Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Cottenham, Cambridgeshire

Apart from the orthodox, as in Russian, looking spire All Saints left me rather cold. I think a combination of Dowsing and well meaning Victorian restorers has left it without soul; it's one of those over restored Cambridgeshire churches that must once have been magnificent but is now rather dull.

ALL SAINTS. The feature one remembers about Cottenham church is the tower with its odd stepped battlements and bulbous ogee pinnacles. It is of yellow and pale pink brick and dates, except for the ashlar-faced lower part, from 1617-19. It has openings with Y-tracery. It was in existence when Pepys visited his relatives at Cottenham. The rest of the church is all Perp except for the chancel arch which dates from c. 1225. Tall octagonal arcade piers (four bays), hollow-chamfered. arches, clerestory, plain nave and aisle roofs, uniform Late Perp aisle windows. The chancel also Perp, but earlier. The chancel windows (E Window new) very tall, of three lights, the Sedilia and Piscina handsomely stepped at the foot and with four-centred arches, a quatrefoil frieze and crenellations. The exterior is embattled throughout.

All Saints (4)

All Saints (5)

Gargoyle (4)

Nave (1)

COTTENHAM. We should come when its great orchards are in · bloom, for it is a lovely sight. Its pleasantest corner is where the village ends, where the 15th century church is crowned by a tower seen for miles. Round the walls of the church runs a gallery of ancient gargoyles, which may keep off evil spirits, as their medieval carvers believed, but do not frighten sparrows, which we found nesting in their very mouths. Indoors eight heads look out from between the 14th century arches, crowned with 15th century clerestories. The chancel has richly moulded stone seats, and an east window with tracery like water-lily leaves. An old chest has five locks with keys kept by five men, and there are oak benches made by a village craftsman last century. He has carved on them flowers, plants, and ferns growing in this countryside. None of the pews are the same and they are carved with thistle, clover, figs, berries, ivy, reeds, and arum lilies.

On the chancel wall is a record of the great storm which destroyed the steeple in 1617, it being rebuilt by Katherine Pepys. This was once a place full of that immortal name; Pepys of the Diary tells us that in Queen Elizabeth’s day there were 26 families in Cottenham named Pepys. Here was born that Thomas Tenison who was enthroned at Canterbury and was one of the Seven Bishops who sounded the death knell of the Stuarts in 1688. A brave man, he remained at his post through the Plague, and lived to preach the funeral service of Nell Gwynne and to crown the last of the Stuarts and the first of the Georges.

In the churchyard sleeps Florence Cox, Commandant of the Red Cross Hospital here in the war, and by her sleeps her husband after 40 years work as a doctor, friend of the friendless, as his inscription says. Her name is inscribed with those of the 59 men who fell in the war, the memorial to them having a striking figure in marching kit; it is floodlit by night and its noble words are these:

Their lot the glorious price to pay,
Ours to receive, with grateful pride
That freedom lives with us today
Because they died.

But what will seem to most people the best story of this village is that in September 1604 a baby was christened here, doubtless at this very font, whose name was John Colledge. He grew to manhood and,
like many liberty-loving men of those days, crossed the Atlantic, where his family took root and after nearly 300 years produced a President of the United States. In this corner of our countryside began the line which led to the White House.


Coton, Cambridgeshire

St Peter and Coton are lovely. A small church but one with great character, there's not a lot of ornamentation but it exudes charm.

This Norman chapel was a simple two-celled building of nave and chancel. Though dependent on Grantchester it was of some importance, for the limestone marble font with its chevron and arcade decoration is also Norman. Little remains of the twelfth-century church except part of the chancel walls and the south-east corner of the nave, where the carved shaft is still visible outside. The small windows in the chancel are Norman, the south one re-set in a rebuilt wall.

The Norman chancel may have been smaller than it is now, and the nave was no longer than at present. Between nave and chancel was a smaller (round-headed?) arch.

ST PETER. Pebble and stone rubble. But the chancel is ashlar and Norman -see the small windows nook-shafted inside and outside and with fat roll-mouldings (cf. St Mary Magdalene, Barnwell, Cambridge). The E window is C19 imitation Perp. At the E end of the S aisle the shafted corner of the Norman nave can still be detected. The W tower Perp, the aisle windows and porches also. But the aisles themselves are older, see the arcades. That on the S side (three bays) has typical early C14 piers, quatrefoil with thin shafts in the diagonals and double-chamfered arches. The N arcade is later. It has semi-polygonal piers towards nave and aisles with arch mouldings dying into them and attached shafts with capitals only towards the arch openings. - FONT. Square, Norman, with zigzag arches on typical heads in profile, Instruments of Christ’s Passion, keys, the arms of Scrope, an eagle, a triskele etc. - CHANDELIER. Brass, probably Dutch C18. - PLATE. Cup of 1570.

St Peter (4)

Poppyhead (2)

Andrew Downes 1627

COTON. Like a shepherd with his flock this church looks down from a hill on the road which goes from Cambridge into Hunts.The high stone by the stream may be the shaft of an old cross. Here still are relics of the days of Norman England when the church was built, for in its walls are two charming windows by Norman masons with deep splays, roll mouldings in the arches, and shafts inside and out. There is a fine built-up Norman arch, and the great square font they used. In the Norman windows are fragments of ancient glass in black and gold.

