Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Croydon, Cambridgeshire

All Saints was firmly locked even though it has a house slap bang next to it, on the face of it this is probably due to HSE regulations since this church epitomises dilapidation. I would, however, have loved to have gained access because it's simplicity is lovely and the setting is wonderful.

ALL SAINTS. A humble church, as most of the churches around are. C14 S arcade with octagonal piers, double-chamfered arches and corbel-heads. The W bay of the aisle has been pulled down and the arch blocked. Blocked N arcade of the same design, but without corbel heads and with little broaches at the springing of the arches. Perp W tower, see tower arch and windows; brick buttresses. Brick chancel, said to be of the later C17. The church has transepts which, considering its small size, is odd. In the S transept niches to the l. and r. of the E window. - FONT. Norman, square and plain, with angle shafts to the bowl. - PULPIT. A simple desk made up of the panels of a Jacobean pulpit (cf. e.g. Great Eversden nearby).

All Saints (1)

CROYDON. We pass by the woods of Croydon Wilds, a rare place for birds and butterflies, and where the roads meet below the church we find a cross with its noble words:

Sons of this place, let this of you be said,
That you who live are worthy of your dead.
These gave their lives that you who live may reap
A richer harvest ere you fall asleep.

Over all this we look from the church embowered on the hill, so patiently brought back to its old charm after long neglect. Its sloping walls, the tower, and the leaning arcades are 14th century, but the chancel is new. In the south transept is a niche which has long been hidden by a fireplace in the squire’s pew. The massive font comes from early Norman days, the arcaded pulpit is Jacobean, and one of the two women whose heads are carved on the south arcade wears a quaint three-cornered headdress which was the height of fashion 600 years ago.

We read that six centuries ago Croydon’s first vicar died of the Black Death, and last century Edmund Lally was vicar here for 58 years.

Though they have no memorial, three Sir George Downings, father, son, and grandson, are buried in this church. The first was Charles the Second’s ambassador to the Hague, an extraordinary man who died in 1684, leaving his name to London’s most famous street. The last gave his name to Downing College, Cambridge, which he founded before he died in 1749.

It is a sad thing to remember that our famous Downing Street should take its name from a man not worthy of its fame. Sir George Downing, born in 1623, had for his father a sturdy Puritan lawyer, and his mother was a sister of John Winthrop, the famous Governor of Massachusetts.

The family emigrated to America, where George was first a pupil and then a teacher at the new Harvard University. Returning to England in 1645, he joined the Commonwealth forces as chaplain to Colonel Okey, and was promoted by Cromwell to be head of the Army Intelligence Department. His success in this capacity and as a member of Commonwealth Parliaments, during which time he urged Cromwell’s acceptance of the Crown, led to his employment as ambassador, first to France, and next to Holland. His post at the Hague enabled him secretly to ingratiate himself with the exiled Charles, to whom he betrayed secret despatches from home. At the Restoration his perfidy was rewarded by the bestowal of other offices of profit.

His zeal whetted by gain, Downing exerted his skill in luring from Germany into Holland three exiled Commonwealth men, among whom was Colonel Okey, to whom he owed all his early success. Having laid his trap, he and his servants effected the arrest and transport to England of all three, where they were executed. In his comment on the event Pepys writes down his old friend as a perfidious rogue, adding that “all the world takes notice of him for a most ungrateful villain.”

In the dishonourable scheme which enabled Charles to earn a secret pension from Louis the Fourteenth by making war with France on Holland, Downing had a nefarious share, deliberately enraging Dutch opinion and making armed conflict inevitable.

Accumulating great wealth, he took a lease of land in what is now Downing Street, and built houses there, two of them being Number 10 and Number 11 today. His ignoble service to Charles is said to have brought him secret gifts amounting to £80,000, but nothing satisfied his avarice, nothing made him generous, and his mother left it on record that while he was rich and acquiring property he kept her on a starvation pittance. It was his grandson who founded Downing College at Cambridge, thereby redeeming his grandfather’s evil fame to such an extent as he could.

1 comment:

  1. Marjorie Conley19 April 2012 at 13:41

    Sometime in the late 1980s early 1990s I was privelaged to see the inside of the church and to see the very old registers that were there at the time. The books were kept on a rickety old stand and went back I think into the 1600s.My mother-in-law's grandmother Adah came from Croydon and her grand father had the Downing Arms Pub.The family's name was Simons and there are many of them buried in the churchyard. Frederick William Simons and his family went to Australia in 1858.