Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Therfield, Hertfordshire

By the 1870's St Mary the Virgin had become dilapidated and the then rector, Rev John Godwin, decided to demolish the greater part of the fabric and rebuild rather than refurbish.

The new church was elongated by an extra pair of arches at the west end of the nave arcade and the roof was raised by heightening the columns of the old arcade. Much of the original material was incorporated into the new building including the chancel windows, the piscina and sedilla, the monuments, the pulpit, the 14th century font, much of the nave roof and parts of the original nave arcade.

For a Victorian rebuild it's actually rather good.

ST MARY, 1878, by G. E. Pritchett. He used the chancel N and S windows of the old church. Small fragments from other parts of it are kept in the vestry. Also in the Vestry COFFIN LID with foliated cross and C14 MONUMENT with tiny recumbent effigy and two female figures. Under the tower wooden epitaph to Ann Turner d. 1677: with ornament, figure of Father Time, and a Skeleton.

St Mary the Virgin (3)

Ann Turner 1677 (1)

Royal arms

Therfield. It snuggles under deep thatch high on a last spur of the Chilterns, a wide stretch of windswept heath linking it to its neighbour Royston. Some of its timber cottages have been thatched through so many generations that the thatch is three feet deep. The 15th century wing of the rectory is of another world. Cold and austere, with beautiful mullioned windows, it is all that remains of what must have been Therfield’s chief building when Baron Berners was born here in 1467. He attended Henry VIII at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, and in his quieter hours translated Froissart’s Chronicles. In the 16th century the village saw the building of the timbered house with a dormer window in the steep-pitched roof between the gables of the overhanging storey; we found it being used as the village reading-room.

In the vestry of the rebuilt church is a mysterious 14th-century stone on which the tiny sculptured figure of a bearded man lies twisted most uncomfortably, with his knees crossed. He is only about ten inches high, and has still tinier companions, a woman at his head and another at his feet. No one knows the story of this very curious little group.

From the old church also came the six bells, led by a veteran from Elizabethan England, a plain 14th-century font, two silver flagons of 1667, a medieval stone coffin, several stone heads, the wooden angels and bosses decorating the new roof, and three 15th century oak angels in the tower, where is a memorial showing Time with his hourglass and scythe and Death in a shroud, carved in cedar and set here by the rector of 1677 in memory of his wife, Ann Turner. Another rector, who was here for 23 years and died in 1757, is remembered as "of robust constitution, though he lived many years without animal food or any fermented liquor."

To the north-west of the church are the earthworks of a village fortified in medieval days. There is a mound about five feet above a ditch which sends a branch round a courtyard, and other enclosures may be traced. Much older are a group of five burial mounds on Therfield Heath, near a barrow 42 yards long and 32 broad. It is the only long barrow left in the county.

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