Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Writtle, Essex

So having got excited by the news that Great Waltham was now regularly kept open I set off last Friday only to find it locked - grrr, more later I hope.

I did, however, have a plan B and visited nearby All Saints in Writtle which utterly blew me away. All Saints has suffered a series of disasters starting in 1800 when the tower collapsed and the west end of the Nave was demolished; then, in 1974, a fire broke out which severely damaged the chancel; and finally, in 1991 a similar fire broke out and was contained. What is remarkable here is that you have no idea of the damage done.

All Saints hosts some remarkable brasses and a legion of ledger slabs - many much worn almost beyond legibility - along with a remnant of a St George wall painting.

If you Google All Saints you'll find this: "On April 4, 1802, the tower fell, giving rise to the doggerel: “Chelmsford Church and Writtle steeple, Both fell down, but killed no people.”  It was rebuilt in a very tasteless style." I disagree and think it follows the grandesque Tudor style and is rather well done for a Victorian re-build.

I had a mixed welcome from the people here, some seemed pleased to have a visitor whilst others made me feel I was intruding but I would recommend a visit - the church is stunning.

ALL SAINTS. Big and not very high W tower rebuilt in 1802. Brick battlements and stone pinnacles. Nave and two aisles, all embattled. The nave arcades and the clerestory 1879, with the exception of two original piers, both circular. These belong to the C13. The nave roof of low pitch rests on wooden demi-figures of angels. The exterior walls of the aisles have some Dec windows, indicating their age. The chancel chapels are later C14. - CHANCEL STALLS with C15 poppy-heads and fronts with open-work foliage scrolls of the early C18.- BENCHES (N chapel) with poppy-heads, one with a bird, one with a seated dog. - STAINED GLASS, S aisle chapel by Clayton & Bell, 1870.- S chancel chapel S by C. P. Bacon, designed by the architect Fellowes Prynne. - S Aisle (Queen Victoria) by Powell 1902. - N aisle (1906) and chancel E (1914) by H. W. Bryans. - MONUMENTS. An uncommonly large number of Brasses. In the chancel floor Civilian and four wives, c. 1570 (17 in. figures), also a brass of 1609. Beneath the entrance to the screen Knight, Lady and children, c. 1500 (2 ft 6 in.). In the S chapel: Two Knights and their wives, c. 1510 (2 ft 2 in.), Constance Berners d. 1524, and another probably of 1592. - Monument to (?) Richard Weston d. 1572, tomb-chest with shields in three cusped lozenges; no effigies. - Edward Elliott d. 1595, and wife, small, with  kneeling figures. - Sir Edward Pinchon, made in 1629 by Nicholas Stone for £66/13/4. Monument with an angel standing on a rock with a wheatsheaf in front of it. The figure reaches up above a segmental pediment behind. To the l. and the r. of the pilasters elaborately decorated with harvest tools are two harvesting girls with large straw hats, asleep. The inscription is from the parable of the Sower. The monument is a slightly modified version of that to Joyce Austin (Lady Clarke) 1633 in Southwark Cathedral. - Sir St John Comyns, Lord Chief Baron of the Court of Exchequer d. 1740. Bulgy sarcophagus with life-size bust above. Urns to the l. and r. The ornament is Rococo. Signed by Cheere.

All Saints (3)

 Thomasina Heveningham 1513 (3)

 Wallpainting (1)

WRITTLE. Now that the world is one vast whispering gallery it is difficult to remember that as far as we are concerned it all began in this small Essex village, for Writtle was the birthplace of British Broadcasting.

We remember standing on a hilltop in Kent and hearing a man cough at Writtle, and time itself will not efface that memory or destroy that thrill. It was in the days when the wireless telephone was making its way and the wonderful Marconi men were sending out concerts for fifteen minutes every night. After the telephone a series of telegraphic signals was sent out on carefully measured wavelengths to enable amateurs to test their coils, and it was announced that those within 20 miles of Writtle could receive the programme on a crystal receiver. One of the papers reported that "in addition to the Writtle concerts, time signals from the Eiffel Tower, ships working wireless at sea, aeroplanes talking to aerodromes, weather reports, and many other interesting and useful messages were passing through space unheard and generally unsuspected by the public."

Seven hundred years before Marconi came into the world Writtle, it is believed, was famous for a palace of King John, and half a mile from its church is a dry moat with a fish-pond still called King John’s Palace. The great charm of Writtle, however, is in the pond and the cricket pitch on the village green, with houses of all ages framing its great triangle. Two 17th century houses stand by the churchyard, and the best and oldest of all, built about 1500, with its old timbering exposed, overhangs the path which brings us to the church. Here still are both the original porches, probably built when the church was completing its first century.

Most of the walls have stood about 700 years, but the tower was made new last century, two 600-year-old-grotesques having been built into it. The much-weathered font is Norman, the roof borne on musical angels is Tudor, and there are poppyhead pews of the 15th and 16th centuries and modern stalls with a 17th century frieze let into them. We found on a windowsill carvings of a man in a hat and a woman in a crown, both 600 years old.

On a striking sculpture by Nicholas Stone in memory of Edward Pinchon and his wife is a winged reaper, with arm upraised, standing on a rock amid sheaves of wheat with mourning angels about wearing wide-brimmed hats. On the wall kneel Edward and Jane Eliott with their 10 children, dressed as Elizabethans, and in the sanctuary is the bust of Sir John Comyns in his robes as Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer in the 18th century.

A remarkable group of brasses ranges over two centuries to the closing days of Shakespeare, and among them is a wife with three husbands, and a husband with four wives. The four wives belong to a civilian of 1510 and are all looking admiringly at him, three groups of children being with them; the three husbands belong to Thomasin Thomas, who wears a dress of the early 15th century. Two of the husbands are in armour, the third is represented only by his shield, but the lady has a second brass of herself.

Set in small stones near her are brasses of Elizabeth Pinchon in a Tudor cap and widow’s hood, with six kneeling children, and Constans Berners with her hair flowing down below her waist. A man and woman and eight children of the Bedell family are wearing 15th century dress; Edward Bell of 1576 is with his family; and Edward Hunt kneels in a ruff facing his wife at prayer, she in a tall hat.

The village has two greens with old houses round both, and on St John’s Green the dwellers in olden days paid a tax known as Green Silver, a halfpenny a year for the privilege of looking out on the Green. We have come upon a knight of our own time who pays a duke a shilling a year for the privilege of opening his window on a village green in Sussex.

It was at Writtle that there was born a most remarkable man named John Eastwick, who became a doctor at Colchester and wrote pamphlets against abuses in the church. For this his ears were cut off and he was thrown into prison, but the Long Parliament released him and granted him £5000 compensation from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s estate. He fought for Parliament in the Civil War, but after the king’s execution he became a pamphleteer once more, this time against the Independents.


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