Sunday, 22 July 2012

Kelvedon, Essex

After almost two months of rain enforced delay I grasped a window of opportunity last Tuesday to visit St Mary the Virgin which, to be honest, left me somewhat indifferent. An 1877 restoration rendered it somewhat sterile and although it retains some items of interest (some good gargoyles and roof angels for example) this, to me, is pretty run of the mill.

Pevsner: ST MARY THE VIRGIN. The NW angle of the nave is evidently Norman. Nothing else of the period is visible. Nave and aisles belong to the C13, see especially the arcades. They have circular piers, except for one N pier with a four-shaft-four-hollow section. The capitals are partly moulded, partly with some stiff-leaf and crocket decoration. The arches are of many mouldings. C14 W tower with diagonal buttresses, battlements and a recessed spire. Also embattled the two aisles. The C14 chancel has a Perp E window put in by Sir Arthur Blomfield in 1876. The N vestry is an early C16 brick addition with a stepped gable and a four-light window with intersected tracery applied to a depressed four-centred head. Between chancel and vestry a C14 window and a C14 doorway made out of the head of a two-light window. - STAINED GLASS. E window by Burlison & Gryll; s chapel, second s window from E by Clayton & Bell 1859; w window by Laver & Westlake 1896; s chapel E window by Powell (belated pre-Raphaelite; designed by L. Davis). - SCULPTURE. Small wooden panel in the Vestry, probably Flemish, early CI7. - PLATE. Cup of 1562; Paten also Early Elizabethan. - MONUMENTS. To the Abdy family especially Sir Thomas d. 1679 with inscription on a draped stone curtain (by W. Stanton?), and Sir Anthony d. 1704 (by Edward Stanton).

Organ pipes

Bell ropes

Roof angel (1)

KELVEDON. For about a mile it runs along the Roman road to Colchester from London, and under the road at the foot of Feering Hill the Blackwater flows through a five-arched bridge. We may wonder how many villages in England there are with sixty national monuments in them, for sixty old houses in Kelvedon are scheduled for preservation by the nation.

In this historic little place was born last century a boy who grew up to make his name known wherever men listen to sermons or read them, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, for whom no church or chapel in the world was too big to hold his congregations.

The 600-year-old tower of the church is joined on to Norman walls with Roman bricks in them; the tower has grotesques at the corners and we noticed a very comical face grimacing on the walls. Indoors the capitals on two nave columns are very beautiful with stiff leaves carved 700 years ago, among the best of that time in Essex. The roof, well lit up by clerestory windows, is magnificent 15th century work and has supporting it richly carved figures playing hautboys and holding shields, crowns, and books. The church has what is called a weeping chancel, built a little aslant, it is said, in keeping with the legend that Our Lord bowed his head on the Cross. In the vestry is a quaintly carved panel of Esther on her knees before Ahasuerus; it is 16th century, and was brought from one of Kelvedon’s old houses. The best window has the  Annunciation by Louis Davis, recalling Rossetti’s masterpiece in the National Gallery.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon of Kelvedon, son of a minister, preached his first sermon at 16; at 18 he was a Baptist pastor; at 20 he was offered a pulpit in London; and a few months later all London was talking of him.

No chapel could hold the throng which crowded to listen to his sermons; he filled the Surrey Gardens Music Hall, and in the end they built him his own great Tabernacle. It cost £3l,000, and every penny had been subscribed when he had been preaching there a month. Three times a week he preached, and nearly 7000 people pressed in every time to hear him. He spoke at the Crystal Palace at the time of the Indian Mutiny and 24,000 came to listen. But this was nothing to the size of his unseen congregation. He had the biggest unseen congregations before the days of wireless. Once a week a sermon of his was printed, till the sermons ran into thousands and their copies into a hundred millions, read all over the world.

For half a century a shop in Paternoster Buildings existed on the sale of these sermons at a penny each. They were reproduced in newspapers; they were translated into many languages. But when his publishers sent a boy late one night through a snowstorm to deliver the proofs of one of them he could spare the time to write asking them "please to blow somebody up for sending the poor little creature here late tonight in all this snow, with a parcel much heavier than he ought to carry," and then he added: "There was no need at all for it. Do kick somebody for me, so that it may not happen again."

Wit and homely speech forced home the fervour of his sermons. He was no actor carrying people on a wave of emotion, but a deep thinker whose printed word would send a man down on his knees. But his creed was that of the old Puritans, as narrow as the gate of heaven seemed to him. Yet Spurgeon’s sermons were not bought only by Nonconformists. High Churchmen and Low, Roman Catholic and Evangelical, read them, sure that no sermons they could preach were as rich in thought as these. The city man and the shop assistant, the coalheaver and the duchess, bought his penny sermons as now they buy their penny papers; and just as the crowd waits outside the cinema today so they would wait outside Spurgeon’s Tabernacle at the end of last century.

On his tomb at Norwood it is said that he "being dead, yet speaketh." For years that was true; and still his sermons are read, and there are many to say that none are finer yet. But his influence has died down like the lull after a great storm, and we are left wondering at the power of this man.


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