Saturday, 19 February 2011

Witham, Essex

St Nicholas was a lesson on two fronts, first never hold preconceptions about churches before a visit and, second, always take your mobile phone with you.

As with Sawbridgeworth I had very low expectations of Witham and, as with Sawbo, I was pleasantly surprised to find the church open and  full of interest both inside and out. The lesson of the mobile phone was that I left it in the car and came within a hairsbreadth of being locked in - apparently the church is locked when the school's are out due to a series of events involving school - and it purely by chance that the lady locking up came in, normally she just locks up and goes home. Without my phone I would have had to wait until dark and then semaphored using the church lights. I wonder how many visitors she has incarcerated over the years!

In addition to St Nicholas is a redundant church (All Saints) converted to residential use and an unusually, in my experience, locked RC church.

ST NICHOLAS. A large flint church, almost entirely of the C14. C14 is the W tower with diagonal buttresses, a W window with Dec tracery and battlements, C14 the nave and both aisles, C14 the embattled S porch, C14 the chancel and the embattled N vestry. Only the N and S chancel chapels are C15, and the S doorway is the one surviving piece of evidence of an earlier church; c. 1200 with three orders of columns and voussoirs partly with three-dimensional zigzag and partly with keeled roll-mouldings. The S and N aisle windows are of the same pattern of tracery as the W window of the tower, the porch windows are different but of the same character. One S aisle window is different, but also Dec. The chancel E window (renewed) has ogee reticulation. The arcades of four bays have curious piers consisting of a square with big attached demi-shafts, and arches with a double wave moulding. Tall steep tower arch on semicircular responds. The C15 S chapel opens in two bays into the chancel. The pier has an odd section as if re-used or re-tooled. It consists of four shafts connected by deeply undercut hollows. - The roofs are all original, of divers varieties but not of special note. - SCREEN. Of tall lights arched and cusped at the top and with cusped ogee-arches a little lower down. - ROYAL ARMS of William III, finely carved (S chapel). - SCULPTURE. Small wooden relief of the Nativity, S chapel. Mannerist and not English. - FUNERAL HELMS (Lady Chapel). Late C15, late C16, C17. - PLATE. Alms Basin elaborately engraved, probably a Dessert Dish; given in 1617. - MONUMENTS. Mary Smith d. 1592, the usual design with kneeling couple. - John Southcotte d. 1585. Plain tomb chest with recumbent effigies; he in judge’s robes. Good quality; alabaster. - William East d. 1726. Large monument with excellent bust above a big inscription table. Columns l. and r. supporting a broken open segmental pediment. Cherubs standing l. and r. and reclining on the pediment. (Signed by C. Horsnaile, see R. Gunnis.) 
ALL SAINTS. 1842 by J. Brown of Norwich. Flint and white brick. Large, in the lancet style. W end with very big bellcote. Nave without aisles, but transepts and, oddly enough, a tripartite chancel, that is a chancel with aisles of two bays - all this vaulted.

St Nicolas (3)


John Southcote 1585 (5)

WITHAM. It has old barns, old inns, and old cottages, and it lies on the Roman road to Colchester at the point where the River Brain crosses it. On one of the timbered houses by the bridge are brackets carved with a cock and a hen. The 14th century church has Roman bricks in its walls and a doorway carved with chevrons by the Normans; in it swings a 15th century door with traceried panels, companion through the ages for a door older still leading out of the chancel into the vestry. Here are still the roofs made by the carpenters who made these doors, for all the roofing of the 14th century aisles and the 15th century chapels is original. The handsome chancel screen is also 15th century, carved with Tudor flowers. In the chancel are two oak seats of about 1500, and on the wall are painted figures of Francis Harvey and his wife, an Elizabethan couple facing each other at a prayer desk. By it is a bust of William East, who died in 1726. On an altar tomb lies John Southcotte in his judge’s robes with his wife in her Elizabethan ruff and cloak. Hanging over a doorway are four helmets, one 15th century and one worn by a trooper in the Civil War. The elaborately engraved almsdish is Jacobean, a chest with three locks is 16th century, and one of the two coffin lids in the chapels is Norman.
The hill on which the church stands is known as Chipping, the old name for market, and the name of the Woolpack Inn close by recalls the sort of goods sold there. Some alterations in a cottage here a few years ago showed that it was the ancient guildhall. Four oak arches span the width of both rooms, upstairs and down, and it is probable that this little hall was built at the end of the 14th century. Tudor fireplaces were afterwards put in, but they are now hidden.
The old barns are at Powers Hall a mile away, one with seven bays, aisles, and gabled porches being 15th century, the other with five bays is 17th century. Ages before they came the old earthworks were here through which the railway has been cut, for they were built by Edward the Elder as defence against the Danes.

Flickr set.

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