Thursday, 24 February 2011

Westley Waterless, Cambridgeshire

St Mary the Less is an extraordinary building; approached from the north the church is small with a curious spire and is plastered with rather ugly render. As you wander round it reveals itself as huge, large north and south aisles make the nave very big and the chancel suddenly looks short and tall; as I said it looks extraordinary. Apparently there was once a tower, and even better it was round, one of only three in the county, but it fell in 1855.

Inside it is huge and therefore feels spartan but actually has some wonderful fittings including three ancient coffin lids, a rather splendid font and, in the south aisle, a plain but nice effigy of a reclining civilian who is accompanied by the excellent brass to Sir John de Creke and his wife Alyne.

I was amazed but hugely gratified to find the church open albeit during the visit I was watched suspiciously by the local farmer from the next door farmyard.

ST MARY. A round tower (cf. Bartlow, Snailwell) fell in 1855. What remains is a nave with C19 bell-turret, aisles, and chancel. Dec aisle windows and S doorway, and E.E. chancel (see one small S lancet). Nice ogee-headed niche N of the chancel E window. - Arcade of three bays with octagonal piers and very odd capitals. They continue the shape of the piers but have small brackets in the four main directions. The chancel arch is the same, but the brackets are carved with heads. - FONT. Octagonal, probably C15, with an odd assortment of flatly carved tracery motifs on the sides of the bowl, nearly everyone different. - PLATE. Pre-Reformation Paten, re-modelled in the late C16. - MONUMENTS. Stone effigy of a Civilian, one angel still holding on to his cushion. Badly preserved; early C14? - BRASSES to Sir John de Creke and his wife, c. 1325. She is an exquisitely slender figure praying; he in armour also in prayer. The figures are c. 5 1/2 ft long.

St Mary the Less (1)

Sir John de Creke C1340 (1)

Glass (9)

WESTEY WATERLESS. Ducks swim leisurely at the gate of its unpretending little church, which has a great treasure in a brass standing high in our national gallery of brass portraits. Though only 17th in order of age, it has one of the very earliest brass portraits of a lady. It is one of two fine big portraits set in the floor, showing Sir John Creke and his wife Lady Alyne. Here they have been for 600 years (since 1324), he in elaborate armour with lions at the shoulders and elbows, a very fine helmet like a mitre, and a curious coat worn at the time reaching to the knees behind and only the waist in front. Lady Alyne has her hair platted under her veil, and is wearing a wimple and a graceful gown fastened with a cord, and has a dog at her feet.

On a low tomb not far from them lies the stone figure of a civilian they may have known, with long hair and a tunic reaching to his knees. The simple church lost its Norman tower last century, but the inside, gleaming with white arcades and golden walls and roofed in black and white, is pleasantly surprising and ancient too. The nave and aisles are 14th century and the chancel is 13th, and at the crudely carved font the village children have been christened since the church was new. The fine niche by the east window is 600 years old, and the fragments of old glass are of the same time.

Flickr set.

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