Thursday, 27 October 2011

Birdbrook, Essex

Having set off home from Wixoe I detoured via Birdbrook - more varied my route home than detoured but you catch my drift. The exterior of St Augustine was nothing exciting and seemed to promise a dreary interior but on entering the church there was an overwhelming, pleasantly so, smell of linseed oil.

The smell is explained in the sanctuary and chancel; in the mid 1960s, the sanctuary was panelled throughout with carvings, by Ken Mabbitt (sadly Googling him is remarkably uninformative which is odd given the quality of this work), of the arms of the patrons of the church, and the shield of St Augustine on the north wall. From north to south they are of the Peche family, Edward I, Westminster Abbey, the Tyrrell family, Elizabeth I, Gent family, Alleyn family, Thompson family, Howard family, Rushe family and finally, Clare college, Cambridge. The communion table is decorated with a frieze of foliage incorporating such creatures as a mouse and birds, while the arms of the sedilia, on the south wall, has perching owls. The carving on the linen chest reflects the rural life of the parish, a woodman, reaper, fruit picker and a shepherd.

The chancel panelling matches the sanctuary, but with badges of the regiments of Birdbrook men killed in the First and Second World wars and the Korean war together with the names of the fallen. The arms of the choir stalls are carved with different animals or birds. To match the linen chest, the front of these stalls are carved with a frieze of oak leaves and acorns (significant, as all Mabbitt’s work was constructed in oak), nuts, vine leaves and grapes, amongst which there are birds, a butterfly, a bee, a squirrel and harvest mice. At the south west end of the choir stalls are tiny carvings of humorous faces in a medieval style. All this work dates to the late 1960s.

The stained glass of the east window was put in to commemorate the generosity of Mrs Edith Clara Young. The two stained glass windows on either side of the chancel depict, on the south, Inguar the Saxon thegne who was known as holding the land on which the church was built; hence the view of the church being constructed and Richard FitzGilbert, Earl of Clare, patron after the conquest; hence the scenes from the Bayeux tapestry. On the other side of the chancel are Walter de Wenlok, Abbott of Westminster Abbey and Dr. William Webb master of Clare Hall, Cambridge. Both of the portraits are authentic, taken from true likenesses. These two windows were executed by Rupert Moore.

The Joy here is in the thoroughly modern fittings and furnishings – I never thought I’d be so bowled over by refurbishments dating to the 60’s, 70’s and later but this has been so lovingly, and sympathetically, undertaken that St Augustine is a church to remember.

Martha Blewit 1681

Poppyhead (11)

Window (6)

Window (9)

BIRDBROOK. Some of its old houses have been here about 500 years with overhanging storeys resting on curved brackets. The church has something much older still, for in its walls are Roman tiles used by the 13th century builders. There are three striking lancet windows at the east, with stone heads keeping watch outside, and on the tracery of a 14th century window of the chancel is scratched the name of Thomas Cersey in ancient lettering. The lofty roof of the nave is 500 years old, and there is woodwork of the same time in the choir-stalls. The graceful altar rails are 18th century. In the sanctuary is a medieval coffin lid, and by the altar is something we have not seen before by any altar - a fireplace.

On a stone in the tower is recorded the remarkable experience of Martha Blewit who died in 1681 at the Swan Inn, which is still in the village. She married nine husbands, but the ninth outlived her, whereupon the parson of Birdbrook chose as his text at her funeral the words, "Last of all the woman died also." This same stone also records that in the next century Robert Hogan married seven wives, so that there were between these two people 16 marriages. A less exciting monument is to the antiquarian Thomas Walford, who went about England a hundred years ago and wrote a book called The Scientific Tourist.


1 comment:

  1. My 10th great grandfather is said to be buried in the St. Augustine Churchyard Cemetery. He is Thomas Dod and his wife Katherine Washbourne. He was born in the village of Birdbrook on 17 November 1589. Both are buried here. If you might be connected to the Dod family of Wixoe or Birdbrook please contact me at Best regards, Dennis Dodd from Iowa, USA