For the rest this compact little church with its tower, its short spire, and two porches, is all from the 15th century, the north porch with its stout timbered roof, the south with its stone seats. The south arcade is 14th century. The great east and west arches have both been here 500 years, but the odd-shaped chancel was made new last century, keeping the links with the Normans. There is a low window in one wall blocked with a stone wheel carved with a rose in the middle and a sword across the spokes.

The oak screen has much of the work of a medieval carpenter, with Jacobean gates, but is spoiled by the organ over it. The stalls are also Jacobean with later carving, and a Jacobean carpenter’s work is in a table, the pulpit, the reading desk, and the old nave benches.

Here lies a learned man who translated the Apocrypha for the Authorised Version of the Bible, Dr Andrew Downes. His tablet has winged angels, a head, skull, and cross bones, and a spade and a pick. A brass plate tells us that Richard Hobson sang in the choir for half-a-century.

Buckland, Hertfordhire

St Andrew is the first church under the auspices of the CCT that I've come across which is kept locked with no key holder listed. In my experience CCT churches are always open so perhaps something untoward has happened at Buckland.

Its imposing tower is probably the best exterior feature but it's a shame that it's locked as Mee makes it sound rather interesting.

Update: When I returned to Buckland I found a note saying that the church is usually kept unlocked, and which gave keyholders for the times it was not, had been added to the north door.

The interior holds lots of interest including brasses, monuments and some fragmentary medieval glass - a fascinating interior.

ST ANDREW. Nave, chancel, and S transept C14. An inscription in some stained glass is recorded giving the date 1348 for the construction of the church. W tower c. 1400, S aisle and S porch later C15. The W tower has diagonal buttresses. The nave and chancel have windows typical of the mid C14, the S aisle and S porch (depressed arch, two-light windows) belong to the late C15 or even early C16. The S aisle arcade has odd and very pretty piers consisting of shafts with capitals only for the inner order of the arches themselves. Towards the nave and aisle there are no capitals. Demi-figure of an angel on the W impost. Head-stops on the labels of the nave windows. - STAINED GLASS. C15 canopies in N windows. - MONUMENTS. Brasses to Alice Boteler d. 1451; to William Langley, Rector of Buckland, d. 1478; and to John Gyll d. 1499 with children (chancel). - Susan Clarke d. 1634, epitaph with bust and small Mannerist figures on the 1. and r. - John Clare d. 1772, big epitaph with bust above an asymmetrical Rococo cartouche with inscription. By John Richards of Bishopsgate.

St Andrew (3)

Buckland. Cutting through the broad harvest fields comes the Romans’ Ermine Street, and where it climbs this village hill is the church Nicholas de Bokeland built in 1348, recording his deed on the glass of a chancel window; it is one of the few Hertfordshire churches of which the exact date is known. Though Nicholas’s glass has gone a few fragments of 14th-century glass remain in other windows. The font is old enough to have served for the baptism of this church-builder’s children, though its bowl of Barnack stone has been recut. The tower, the aisle, and the porch were added in the 15th century, and several people who saw them new are here in brass - Alice Boteler, the wife of a Sheriff of London; John Gyll with his six sons (his four daughters have been stolen from him); William Langley, the rector who died in 1478, pictured in his robes with the chalice he held out to the villagers 500 years ago. Under the altar is an inscription to a rector’s wife who died the year before Charles I, and close by is Chantrey’s beautiful medallion portrait of William Michell, son of another rector. An 18th-century rector, Dr Thomas Morrell, made for himself another kind of memorial, compiling the words for some of Handel’s oratorios.


Broxbourne, Hertfordshire

St Augustine is truly astonishing, containing more monuments and memorials than any church outside of a cathedral that I've visited to date. Quite literally every inch of the aisles and nave walls are covered, the floors are littered with ledger stones and the churchwarden assured me that they had more hatchments, 11 although only 9 are currently displayed, than any other church in the county and possibly the country. On top of this cornucopia are two table tombs for the Says, Sir John 1478 and Sir William 1529, and a sumptuous one for Sir Henry Cock 1609. The quantity and quality is such that it took over an hour to record (although this wasn't helped by the very helpful and knowledgeable ladies who though obviously proud of their church were somewhat loquacious).

Sir John Say of of Baas (in Broxbourne), Little Berkhampstead and Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, and Lawford, Essex, was King's Serjeant, Coroner of the Marshalsea, Yeoman of The Chamber & Crown, Keeper of Westminster Palace, Squire of The Body, Keeper of the Great Wardrobe, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Privy Councillor, Under-Treasurer of England, Knight of the Shire for counties Cambridge and Hertford and Speaker of the House of Commons.

He married before 1449, Elizabeth, daughter of Laurence Cheyne of Fenn Ditton Manor, Cambridgeshire. She died 2 September  1473 and she and Say are buried together at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire. They left three sons and four daughters.

Little is known of Sir John's early life but he soon rose to prominence and in 1449 appears as a member of the Privy Council. He certainly represented Cambridgeshire in the Parliament of 1448-9 and Hertfordshire in the Parliament's of 1453, 1455, 1463 and 1467, and probably in all the Parliament's of that period.

Say was maligned and embroiled in much controversy during his life. In 1451 his name was included amongst a number whom the House of Commons prayed to be removed from the presence of Henry VI. Sir John was indicted for treason and in 1469 was appointed with Sir Thomas Urswyck (his important brass may be seen at Dagenham, Essex) "to inquire into the state of the coinage, and certain alleged abuses at the Royal Mint". He also managed to successfully switch sides from the House of Lancaster to that of York and survive. He became Speaker of the House of Commons in 1463-5 and 1467-8 and so claims the distinction of being one of nine speakers to be represented on a brass.

