Thursday, 29 September 2011

Depden, Suffolk

Despite several, very, helpful signs advising me to phone a selection of four keyholders before visiting St Mary the Virgin I had, unfortunately, run out of pay as you go credit and, more importantly time. Instead I set off at a brisk pace along a public footpath through woods, past a pond and alongside fields with frequent arrows and advisories but with absolutely no sign of a church.

Eventually you step into a clearing in another wood to face the north porch and, when I went, hundreds of pheasant poults, in fact the whole walk was accompanied with poults and partridges - this is obviously quite a large shoot.

The location is stunning but the exterior less so, bordering on the mundane, and I headed back to the car deciding to check Simon Knott's excellent Suffolk Churches website (he also does Norfolk and another great site for Cambridgeshire can be found here) when I got home to see if I should settle for exteriors only - Depden is at the further reaches of my travels - or whether I should re-visit - a re-visit is planned for next week with phone credit and plenty of time, I want those interiors.

UPDATE: For reasons that are unclear next week turned into five months later but on my way back from Bury St Edmunds last week I took the opportunity to stop at Depden to get the interiors. Having phoned one of keyholders, and passing the intense interrogation of her husband,I finally got into the church and was largely disappointed, I think that after the glories of Bury anything was going to be a let down.

Having said that, when I processed the photographs I realised my disappointment was the result of over expectation and that the Anne Jermyn/Drury brass was very fine and that the east window glass is very fine indeed. Well worth the wait and effort.

ST MARY. No road leads to the church. Footpath from the N, off the main road. The church is of septaria and flint. Norman S doorway with one order of single-scalloped capitals and one zigzag in the arch. Beautiful late C13 Piscina in the chancel, of two lights, cusped, with a quatrefoiled circle. The tracery of nave and chancel, if it represents the original, is of the same date. E window Dec (reticulated tracery). Perp W tower. N porch timber, C17, with side balusters, badly treated. - FONT. Octagonal, early C18, with shields in cartouches. - BENCHES. With poppy-heads and blank panels of good tracery; a whole set. - STAINED GLASS. In the E window original canopies, chiefly dark yellow and green. Beneath this later scenes and bits; foreign. - PLATE. A whole set, silver-gilt, given by Bishop Sparrow of Norwich, who was born at Depden. The Cup is dated 1680. - Paten 1719. - MONUMENT. Lady Anne Jermyn and her husbands, 1572. Kneeling brass figures in a stone frame with two arches.

St Mary the Virgin (5)

East window (8)

Anne Drury 1572 (3)

DEPDEN. Out in the fields we must go to find its little church, walking by footpaths with a tall yew hedge for company at the end of the way. It was built by the Normans and the English builders who followed them; and leading to what is now the vestry is a Norman arch with a fine band of zigzag ornament resting on two round columns. In the east window is some beautiful old glass showing canopy work on a background of colour, but the finest possession of the church is its collection of massive old pews with embattled backs, traceried ends, and poppyheads. On a memorial in the nave is a beautiful brass portrait of Lady Anne Jermyn kneeling with her first husband and their six children, the husband with his gauntlets hanging on a desk and his helmet resting on the ground. Another portrait on the same memorial shows Lady Anne with her puffed shoulders and frilled sleeves just as before, and her second husband, Sir Thomas Jermyn, in his armour. They were an Elizabethan family who lived close by at the hall. The communion plate used at this altar was given by a son of Depden, the Royalist bishop Anthony Sparrow. He was known in the 17th century for his theological books, and it is on record that he gave £400 for the rebuilding of St Paul’s.


Wickhambrook, Suffolk

Tuesday's planned itinerary was supposed to cover some of the further villages in Suffolk taking in Depden, Somerton, Hawkeden, Stansfield, Denston, Wickhambrook and Stradishall. A later than intended start made this, already ambitious, trip impossible - so much so that I only covered Wickhambrook and Depden (I did however re-visit Brinkley which was open this time).

All Saints is another huge Suffolk church and another building that has been sadly puritanised - although there are items of interest such as Thomas Higham's tomb, the recycled Saxon font re-used as a stoup in the porch and some fine dog-tooth moulding on the credence in the north chapel - but I loved it. The exterior is stunning,as is the location, and the interior is light and airy...definitely a must see but not a top ten.

ALL SAINTS. Mostly Dec, and with a fine chancel. In the E window large circle with figure of six-petalled flower, in the side windows figures of four-petalled flowers. Finely moulded chancel arch. N aisle N windows with cusped and uncusped intersected tracery. Earlier N doorway with two orders of shafts and dog-tooth decoration in the hood-mould. Piscina in the N chapel (Vestry) also with dog-tooth. Somewhat later E window with reticulation. S doorway with two quadrant mouldings, though the windows here are Perp. Tall two-light reticulated window in the W tower. Arcades with octagonal piers but semicircular responds. Double-chamfered arches. On the N side hood-mould with defaced figures. In the N aisle an arch was built or planned to the N. There seems to be no reason for it. The nave roof is of the hammerbeam type, but Jacobean. - BENCHES. Of an unusual shape, C16 or C17. - SCULPTURE. A small Saxon figure of a man with a shield, outside in the S wall. - HELM. Above the Heigham Monument, but not belonging to it. - PLATE. Flagon 1740. - MONUMENTS. (Good Brass to Thomas Burrough d. 1597. LG) - Sir Thomas Heigham d. 1630. By Nicholas Stone. Good alabaster monument. He is lying on his side, his hand on his sword. Broad beard. Plain back wall. The inscription is worth reading. Original grille.

All Saints (2)

Thomas Higham 1630 (1)


WICKHAMBROOK. A village with a maze of narrow lanes, it has a moated manor and an ancient church which have a place in a 19th century best-seller now forgotten, Edna Lyall’s Golden Days. In this romance we may read of the dreamy young Cavalier Hugo Wharncliife coming to worship in this church, "plain enough and bare enough to please a Puritan," yet feeling a strange love for the place as he sat there looking at "the golden sunshine flickering among the shadows of the trees cast on the chancel wall." The church is still a simple building, with ferns growing from its walls and moss from its roof. It has a 14th century tower, a clerestoried nave with arcades 600 years old, and a font a century older. There is an altar tomb with a white marble figure of Sir Thomas Heigham, who found peace here in 1630 after a life of fighting; he is handsome with his curly head, armour and still clutching his sword. Behind a wooden grille in the chancel is an Elizabethan brass showing Thomas Burrough between two wives in Paris caps, their nine children grouped about them.


Friday, 23 September 2011

Little Amwell, Hertfordshire

Somewhat confusingly Holy Trinity is in Hertford Heath and Little Amwell doesn't appear to exist as a village but the church board begs to differ.

Holy Trinity (1)

I'd been here before, took a passing glance and driven on, which I think was a mistake. Built in 1863 to serve the congregation of Little Amwell who met in the school and whose nearest church was in Hertford itself - a walk that, whilst not long, was probably dis-inspirational - the building should be all that I abhor in Victoriana...but its not.

I like the apse and hate the 'spire', the transepts and porch are awful but overall it's appealing - I think it's the nave roof that swings it, because the rest of the fittings are dull.

Nave (1)

Mee didn't bother and I'm worried about liking a Victorian church - again.


Nazeing, Essex

Approached from the south east All Saints is hidden by trees so my first sighting - having realised I'd overshot and performed a perilous 8 point turn in a very narrow lane - was of the, I assumed, Tudor brick tower looming  out of what seemed to be a wood atop the hill I'd just driven down.

All Saints (3)

I knew, because of its hidden location, that it would be locked but was delighted when I, after I'd taken exteriors (difficult because of the trees), entered the porch to find a note explaining how to open the door. After struggling for a while with the latch, without success, I noticed a sign apologising that the church was locked during the week.

All Saints (1)

This was disappointing since the exterior was good and the porch floor promised an interesting interior but having expected it to be locked I was mentally prepared for disappointment, also it was entirely possible that the floor was the highlight, however, Mee suggests otherwise.

South porch

Slightly exasperated I enjoyed the view towards Broxbourne, this is after all a lovely part of Essex, and left in pursuit of my original main target of the day, Thundingbridgebury.

