Tuesday, 14 June 2011

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.



  1. I assume that Messrs Mouse and Hare were actually Fellows of Trinity Hall, whose symbol is indeed a Crescent, rather than the larger and more famous Trinity, which was not founded until much later, after the original residential halls of learning at Cambridge began to call themselves Colleges. When I was up at the Hall in the late sixties many confused tourists appeared to believe the Hall was actually called Wrong College.....