Say was knighted in 1464 and following his first wife's death in 1473 married Agnes, daughter of Sir John Danvers of Cothorpe, Oxfordshire. Sir John died on 12th April 1478, the year after his marriage. His second wife died within a few months and was buried with her first husband, Sir John Fray, at St Bartholomew-the-Great, London.

ST AUGUSTINE. A large church, entirely of the C15-C16. Tall W tower with angle buttresses and a SW stair-turret higher than the tower. Decorated W door and four-light W window. Nave and two aisles, chancel, and two chancel chapels. The whole church is embattled, except for the N chancel chapel or Saye Chapel which has a parapet with an inscription recording its erection in 1522. The chapel is stone-faced, as is also the S chapel, whereas the rest of the church is flint. The S chapel was built before the N chapel, in 1476, by Robert S Lowell who later built St Margaret’s church by the side of Westminster Abbey. All the windows of Broxbourne church are Perp. Of post medieval only the S porch doorway, semicircular with complex classical surround. It may be c. 1650. There is no chancel arch, so that the arcades run through from W to E. Tall thin piers of four shafts and four hollows in the diagonals. The same design appears in the taller tower arch. The roof of the nave is original, so is the handsome panelled ceiling of the chancel, adorned with bosses. - FONT. Octagonal, Norman, with shallow blank arcading, two arches per panel. - STAINED GLASS. In the N chancel chapel, by Willement, 1857 (TK), with medallions containing scenes in strong colours. - PLATE. Chalice and Paten, 1606 ; Paten, 1633 ; Chalice and Paten, 1824. - MONUMENTS. Between chancel and s chancel chapel Sir John Say d. 1474 and wife, tomb-chest with shields in blank arcades. On the lid good brass efiigies of Knight and Lady, the figures c. 3 1/2 ft long. - Between chancel and N chancel chapel tomb-chest with canopy to Sir William Say and family: early C16. Plain chest; the supports of the canopy polygonal, the canopy with depressed arches, quatrefoil frieze and cresting. The effigies were of brass and let into the E wall. They have disappeared. Brasses in the chancel to a priest, late C15; to another priest, early C16; in the nave to a knight carrying a mace (Sir John Borrell?), early C16. - Standing wall monument to Sir Henry Cock d. 1609 with wife and children. Stiff effigies, she recumbent, he semi-reclining behind and above her. The children as usual kneeling against the front of the base. Coffered arch on solid side supports. Achievements and obelisks on top. Not of high quality. - Sir William Monson and wife d. 1734, two busts above a long inscription tablet. - G. P. Williams d. 1736 and wife; big epitaph.

St Augustine (1)

Sir John Say 1478 (2)

Sir John Borrell 1531 (1)

Lettice Skeffington mermaid

Broxbourne, Its church, its priest's house and its giant yew have been here on the bank of the River Lea for about 500 years, and every year sees more homes collect around them. The Jacobean church porch, with a trapdoor leading to a priest’s room above, has become the vestry, and we enter by the tower doorway, which is  15th century, as are the striking arcades running the whole length of the church, and the roofs ofthe nave and the aisles. The panelled chancel roof is 16th century. A Norman arcade decorates the font, one of the earliest in the Purbeck marble fashion of the 13th century. A great treasure is the arcaded 14th century chest nearly six feet long, very much like one we have seen in Hereford Cathedral.

But it is the people of Broxbourne here in brass and stone who interest us most. Two priests who must have lived in the old gabled house when it was new have their portraits in brass. One is Robert Ecton, who died in 1474; the other preached his last sermon here about 1510. Another brass shows Sir John Borrell in armour holding a mace, for he was sergeant-at-arms to Henry VIII. Finest of all are the brasses on the altar tomb of Sir John Say, the Lancastrian who died a Yorkist in 1478, after having been Speaker of the House of Commons during the Wars of the Roses. He makes a fine figure, in elaborate armour and short heraldic coat, with his wife in a butterfly headdress and with traces of colour on her heraldic mantle. Gone from his tomb is the brass of Sir William Say, who lies under a fan-vaulted canopy in an arch leading to the chapel he added in 1522.

Exquisitely sculptured in his Elizabethan armour lies Sir Henry Cock, resting his bearded head on his hand on a ledge behind his wife who reclines with upward gaze. Their children and their grandchildren appear in relief, some big, some tiny, two of the girls wearing curious halo-like headdresses. Adding to the splendour of this monument are many delicate carvings of fruit and flowers. A tablet recalls a famous figure of 100 years ago, John Macadam, the Scottish engineer who taught us how to make good roads and whose English home was at Hoddesdon, close by.

There lies in the chancel here Marmaduke Rawdon, who won fame for himself while on his uncle’s business in the Canary Islands in the 17th century by climbing the Peak of Teneriffe. The British Museum has a collection of notes by him on life in 17th-century England. Because he was born at York, Rawdon left to that city a gold loving-cup and money to buy a gold chain which is still worn by every lady mayoress of York.


Bourn, Cambridgeshire

SS Helena & Mary is another big church but this time differenced by a curious corkscrew spire. During my perambulation of the outside I was disheartened to see the north chancel and vestry windows boarded up and a broken headstone - vandals had been at work and thus it would almost certainly be locked. To my intense surprise this was not the case so I enjoyed an interior tour despite the actions of some mindless children.

