Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Stow cum Quy, Cambridgeshire

St Mary was locked with a keyholder listed who was, unfortunately, out when I visited, however a peep through a window showed an interesting interior so a return trip is on the cards.

ST MARY. By the main road but not in a village. Flint and pebble rubble, much renewed. The chancel and the upper parts of the tower are of the C19, the rest seems nearly all consistently C14 - see the W window of the tower, and most of the N and S aisle windows.* The arcade inside also is of the C14: the piers have four shafts and four hollows in the diagonals and characteristic capitals (cf. Fulbourn); double-chamfered arches. There is, however, one exception, the SE arch which has dog-tooth enrichments and may mark the beginning of the new work, in a design almost immediately to be given up. Perp the clerestory and the upper parts of the tower. - ROOD SCREEN. Single-light divisions, plain cusped arches and Perp tracery. - PAINTING. St Christopher, high up in the nave; fragmentary. - BRASS to John Anstey d. 1465 and children; the figure nearly 3 ft long (nave floor, near pulpit).

* The S aisle windows were no doubt rebuilt in the C19.

St Mary

St Mary (2)


STOW-CUM-QUY. Water rises from the springs in the chalk above the flat land, flows past the houses and cottages, turns the wheels of the old mill, and gives its name to this island of the fens. On the high ground, standing finely and alone by the busy highway from Cambridge to Newmarket, is the flint church with a tower seen for miles round. It is five or six centuries old, and the tower arch opens into a 14th century nave with clustered pillars. We go up a step into the chancel, through a 15th century oak screen carved with growing flowers, birds, and grotesques. The medieval font is supported by angels. In the floor by the chancel step is the brass portrait of John Ansty in armour of the 15th century, with four daughters in horned headdresses kneeling at prayer, and a remarkable group of 12 sons kneeling in double tile, all in tabards with the Ansty arms. On the wall of the north aisle is a black brass of last century with the portraits of Thomas and Helena Martyn.

The village had two vicars who became archbishops, and remembered on a tablet is the famous Jeremy Collier who was born here in 1650. A fiery believer in his own opinions, he had a remarkable career. Son of the parson-schoolmaster, he was educated at Ipswich and Cambridge, entered the church, and after holding various livings, was appointed lecturer at Gray’s Inn. A Tory High Churchman and very nearly a Roman Catholic, he was unshaken by the wrongdoing of James the Second, and refused allegiance to William and Mary. He roused anger by rejoicing over British military reverses, and set the country ringing with indignation when, accompanying to the gallows two men who had planned to assassinate the king, without a word of contrition uttered by them, he pronounced absolution, as though to murder King William was not a crime. He had already been imprisoned for treason, and now fled into hiding and was outlawed. An outlaw he remained for the last 36 years of his life, but the Government acted magnanimously, ignored his presence in London, and permitted him to publish volumes of essays and history.

The one thing that justified his existence was his magnificent Short View of the Profaneness and Immorality of the English Stage. With all the wits, the Tories, and the Jacobites arrayed on the side of the dramatists who since the Restoration had made the stage a sink of infamy, this little outlaw routed them all, not merely the petty purveyors of obscenity, but Vanbrugh, Wycherley, Congreve, and Dryden himself. He put them in the dock, tried them by their writings, and convicted and scourged them to shame and silence.

There were half-hearted replies, but the outlawed parson returned to the attack each time and completed the rout. He made vice, grossness, and immorality no longer a marketable commodity in the theatre because they were dressed in wit; he opened the door to honest comedy and decent drama. He was such an influence as is needed on the stage in our own time.

That was his life’s work, and it brought him his monument, Macaulay’s immortal essay.


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