Friday, 2 September 2011

Hertford, Hertfordshire

Hertford has two churches, St Andrew and All Saints with St John, both Victorian creations and both actually rather nice. All Saints was locked but St Andrew was open and has various ledger slabs and monuments. Mee, to be expected, spares several pages to the county capital so I'll leave it at that.

ST ANDREW, St Andrew’s Street, 1869, by J. Johnson; the steeple 1876. The style is, according to Kelly, ‘transitional between Early English and Decorated with some intermixture of French Gothic’. Of the church preceding Johnson’s only the N doorway survives: C15, with hood-mould on demi-figures of angels and the usual quatrefoil decoration of the spandrels. - PLATE. Elaborately chased C16 Chalice (Spanish?); C18 Chalice and Paten.

ALL SAINTS. Off Fore Street to the S. To the S of the church the open country seems to begin, with plenty of fine trees. The church was designed by Paley, Austin, & Paley of Lancaster in 1895, and completed in 1905. The penalty of going to a Northerner for the design is that the church, built of red Runcorn stone, is completely alien in Herts. It is of good conscientious design and impressive size, with Perp detail, a tall tower with taller stair-turret, and some original features such as the hexagonal NW porch. - STAINED GLASS. A vast seven-light E window by Kempe, 1900 (‘I am the vine, ye are the branches’). - PLATE. Flagon, 1680; Chalice and Paten, 1696; Paten, 1725.

St Andrew (2)
St Andrew

All Saints with St John (4)
All Saints

Hertford. It is the friendly heart of this delightful county, the capital of its 150 villages and towns, standing at the meeting of three rivers. It has gathered itself about an ancient castle for which it pays Lord Salisbury half a crown a year, and we may think the rent not excessive as we walk about the lovely grounds, bounded on one side by the Lea and on two others by Norman walls.

The castle is in the heart of the town; a step from the street and we are here. It is, of course, the oldest building, having been the home of Saxon kings more than 12 centuries ago, and in 673 there came here a group of men whom we may imagine to have been among the most important people in England in those days, the head of the English Church, called together by Theodore of Tarsus, first Primate of all England. It was the first National Synod held by the Church in this country, and a stone on the wall of the east terrace of the castle has been set up as a memorial of the event. After this peaceful conference came the warlike Danes and burned the castle down, and it was after the tragic visit of the Danes that Alfred’s son Edward built his castle on the mound we see. Edward’s building disappeared and the castle was raised to the height of its power in the days of the Normans, though nothing remains of their great structure except the walls around, built of flint rubble, brick, and stone. In the centre of the grounds stands the old brick gatehouse of the castle, with an embattled parapet, corner turrets, and an arcaded corbel table of the 15th century, though the whole front has been much altered; it has been a private house and is now used for public purposes.

In the old days a double moat filled by the River Lea encircled the castle for an area of 800 feet by 500 at its farthest points. In Norman days the King of France besieged it, Queen Isabella lived and died here, her son Edward III appointing a guard of 14 poor persons at twopence a day to watch over her body for three months. David Bruce, King of Scotland, was a captive here for 11 years, and in 1356 the Black Prince brought home a companion from Poitiers, no less a person than King John of France, whom he had captured there. But the most stirring event of all within these walls was the visit of Henry Bolingbroke, who here drew up his indictment of King Richard II:

Ah, Richard, with the eyes of heavy mind
I see thy glory like a shooting star
Fall to the base earth from the firmament.

The charges brought against the king were set down here on paper, the paper Shakespeare tells us Richard refused to read:

Mine eyes are full of tears, I cannot see:
And yet salt water blinds them not so much
But they can see a sort of traitors here.

The town has quaint streets with old houses mixed up with much that spoils it. Some of the houses are 15th century, many of them timbered and whitewashed. Lombard House on the River Lea was built of plaster, timber, and brick early in the 17th century, and the front overlooking the river remains as it was, though the main front has been refaced. It has an overhanging storey, wood mullions at the windows, and five gables, and a tablet tells us that here lived Sir Henry Chauncy, the 17th century judge who wrote the History of Hertfordshire; it was he who declared Jane Wenham to be a witch, sending her for the trial at which she was sentenced to death, though Queen Anne reprieved her and the case led to the abolition of witchcraft from the Statute Book. Near the Shire Hall are 16th century houses with ornamental plaster work on the front, and by the churchyard of All Saints is a delightful little 17th century building of mellowed red brick, with a cupola and original chimneys. It was the old grammar school, whose headmaster lived in the 18th century in a charming house still standing on the other side of the churchyard. The school was founded in 1617 by Richard Hale, and keeps its original doorway, in which hangs an old door with 1667 worked in nails, though the door is believed to be half a century older than that.

