Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Clothall, Hertfordshire

St Mary the Virgin is an absolute gem of a church with a quirky design, good brasses and outstanding glass.

The glass in the east window is the glory of the Church; it is thought that there are only two others like it in England, possibly the work of the same man.

It consists of six late 14th century medallions, with the Heads of Christ, the four Evangelists and Mary Magdalene. That of Mary Magdalene is reputed to have come from the Chapel of St Mary Magdalene in the Leper Hospital which stood at Hooksgreen, at the top of a hill about half a mile to the South of the Church. The Hospital was suppressed in 1547. That medallion is of interest for the prominence of Mary's hair, which is probably due to the belief that she was the same Mary who anointed the feet of Christ in the house of the Pharisee, having washed them with her tears and dried them with her hair; but some modern scholarship has rejected that belief.

The medallions are surrounded by small 15th century diamond-shaped quarries, depicting many of the birds of English countryside together with others more exotic. Of the English birds, hawks, partridges, peewits and ducks are all recognisable.

The Canopy Work in the top of the window is pot metal glass of the earlier thirteen hundreds, and the whole has been made up, with some insertions, within a border of 15th century glass.

ST MARY. The church has a SW tower in which is the porch. This is C14; so is the S chapel. The latter is the most interesting part, with an arcade to the nave on unusual piers with semi-octagonal members and a Piscina characteristic of the period. - FONT. C12, of the tabletop type, Purbeck marble, square with shallow blank round-headed arches. - BENCHES. Some bench-ends with poppyheads. - DOOR. In the S doorway, with long iron hinges, probably C14. - STAINED GLASS. Christ, the Virgin, and Saints in medallions, only fragmentarily C15, ornamental quoins with flowers and delightfully drawn birds; thick canopies above; hardly before 1400 and perhaps later. - BRASSES (in the chancel). Early C16 priest, c. 3 ft long; John Vynter d. 1404, Rector of Clothall, c. 3 ft long; John Wryght d. 1519, Rector of Clothall, with scrolls and the Trinity above the figure; two more brasses covered by the chancel stalls.

St Mary the Virgin

Chancel window (2)

Chancel window (8)

Chancel window (10)

Clothall. It is a lonely spot that any traveller must love to see, with a few old thatched cottages and a wonderful little church on a hill, looking over cornfields red with poppies when we called. It is only here that they have crept in, for all round we found fields with some of the finest wheat in England, and there are terraces still to be seen on which men were growing their food in the days before history.

We come into the church by a door studded with the nails of hundreds of church notices, and painted with the name of John Warren - perhaps the name of the proud man who made it in the 14th century. The door opens on a quaint group of old seats raised in tiers to the back of the church. Among their poppyheads stands the little panelled font on pillars, 800 years old with a cover made 300 years ago. The chantry chapel is now the children’s chapel and is 14th century. They saved their pennies to buy vases for it and they keep them filled with flowers. The images have gone from the brackets, but here is still an Old French inscription to a man who died when the chantry was new. The children must love the east window, for it is filled with birds of the countryside, all in glass of the 14th and 15th centuries. There are six heads of saints in the window and every inch of space between is filled with hawks and peewits, ducks and partridges, and all the birds from the fields around. One of the bells has been ringing while all these birds have been singing.

Yet more treasures has this small place, five brasses. They show four rectors of the 15th and 16th centuries, and a mother with her 16 children. The oldest rector here is John Vynter of 1404, shown in his robes, and the three others are John Wright of 1519, Thomas Dalyson of the 16th century, and William Lucas who died in 1602. Unfortunately, his brass and that of Anne Bramfield, with her very big family, are hidden by the pews*.

* The group of seats with poppyheads and the pews obscuring the last two mentioned brasses are no longer extant which in many ways is a shame but does mean we can now see the brasses.

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