ALL SAINTS. Norman nave with rear-arch of one window. C15 N aisle with arcade piers of the familiar four-shaft-four hollow type where capitals are introduced only for the shafts. The arches are wave-moulded. The timber S porch is also of the C15. The floor is made of tiles set closely on end. W tower of red brick with blue diapers, diagonal buttresses, battlements and a higher stair-turret: early C16. - FONT. Perp, octagonal with quatrefoils carrying shields. - FONT COVER. Plain, ogee-shaped with a finial; C17. - CHEST. Oblong, with flat lid, heavily iron-bound; ascribed to the C14. - PLATE. Paten of 1817; Almsdish given in 1818. - MONUMENT of 1823, by T. Hurling (the usual female figure by an urn). 


NAZEING. Spread over the low hills above the valley of the Lea, it has many lovely scenes to show us. There is a breezy common of 400 acres, groups of pretty cottages, and, away on a bluff, the church lying in a sacred spot with noble views of Hertfordshire. A bold tower dominates the scene, and high up its turret is a sundial oddly inscribed with its exact position on the map of England: Latitude 51 degrees 32 minutes[1]. The tower is 16th century, the sundial 18th.

A 16th century wooden porch shelters a 700-year-old doorway cut through the thick wall of Norman masonry. The Norman arches of two of the original windows are by the door, and facing them is the arcade of four bays and an aisle added in the 15th century, when the chancel was made new. About this time the steps were cut in the wall up to the rood beam, whose sawn-off end is clearly visible. The old nail-studded door to the steps is still here.

One or two panels from the old screen have been fixed to two bench-ends remarkable for the carving of the gruff and humorous faces springing out from them; and there are other bench-ends with poppyheads behind the font, which came here with them in the 15th century. An extraordinary ironbound chest is 600 years old; it has a great lockplate, and it is thrilling to think that it may have held documents sealed by our last Saxon king, for Harold owned Nazeing and gave it to the monks of the abbey of Waltham.

[1] This no longer there having been replaced in 2010 and on which is stated Lat 51 degrees, 45 minutes – presumably GPS added the 13 minutes. Also the new sundial is not very accurate showing the time as about 5 to 12 when the picture had been taken at 11.26.

Waltham Abbey, Essex

I haven't looked at Mee's entry yet but am sure it will be fulsome, so I will be brief. Holy Cross & St Lawrence, which I visited yesterday, is one of most complete Norman churches that I've seen outside of cathedrals and, as well as a wealth of fittings, it contains a very good Doom.

I know I use superlatives, or is it hyperbole, too much in this blog but in this case the use of the word extraordinary is not an exaggeration.


Holy Cross & St Lawrence (3)

North Pier (2)

Doom painting (1a)

Mee does not disappoint:

WALTHAM ABBEY. Every Scout knows it, for here is Gilwell Park, the 70 acres in which Scoutmasters are trained; and every English boy should know it, for it has sometimes been called Harold’s Town, because the last of the Saxon kings founded a church and was long believed to have been buried here.

In a field at the back of the church is a primitive bridge with a single arch which the boys call Harold’s Bridge, though it is younger than it looks, being only 600 years old. Of the old monastic buildings of the Normans there is little to see except a vaulted passage; there is also a 14th century gateway. The 15th century inn has an overhanging storey making a lychgate into the churchyard, and a shop in the market square has timbers carved by medieval artists showing a crouching woman with a jug and a man with his tongue out. There are many 16th century buildings in the town, and a square near the abbey is still known as Romeland because the rents from its houses supplied the papal dues. It was in a long-fronted house of this square that the seed was sown of one of the decisive movements of the world, for in it Cranmer met Bishop Gardiner on that day when he "struck the keynote of the Reformation and claimed for the Word of God that supremacy which had been usurped by the popes for centuries." It was a hundred years after this that Thomas Fuller was vicar here, and he never ceased to be proud because Waltham itself "gave Rome the first deadly blow in England."

One more link with the Reformation Waltham has, for behind an ivied wall in Sewardstone Street we may see a 16th century chimney of a house which has in it the walls within which John Foxe wrote his immortal book of martyrs, the poignant story of hundreds of the bravest men and women ever living in these islands, who walked into the fire to be burned rather than surrender their faith in God.

But it is, of course, the church and the cross that the traveller comes to see. They stand a mile or so apart, the church a fragment of its former self but without an equal in the county. It has the noblest Norman nave in the south of England. One arch of the great Norman tower remains, having been filled in to form the east wall, and standing at the east end of the churchyard we may see the herring-bone masonry of the transept wall which Harold must have seen; it has a blocked up Norman window above it. The south doorway is magnificent with the rich carving of a Norman craftsman. When King John signed the Charter at Runnymede there was rising here a church as long as Norwich Cathedral, being built as part of the penance John’s father performed after the murder of Becket. Waltham Abbey was one of the three monasteries Henry the Second then founded, and it has only been realised in our time how magnificently he carried out his vow. For on this abbey alone he spent over £1000, a huge sum in his time, when a labourer’s wage was a penny a day. The spade has revealed that Henry’s church was at least 400 feet long, and had two central towers linked by a nave as long as the nave still standing. Beyond the eastern tower stood the choir before whose high altar it was long believed that Harold’s body lay. Each tower had its transepts, those next to the choir being 140 feet across.

The ten acres under which the foundations of this great church and many monastic buildings lie were market gardens until a few years ago, when they were bought and divided between the Office of Works and the church authorities, who have laid out five acres as a Garden of Rest. Fragments from forest and mine far across England must lie below this quiet plot, for national records have been searched and we know the story of the stupendous task the repentant king put in hand. In the roofs 265 cartloads of lead were used, brought from the Peak and the Pennines to Boston and to Yorkshire ports, and thence by sea to London, where it was shipped on to the River Lea. The timber came, not from Epping Forest hard by, but from Brimpsfield in Gloucestershire and Bromley in Kent. We learn that William of Gant was the builder, and first abbot of the new foundation. Waltham Abbey remained the pride of our kings for three centuries, and even Henry the Eighth must have felt some reluctance about spoiling it, for he left it to the last. Then the vast building became a quarry for all, the only glory left being the western nave, which was used as the parish church.

We approach this great place through a deeply recessed doorway 600 years old, which was refashioned when the west tower was rebuilt in 1558, and we pass in through another beautiful 14th century doorway which was the west entrance to the abbey. It has vaulting rising from beautiful capitals, a running pattern of flowers, and carved niches on both sides. If we come at service time we shall hear the bells in the tower which inspired Tennyson to write his famous New Year verses, "Ring out the old, Ring in the new." He was living at High Beech close by when he heard the bells of Waltham Abbey and sat down to write these stanzas of In Memoriam:

The time draws near the birth of Christ;
The moon is hid, the night is still;
A single church below the hill
Is pealing, folded in the mist;

and then these more familiar verses of Old and New Year:

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

A place of great splendour is the nave, its Norman pillars impressing the eye with equal grace and strength. Above them runs the triforium, and above that the clerestory, with its array of columns supporting the round arches through which the light floods in. So thick is the wall up there that a vaulted passage runs through it all the way. All these arches are adorned with zigzag and some of the columns have zigzag and spirals cut into them, once filled with gilt metal, as we see from the rivets still here. All this great work is Norman except for a few piers at the west end, where the 14th century architects adapted the Norman work to their pointed style.

Columns fifty feet high run up to the ceiling of this wondrous nave, and we are brought at once from the 12th century to the 20th, for the painted roof is a mass of colour by one of our own famous artists, and the light by which we see it comes in through Burne-Jones windows. On the ceiling are painted the signs of the Zodiac, the labours of the months, and other symbolical subjects, all the work of Sir Edward Poynter before his days of fame - and the roof is lit by a rose window below which are three windows designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones before fame came to him. The rose window shows Creation, and below is a Jesse Tree with the patriarchs on one side and the prophets on the other.

The oldest tomb here is the imposing wall-monument of Sir Edward Denny, resting on a shelf in his armour, with his wife in her Elizabethan ruff and hood below him, and their six sons and four daughters round the tomb; the last little girl is holding her sister’s arm. Standing by the wall is the alabaster figure of Lady Elizabeth Greville, cousin of Lady Jane Grey. Two 16th century families are in brass, Edward Stacey with his wife and son, and Thomas Colt with his wife and their ten children. On a realistic altar tomb of white marble is a sculptured panel of a ship at sea and mourning angels with tears on their cheeks; the tomb is to Captain Robert Smith of 1697, but resting on it is a bust of Henry Wollaston, a 17th century magistrate in Roman dress.