The most famous school in the town is Christ’s Hospital School for Girls, a delightful irregular block of buildings of varying dates, bought by the governors of Christ’s Hospital for younger children in 1683. Much of the 17th century buildings remain, including the gateway and some garden walls. There are quaint Bluecoat scholars set about the walls, five in all, attractive painted figures representing boys and girls, though boys have now been removed to Horsham and Hertford is reserved for girls. Over the main doorway is an oak figure of a bluecoat boy brought here from an old school at Ware, and there are four other figures on the gateposts and in niches on the two wings, fashioned in lead and painted, showing boys and girls in their famous costumes looking down on the street. They have been here since 1697. The school has a fine chapel built in our own century.

The Shire Hall is 18th century and was designed by the Adam brothers, though we should hardly believe it, for it lacks their usual grace. In it hang portraits of our royal Hanoverians and famous men of Hertfordshire, among them being a portrait of Charles James Fox by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

At a meeting of the streets not far from the castle stands the most striking monument in Hertford, the memorial of the men who fell in the Great War. The architectural scheme was designed by Sir Aston Webb, and the bronze figure of a stag was modelled by Alfred Drury; it is very striking. Not far away, set in a wall outside the library, is a drinking fountain built from fragments of one of the four churches which have disappeared from the town; they are from St Mary the Great, and include a 13th century window with detached shafts. Hertford has lost all its old churches, but two have been rebuilt in the 19th century.

Across the Lea is St Andrew’s, with a timbered Jacobean house beside it, attractive with an overhanging storey and two dormer windows. The church, built last century, has a handsome tower with a graceful spire rising 130 feet. We come in by a medieval doorway decorated with angels holding shields, probably brought from St Marys’. From St Mary’s also have come two of the most interesting possessions of the church, an exquisite alabaster carving of the Madonna and Child nine inches high, and an altar stone five inches thick, with five consecration crosses and a recess believed to have been made for holding relics. Both these are in the chapel, where the altar frontal has worked into it a beautiful Mohammedan prayer mat. The east window of the chancel has six fine figures (St Alban in Roman armour, Nicholas with the three golden balls, the Madonna and St John, St Andrew, and St Theodore) ; and another window has Gabriel in rich red wings bringing the good news to the Madonna. A tablet on the walls pays tribute to Nathaniel Dimsdale, son of a great friend of the town who was one of the pioneers of inoculation against smallpox, Thomas Dimsdale, who lies at Bishop’s Stortford. Thomas was summoned to Russia to inoculate the Empress Catherine and her son, being received with some fear and trembling lest things should go wrong, but as they went right being loaded with riches and honour. The empress gave him thousands of pounds and £500 a year, and made him a Baron of all the Russias.

All Saints stands on the site of a church burned down towards the end of last century. It is built of red stone and has a handsome tower with ten bells. The churchyard has a magnificent avenue of limes and chestnuts, planted in the time of Charles II, and unrivalled in this countryside. A tall column among the graves marks the last resting-place of Sir Edward Pearson, a nephew of the first Lord Cowdray; he built the docks and the breakwater at Malta. On one of the gravestones we read of a woman as unrivalled as these chestnuts in whose shade she lies, for we are told that for 38 years she was so kind and loving a wife that she never gave her husband an angry word. Her name was Sarah Young. The east window, in rich colours, represents Our Lord as the Vine, and has 50 figures. The church has four interesting memorials: a peace memorial designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield to the men of the Hertfordshire Regiment; a tablet to Charles Bridgeman who played the organ in the old church for the remarkable period of 81 years, a tablet in memory of Frederick Rainer, founder of the Police Court Mission, and a brass inscription perhaps more interesting than all, for it is dated 1435 and is in memory of the cook to Henry V’s Catherine, who lived at the castle; it is ironic to see that her cook’s name was Master John Hunger.

Hertford’s Museum is built up from the collections of two brothers named Andrews, who gave their antiquities to the town at the beginning of this century. There are many curious old fashioned things, among which we remember a primitive mangle, and the 500-year-old market bell of the town, and with these are rubbings of brasses in churches, old Hertfordshire views and portraits, and a portrait of Dickens by his daughter, Kate Perugini. There are some of the original electric telegraph instruments patented by G. E. Dering in 1854, an orrery invented by Jeremiah Cleeve at Welwyn,
17th-century altar rails from Little Hormead’s church, and panels from a screen 600 years old.

A little way out of the town is a splendid modern house in Tudor style called Goldings, with a long range of gables and mullioned windows, and a handsome chapel added in 1924.; it is one of the
technical schools of Dr Barnardo’s Homes and is equipped for training hundreds of boys to be useful craftsmen and decent citizens.

Like many other proud towns Hertford is gathering to itself the neighbours round about it, and it has brought within the range of its local authorities the six villages of Bengeo, Bramfield, Brickendon,Bayford, Hertingfordbury, and Little Amwell. They are its civic children but they live their own lives and are villages still, and we deal with most of them under their own names.


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