Monday, 7 February 2011

Babraham, Cambridgeshire

I had a fantastic field trip last week covering nine Cambridgeshire churches seven of which were open and the two that were locked listed keyholders....result!

St Peter is in the grounds, or adjacent to, Babraham Hall and has research laboratories as a neighbour but nonetheless is fairly isolated and is understandably locked. This was the last church of the day and although a keyholder is listed I had run out of time which is a shame as a peek through the windows revealed an interesting interior. A return visit with more time is in order [six years later I returned on 05/05/17 to find that a keyholder is no longer listed and the church is inaccessible].

It has to be said that the exterior, setting and graveyard along with the view of the Hall and the walk along the Granta are worth the visit on their own. Simon Jenkins rates it two stars, which I think is a bit mean, and particularly comments on the Bennet memorial and the glass.

ST PETER. In the large grounds of, and close to, Babraham Hall - which visually speaking, does the church no good. Mostly C13. The W tower has no buttresses and one (renewed) W lancet. Higher up quatrefoil windows set in circles in squares, and Perp bell-openings. The chancel has an arch to the nave with one chamfer and one hollow-chamfer. At the E end traces of a former five-lancet group and of a circular window in the gable. On the N and S sides two-light lancets, one with Y-tracery and a transom, one with a quatrefoil above the two lights and also a transom. In addition one blocked N lancet and also traces of one large round-headed window on the N as well as the S side. The later Middle Ages renewed and heightened nave and aisle and added a clerestory. The Perp arcade is of four bays and has many-moulded piers with a minimum of capitals. The clerestory windows are above the spandrels not the apexes of the arches. - REREDOS. Plain, dignified, early C18. - PULPIT. Perp, on a trumpet stem, with tracery tops. - BENCHES. All through the nave simple benches with square tops and buttressed ends. - PEWS. High Georgian family pews in the nave and into the chancel. - MONUMENTS. Richard and Sir Thomas Bennet d. 1658 and 1667. By Bushnell (Mrs Esdaile’s convincing attribution). Two white, life-size standing figures against a black back-cloth. They are spectrally thin and joyless in their surging Berninesque draperies, one facing us, the other in profile. Their gesticulating also is Berninesque, un-English, and in weird contrast to their gaunt faces. - General Adeane, d. 1802, Neo Gothic by Hopper.

St Peter (2)



Babraham Hall

 Mee says -

BABRAHAM. It is in the delightful wooded stretch of the valley of the Granta with the Gog Magog Hills looking down. Its ways are lined with great sycamores and chestnuts, and they bring us to a green with a cross on which are sixteen names and Laurence Binyon’s famous words:

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.

It is a pleasant walk through the meadows (especially if we come in spring when they are like a cloth of gold) to the church over the little wooden bridge across the stream. Babraham Hall, the great 19th century house, stands on the site of the old hall built in magnificent fashion for a Genoese adventurer who was rich enough to lend money to kings and grand enough for the great Elizabeth not to scorn a loan from him. He commanded a ship against the Armada, and it is said that during Mary Tudor’s reign he collected Peter’s Pence for the pope, giving rise to the lines:

Here lies Horatio Palavazene,
Who robbed the pope to lend the queen.

This very fine fellow was Sir Horatio Palavicini. He left a widow and two sons, and after his death they married Cromwell’s great uncle and his two daughters.

It is said that there may be Saxon masonry in the walls of the old church, but the church is mainly 15th century, though it has an aumbry, a piscina, and stone seats for priests 700 years old. There are fragments of medieval glass in the line windows, 15th century benches in the nave, a 15th century font, and a pulpit of the same time which has been made into a three-decker by using up the timbers of the old screen. The oak chest is 16th century, and the altar rails 17th. There are old high box-pews spreading from the north aisle into the chancel. On a mighty marble monument lie two hagard-looking brothers who were village squires during the Commonwealth, studying at the same school, university, and inn of court, and marrying two rich sisters. They were Sir Richard and Sir Thomas Bennet, and it was one of their descendants who founded the almshouses and the school. On the walls of the church is a tablet to John Hullier, a brave curate of Tudor days who walked into the fire for his faith. It is strange to read that as he came to the stake a looker-on said to him "The Lord strengthen thee," a sergeant bidding the man hold his tongue or he should be sorry for it; and it is incredible to read that he was bound with chains and set in a pitch barrel, books being cast into the fire, one of which he opened and read as the flames gathered fiercely about him.

Flickr set.


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