Out of an aisle we mount up to a beautiful chapel 600 years old; it has a crypt beneath it with fine vaulting. The chapel is lit by great windows with exquisite tracery, and has low stone seats round the walls divided by stone columns. It may be reached from outside through a beautiful doorway carved with flowers, and is charming without and within. Two of its windows have in them the Archangel
Gabriel bringing the good news to the Madonna, and three lovely figures at the Presentation in the Temple, one of the windows being in memory of Francis Johnson, who was curate and vicar 56 years. Above the altar are scenes at least 500 years older, a 14th century painting of Judgment Day: Christ is seated in majesty with outstretched hands, and Peter stands with other figures in front of a group of medieval buildings, while on the other side are angels receiving the good and the fires of hell receiving the wicked.

In this chapel are such memories of old Waltham as the stocks and whipping-post and pillory, the works of a clock which ran in this church for 260 years, a portrait of Thomas Tallis who was organist in the last days of the abbey, two Jacobean chairs, Roman remains, and casts of the abbey seals. Two other odd things we found in this museum; one a 16th century waterspout wrongly claiming to be part of Harold’s tomb, the other a grim relic of the days when suicides were buried at the crossroads, for it is a stake which was found piercing the skeleton of a man buried there.

Such is Waltham Abbey as we see it. It lives in history and in legend, for legend tells us of one Tovi, standard-bearer to Canute, who found a piece of the Holy Cross at Montacute in Somerset and built a church here to preserve it; to this day this Waltham church is dedicated to St Lawrence and the Holy Cross. It was given its name in the presence of Edward the Confessor, who was here in 1060. Here on its way to Westminster Abbey rested the body of Queen Eleanor for one night, and 17 years after lay the body of her King Edward, waiting in this abbey for three months during the preparations for his funeral at Westminster.

It is in memory of Queen Eleanor’s last ride that Waltham Cross was built. It is perhaps the best of all the crosses that bear her name, and was set up to mark the place where the body of the queen rested on that sad procession from the Notts village in which she died to Westminster Abbey where she lies. Twelve crosses were set up to mark her resting-places, the first at Lincoln, the last at Charing, and this, the one outside Northampton and a third at Geddington, are the only remains.

Waltham Cross stands actually in Hertfordshire where the road from the abbey joins the Roman Ermine Street, at the spot where the abbot and his monks met the sad procession from St Albans on a dark December day in 1290. Today it is in a busy street ; then it stood with nothing but a chantry and a wayside inn to keep it company. Of the chantry not a stone remains, but the inn is still close by; it was probably the abbey guest house, and has as its sign four swans which recall the swans on King Harold’s shield at Hastings.

It is believed that this cross was designed by William Torel, the goldsmith who made Queen Eleanor’s tomb in the Abbey. Much of his cross has survived the ages, though it has been twice refashioned from his materials. It has six sides and three tiers all richly adorned. The lower tier is solid, and each of its six faces is decorated like a window, with two trefoil panels under a quatrefoil, shields hanging from knots of foliage in the panels. Round the top of this tier runs a richly carved cornice, battlemented and pierced with crosses, and above this rise eight pinnacles supporting the lovely canopies of the second stage. In these canopies are three statues of Queen Eleanor holding her sceptre, all three original except for one head. Above the canopies rises the third tier of the cross, solid like the ground tier, carved like a lancet window and with rich finials on the six corner shafts. In the centre of these finials rises a daintily carved crown, from the heart of which springs a pinnacle topped with a stone cross.

This last bit seems to me to be a bit of a cheat on Mees part as Waltham Abbey and Waltham Cross are two distinct entities and the latter should, anyway, be properly covered in Hertfordshire (which it isn’t).


Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Willian, Hertfordshire

Willian lies just outside my travel border but, having seen photographs of All Saints on Flickr, I added it to the trip as it fell close enough to Buckland and Ardeley (which I still didn't get into as the keyholders were out) to make a detour.

The exterior has some truly amazing grotesques on the tower including a man with a bible and Death which were exciting but not exciting enough to make up for the fact that the church is kept padlocked and no keyholder is listed.

ALL SAINTS. In the chancel is a C12 blocked doorway. The rest appears C14 and chiefly C15. The chancel E window is specially attractive with two orders of shafts inside. Early in the C19 the E end received some blank Dec arcading and a reredos to match. - SCREEN. Little of the C15 left. - CHANCEL SEATS. With poppyheads; also one with an elephant and castle and one with St John’s head on the charger. - PLATE. Chalice and Paten, 1718. - MONUMENTS. Brass to Richard Golden d. 1446, frontal, in priest’s vestments. - Epitaph with the two usual kneelers to E. Lacon d. 1625 and an even humbler one with kneelers to John Chapman d. 1624. - Sir Thomas Wilson d. 1656 and wife, with two frontal busts in oval niches above long inscription.

Grotesque (19)

Grotesque (12)

Still, the vicar, or whoever, does have an interesting sense of humour:

Welcome (1)


Willian. Many who come on this homely place with its green and its ponds, its tall trees, its medieval church, and its thatched vicarage 400 years old, must think it an endearing English scene, fit to be preserved for ever; and so it is to be, for it stands within the green belt bought by Letchworth’s Garden City.

Limes and chestnuts strive to out-top the gargoyles of death and the other dread powers peering out from the 15th century tower. Graver medieval heads, 14 in all, support the chancel roof, and tiny heads below them add to the delicate arcading. The 15th-century woodcarvers added their quaint fancies to the posts of the choir stalls, where we see a sphinx-like monster with barbed tail above the Baptist’s head on a charger; and strangest of all is a perfect little elephant bearing a howdah with openings carved like medieval church windows. Part of a Tudor screen is left in the 15th century chancel arch, which matches the arch of the tower. The walls of the nave and the chancel are the work of Norman masons.

Two vicars of long ago are here in brass and stone, Richard Goldon having a portrait brass of 1446 on the chancel wall, and John Chapman, who died in 1624, appearing as a small kneeling figure in stone with his wife. By the altar kneel more stone figures, Edward Lacon with his wife and three children. The father, who is in armour, died in the year Charles I came to the throne. Thirty years later, when Cromwell ruled in Charles’s place, another monument was set here with the busts of a man and his wife looking out from dark recesses. He is Thomas Wilson, who died while he was serving as Prefect here under Cromwell’s military system of local government, when the whole of England was divided into ten areas and each area was ruled by a major-general.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

St Michael, Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire

Taking advantage of having two students at home, an orthodontist appointment for middle son and the youngest back at school I decided to do a revisit trip and Bishop's Stortford. The planned route was Bishop's Stortford (three churches), and then revisits to Sacombe, Braughing, Ardeley, Willian (which was not a revisit but sat well with the route), Buckland and Wydiall.

I knew when I set off that this would be a bit hit and miss and so it proved.

St Michael in Bishop's Stortford was the first hiccup with a service in progress which was to be followed by a toddlers get together. I've photographed this church before but lost the pictures in a blue screen event shortly afterwards. As the middle son still goes to school in Stortford this is not a disaster.

The exterior is almost impossible to shoot  due to a tight churchyard and intervening trees; I was surprised to learn from Mee that the main body of the church is old - I've always thought that it was a 19th century build but that's only the spire.

UPDATE: I photoed the interior in November 2010 with a Kodak EasyShare camera - essentially a digital disposable camera - having assumed that there would be little of interest wrong I was. I had some pretty poor images of the amazing misericords and knew a revisit with the grown up camera was required - it took me until today (30.01.12) to achieve a successful shoot despite regular visits to Stortford.