Standing in the tower arch gazing down to the distant sacristy feels like you are at the helm of an ancient longboat of Biblical proportions. The nave soars above you whilst the tower looms behind you. For such a large church there's surprisingly little ornamentation but the chancel has some nice roof angels and poppyheads (which I suspect are both Victorian replicas)and a smattering of monuments but nothing really dramatic leaps out*. I suppose Dowsing visited and wreaked his usual havoc but despite this, this is an impressive building made all the better for the commendable decision to keep it open despite the best efforts of some chav idiots.

* one thing of interest is a tile maze on the floor of the tower around the font which is said to represent the journey the soul goes through life before returning to heavenly peace.

ST MARY. Historically one should start inside, but the best piece of architecture is not the earliest - the W tower, which must be mid C13. It is broad and sturdy, very forbidding below, but with a great sense of restrained display higher up. It is built - as is the rest of the church - of pebble rubble with the stone dressings of good ashlar stone. Thus the angle buttresses are ashlar. The W portal is of six orders of slim colonnettes with delicately moulded arch orders. The W window above has a chamfered frame (the same as the doorway proper) and in it two lights with a quatrefoil above - i.e. early plate tracery. The bell-stage is characterized by tall blank arcades of polygonal shafts. Set in these are the two-light bell-openings with roll-moulded frames, i.e. without capitals. Between the bell-openings descending polygonal mullions make the lower part of the blank arcade appear double-chamfered - a subtle polyphony of minor effects. The tower ends in battlements, and behind them rises a lead spire every bit as crooked as the more famous specimen of Chesterfield. But the pleasures of the tower of Bourn are not over yet. As one enters the church, it is seen that it has arches to the N and S as well as the E, and these have the same noble sturdiness as the exterior. However, they must be seen in conjunction with the nave arcade which takes one back about sixty years to the late C12. The arcades are of five bays and have alternating circular and octagonal piers. On the S side the piers have many-scalloped, on the N sides simply moulded, capitals. Also, the circular piers have circular capitals only on the S side. The arches on both sides are only slightly double-chamfered.* Now these arcade arches are seen in close proximity with the far more splendid tower arches - that towards the nave a little higher than the others. Each has responds with three shafts, keeled or with fillets, and triple-chamfered arches. Flying buttresses cross the W bays of the (embracing) aisles to add support for the tower. Contemporary with the tower the clerestory of circular, quatrefoiled windows. The church is cruciform and the windows do not help much in dating the parts. The N transept has one lancet window, otherwise Dec and Perp tracery, mixed up. The chancel appears now Perp (C19 alterations), the transept Dec. In the N transept two niches l. and r. of the E window, in the S transept a tomb recess. The chancel arch is C19, but the chancel has still its fine hammerbeam roof, though the angels are not old. - REREDOS. 1934, by Comper. Sentimental figures against gold ground. ROOD SCREEN. With four-light divisions, the four gathered together into two and the two into one ogee arch. Plenty of small panel tracery in these various arches. - CHOIR STALLS. With poppy-heads, kneeling figures etc. On one of them the date 1537. - PEW. Jacobean. - SCULPTURE. Two wood-carved panels of c. 1540, probably Flemish, one with the Virgin, the other looks like a Lucretia. - PLATE. Chalice and Cover, with date 1569; Spoon probably contemporary; Salver given in 1694.

* The S doorway belongs to the arcade: two orders of colonnettes and a round arch with two slight chamfers.

SS Helena & Mary (4)

South door

West door


BOURN. Today Bourn windmill takes the breeze as gaily on its hill as in the days when Shakespeare wrote in Twelfth Night:

I am a feather for each wind that blows.
for this is possibly the oldest windmill in the country, certainly the oldest in the county. It was bought and sold by deed in 1636, and nearly 300 years later people who care about such things came together, raised subscriptions, and put the fine old breadwinner in action again, making it a national monument. It is a post windmill with fine old timbers inside, and its white sails and tail screen have been restored. A model of it is in the Children’s Gallery in the Science Museum at South Kensington.

It is one of the many ornaments of a place where every prospect pleases, woods and dales, and the brook that gives the place its name gaily rippling past the houses and below the church. Bourn Hall, not far from the church, is one of the most fascinating Elizabethan manor houses in a county which is not poor in them. It is as beautiful within as without, and its gabled red brick front is a sight to linger in the memory. The park had once a castle given to a sheriff of the county by the Conqueror, and part of its Norman moat remains.

The church stands on a slight rise above Bourn Brook, and is built in the shape of a cross with a quaint leaded spire soaring from its 700-year-old tower. The impressive west doorway has a richly moulded arch on 12 shafts, but it is a plain Norman doorway on four shafts that leads us in, through a 13th century porch. The glory of the interior is in the beautiful arches with iine clustered shafts. Three steps lead into the tower where the ancient font, surrounded by eight coloured bell ropes, is set in the middle of a floor of red and blue tiles forming a maze, of which a plan hangs on the wall. The maze is very rare or perhaps unique in an English church, though familiar on the continent.

The lofty arcades set up by our first English builders are a fine spectacle, and are crowned with 14th century clerestories; they are best seen from the chancel, which has a 15th century oak screen across the arch, three canopied stone seats, and ancient stalls with poppyheads of priests and angels.

About 20 modern angels look down from the ancient roof, at the ends of the hammerbeams. There is an Elizabethan table, some Jacobean panelling, a modern oak screen across the tower with St Margaret standing on a dragon, many old bench-ends, and some ancient coffin stones in the vestry floor. In the fine medieval windows are a few fragments of the original glass.


