Friday, 9 September 2011

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.

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