Monday, 14 February 2011

Cheveley, Cambridgeshire

St Mary and the Holy Host of Heaven is, as you would expect of such an evocatively named church, an extraordinary building. Approached from the north the tower is bizarre with an octagonal outer stair and a peculiarly shaped upper stage, the view from the south reveals an octagonal upper stage - the whole thing is most odd, presumably the result of stop start building.

Despite, or perhaps because of, its architectural peculiarities it is really rather beautiful but then again I'm a sucker for a cruciform church. 

Over the years the interior has been heavily 'restored' but despite this has retained some interest including a wall monument to Simon Folkes, a painted Victorian font and a very fine crossing. In the south transept are some floor brasses sadly buried under a mountain of chairs and other detritus and therefore inaccessible which is a pity.

ST MARY AND THE HOLY HOST OF HEAVEN. Impressive cruciform church of flint and pebble rubble. Dominant tower with higher NW stair-turret and tiny lantern. The tower is square below and octagonal above, and the most remarkable thing is that it stands over the crossing. That is a sign of early date, and the details of the square portion are indeed of the early C14 (cusped lancets). The octagonal stage is later, though not much later, i.e. Dec (two-light ‘reticulation’). Dec also the large windows at the ends of chancel and both transepts. The structure of these parts may indeed be older, see one lancet in the W wall of the N transept. The nave is Dec also, according to the details of the N doorway. It has no aisles. Perp re-modelling of the nave windows, Perp S porch. As for the interior, it is impressive first of all in the purity of its cruciform plan. Secondly the crossing calls for attention. This is early C14 throughout. Triple shafts with moulded capitals on all four sides, and triple-chamfered steeply pointed arches. The piers are adorned by brackets for statues or candles, and these have later C14 heads against their undersides. Three are preserved. - Two low recesses in the S transept S wall. - Piscina and broad Sedilia in the chancel, the latter nicely decorated in the Perp style, like a tomb recess. The Piscina in the N transept is contemporary with the building. - FONT. Octagonal, Perp, panels with shields carrying instead of arms the Instruments of the Passion and the Signs of the Evangelists. - ROOD SCREEN. Tall and nobly slender with broad single-light divisions. The top tracery tripartite and thus ending in two cusps or pendants. The centre ogee-headed. Is it C14? - CHAIR. Italian, C16, big and heavy, with classical motifs, somewhat altered. - STAINED GLASS. Chancel E and N windows by Kempe, 1893, 1891, and 1895. - MONUMENT. Symon Folkes d. 1642. Large kneeling figure with columns and an open pediment. Achievement in the pediment, and thick garlands betraying the late date of the monument. In the surface decoration an odd liking for geometrical motifs.

St Mary and the Holy Host of Heaven (5)

St Mary and the Holy Host of Heaven (7)

Font (2)

CHEVELEY. The trees of the Duke of Rutland’s old park, a ducal domain no more, spread over into the roadway and gardens of this wooded outpost of the county, near the Suffolk border. By the road outside the church, in memory of the men who did not come back, stands a soldier with bowed head in a niche below a cross. The Jacobean rectory has great iron gates of the 18th century.

The fine aisle less church, in the shape of a cross, has a 600-year-old tower beginning square and ending with eight sides, a turret rising from the ground, with a winding stairway to the belfry and a summit once used for beacon fires. The line arches with clustered pillars on which the tower rests are the glory of the church indoors, recalling the days when there were four guilds here, each guild keeping a light burning on these piers. Three of the four brackets for the lights are here, one carved with a face and one a grotesque little fellow with his legs doubled under him.

The church belongs to our three great building centuries, and still has the oak screen set in its chancel arch 600 years ago. The choir-stalls are modern with fine carvings of dogs, fishes, birds, bats, dragons, and a wolf. There are two Jacobean chairs, and a richly inlaid one of cypress wood, the seat opening to form a chest; it is thought to be the throne of an Italian Doge, and to come from the 14th century. A little glass in a transept window is older still. The painted font is 19th century, most unusual in its blaze of colour, a new dress in medieval style.

Under an arch on the chancel wall is one of the Folkes family, in a red cloak, reading a book. He died in 1642. There is a memorial to James Hand who was rector for 49 years till 1830, and an old alms-box has on it these lines:

If aught thou hast to give or lend,
This beautiful old church befriend,
If poor but still in spirit willing,
Out with thy purse and give a shilling.

Flickr set.

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