great Codham Hall. One of its wings is 16th century, the other is 17th, and both have 17th century chimneys; but the main part of the house is 600 years old and its original kingpost still supports the roof of its 14th century hall.

Flickr set.

1 comment:


    Can ANYONE on the entire plant PLEASE tell me how high the tower of Wethersfield church is above the ground immediately below it p-l-e-a-s-e?

    Thank you


    PS I think you should place your piece as a Wikipedia entry (please)
    PPS Have you read the listed buildings entry on the church? It's certainly thorough - with lots of (presumed) Cromwellian defacings mentioned.