ST MICHAEL. A big, low, embattled Perp town church with a W tower and tall spire, prominent for a long distance around, not owing to the early C15 which built it (set-back buttresses, low stair turret) but to the year 1812 when a tall, slim upper stage of light brick was added, with buttresses at the angles and pinnacles above and a lead spire. The contrast between the business-like sturdiness below and the fragility above is that between Gothic and Gothick. The whole church is otherwise of the C15 (except for the C19 N chancel chapel and tall S vestry) with typical Late Perp windows, with depressed segmental or depressed pointed arches (the latter with almost straight sides), with a N porch two bays deep and a S porch. The chancel clerestory and chancel E window belong to the C19. The original E window of three lights is now in the S wall. The interior is big and airy. Tall tower arch on thin responds, six-bay arcade with thin piers (four main shafts and four hollows in the diagonals) and two-centred arches, two-light clerestory windows, lower chancel. The roofs of nave, chancel, and aisles are original. In the nave the arched braces are traceried, and they rest on stone corbels with the figures of the Apostles. In the aisles instead of these there are grotesques and also such genre figures as a gardener with pruning knife, a cook with ladle, a woodman with bill-hook, etc. - FONT. C12, square, of Purbeck marble, with shallow blank arches; on five supports. -ALTAR AND SURROUND. 1885, by Sir A. Blomfield. - PULPIT; Locally made for £5 in 1658, an extremely late date for so purely Elizabethan a piece. The angles have termini pilasters decorated with raised ovals and diamonds. This and the decoration of the main panels with arches in feigned perspective probably comes straight from some pattern book. - SCREEN. C15; big, with two tall four-light sections on each side of the entrance. - CHANCEL STALLS. C15, with poppy-heads at the ends of the front stalls and MISERICORDS for the back seats. They represent inter alia heads of human figures and animals, very well carved, an angel, a swan, an owl, a dragon. - DOORS. Original, both in N and S porches. - STAINED GLASS. Chancel S window, by Powell, 1853 (TK), still in the painting tradition of the C18; not yet medievalizing. - W window, by Kempe, 1877, a very characteristic example of his early manner. - PLATE. Paten, 1563; Chalice, 1597; Chalice, 1683; two Flagons, 1721; Almsdish, 1741. - No monuments of any importance.

St Michael (3)

Bishop’s Stortford. The greatest thing it has done for the world was to give birth to Cecil Rhodes, and we may believe that the time will come when the house in which he was born will be a place of pilgrimage. Yet this small town had its place in history centuries before young Rhodes sat in the pews at St Michael’s listening to his father preach. In the public gardens is a mound on which it is believed a castle stood, Waytemore Castle, the fortress of Bishop Maurice of London, into whose hands the Conqueror entrusted this key position by the ford over the River Stort. The outer works and moats can be traced among the walks and flowerbeds.

The hilly streets of Bishop’s Stortford set off to advantage the fine old buildings among the new, many of them inns from the 16th to I7th centuries with overhanging storeys; the Boar’s Head and the timbered Black Lion still carrying on, the White Horse, with its plastered heraldic front of Italian work, an inn no longer.

Two fine churches, an old one and a new one, look to each other across the roofs of the town, both set on hills. The new church is All Saints, the old one is St Michael’s. The new one, looking out over the town from Hockerill, was designed by Mr Dykes Bower, and is one of the best modern churches we have seen. It has a magnificent rose window in the east with Christ in the centre surrounded by dazzling colours, rings of little suns, flames, and symbols. The west window has three great plain lancets in the tower. There are four high arches on each side of the nave, supported by round columns, the stone roof is spaced out in 125 compartments, and there is a charming oriel in the sanctuary.

But the eye turns first and last in this town to the splendid 500 year-old church shooting up its pinnacled tower and spire from among the houses on the top of the other hill, summoning its worshippers with a peal often bells. The spire was added in 1812. They enter today by the very door people pushed open five centuries ago, and in one spandrel of the doorway is the same strange carving of the All-Seeing Eye, the Angel of the Resurrection sounding his trumpet in the opposite spandrel. The door opens on the six great bays of the spacious nave and aisles, where corbels of angels and apostles and medieval folk turn on us their stony gaze; we noticed a gardener, a cook, and a woodman among them. Save for a few changes and additions the church is wholly medieval, and has a Norman font which has been buried, having probably belonged to the church before this. There are 18 rich choir stalls, making a grand show with their traceried backs and panelled fronts, and misericords crowded with 15th-century faces and fancies, men and animals, one of them a rare early carving of a whale. The fine chancel screen is mainly 15th century, but the vaulting is new. The pulpit and a remarkable chest are Jacobean, the chest having an inside lock of 14 bolts which are as long as the lid. Both the north chapel and south vestry are Victorian.

There is a tablet in this fine church to a man who made the River Stort navigable up to Bishop’s Stortford. He befriended Captain Cook, who showed his gratitude by making him known to navigators all over the world, naming after him Port Jackson in New South Wales and Point Jackson in New Zealand. The man whose name thus lives on the map was born George Jackson at Richmond in Yorkshire, but he died Sir George Duckett; here in the church is his memorial. We find no memorial to a butcher’s son born here in 1813, who did much to help photography by proving the use of collodion in developing films. He was Frederick Scott Archer, and his children were pensioned by the Crown because his invention brought him no profit but yielded vast profits for others.

Much happier in his fortune was the famous physician who lies in the Quaker burial ground; he was Thomas Dimsdale, an Essex man who adopted Hertfordshire as his county, practised as a doctor in the county town, and sat in Parliament for it. He is remembered for his pioneering with inoculation for smallpox, and especially because Catherine of Russia invited him to her capital to inoculate herself and her son. It was in 1768, when the adventure was fraught with some peril, and the empress arranged for relays of horses from the capital to the border to aid the doctor’s escape in case of disaster. Happily all was well, and Dimsdale received £2000 for expenses, a fee of £10,000, and an allowance of £500 a year. He was laid in the burial ground of the Quakers here when he was 89 years old.

One of the windows of St Michael’s is in memory of the old vicar Francis Rhodes, who was laid to rest here eight years after his delicate son had left for South Africa. He lived to hear the good news that his son had found health and strength and was working in the diamond digging, and he saw him home again entering on a graduate’s life at Oxford; but he died in 1878 before Cecil entered the Cape Parliament, and before he had formed his great plan of a British South Africa. In the birthplace we see his portrait looking down from the wall on the bed in which Cecil Rhodes was born.

Bishop’s Stortford has been long in paying homage to its great son, but it has made amends, has bought the house he was born in and the house next door, and is developing both as a Cecil Rhodes Museum. The house is refurnished with pieces that either belonged to the family or belonged to the time, and it is an attractive place for any pilgrim interested in Rhodes of Rhodesia. In addition to the bed he was born in, one of eleven children, there is here the Bible his mother gave him, a fine old clock which was ticking in those days, a picturesque native drum used for communicating signals, a water colour he painted of a windjammer, and the uniforms he wore on ceremonial occasions - and never again.

Cecil Rhodes’s birthplace has all the glamour and fascination that invests the homes of famous men, and it is gratifying to find how much this great empire-builder’s memory is honoured in his native town.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Abington Pigotts, Cambridgeshire

St Michael & All Saints was filled with scaffolding and smelt of restoration products so much was covered and even with a full battery I think I would have put this down for a re-visit because it is delightful.

ST MICHAEL. Flint-built; not too near the village, but close to the former manor-house. Aisleless, with Perp W tower, embattled and not high. Chancel rebuilt in 1875 in late C13 to early C14 forms. They correspond to the C18 drawing in Cole MS B.M. Add. 5810. S doorway to the nave C14, S windows tall two-light Perp under four-centred heads. Tall and Perp also the S porch. - Nice angel-corbels to support the tie-beams of the nave roof. - SCULPTURE. In the porch a Norman block decorated with zigzag. It comes no doubt from the predecessor of the church. - FONT COVER. Plain Jacobean, of ogee outline. - PULP IT. Two-decker with various C17 panels stuck on. The sculpture may be Flemish. - BENCHES. Plain, straight-headed, buttressed. - MONUMENTS. Brass to a Civilian, c. 1460, 3 ft figure (chancel floor). - Mary Foster-Pigot d. 1816. Medallion under a weeping willow in front of the inevitable obelisk. By the younger Bacon.

St Michael & All Angels (1)

Unknown brass

ABINGTON PIGOTTS. It is pleasant with trees and orchards, quaint cottages and thatched roofs, and an old church in the meadows between the old rectory and the gabled manor house, a dignified and delightful home of Queen Elizabeth’s day. Down Hall, a farmhouse on the edge of the village, hides in the trees at the end of a lane, with a moat and a watermill.

