Monday, 29 August 2011

Aspenden, Hertfordshire

I knew as soon as I got out of my car that St Mary would be locked and so, despite the assurance on the sign that "a warm welcome awaits you", it proved. What galled me most about its locked status was that whilst it is comparatively isolated it is nothing like as isolated as near by Meesden which actually does offer a warm welcome by being unlocked.

The most striking feature of the exterior is the curious roof which appears to have been cut in half (actually 1/3 and 2/3) with dormer windows inserted into the larger part.

ST MARY. Cemented and much restored (1873, by Sir A Blomfield). Unbuttressed W tower with spike. The interior mostly Perp and much C19. In the chancel lancets, proving its C13 date. The S porch is quite lavish with a decorated doorway and two-light window. It was built c. 1525 and paid for by the widow of Sir Robert Clifford. Inside, the S aisle arcade (octagonal piers, moulded capitals, two-centred arches) must belong to the mid C14 The S chancel chapel is the most interesting part of the church. It was remodelled in 1622. It opens to the chancel in two bays with the usual octagonal piers, but the arches are now made semicircular, and strapwork decoration is applied. - C15 roofs in nave, S chapel, and S aisle. - Perp RECESSES in the N chancel wall (ogee canopy and crenellation) and the S chapel. The latter houses the tomb of Sir Robert Clifford d. 1508. Tomb-chest with shields on three lozenges. Depressed panelled arch. Against the back wall brasses of the Clifford family. Quatrefoil frieze above the arch and top cresting. - Morris & Co. windows of 1913 in the S porch. - MONUMENTS (cf. above); Man and woman, 1500, 18 in. ļ¬gures (nave, N wall). - Ralph and William Freman d. 1634 and 1623, big epitaph with broken segmental pediment and beneath it, not in niches, two frontal busts. The two brothers hold each other's hands. - John Boldero d. 1789, with urn above inscription; white, grey, and pink marble.

St Mary (1)

St Mary (2)

Aspenden. The road ends here, and we found it all so quiet that even the old school was empty, the books mouldering in the cupboards where the children had packed them years ago when they changed their school for Westmill. Sad to see it would have been for that warm hearted Mary Cator, who saved £210 in her 30 years as servant at the hall, and left it for teaching the children of the village. That was more than 150 years ago, a generation before young Tom Macaulay was learning his lessons at the same hall, where a clergyman kept a school.

There cannot have been a more wonderful scholar in any school in England at that time than 14-year-old Tom Macaulay, who started to be a historian so early that before he was eight he had written a compendium of Universal History from the Creation to the year of his own birth. Of books he always had a great store, and, reading with lightning speed, he packed away all knowledge as it came into his capacious memory.

The church, with a tiny 18th-century spire on its medieval tower, has the mark of most centuries since the 12th, but the 15th predominates. Here is the tomb of Sir Robert Clifford, knight of the body to Henry VII but unfaithful to him when Perkin Warbeck would have seized the throne. He lies in a chapel filled with box pews and cut off behind a rare arcade of two dainty 17th·century arches and a wooden rail six feet high. At the back of his tomb, under a crested canopy, we see him in brass with his wife and two daughters, the colours still shining on his heraldic coat. A man and his wife in 15th century dress have their brass portraits by the north door. On another memorial are sculptured half figures of Ralph and William Freman with their hands clasped and holding skulls. Ralph was Lord Mayor of London, and this memorial is of special interest because it survived the Great Fire, having been in St Michael’s, Cornhill, when the fire was burning.

There are timbers 500 years old in the roofs, there is a solid bit of 17th-century craftsmanship in the alms box, and from the same century comes the charity of an Aspenden boy who became a bishop and President of the Royal Society. He was Seth Ward, who left , £12 for apprenticing village boys, set up the almshouses at Buntingford, and put a stone to his parents outside the chancel wall. In the opposite chancel wall is a tiny window framed in rough Hint, the only fragment of Norman work left; and beside it is a curious low window of the 16th century with a grinning face and a fleur-de-lys in the spandrels. The south chapel was remodelled in 1622.

Many of the windows are in memory of the Lushingtons, who have lived for generations at the hall in the park, a 19th-century house with 17th-century panelling. The rectory is much older, for it has 16th-century timbers in its walls and an overhanging storey.

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