Friday, 2 September 2011

Haslingfield, Cambridgeshire

The first thing that strikes you at All Saints is the enormous tower with, strangely, a Hertfordshire Spike that greets you as you enter the churchyard. Then, as you move, south the size of the body of the church impresses you, and you wonder why Haslingfield merited quite such a large church, the answer to which is sadly not forthcoming.

Inside is a five bay arcaded nave which is, as is common round these parts, very plain but the chancel is dominated by monuments to the Wendy family. As well as Sir Thomas, whose statue stands in a little niche on the south wall, there are slabs in memory to his wife Letitia, his nephew, Thomas Stewart, and his sister-in-law, Catherine Winstanley. The monument in the south-east corner of the chancel is dedicated to Sir Thomas Wendy, not to be confused with Dr Thomas Wendy, Henry VIII’s physician. Sir Thomas was the latter’s nephew, and served as MP for Cambridgeshire - his inscription reads like a primitive election slogan: "to ye poore, liberail, to his friends firme, to strangers courteous”. His monument shows him kneeling, facing his wife, in academic dress. Below are effigies of his son, Sir William Wendy, who paid for the monument, and his wife Blanche. Sir William, served as Sheriff and deputy-lieutenant of Cambridgeshire.

All Saints is not the most decorated of churches, but in the chancel roof it possesses an unusual treasure. What to the casual observer seems like a grid of arcane symbols is in fact a depiction of the church calendar, painted by the Wendy family when the chancel was re-roofed in the 17th century.

One of the clearer symbols, above the sanctuary on the south side of the chancel roof, shows something that resembles an extra-wide cricket bat. In fact it represents a “Clog Almanack" - a calendar said to have been used by the "meaner sort of people" between the 11th and 15th centuries. The almanack, which in real life would have been about eight inches long, was designed to be hung in the homes of peasants to remind them of the Saints’ days and other important festivals. Each Saint’s Day was represented on the almanack with a runic symbol. The symbols which are reproduced on the chancel roof are those for the Red Letter Days in the Book of Common Prayer taken from the clog almanack.

ALL SAINTS. Essentially early Dec and Late Perp. Ashlar faced. Of the first period the chancel (E window 1875 by Fawcett), see the S  windows, the S doorway and chancel arch, finely moulded with dog-tooth enrichment. The responds with a filleted demi-shaft. But the chancel masonry must be considerably older. The outer walls except for the E end have a characteristic Norman frieze of two small rows of little raised triangles (cf. e.g. St Mary Magdalene Cambridge, also Ely Cathedral). Of the early CI4 also the five-bay arcades, the beautiful cross on the E gable of the nave, and the aisle windows (N aisle all three-light reticulated tracery). The arcades have piers like the chancel arch, a square core and broad demi-shafts with fillet. The arches have two small hollow-chamfers. Dec N porch. The lead-roof of the S porch, curved, funny and quite graceful, is dated 1746. The Perp W tower has a base with quatrefoil decoration, a big W door, a very tall arch to the nave, pairs of two-light bell-openings with one transom on each side and the embattled polygonal pinnacle turrets of Ely and Saffron Walden. The Perp clerestory windows correspond to the spandrels not the apexes of the arcade. The aisle roofs are specially important. They look contemporary with the arcades and aisle windows: large arched braces and Dec tracery also in large motifs in the spandrels. The chancel roof prettily painted by a former Vicar, Mr G. C. Clements (Vicar 1863-98). - FONT COVER. Jacobean, octagonal with original (even if renewed) paint. - PULPIT. Perp. Trumpet stem. The panels with open tracery. They no doubt once had boarding behind. - STAINED GLASS. In a vestry window two small figures of c. 1370. Fragments in the N aisle windows. - MONUMENTS. Thomas Wendy d. 1612. Alabaster with two couples kneeling in the usual way, but the one couple above and behind the other. - Elizabeth Wendy d. 1658 kneeling between black columns. - Sir Thomas Wendy d. 1673, a very early example of the type with a standing figure in contemporary dress. He stands in an arched niche, his hand on his heart. It would be worth trying to trace the sculptor.

All Saints (2)

Sir Thomas Wendy 1612 (1)

Chancel roof

HASLINGFIELD. Like a mountain in this flat land is the little Chapel Hill, from which we have a superb panorama of the whole valley of the Cam and almost half the county. On the horizon a gleam of sunlight reveals Ely Cathedral a score of miles away, and the towers and spires of Cambridge, and of no less than 80 village churches, peep between the trees. Many of these churches were made from the white clunch quarries of this hill, known for centuries as White Hill, but now named after the famous shrine which crowned its summit, and we fancy that the prehistoric track through Burnt Mill Bridges on the Cam below was the way the medieval pilgrims came to this shrine of Our Lady of White Hill. Between the pilgrims and the prehistoric road makers came the Saxons, whose cemetery was nearby.

But the villagers need go no farther than their own hill of Haslingfield for a view, never more delightful than when the limes about the church tower put on their spring finery. This 15th century tower is the glory of the church, and well it may claim to be the finest village tower in the county, with its magnificent windows, its turrets rising round the wooden spire, its band of quatrefoils like a piece of embroidery, and gargoyles peering from under its parapet.

Most of the rest of the church is 14th century, including a big porch and a little porch, arcades rising with clustered pillars in a spacious interior, and exquisite windows. Those to the south have tracery like butterfly wings, and many have fragments of medieval glass. The glass in one window is interesting, not for its beauty but for its story of Bishop Mackenzie, Haslingfield’s vicar, who died in 1862 as a missionary in Africa. We see him preaching to the natives while chained slaves tramp through the jungle, and we see his grave, which Livingstone himself marked with a wooden cross. The oldest part of the church is the chancel, with Norman stones in its walls and a carved arch on clustered pillars made when Norman ideas were passing. The 600-year-old font has a painted Jacobean cover. The pulpit and many of the bench ends are 15th century, and quaint corbels of men and animals support the old open timber roofs with pierced spandrels.

A curate (William Clark) who was here for 54 years of last century, has his memorial, and there are several to the Wendy family, who entertained Queen Elizabeth at their moated manor house when she was on her way to Cambridge. She arrived a few years after the death of her old physician Thomas Wendy, whom we see here in alabaster kneeling with his wife, he in armour and she in a farthingale and a hooped skirt; below them is their son, also in armour, with his bonny wife in a fashionable trimmed cloak and a bonnet on her curly head (see the above correction). Sir Thomas Wendy of the next generation appears as a white marble figure standing in a niche with a crested helmet, gauntlets, and a sword hanging above him, and by the side of Francis Wendy’s wall-tablet kneels the wife who survived him for 42 years, out of the Civil War into the reign of Dutch William and Mary.

No comments:

Post a Comment