A fine avenue of lofty limes brings us to the flint and cobbled church, into which we come by a door which has opened and shut for centuries. The porch in which it hangs is dated 1382 and has bargeboards and roof beams, windows and seats, a coffin stone 700 years old, and a holy-water stoup set on a fragment of Norman carving. An ancient mass dial is on the wall. Indoors is a 15th century oak screen with delicate tracery set in a chancel arch 100 years older. In the tracery of two nave windows are fine old fragments of glass with saints and angels in black and gold, and engraved in brass is the portrait of a 15th century family, showing a civilian in a fur-lined gown with 16 sons and daughters. The two-decker pulpit is made up of Jacobean panels, the modern font has a Jacobean domed cover, there is an old chest, and quaint angels support the old roof beams. The vestry door has been hanging on its hinges for many generations.


Litlington, Cambridgeshire

St Catherine is charming and contains one of the most interesting pieces of graffiti to be seen round these parts.

The inscription, measuring about 11 x 6 inches, is in the Lady Chapel on the left jamb of the window to the east of the south door. Although it records the impending departure of Sir Francis Drake on what was to be his final voyage, no local connection can be established; translated from the original Latin it reads:

Francis Drake, Knight, about to set sail in the thirty seventh year of the reign of the most august and serene prince, Elizabeth, Queen, by the Grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, Defender of The Faith 1595.

An addition reads:

The same always, Always the same, John Sherman, April the tenth.

During the 16th century the Sherman family were living at Huntingfields Manor, opposite the present Crown public house, and the Bolnest (or Bownest) family at Dovedales Manor, which is now Bury Farm, on the road to Abington Piggotts. Both families, which were related, bought up all the saleable land in the village.

John Sherman, the Steward of the Manor, the son of a prosperous yeoman, was also a very successful farmer, but was said to be a grasping man and much feared by his neighbours for his obstinate behaviour and that, as Lord of the Manor, he manipulated the Court proceedings through the jurors. He rented the Rectory lands and took the tithes but enjoyed his own lands free, until he gave up the lease on favourable terms in 1592.

George Bolnest acquired land in 1595 at Huntingfields from his impecunious cousin Robert, but in 1597 John Sherman blocked the sale of further land by his then bankrupt son-in-law. He no doubt blamed his son-in-law’s financial position on him spending too long at sea - or he could have given money to help finance Drake’s voyages.

Robert Bownest (or Bolnest) may have been one of the crew of the 27 ships that sailed in August 1595. The intention was to harry the Spanish possessions in the Caribbean, but due to interminable delays and wrangling as to whether Drake or Hawkins was in command, there was ample time for the news to reach Madrid, and the West Indies were made impregnable to the English.  As a result  not only did the expedition fail but both Drake and Hawkins died of dysentery in the following January, along with many of the members of their crews.

John Sherman died in 1599, having transferred his manor to his son, William, in 1597, so even if Robert was on that fateful voyage in late 1595, it is possible that his father-in-law was too old or ill to record his fate or his safe return by the time it was known in the village.

ST CATHERINE. W tower with lancet windows below and Dec bell-openings. Chancel with a lancet window on the S side and several later windows. Blocked Norman N doorway into the chancel. On the S side traces of a former S chapel. The clerestory of the church is clearly Dec, and that prepares for the much greater interest of the interior. Several Perp windows, including the five-light E window (renewed). The interior is Dec. The S arcade is of five bays with the characteristic quatrefoil piers with thin intermediate shafts and arches consisting of chamfers and a quarter-circle. Hood-moulds with head-stops. But the N arcade runs like this only for three bays, then there is a strip of wall, and then two bays with octagonal piers and arches with two quarter-circles.* The difference between the two designs can be seen most clearly in the two head-stops meeting at close quarters on the strip of wall. The later W head is bearded and dignified, the earlier younger head is decidedly perky, a young woman wearing a wimple. She is bridled, and the tight chin-strap and nose-strap break at sharp angles accentuating the angles of the face. The quatrefoil arcades are repeated in the design of the chancel arch. - FONT. Octagonal with angels at the foot, angels carrying shields on the underside of the bowl. The bowl is shallow and has a fleuron frieze - quite an individual design. - PULPIT. Perp on trumpet-stem. Tall panels with leaf spandrels, and buttresses between. - ROOD SCREEN. With one-light divisions. Ogee arches and bits of tracery above. - PLATE. Chalice and Cover of 1677.

* The s doorway also has two quarter-circle mouldings.

Corbel (3)

Francis Drake (2)


LITLINGTON. Here is a thrilling piece of news of 400 years ago, scratched in Latin on the stonework of a window in the church.  These few faintly seen words tell us that Francis Drake was about to set sail on the voyage which took him round the world and marked the start of England’s greatest adventures on the sea. In 1580 he returned, to be knighted by Elizabeth at Deptford, having circled the world in three years.

A thousand years before that many adventurers from overseas had settled at Litlington. Under Limlow Hill they lie, buried with invaders of still earlier days, and many more were laid to rest near the church, the bones of one unknown soldier being found beneath a little heap of Roman coins. One of these Romans had a handsome residence here, and we have seen fragments of his tesserae floor in the Cambridge Geological Museum.

The lower part of the church tower recalls invaders of a later day, for it is Norman. The upper part was finished in the 13th century, when the nave arcades were built with clustered pillars and heads of women in quaint square headdresses. More heads look out from the ancient south doorway, and angels and lions are round the medieval font. In the roof are left some of the old bosses carved with flowers and heads, and one with a brass Crucifixion showing Mary and John. The chief interest of the oak screen spanning the noble chancel arch is its age, for it is earlier than most of our ancient screens, coming from about 1400. A broken stone coffin with its lid is outside by the tower.

Many a prisoner must have looked through the iron grille of the old lock-up, a red brick cell. Here during the Commonwealth came a Puritan priest who preached himself into prison over and over again. He was Francis Holcroft, who started his ministry as a voluntary priest here. He was ejected from Bassingbourn, but in spite of constant imprisonments he had preached in nearly every village in Cambridgeshire before he died worn out at an early age, having done more than any other man in this county to promote independent religious thought.


Guilden Morden, Cambridgeshire

Following the disappointment of Steeple Morden, St Mary was a pleasant surprise with a fine exterior and tower in the Hertfordshire style (not surprisingly as we're right on the county border)

In the reign of William the Conqueror, a Norman nobleman named Picot was Sheriff of Cambridgeshire. His wife Hugolina became seriously ill, and she promised that if she recovered, she would dedicate a monastery to St. Giles, her patron saint. She did recover, and at her request Picot founded a church and offices for six canons near the castle of Cambridge. A charter was given to them in which was included, "The Church of Mordon" or St Mary.

The Rood Screen probably dates from 1325-75, and is a rare and beautiful work, judged to be the finest of its kind in the country. The figures of Bishop Erkenwald and King Edmund, were probably painted in medieval times, although it appears that there has been some later overpainting. Bishop Erkenwald of London was brother to Ethelreda who founded Ely Abbey, later to become our Cathedral.

Disaster struck here when the battery in my camera decided to run out of juice resulting in limited coverage both here and at  Litlington and Abington Pigotts. This will necessitate a re-visit.

ST MARY. The biggest church in this corner of Cambridgeshire, though of course much less ambitious than Ashwell over the Herts border. St Mary appears entirely Perp outside. It is of pebble and stone rubble and embattled throughout. The W tower alone is of ashlar (and the small otherwise unpretentious vestry N of the chancel with small straight-headed windows). The tower is broad and square. The bell openings are a pair of tall transomed two-light windows on each side. Behind the battlements rises a lead spire. Not one window is earlier than Perp. The S view is enriched by a high embattled rood-stair turret. On entering the church the historical impression changes. The arcades - six bays long and with rather short piers - are C14. So is the chancel arch. The S arcade represents two phases. The E part of three bays comes first. Its octagonal piers with plain moulded capitals and a little nail head enrichment and its double-chamfered arches may represent the previous size of the church. The date of these three arches could be c. 1300. Then the N arcade was built and the S arcade lengthened to the W. These parts have quatrefoil piers with fine shafts in the diagonals and rather finely moulded capitals, arches with divers wave mouldings and hood-moulds with - only on the N side - heads as stops. The chancel arch rests on three-shaft groups as responds, with the middle shaft filleted. - FONT. Circular on five supports, the four outer ones circular, the central one polygonal. Along the rim of the bowl heavy beaded spiral-moulding. - ROOD SCREEN and PARCLOSE SCREENS. Re-assembled, it seems, as a double rood-screen, i.e. with a kind of pew l. and r. of central passage-way. Three designs are represented, two v similar and clearly not too late in the C14, the third E Perp. The earlier ones have circular shafts with shaftrings divide the lights from each other and big, simple ogee arch plain or intersected, with large quatrefoils or trefoils in spandrels.