Benington, Hertfordshire

St Peter is at the far end of my self imposed limit of churches that I can get to within fifty minutes of home and thank goodness it does since it is gorgeous. The last day of March saw glorious spring weather and a churchyard full of daffodils showing St Peter at its best.

Positioned besides Benington Lordship, which itself looks like it would reward a visit, the church and churchyard exude class. While the exterior is lovely the interior is interesting, with two fine table tombs, one to Sir John de Benstede, who died in 1359, and his wife,the other to Sir Edward de Benstede, 1432, a brass to an unknown priest and a fine set of sedilla with a piscina however I was drawn to a peculiar plinth carved with a strange looking man resting his hands on his knees.

ST PETER. Essentially a late C13 to early C14 church, although the W tower with angle buttresses and a Herts spike belong to the C15, as do the clerestory with big two-light windows and the chancel S windows. The Sedilia in the chancel are the earliest pieces in the church, much restored, but certainly made some time before 1300: stiff-leaf, and crocket capitals and cusped pointed arches. The Piscina is a little later; it has an ogee arch. Its style goes with that of the nave N windows. The N chancel chapel was added yet later, say about 1320-30. It is the most important part of the church. The windows have modest flowing tracery, the arcade to the chancel quatrefoil piers with thin shafts in the diagonals and simple moulded capitals (cf. Ashwell and Baldock). The labels rest on excellent corbels (head of a woman wearing a wimple, man piercing his body with a sword, etc.). The arches are of finely moulded sections. Under one of the two arches stands a MONUMENT with two more than life size effigies, a cross-legged Knight and a Lady wearing a wimple. The figures are defaced. On the sides of the tomb-chest mourners in arcades with triangular heads. The arch above is surrounded by a big crocketed ogee canopy flanked by thin buttresses on which some tracery is exactly identical with that of the windows. The style seems to exclude a date later than c. 1330; yet the heraldry is supposed to point to 1358. To the E of this chantry a smaller opening with a four-centred arch was pierced through early in the C1 for the placing of another MONUMENT with two efiigies. The heraldry here indicates the date 1432. Ogee niches on the tomb-chest. The arch is panelled inside and has in the centre of the panelling the figure of an angel holding the little souls of the deceased in a cloth. Between the two openings BRASS of a priest, upper half only, C15. - FONT. Octagonal, with projecting, coarsely moulded shafts in the diagonals (cf. Walkern). - BENCHES. Simple C15. - PLATE. Chalice and Paten, 1639.

Sir John de Benstede 1359 (4)


Hinge (2)

Corbel (54)

Benington. The road climbs up a green and pleasant hill to where a tall willow weeps over a pond behind the green, while a timber-and-plaster row of 16th-century cottages looks on, and an attractive old inn cheerfully declares itself twice as old as it is.

We see the little medieval church on a steep bank by the roadside with a yew collapsed from old age beside it; but what stranger would guess that behind the tall trees topping the church hides the keep of a Norman castle? It stands four-square on a moated mount, the only one of its kind in Hertfordshire, but the water has drained from the moat and the strong walls have crumbled. This forgotten place came early into history, for here lived the kings of Mercia, and on this hill Berthulf held a council in 850 when news came that the Danes had captured Canterbury and London, and that their fleet was in the Thames. He met the invaders in battle, but failed to stop them.

All this is written in the ancient chronicles, but much more of Benington’s story is set forth in the church. The chancel and the nave were finished about 1300, the chapel and the porch were added in the 14th century, and from the 1 5th come the tower, the clerestory, the south windows of the chancel, and the roof of the nave. A battered St Michael continues his 600-year·old fight with the dragon in a niche over our heads as we push open the 14th-century south door, and inside and out are numerous other small stone carvings, many of them grotesque. But the most beautiful stonework is the row of three magnificent arches between the chancel and the chapel built about 1330 by Petronilla, the widow of Sir John de Benstede, who was one of the envoys sent north to draw up the peace treaty between Edward I and Robert Bruce. We see his knightly figure lying on a tomb under one of these lovely arches, his wife in her long veil beside him and their feet on lions. The third arch, panelled and pinnacled, was added during the next century as a canopy for another knight and his lady sculptured on their tomb, an angel in the point of the arch holding miniature copies of their figures.

These were the Benstedes, whose arms are with the Moynes on the buttresses of the tower and on the bosses of the nave. There are some 16th-century benches, a chair and an altar table in the chapel are 17th century, the excellent screen and rich gilt reredos belong to our own day, and there is one brass portrait, a small figure of a 15th century priest with a rose badge on the shoulder of his cope.

A stone on the floor of the chancel describes Sir Charles Caesar, a judge of Charles I’s reign, as an equal distributor of unsuspected justice, but the man who lies beneath it seems to have been a far less capable figure than his father, Sir Julius Caesar, the great legal light of the reigns of Elizabeth and James. The epitaph, as epitaphs will, unduly flatters the judge, who bought his position of Master of the Rolls for £15,000 and a loan to the king of £2000 trust money left by an uncle to found university scholarships. The loan was never repaid, and though Jesus College, Cambridge, received annuities for these scholarships from the family till 1668, that was all that was done about it. Sir Charles Caesar died of smallpox in 1642.

The 17th-century rectory has seen many changes, but keeps the old staircase leading up to elegant rooms with powder closets.


Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire

SS Peter and Paul is enormous, presumably reflecting Bassingbourn's early status. I was immediately drawn to the very fine collection of gargoyles and grotesques and lovely south porch and was not disappointed by the slightly austere interior. Unusually my stand out item here was the somewhat garish rood screen leading into the lovely light and airy chancel.

