Thursday, 1 September 2011

Great Amwell, Hertfordshire

St John the Baptist was locked but keyholders were listed (or rather their phone numbers are) but I didn't have time to track down the key, so this was exterior only; which is a pity as it sounds interesting.

ST JOHN THE BAPTIST. A small church of great antiquity, distinguished by its Norman apse, a feature very rare amongst Herts parish churches (cf. Bengeo). Of the same period the low round-headed chancel arch, of two orders on the simplest imposts and one window whose equal splays outside and inside suggest an C11 date. The other architectural features are of less interest. C15 W tower with diagonal buttresses and pyramid roof behind the battlements. The W DOOR is of the same date as the tower. - PULPIT. Mid C17 with termini caryatids at the angles. - PLATE. Chalice and Paten, 1620; Paten, 1786.

St John the Baptist (2)


Amwell. Through the park and down the valley flows the New River, its waters divided by an island on which stands the statue of its creator, Hugh Myddelton.

It was his indomitable will which carried the waters from these chalk hills to the London of the Stuarts. London had long been running short of water, but nobody did much but complain about it till this London goldsmith, Sir Walter Raleigh’s friend, bestirred himself with the blessing of the City Corporation he made a new river for London, turning the waters round Amwell and Chadwell into a channel which twisted for nearly 40 miles and emptied itself into a reservoir at Islington.

On Amwell’s monument to Myddelton are these lines by John Scott the Quaker poet who lived here a century later:

Amwell, perpetual be thy stream
Nor e’er thy springs be less
Which thousands drink who never dream
Whence flows the boon they bless.
Too often thus ungrateful man
Blind and unconscious lives,
Enjoys kind Heaven’s indulgent plan,
Nor thinks of Him that gives.

It was John Scott, hater of war, who wrote these familiar lines:

I hate that drum’s discordant sound,
Parading round and round and round. 

He was not Amwell’s first poet, for in the churchyard lies William Warner, who wrote of Albion’s England, "a poetical history of England from the time of Noah till the reign of James the First." He may have been a friend of Shakespeare, for in London he visited the same haunts, and it is even thought by some that Shakespeare saw his translation of Plautus’s Menaechmi before it was published, and in this way got hold of the plot for his Comedy of Errors. Warner lies in the churchyard, and not far from his grave lies Isaac Reed, a London solicitor better known as an editor, who brought out two editions of Shakespeare and died among his books at Staple Inn, soon after the “drum’s discordant sound" had rung out at Trafalgar.

The old church, with a new spire rising from its 15th century tower, was here before the first poet wrote in King’s English, for the walls of the nave and apsidal chancel, and the chancel arch itself, are Norman. We enter by a 15th century oak door, and find among the church’s antiquities a brass of a friar of 1400 and another of a 15th century man with two wives and seven children. A new tower screen has the traceried doors from the lost medieval chancel screen. There is a Jacobean altar table, and an oak pulpit with six heads carved on graceful pilasters by an unknown craftsman of 1696. On each side of the chancel arch is a peephole to the altar.

The village stocks stand by the church, and at Amwellbury is the squire’s old pigeon house, with wooden cots and new brick walls safeguarding it after nearly 300 years.

A mile or two away is the modern church of Little Amwell on Hertford Heath, which flanks the grounds of Haileybury College. Haileybury arose in 1862 out of an 80-year-old college for Civil Servants of the East India Company, and it has become one of the public schools of England. An avenue of tall chestnuts leads to the fine classical building designed by the architect of the National Gallery, William Wilkins, and a dome conspicuous for miles rises over the handsome chapel. In the chapel is a tablet to 40 Old Boys who fell in the Indian Mutiny, some under the command of those famous Haileyburians, Sir John Lawrence and Sir Henry Outram. In the chestnut avenue is an obelisk in memory of Old Boys lost in the South African War. But the school’s greatest sacrifice was its bitter loss of 577 boys in the Great War. Hundreds were awarded the DSO, and four the Victoria Cross, some of them fighting under the command of the most famous Haileyburian in the Great War, Lord Allenby.


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