Monday, 29 August 2011

Anstey, Hertfordshire

St George is an imposing cruciform building on a slight rise in the heart of the village. The crossing tower is all that remains of that Norman church. There are four narrow round-headed arches inside, with shafts with primitive spiral capitals on the west side of the west and east arches. The arches have roll mouldings thickening at narrow intervals into a kind of Norman shaft-ring, a motif used in the mid 12th century decoration of the slype at St Albans Abbey. The shafts also have such rings, but here they seem to be the proper shaft·rings of the Early Gothic style, which do not appear in England before Canterbury in 1175. So this ‘Norman’ work is perhaps as late as 1200.

The chancel walls have some notable military-style graffiti that belong to the 13th century — crested helms, shields, shells etc. Other graffiti are also interesting - on the embrasure of one of the chancel windows Thomas Monford, appointed Rector in 1584, inscribed his name in 1595, and nearby is a simple sketch of a man in Elizabethan dress.

In the south transept‘s south wall is an exquisite though mutilated tomb recess with canopy and pinnacles.Under the canopy, which is similar to those of about 1300 in Westminster Abbey, is a woman’s head with a wimple. Tradition has it that the effigy in the recess is that of Sir Richard de Anestie, one of the reputed builders of the church.

In the chancel are what remain of twelve stalls whose date is uncertain. Seven of them bear carved misericords. Carving of this kind generally dates from the t5th century: this sculpture, however, includes a bunch of typical 13th century stiff-leaf foliage, a grotesque head with protruding tongue, an arch bearing two human arms (each with a gloved hand on which is perched a hawk), an oak spray, and another spray with a hooded man on either side of it holding up his arm (the men wear the hood with a point at the back which was fashionable in the mid 13th century).

The crude Norman font is certainly a curiosity. The design of its decoration, with four mermen holding their split tails with both hands, makes a symmetrical pattern along the four sides of the bowl, and it is possibly symbolic of the Ark of Christ's Church. Such a motif is rare, occurring in only one other place in England, St Peter‘s Church, Castle Street, Cambridge.

ST GEORGE. An architecturally interesting and externally very impressive church. Internally the aesthetic effect is spoilt by the very features which make the building archaeologically remarkable. The crossing tower seems Norman in its lower stages: four narrow roundheaded arches inside with shafts with extremely primitive volute or spiral capitals on the W side of W and E arches. The arches have roll-mouldings thickening at narrow, regular intervals into a kind of Norman shaft-rings, a motif used in the mid C12 decoration of the Slype at St Albans Abbey. The shafts also have such rings, but here they seem the proper shaft-rings of the Early Gothic style which were introduced in France about 1150 in a completely different context and do not appear in England before Canterbury in 1175. So this ‘Norman’ work is probably as late as c. 1200, a time-lag worth remembering. The chancel and both transepts were rebuilt late in the C13. The S transept front seen from the S is a fine sight, with C13 lancet windows and a round stair-turret. Behind it appears the crossing tower with diagonal buttresses right up to the top, C14 bell-openings and a Herts spike. The chancel has on its S and N sides typical late C13 windows with two lights with pointed trefoil heads and quatrefoils above (no bar tracery yet). Inside the chancel is a fine display of C13 detail. The E end has two blank lancets to the sides of the C19 E window, the N doorway a label on very unusual stops, and the S side an equally unusual piscina and sedilia arrangement combined with the windows and a doorway. It is all so odd that one wonders whether it has not been, in some way, tampered with. In the s transept S wall an exquisite though, alas, mutilated tomb-recess with a canopy and pinnacles. The canopy of the same type as those of c. 1300 in Westminster Abbey (blank trefoil in the top). It rests on naturalistic leaf stops. The pinnacles have blank tracery and also naturalistic leaves. Under the cusped arch of the canopy a woman’s head with a wimple. The efiigy in the recess (cf. below) does not seem to belong. The date of the canopy is probably the earliest years of the C14. Only a little, if at all, later the nave arcades (four bays) with big quatrefoil piers with moulded capitals and two-centred almost straight arches. The C15 clerestory windows are quatre-foil shaped. The aisle windows are Late Perp, ‘as is the S porch with two-light windows and blank panelling. The inner and outer doorways of the porch have blank quatre-foils in the spandrels. - FONT. Very crude Norman with four mermen holding their split tails with both their hands; the design makes a symmetrical pattern along the four sides of the bowl. - CHANCEL STALLS. Plain C15 or C16 with MISERICORDs (large leaves, a shell, a head with tongue out, two profile heads). - STAINED GLASS. S aisle window by Heaton, Butler, & Baines, 1907. - PLATE. Set of C18.

LYCHGATE. C15 or earlier. Tripartite; but one third altered into a lock-up.

St George (2)

Font (3)

Misericord (1)

Grafitti (4)

Anstey. A Norman knight chose to settle at Anstey, and built here his castle and his church.

The great moated mount in the grounds of the hall is all that is left of this castle, which Henry VIII gave to his first three wives in turn; but the late Norman church still stands, its central tower on four strong arches, and here is the font in which all the babies of Anstey have been baptised since his day. It is a curious one with a merman at each corner. A small stone figure in a recess may be Richard Anstie, who added and altered much in the early 14th century, building the transepts with turret steps leading to a priest’s chamber, and giving a view of his new chancel from these transepts through windows in the flying buttresses of two pillars. Even the blocked priest’s doorway, with a kind of dog-fish carved at the end of its arch, he cut on the cross so that the altar lights could be seen from the sacristy. And here are some of the stalls put into his chancel 600 years ago, seven with misericords worthy of a cathedral, two jesters exchanging quips among their leafy carvings, and a man putting out his tongue.

The beautifying 15th century added a needle spire to the tower and built the handsome porch with eight trefoil windows and doorways with carved spandrels. In the vestry are two wooden chests, one still in use after 700 years, the other covered 500 years ago with skin before being bound with iron. Here also are two tally sticks, and a register filled with the neat notes of the man who was clerk in 1541.

Two years after that Thomas Campion, the poet and musician who wrote masques and songs for the court of James I, was born here and baptised at the curious font. His best known poem is the familiar one beginning, The man of life upright. Perhaps he was thinking of this Hertfordshire village when he wrote:

Jack and Joan they think no ill,
But loving live, and merry still,
Do their weekday’s work and pray
Devoutly on the holy day.

Those who answer the call of the two 500-year-old ells in the tower pass through a medieval lych gate, which has served two purposes, one bay having been turned at some time into a lock—up for unruly villagers.

At the rectory is an altar frontal of purple velvet with the date 1637 among its embroideries. The most famous of the rectors was James Fleetwood, who took an active part in the Battle of Edgehill as a soldier and ended as Bishop of Worcester. He was tutor to Charles I’s son, who made him his chaplain at the Restoration.

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