Tuesday, 14 June 2011

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.


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