SS PETER AND PAUL. The W tower rebuilt E.E. in 1879. It has a recessed lead spire. The church is of flint and stone rubble. It possesses a handsome big timber-porch, not a usual thing in Cambridgeshire, with flatly cusped shallow bargeboarding and six open side arches, a Perp clerestory, several other Perp windows, and Dec N and S aisle windows. But its claim to special, indeed very special, notice is its chancel, a complete and remarkably personally designed piece of Dec architecture, dating from c. 1340-50. What characterizes the design everywhere is the introduction of a very slight ogee turn in the heads of otherwise normally arched windows. Externally this is done in the broad five-light E window with its flowing tracery, internally in all the three-light N and S windows as well. Of these the easternmost on the N side has a head only. Below there must have been an attached chapel (see Piscina). The tracery here is diiferent; it has just a touch of the coming Perp. Between the windows are buttresses on the outside and above gargoyles. The N doorway has the same little ogee tip (arch moulding of two quarter-circles). Internally a string-course runs all round at the sill level of the windows. The N doorway and the doorway into the former N vestry both just reach up to this with their ogee tips. Ogee-headed sedilia and double piscina also touching the string-course. Stone corbels l. and r. of the E window. The chancel arch has an interesting Dec profile with shafts with fillets but in the other mouldings everywhere again that peculiar sense of the double-curve. Roof with tiebeams, a crossbeam, running W-E at tiebeam height; the intersections marked with bosses; four-way struts. W of the chancel arch is a piece of plain wall, before the arcades of the nave start, and here the designer has introduced one quatrefoil window high up on each side, no doubt to provide light for the rood loft. - Now the nave and aisles. There are six bays, the piers are octagonal and the arches tall. The W bay is fragmentary, as the W tower buttresses cut into it. The arches are double-chamfered, but not all of them. The E bay on the S side and the two E bays on the N are different. Their moulded capitals are clearly a little earlier, and their arches have two quarter-circle mouldings on the N side, more elaborate mouldings on the S. The building of the nave and aisles probably proceeded from E to W, and the straight-headed N Windows and double-chamfered arches mark a date about the middle of the century or after. The S aisle is continued incidentally by a S chapel with Perp windows. This externally is all new, but intemally has the noteworthy feature of a reredos of a row of blank arches between altar and E window. The ogee-headed piscina is original. - ROOD SCREEN. With two-light divisions. The dividing mullion runs up into the apex of the arch. Low ogee arches for each light and tall slim Perp tracery above them. Openwork dado. - BENCHES. Some plain, straight-headed and buttressed benches. - AUMBREY with carved animals underneath. - MONUMENTS. Turpin family brass (nave floor). - Henry Buller d. 1647, a very moving and original monument inspired by the monument to Sir Richard Curle at Hatfield. Black marble slab on the chancel floor, and on it, small, white and forlorn, with much space around, the figure of the dead young man, his eyes closed. He lies on his back, gently turned to the side so that his feet are seen in profile. One arm and one shoulder are bare, the rest of the body covered by the ample shroud.

SS Peter and Paul (2)

 Grotesque (1)

Gargoyle (12)

Gargoyle (4)

Rood screen

BASSINGBOURN. Here sleeps the Prince of Beggars, the second Viscount Knutsford, who spent 30 years begging for London Hospital. The grave he chose for himself in a corner of the churchyard tells us that "his joy was to help all in distress, and to bring happiness into the lives of others." If ever men lived joyfully he did, and he saw his hospital rebuilt and better equipped before he was carried to it in 1931, when all the skill in the world could not save him. Not a wreath was laid on his coffin, not a word was said in praise at his funeral, for he had asked that it should be like that, but few among the village folk and the men and nurses come from his hospital could hold back their tears, for they all loved him.

Old Kneesworth Hall, which we see from the Royston road, was made new for him, but the church by his grave is medieval, its 700-year-old tower topped by a tiny spire, its fine oak porch of 500 years ago sheltering a 15th century door and an ancient coffin stone; and everywhere are old and curious faces from the days when this straggling village of thatched cottages, limes, and chestnuts, had some importance as a small market town.

The faces look down at us outdoors and in, a bat and an old man stroking his beard among the gargoyles, five fair women on the 14th century arcades facing the scowls and grins of ugly fellows opposite, kings and queens and angels in the daintily niched east window of an aisle, and more odd heads staring from the roof and windows of the 14th century chancel, still complete with aumbry, sedilia, and canopied piscina. The old chancel screen has delicate tracery but a poor modern top. Some of the benches are old, and there are two old chests, a 15th century font, and an ornamented coffin stone. John Turpin, who died in 1494, is with his wife on brass, and Henry Butler, who died in 1647, is sculptured in his shroud. Many of the Nightingale family have memorials, but it is Sir Edward Nightingale who is best remembered, for in 1717 he gave the church most of its library, an unusual possession of hundreds of old theological books on shelves in the tower. With them are some churchwardens’ accounts from 1498 to 1534, telling us much about village life at that time; but they do not help to solve such a problem as that of the two wooden ploughs in the belfry. Why they were treasured here and who hauled them up nobody knows.

Barrington, Cambridgeshire

The first church on the site of All Saints was a wooden structure erected by the Saxons, and probably burned by the Danes after the battle of Ringmere in 1010. The present building was started in the 12th century, perhaps as an aisleless church, the only remains of which are at the base of the tower arch. The main part of the church was started in the 13th century, constructed of locally quarried clunch ashlar, and field stones. The West half of the North wall of the chancel, both nave arcades and parts of the South aisle date from this period. A century later the remainder of the building, including the tower and clerestory, were added.

