Thursday, 8 September 2011

Walkern, Hertfordshire

St Mary the Virgin was locked with no keyholder listed but I think it, along with nearby Ardeley, is open at the weekend so I'll try to find some time to re-visit.

ST MARY. The exterior does not tell of anything earlier than the C14, until the S doorway is reached which is clearly Norman (one order of colonnettes). It leads into the S aisle where there is also one fairly large blocked Norman window. The arcade of two bays between aisle and nave must be Early Norman. The arches are un-moulded and rest on imposts of the simplest shape. One consists of four little rolls projecting in steps and decorated herringbone-wise (cf. Little Munden). As, moreover, there is no central pier but simply a piece of thin wall left standing, one can assume that that wall is pre-Norman. The N arcade of three bays has octagonal piers with simple moulded capitals and double-chamfered arches; clearly C13, though the windows, as those of the S aisle, are Perp. The chancel was, in an extremely ham-fisted way, made E.E. by Gough in 1878 and 1882 (arcade to the added N chapel With two Gargantuan arcades each of two lights with elementary plate tracery). But the Sedilia and Piscina are original C13 work. The W tower is quite tall and has no buttresses. The W window shows that it was built early in the C14 (ogee-reticulated tracery). The tower arch is double-chamfered. - FONT. Octagonal with coarse corbelled-out shafts in front of the diagonal panels (C14?). - SCREEN. C15. - MONUMENTS. Extremely good effigy of Purbeck marble representing a Knight with flat-topped helm, mid C13 (S aisle). - Brasses to a man and woman, formerly with scrolls; good quality (N aisle). - Brass to Edward Humbarstone d. 1583 and wife (nave W end), with palimpsest of Flemish brass. - Epitaph with two of the usual kneeling figures, 1627 (nave). - Epitaph of David Gorsuch d. 1638 and wife, also the composition of the two kneelers facing each other, but, in accordance with the later date, rather livelier figures, a more classical surround, and some thick fruit hangings. - In the Churchyard a scrolly obelisk (like a candelabrum) on four scrolly feet (Susannah Elwes); Early Georgian no doubt.

St Mary the Virgin (4)

Walkern. Some of its farms have been dotting the landscape with their timber and plaster fronts for many generations, one of them with a charming dovecot under a cupola. A mile away is the plateau of a hill 400 feet high, moated round in the days of the Magna Carta barons; the ditch is 50 feet wide between the ramparts. Through all these centuries the ancient church has been amassing treasure in brass and stone. We come to it down a lane from the mile long village street, crossing the River Beane and reaching the rectory in the shade of a noble cedar and the church in the shade of a splendid chestnut tree. The tower, built of flint and chalk, has consecration crosses on the walls and is crowned with a short spire.

The walls of the nave are probably older than the Conquest, and it may be that in those Saxon days there was here a rare chalk rood of which we see traces on the south arcade. The arcade was cut in this wall and the south aisle added when the Normans settled down; the north arcade came in the 13th century. The chancel arch is 14th century, the plain roofs and the clerestory 15th, and the chapels Victorian. The font is 600 years old, the screen 500, and the pulpit 400; but older than any of these is the remarkable marble figure of a knight lying in a recess clad from head to foot in chain mail. Even his face is hidden by the visor of his flat-topped helmet, but he is believed to represent one of the ancient Lanvalei family.

After them came the Humbarstons; their portraits are in brass. A 15th century couple are shown with a hand pointing to the words, Learn to die and live ever; and an Elizabethan family group,Edward Humbarston and his wife with eight children, is made from a patchwork of older brasses. In the vestry is a brass to Richard Humbarston, of 1581, which has on the other side an inscription to John Lovekyn, four times Lord Mayor of London, where he was buried in 1370. It is clear that his brass has been stolen and used again 200 years after. There is another Londoner in brass in the chancel, the haberdasher William Chapman and his wife, with their 12 children, all in 17th—century dress. Gyles Humbarston and his wife, who died in Charles I’s happy days, are kneeling here in stone, and near them kneel another couple on a classical monument, Daniel Gorsnor and his wife, who lived on to see the king at war with his people.

All England was talking of this quiet village 200 years ago, when Jane Wenham, who had been accused of being a witch by a farmer, and had obtained a shilling compensation from him, was declared by the rector’s servants to be bewitched, and was at last arrested and ducked in the pond. She was committed to the Assizes by the local magistrate, three clergymen gave evidence against her, and the jury found her guilty. She was sentenced to death by the judge against his will, but he was able to obtain a free pardon from Queen Anne. There was much controversy in Parliament and out, and the case at last led to the repeal of the statute against witchcraft in 1736. The good squire of Gilston, John Plumer, found the poor woman a cottage at Hertingfordbury, and when he died Earl Cowper looked after her.

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