Chancel screen (1)

Chancel screen (3)

GUILDEN MORDEN. Far away as we come to it we see the massive church tower with its crown of pinnacles and its needle spire, all 15th century except for its arch, which is 14th. The rest of the church, with its stately porch and its ten clerestory windows, is generally 15th century, but the 14th is here again in the arcades, traced from its beginning in the clustered pillars to the end in the octagonal ones. A seat for a priest has been fashioned out of a windowsill in the chancel, on which eight angels look down from the hammerbeam roof. The bowl of the font is Norman, and the oldest possession of the church, but the best possessions are the two oak screens, both 600 years old. The one in the tower has delicate tracery, but the chancel screen is something unique; we do not remember anything like it, for it has two compartments like small chapels one on each side of the middle opening. The screen has needed a little patching, but it remains a fascinating piece of medieval craftsmanship, gay with green and red and white and gold. About 500 years ago an artist came along and painted two saints in its panels, Edmund in an ermine gown, and Erkenwold with his mitre and crozier as Bishop of London.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Steeple Morden, Cambridgeshire

Crossing the border into Cambridgeshire the heavens opened and the resulting downpour, and dreadful pub in which I sheltered, may have biased my resulting view - but I don't think so.

This should, and could, have been an interesting church as at some time the tower and steeple fell and were replaced with an extension (or should that be erection)to the south porch which is unusual but is sadly boxy and ugly and the interior has been sadly decimated.

I was brought up on the principle of if you haven't got anything nice to say, say nothing - so...

SS PETER AND PAUL. Flint-built. The steeple which gave the village its name fell in 1633. The present tower above the S porch with its tile-hung upper storey and its shingled spire is similar to what appears in Cole’s drawing of 1748, but was erected in 1866. The chancel was rebuilt at the same time. Good C14 interior. Some C14 windows, good Early Perp N aisle, with tall and big windows of three lights. Panel tracery in the two-centred heads. The interior has four-bay arcades with quatrefoil piers, moulded capitals and double-chamfered arches. The N arcade c. 1280, the S arcade c. 1380. Broad blocked openings for probably quatrefoil clerestory windows above the spandrels (not the apexes) of the arches. Chancel aisle also Dec.

SS Peter & Paul (3)

STEEPLE MORDEN. It lies among orchards and meadows by the Hertfordshire border, with little dormer windows peeping from deep thatched roofs and flowers bordering the cottage walls.  It has lost the steeple which gave it half of its name, for it fell in a storm 200 years ago, and the tower was replaced by a low one of red tiles with a shingle spire above the 14th century porch. The nave arcade has clustered pillars and capitals of about 1300, the font is about the same age, and there are a few fragments of ancient glass. In one of the aisles is a Jacobean altar, and there is a plain old chest.

Hinxworth, Hertfordshire

The lovely St Nicholas shouldn't, on paper, be lovely at all but somehow the C18th brick chancel works well with the earlier nave and tower. Whilst it contains many points of interest its crowning glory is the chancel brass to John Lambard which includes an image of his daughter Jane (aka Elizabeth) Shore who became Edward IV's mistress.

ST NICHOLAS. Nave without aisles, low W tower with angle buttresses, chancel of C18 brick. The rest is mixed stone and flint. S porch with three-light windows as at Ashwell. Inside the church two niches for statues, one on the E side of a N window, the other in the SE corner of the nave. - BRASSES. Man and woman, mid C15 (chancel N wall). - Man and woman, nearly 4 ft long with, below, individually cut and mounted figures of six children. Late C15, unusually good, believed to be John Lambard d. 1487, Alderman of London. 

St Nicholas (3)

John Lambard 1487 (1)

John Lambard 1487 (5)

Hinxworth. Old Robert Clutterbuck, who devoted years to making a history of his beloved Hertfordshire, lived at Hinxworth Place, a perfect home for an antiquarian, for this stone house was built in the I5th and 16th centuries, with mullioned windows of old glass, pointed doorways, and panelled walls set in a lovely garden - all within a mile of the thatched cottages and the quaint clock tower of the village among the elms. Happily its beauty is safe, for it belongs to the county council, and every passer-by may feel that he shares its freehold. Here Robert Clutterbuck toiled for 18 years on his three volumes of Hertfordshire, published over a period of 12 years, beginning at the time of Waterloo. It has been said that the plates in his work have never been surpassed in such a publication.

Reached by a shady field path, where two Lombardy poplars frame a distant view of the Essex hills and limes form a double guard to the door, is a church of about the time of Agincourt, with a Tudor clerestory and 18th-century brick chancel. In the 15th-century porch we found a stone coffin lid 600 years old. Four ancient oak angels stand out darkly against the newer roof, and canopied stone niches make beautiful two window-sills. Excelling in beauty is a brass on the chancel floor, a superb portrait of John Lambard, Master of the Mercers Company, buried here in 1497. His wife, their daughter, and three sons, are with him in elegant dress. An earlier unknown couple who would know this church when it was new 500 years ago have their brass portraits on the wall.

At Hinxworth was found a Venus brought here by some art-loving Roman in the days of the Caesars, whose coins have also been found in plenty; and a gravel pit older than the Romans has yielded traces of four distinct British tribes.

Ashwell, Hertfordshire

Ashwell was evidently a wealthy town back in the day since St Mary is monumental, the tower is visible for miles around. Surprisingly for all its massiveness the main points of interest here are graffiti.

In the tower there's some Latin script and a drawing of a church both of which are interesting.

The Latin graffiti records the Black Plague in 1348 and the great wind of 1361 and reads:

There was a plague 1000 three times 100, five times 10 a pitiable fierce violent (plague departed) a wretched populace survives to witness and in the end a mighty wind Maurus, thunders in this year of the world, 1361.

The storm on St Maur’s Day blew down the spire of Norwich Cathedral. William Langland, the poet, who was about 30 years old at the time, wrote that the broad oak trees were ’turned upwards by their tailles’.

The church is supposed to show the north elevation of Old St Paul's cathedral. It shows a central tower and a tall spire with flying buttresses. The Rose window at the east end is turned 90 degrees so that it can be shown in the same drawing. It is thought to date between 1360, when Ashwell tower was built and 1561 when the spire of St Paul fell down.

On the westernmost column of the north aisle is another drawing of a church which is better preserved.

ST MARY. The glory of the church is its W tower, in four stages with tall angle buttresses. It is 176 ft high, crowned by an octagonal lantern with a leaded spike, the same pattern as at Baldock. * The tower is clunch-built and more ambitious than any other of a Herts parish church, and it has never been explained why just Ashwell should have gone to such an enormous expense. It was begun in the first half of the C14.* The church itself is of the same date, the chancel was apparently completed in 1368, and the whole building in 1381. The body of the church is of clunch and flint, relatively low and not embattled except for the chancel. Most of the windows are usual C15 Perp, but the clerestory windows and the tower W window prove that the Dec style was still alive when the building went up. The S porch is two storeyed, higher than the aisle, with a fine outer doorway and two-light windows (the vault is C19). The N porch of one storey has three-light windows. Both porches are of the second half of the C15. The interior bears out the building history surmised for the exterior. The arcades of the nave look indeed a little earlier than 1350. They change their details from E to W (piers with big attached shafts and thin ones without capitals in the diagonals, then piers with the big shafts slightly thinner, then with the big shafts of semi-octagonal section). The aisle roofs are good, solid C14 work. The chancel arch corresponds to the earlier parts of the nave, the tower arch to the later. To link up nave and tower a blank piece of wall was left standing and decorated with a blind two-light Perp arch as high as the whole nave. The clerestory windows stand above the spandrels, not the apexes of the arcade. The chancel is aisleless with large windows, and as these have no stained glass it appears very light. The whole church is indeed spacious and broad, rather than tall. The walls are whitewashed, the stone parts light. The effect is decidedly puritanical, especially as the church has surprisingly little of furnishings. -  PULPIT. 1627. The usual blank arches in the panels are made up of diamond-cut pieces. - LADY CHAPEL SCREEN. Very elementary C15 tracery. - STAINED GLASS. Small C15 fragments in clerestory windows. - PLATE. Paten, 1632; Chalice, 1688. - No monuments of importance. - LYCHGATE. Attributed to the C15.