After falling into disrepair the building was substantially restored during the second half of the 19th century, although fortunately many of the old features survived the worst ravages of Victorian rebuilding.

You enter the church through the 14th century porch, in a corner of which is the remains of a pre-Reformation holy water stoup. The East wall is all that remains of an early chantry chapel, perhaps destroyed in 1710, which has been replaced by the 19th century vestry. Over the ancient doors can just be made out the Victorian inscription “This is the house of God, this is the gate of heaven" (Gen.28:17).

Perhaps the most interesting part of the tower is the ground floor where you can read Edward Conybeare’s exhortations to the bell ringers. Mr Conybeare was a typical Victorian gentleman who was incumbent between 1871 and 1898. A vicar in the old style, he was responsible for most of the present fittings and ornaments in the church. The unusual seven-branched candlestick by the pulpit is due to him, as also is the interesting lattice-work gate in the Venetian style at the bottom of the rood stair, which was made by the young men of the village under his instruction in 1891.

The 14th century roof of the nave has five bays which have king posts braced to the ridge and arch posts to the wall braces. Three of the apex bosses are of human faces. The corbels are also carved with human and angel figures; often the faces of such figures would be modelled on a relative or acquaintance of the craftsman.

In a spandrel of the South arcade is part of a 15th century wall painting depicting ‘The three living and three dead’, which appears to have been painted over earlier 13th century work. Such paintings were often used to teach the then largely illiterate congregation, and this theme serves to emphasize the emptiness of earthly rank and riches.

The chancel was described in the late 18th century as "very indecent, its seating battered by the schoolboys who were taught there". The pews here were replaced in the last century. At about the same time much of the exterior of the church was covered with Roman cement to protect the soft clunch walls from the weather. The earliest stonework in the chancel is in the West half of the North wall, which has an original 13th century lancet window now set with Victorian glass.

Moving to the South aisle, the first column by the vestry door has an interesting rhyme scratched on the side. Now somewhat difficult to read, the rhyme runs:

Lo fol how the day goeth
Cast foly now to the cok
Rhyt sore tydyth the wroth
It ys almast XII of the clok.

There are several of these old graffiti in the church, including some staves of plainsong on the East splay of the last window of the North aisle.

ALL SAINTS. Quite a big church, at the N end of an unusually large village green; not over-restored The prominent W tower is Early Dec below, but has later stepped battlements EE chancel (one N lancet), remodelled early in the C14 (S window, piscina, chancel arch) and remodelled again late in the same century (E window of five lights) Nave arcade early C14 (five bays, quatrefoil piers with a thin sharp ridge between, arches with small double hollow-chamfer), S aisle windows early C14 and Perp. * Tall Perp S porch with three-light side openings N aisle and two-bay outer N aisle Perp. The outer arcade also clearly Perp. Nave roof of low pitch, big tie-beams with arched braces on stone corbels. Tracery in the spandrels. -FONT. Plain on a Dec base with rather gross traceried panels. - PULPIT. Jacobean with tester. - DOOR in S doorway. Early C14 tracery in the arch-head. - BENCHES. Straight-headed ends, tracery panels on these and backs and fronts. - CHEST, iron-bound. - PLATE. Chalice of 1569; Paten of 1603 (1683 P). - MONUMENT. Sir Richard Bendysh d. 1777, obelisk with military trophy in front; good.

* Cole's drawing at the British Museum has a chancel 13 window of two lights and S aisle windows of C18 shape. Yet the windows in the church do not look like C19 imitation.

All Saints (4)

Grafitti (3)

Three living and three dead (1)

BARRINGTON. There is a window in the church in thankfulness for a happy childhood spent here, and we do not wonder, for it is a charming place, with a stream running past and fields of buttercups. Sheltered on one side by a hill, the village-slopes on the other side to the meadows of the Cam, and has orchards and cottages on both sides of a green half a mile long, with the church at one end and the gables of Barrington Hall just topping the trees. The hall is the home of the Bendyshes, who came to Barrington in the 14th century. Even then they would come into the church by the very door we open, for it has been here 600 years, beautiful with flowing tracery and set in a doorway older than itself, with deep arch mouldings and carved capitals crowning its shafts.

The tower was added 500 years ago by the men who built the north porch, but the fine arcades of the nave, with richly moulded arches and clustered pillars, are 700 years old, with the light falling on them from 15th century clerestories, and crowned by a roof of massive beams and quaint figures. Little faces peep out from walls and arches. Between a pillar of the nave and the 13th century chancel arch is a spiral stairway which led to the old rood loft; the chancel itself is 14th century. There are medieval oak benches, rare for having book-rests so early as the 15th century, a canopied Jacobean pulpit, a font bowl probably Norman, and a wonderful chest latticed all over with sturdy iron bands, in which treasures have been kept for 700 years.

In the back of a niche are painted the names of Barrington’s heroes, among them George Coote, a stoker on the Formidable sunk by a German submarine on the first day of 1915. He was one of six hundred men who went down.


Barkway, Hertfordshire

I came to St Mary Magdalene with very low expectations perhaps influenced by the dire weather and the fact that it's tucked away and was bound to be locked, the next in line of several locked churches on that day's journey.