* The leading was last renewed in 1948.

* This is proved by the extremely interesting graffiti inside the N wall of the tower. They say in Latin: ‘MCterX Penta miseranda ferox violenta . . .(? pestis) superest plebs pessima testis’ and ‘In fine ije (secundae) ventus validus . . . . . .. . Maurus in orbe tonat MCCCXI', 1350, wretched, wild, distracted. The dregs of the mob alone survive to tell the tale. At the end of the second (outbreak) was a ‘mighty wind. St Maurus thunders in all the world.’ The date of this exceptional gale was 1361. Higher up; on the tower wall (N) there is a further inscription, in much smaller script: primula pestis in MterCCC fuit l.minus uno. Also on the N wall a remarkably detailed and accurate scratching of the S side of Old St Paul’s cathedral.

Graffiti (6)

Graffiti (1)

Graffiti (14)

Ashwell. Set among trees in a countryside of open fields on the Cambridgeshire border, it is one of the pleasant surprises of this part of the county. As we look down from the low hills about it, it is a charming picture with its roofs clustering round a weather-worn church. Some of the many old houses have overhanging storeys and roofs of thatch and tile; some are timbered, and one has remains of ornamental plasterwork. The village also has an inn rejoicing in the quaint name of Bushel and Strike. Deep down below the road the River Rhee, a tributary of the Cam, comes to life. The ash trees growing about the spot, spreading their branches on a level with the road, are said to have given the village its name.

One of the old buildings near the church is the 17th-century Merchant Taylors School, now part of a larger school. Another is a timbered medieval cottage with gabled roof, quaint windows, old fireplaces, and huge oak beams - charmingly restored as a little museum for housing the collection of local relics of bygone days which was begun by two enthusiastic schoolboys, who collected antiquities and conducted excavations as if they had been learned professors on a happy hunting ground. A hundred years ago the cottage was a tailor’s shop, and before that it was the Tythe House.

In the museum are some bits of wool and a few wheat grains that were left in a crevice of the old building from the harvests of years ago. Old Ashwell is represented here in all its ages. There is a rare specimen of a polished Neolithic tool, coins from Roman days down through history, old straw plaiting tools, and a long metal harvest horn which woke the men of Ashwell from their beds at four in the morning. The museum is the pride of the village, and we heard of labourers hurrying off to it with fresh finds turned up by their ploughs. South-west of Ashwell are the entrenchments known as Arbury Banks, a vast circle of ploughed field, half-surrounded by broad deep banks, now cared for by the Ministry of Works. Once it was a Roman settlement, and earlier still the great banks protected the pit dwellings of an ancient people.

Reached by a worn lychgate, which may be 15th century, the great church reminds us of the time when Ashwell was a prosperous market town with four fairs a year. Very striking is the 14th-century tower, with rough and heavy stepped buttresses climbing nearly to the top, and crowned with a slight leaded spire set on an octagonal drum. Records of days gone by are cut on the wall of the tower and on the pillars of the nave, a Latin inscription telling of the days when terror fell upon the people of England and the Black Death struck dead one man in three: "Miserable, wild, and distracted, the dregs of the people alone survive to witness; and in the end a tempest." Ashwell tower stood out against the tempest, but the tower of neighbouring Bassingbourn crashed to the ground. Below the inscription on Ashwell’s tower is a fine though much worn drawing of 1350 showing a cathedral, very like Old St Paul’s, which was completed that year and must have been in every architect’s mind. It is scratched on the wall of the tower and the drawing of a simpler church is on a pillar of the north arcade. A sheet of lead in the tower, once on the roof, has an inscription saying that Thomas Everard laid it here to lie 100 years; he would be glad to know that it lay 200 years, and has only had to be replaced in our own time.

The church is as long as the tower and spire are high, and is chiefly 14th century, with porches added and some of the windows altered a century later. The clerestory is partly 16th century. The original window of the north aisle has beautiful butterfly tracery, with quaint heads of a man and a woman at each side. The high tower of diminishing stages has fine windows, and striking double buttresses stepped and gabled. The south porch, higher than the nave, has a niche in the gable, and modern vaulting. The old door within it opens to a stately interior full of light from clear glass. The nave arcades have clustered pillars on high bases, and among the figures of men, women, and animals between their arches are two men grimacing, and a man thoughtfully stroking his beard. The walling at the west end of each arcade is carved with tracery like windows, reaching from floor to roof.

Bright as a summer noonday, the beautiful chancel has fine sedilia and a piscina with only half a bowl, a stone panel carved with the Last Supper under the great east window, a niche in a window splay with an animal carved under the bracket, and the base panels of the 15th-century screen, with poppyheads of a griffin and a quaint fish at each side of the entrance. Rich medieval screen work encloses the north chapel. The pedestal pulpit is 1627, and a 17th century chest has carving and iron bands. A floorstone to John Sell of 1618 has these words: To God a Saint, to Poore a Friend.


Saturday, 10 September 2011

Caldecote, Hertfordshire

St Mary Magdalene has been taken under the wing of The Friends of Friendless Churches. The present church dates from the 14th and 15th centuries. It is likely that there was an earlier church on the site as the list of rectors begins in 1215. The village was abandoned during the 15th and 16th centuries. Repairs were carried out to the church in the 18th century and the church was declared redundant in 1975. It was taken into the care of the charity, the Friends of Friendless Churches, in 1982.

I loved this church and in many ways, although they couldn't be more different, it reminded me of Tilty - think it might have been the quality of light and the seamless nave and chancel.

There's a tragically ruined, I think Flemish but maybe old English, window which appears to be beyond redemption, it looks like damp problems, but some of the panes are still discernible. It depicts the story of Christ and I imagine the lower pains depicted the passion sequence and resurrection but it's impossible to say for sure.

From the south it looks like a Hobbit town church.

ST MARY MAGDALENE. The stone built church stands like a miniature model on the grass, N of the barns of a big farm. The W tower starts broad and then, by means of hips, goes narrower. The tower windows seem to be of the late C14. The nave and chancel windows are Perp and of modest dimensions. There is inside no structural division between the two parts. The only more ornamental part of the church is the S porch, embattled and with a unique canopied and crocketed STOUP inside. - FONT. Perp, octagonal, with traceried and cusped panels. - BENCHES. Some in the nave C15, with little decorative buttresses. - STAINED GLASS. In a S window fragment of a kneeling figure. - PLATE. Chalice, 1569; Paten, 1696.

2 The Announciation

 Grill 1.2

Glass (2)

Caldecote. Here, between the Roman Way and the Icknield Way which meet at Baldock, are wide hedgeless fields of oats and barley, wheat and hay, waving blue-green or gold against the horizon; and planted among them, without street or wall, is the church, the farm, and a group of cottages. There is no road through, and few come this way, but many must have lived here under Roman rule, for several urns and 500 Roman coins have been found hereabouts. Great thatched barns stretched along two sides of the churchyard, dwarfing the little mainly 15th-century church which wears its red-brick restorations so charmingly. By the ancient door is a holy water stoup with a high decorated canopy, one of the finest in Hertfordshire, a strange find in this rough and lonely place. The font, carved with emblems of the Passion, is 500 years old, and the church has other ancient possessions - some 15th-century glass with part of a kneeling figure, an Elizabethan chalice, and a bell hung in Charles I’s days. The Old Rectory of timber and plaster keeps traces of its 16th-century builders.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Newnham, Hertfordshire

St Vincent was being restored, or at least touched up, when I visited - this seems to be happening to me a lot recently, perhaps instead of Spring cleaning churches Autumn clean so it was open (I don't know what its normal status is but the tone of their website sounds welcoming).

As well as two excellent brasses there are the very faded remains of three wall paintings; one a St Christopher in which you can clearly see the bottom of his robe, legs and fish around his feet and less clearly his hand and staff, another could be a devil in a circle but it's very hard to tell, and by a window what could be the remains of a saint.