What a pleasure it was then to find it open and welcoming, with an interesting exterior and a wealth of interior interest: corbels, brasses, monuments et al. If 139 photographs reflect its interest then Barkway must be up in the top flight of Hertfordshire churches!

Simon Jenkins is rather dismissive of the Hertfordshire style but I'm an admirer and found great satisfaction from this visit.

ST MARY MAGDALENE. A big, broad, spreading out church with a W tower (diagonal buttresses; tower arch Perp), rebuilt in 1861 with pinnacles (not a Herts pattern).  The S porch is also C19. The chancel is the oldest part, C13, as proved by the lancet windows (E window tracery C19, chancel arch Perp). The N and S aisle arcades are characteristically Late Perp with piers consisting of semi-octagonal shafts and hollows in the diagonals. Characteristically Late Perp windows with very depressed, almost straight-sided, two-centred arches at the 'tops' and elementary ‘panel’ tracery. - FONT. Octagonal, Perp, with fleurons on the coving. - STAINED GLASS. Remains of a Jesse window (E end S aisle): In the centre light four kings above each other, surrounded by leaf scrolls; other figures in the side lights; late C15. - PLATE. Chalice, Paten, and Flagon, 1714; small Chalice, 1807. - MONUMENTS. Brass to Robert Poynard d. 1561 with wives and children (S aisle wall). - Standing wall monument to Sir John Jennings, Rear-Admiral, a Governor of Greenwich Hospital, Ranger of Greenwich Park, M.P., etc., d. 1743  (against the tower W wall). For the great London man the most successful London sculptor was engaged: J. M. Rysbrack. The monument is signed. Tall broad base with inscription and very classical, typical Rysbrack detail. On it bust on plinth with two fine putti l. and r. - Several earlier epitaphs, e.g. Judith Chester d. 1702, signed Stanton; Mary Chester d.1703, Stantonish; Thomas Smoult d. 1707, signed according to Mrs Esdaile by R. Hartshorne (Stanton workshop). - James Andrew d. 1796 and Thomas Talbot Gorsuch d. 1820, both epitaphs by P. Chenu and done as pendants. They are also placed side by side. The earlier with a seated figure of Hope, the latter with Father Time. The change of style in the details is instructive. - John Baron Selsey d. 1816, epitaph with a draped urn and bits of willow branches behind; by Kendrick.

St Mary Magdalene (4)

Corbel (64)

Robert Poynard 1561

Chester arms

Barkway. The way over the hill the Saxons called it, and we found their way from the North a lovely avenue of beeches and chestnuts. The long wide street has some old houses and thatched cottages 300 years old, with steps leading to their doorways raised out of danger of storm-filled gutters. One cottage, Berg Cottage, with 1687 over the porch has been restored and presented to the National Trust; its interior is typical of the best cottage craftsmanship in the country. Several inns remain from the days when Barkway was a convenient stop for coaches from Ware to Cambridge. At the south entrance is the turnpike house and clock and at the north a worn milestone six feet high, one of those set up in 1725 to show the way to Cambridge. They were all marked with the crescent of Trinity Hall, for they were paid for with money left for this purpose by two Elizabethan Fellows of Trinity, Dr Mouse and Robert Hare.

The medieval church, surrounded by trees and a high yew barricade, makes a fine group with the Jacobean manor and its barns. It is one of those rare churches fitted with a medieval system of amplifiers, acoustic jars being embedded in the chancel walls to add resonance to the voices. The chancel is 13th century and is now the oldest part. Aisles were added in the 15th century at the same time as the tower which has been rebuilt stone for stone. The old font rests on a tree stump and a new one has taken its place. There is a 13th century piscina, some fragments of a 15th century Jesse window, an Elizabethan family in brass (Robert Poynard, his two wives, and four daughters), and some extraordinary stone figures which, after 500 years, continue to support the new roofs, angels and crouching men and grinning faces, and here is a great toad, and here a rabbit half scuttling down one of the pillars. Over his elaborate marble tomb is Rysbrack’s bust of Admiral Sir John Jennings who helped Sir George Rooke to capture Gibraltar in 1704.

The moated mount on Periwinkle Hill is now a little wood in a ploughed field, and in another wood close by was found the Roman statue of Mars which we have seen in the British Museum.


Arrington, Cambridgeshire

St Nicholas was locked but with a keyholder listed; sadly this was my last visit of the day and time had run out so I couldn't seek out the keyholder. However a peek through the windows didn't reveal much to excite attention so perhaps I didn't miss out on much. It must be said though that its setting is wonderful.

ST NICHOLAS. A remarkably lavish early C14 chancel attached to a humble church. Ashlar-faced, with a big (renewed) three-light E window with intersected tracery and tracery on the N and S sides. Double piscina of the same sumptuous design as in Jesus College Chapel, Cambridge, with two intersecting round arches forming a pointed arch. One small square-headed low-side-window on the S side. The nave was deprived of both aisles at some date. They were of three bays and had short octagonal piers. Windows Dec and Perp. The W tower partly rebuilt in the C16 of brick with stone quoins; battlements and a small recessed lead spire.

St Nicholas (2)


ARRINGTON. It lies on the Roman Ermine Street, but the oldest thing it has is a crude Norman font shaped like a tub. Its neat little church stands on a hill looking over the cottages with a peep through the trees to the fine park of Wimpole Hall. It has lost its aisles but their 14th century arches are still in the walls, the windows and the old doorway set in them. Perhaps the best possession of the church is a striking 700-year-old piscina niche; though much worn and with one of its pillars gone, it has beautiful arches.