The church website says: Substantial fragments can be seen of murals dating from the 14th and 15th centuries (some may be as early as the 13th century). They represent the lower half of St Christopher - his feet, the base of his staff, cliffs and some predatory fish in the stream. Alas the upper half of the saint with the infant Christ on his shoulders was destroyed with the construction of the Victorian roof.

Other intriguing wall paintings await conservation: a mysterious circle with figures of strange beasts, and a human figure close to the pulpit. In fact there are traces of colour underneath the limewash all over the chancel. A number of votive crosses on the outside of the door arch were scratched by pilgrims and other travellers seeking the protection of St Vincent on their journey, and other graffiti can be seen around the doorway to the belfry turret - a fish and a windmill.

In the chancel there are some fine 15th century brasses and some handsomely lettered memorials of the 17th and 18th centuries on the walls and floor. There is a small and attractive early 19th century gothic organ; the 14th century font is also worthy of note.  The somewhat dreary appearance of the badly weathered wall cladding - part of the 19th century 'improvements' - belies the tranquil simplicity of the interior.  This cladding is in process of gradual removal as and when funds allow.  The most recent work can be seen on the east face of the tower.

I totally agree with "the tranquil simplicity" - it's lovely.

ST VINCENT. A small church, but with W tower with stairturret, S aisle and clerestory, and S porch. All this appears Perp, but the chancel has two small C13 lancet windows and the others of the early C14. And inside both the tower arch and the short arcade with low octagonal piers and double-chamfered arches are evidently C14. - FONT. Octagonal, Perp, with quatrefoil panels and shields on the bowl and blank arcading on the stem. - PLATE. Chalice and Paten, 1568. - TAPESTRY. 1949, by Percy Sheldrick in the style of 1500, in memory of Reginald Hine, the Hitchin historian. - BRASSES. Man, two wives and children, late C15 (chancel). - Joane Dowman d. 1607 and children (chancel). 

St Christopher

St Christopher fish

Unknown brass (1)
Newnham. Its medieval church has facing it a row of cottages fashioned from the 17th-century malting house of the old manor. The church itself has kept its 14th-century porch, with the old roof and carved angels, and the three medieval centuries are still represented by the chancel of the 13th, the arcade and aisle of the 14th, and the clerestory of the 15th. The 14th century gave the church a tower by cutting off a bit of the nave and building two side arches within the original walls to support the weight. The font is 500 years old. There are fragments of medieval glass, an Elizabethan chalice, a bell of Shakespeare’s time with an inscription no one can understand, and two family groups in brass. One group pictures a 15th-century man with his two wives and four children, the other is of a Jacobean lady, Joane Dowman, with six or seven daughters.

Bygrave, Hertfordshire

St Margaret of Antioch is bizarre. Consisting of a barn like nave and a small chancel, it is towerless and instead has a semi octagonal turret with a bellcote on top and seemingly randomly plonked down in the middle of a farmyard. I wondered whether it was a converted barn but Mee says it's a Norman nave with a 14th century chancel. Sadly it was locked with no keyholder listed so I was unable to explore inside the curious building (a quick Google shows that it open at the weekends).

ST MARGARET. Nave and chancel only, with a polygonal W turret to give access to the bells. Norman S doorway with one order of colonnettes and one fat roll-moulding in the arch. The nave E angles are strengthened by Roman bricks. The chancel with the chancel arch seems late C14. - FONT. Octagonal with rectangular panels showing the Instruments of the Passion. - PULPIT. With an attached C17 iron hour-glass and bits of re-used C15 panelling. - BENCHES. Some with poppyheads. - SCREEN. C15 with simple Perp tracery. - COMMUNION RAILS. C17 with long sausage-shaped balusters.

St Margaret of Antioch (1)

St Margaret of Antioch (2)

Bygrave. A rough lane from the Icknield Way leads to this quiet little place on a saddle of the Chilterns, where is a church, a rectory, a manor farm, and little else. Round the farm are ditches and banks dug to protect a huge double enclosure, 17 acres in all, perhaps the defences of some British tribe before the Romans tramped down Icknield Way. All that is known for certain is that about 550 years ago Sir John Thornbury, who lies at Little Munden, had his manor here, and made the ditches into moats round his house filling them with water for better protection from the bands of marauders wandering the country in those days, the miserable days when men still remembered the Black Death which halved the population of England.

The church was two centuries old when Sir john entered its Norman nave, as we do, through a doorway with scalloped capitals, much patched after 800 years. The font is 500 years old and is the loveliest thing here, with angels round its stem and reminders of the Crucifixion round the bowl, among them the cock that crowed and Judas’s bag of silver. The windows, like the turret leading to the bellcote, are mostly 15th century. The chancel is 14th. The altar table and altar rails were made in the 17th century, and about that time someone put the coat-of-arms on the top of the rood screen, which is 15th. The choir stalls with poppyheads and the screen tracery used on the new pulpit are also 15th century. The pulpit has still the iron stand which held the hourglass 300 years ago. One who preached his last sermon watching it while the sands of 1725 were running out was Peter Feuillerade, a Huguenot who found sanctuary here from French persecution. His name is on a gravestone in the chancel. The graves in the smooth turf outside are like flower beds, with only a metal disc on each to show who lies beneath, no more than the label a gardener puts in to remind him of the seeds he has planted.

Radwell, Hertfordshire

All Saint's unprepossessing exterior conceals an astonishing array of monuments and brasses - it's like the Tardis! Sadly apart from the monuments it's very sterile with little or nothing else of interest.

ALL SAINTS. Small church, mostly of the C19. No tower; but at the W end of the nave the last bay has an arch as if for a tower. - Carved ROYAL ARMS above C14 chancel arch. - COMMUNION RAILS. Early C17 square tapering balusters. - PLATE. Chalice, 1576 (1566?); Paten, 1793; two C18 plated Chalices and Patens. - MONUMENTS. Brass to William Wheteaker, wife, and son who d. 1487; small figures (chancel). - Brass to John Bele d. 1516 and two wives (nave). - Brass to Elizabeth Parker d. 1602 (chancel). - Two small epitaphs with kneeling figures, 1595 and 1625. - Monument to Mary Plomer d. 1605, the one object in the church describing a visit. Plinth with kneeling children, pilasters l. and r., achievement on top, and nearly life-size frontally seated effigy with baby by her side. Her foot rests on a skull, her hand holds an hour-glass. The carving is thoroughly rustic. The creases in the sleeve are still done with exactly the same carving convention as at Chartres about 1150.

John Parker 1595 (1)

William Plomer 1625 (1)
Mary Plomer 1605 (1)

Radwell. Here the River Ivel becomes a placid lake, with many a brood of waterfowl sheltering in its reeds. The mill has ceased to work, and trout are hatched in the quiet waters. The old folk of Radwell are here for us to see in the small medieval church above the river. The oldest feature is the chancel arch of about 1340, but the walls are probably earlier; it was refashioned in the 15th century. It has a pillared font of the 15tll century, a Tudor chalice, two ancient bells, a Jacobean chest, and Jacobean altar rails; but its best possessions are three interesting sculptures and brass portraits of three centuries.

The brass portraits show us William Wheteaker and his wife, their son between them in his priest’s robes, holding a chalice; he was vicar here in 1492. Small brass figures by the pulpit are of John Bele and his two wives in 16th-century dress; one wife has two little sons with her, the other has lost the portraits of two daughters. A fine big brass shows John Parker’s wife in the rich dress and cap of Queen Elizabeth I’s days. There is another Tudor John Parker, "lord of the manor and of all this little town," sculptured with his wife and son kneeling one behind the other. Facing them is a lady sitting in a chair, a stiff little statue of Mary Plomer, "vertue’s jewel, bewtie’s flower." She must have been a neighbour of the Parkers, and her death (in 1605) must have been a village tragedy, for she was only 30 and she was bringing her 11th child into the world. She wears a ruff, and over her head is a mantle; her baby lies in swaddling clothes beside the hourglass in her hand, and at her feet kneel the other ten children. She was a dear lady, we gather from her epitaph:

So that the stone itself doth weep
To think of her which it doth keep.
Weep, then, whoe’er this stone doth see,
Unless more hard than stone thou be.

Kneeling close by is Will Plomer, dressed in his armour, who, left alone with these ten little ones, took another wife to mother them; her monument is with the rest, decorated with three quaint animals.