Monday, 23 July 2012

Stanstead Abbotts, Hertfordshire

St James, a CCT church, is open on Sundays from 2.30pm to 5.00pm between June and September and is well worth a visit. As the church guide says: As English country churches go the exterior of St. James' is pleasant but hardly exceptional. It is only when he walks through the south door and sees the inside of the church for the first time that the visitor realises that he is looking at an unusual and interesting building. For St. James' has a largely untouched 18th century interior. Perhaps because of the building of St. Andrew’s in the centre of the village the Victorian inhabitants of Stanstead Abbotts appear to have found it unnecessary to remodel the interior of the church in the way that Victorians in so many other English parishes remodelled their churches.

The aisle of the nave is stone slabbed and has high box pews on either side. The pews themselves are on concrete bases and it is said that there are brasses under the concrete. The bare concrete at the back of the nave also used to have box pews on it. The pews are of greatly varying size, are said to have been constructed in
1710 presumably by local craftsmen, and are made of deal.

The three tiered pulpit is perhaps the most unusual feature of the church not only because of its construction but also because of its position. It is 16th century and made of oak. At the bottom level is the parish clerk’s pew. At the next level is the reader’s pew and finally up a further four steps is the octagonal pulpit itself. The pulpit is backed by a heavily moulded oak Jacobean screen which used to support a sounding board or tester. The tester is now incorporated in the door of the west screen behind the organ.

This is a very special church.

ST JAMES. The interest of the church is its open timber s porch, original C15 work, and its N chancel chapel added in brick in 1577. The windows are still entirely Perp (E window three four-centred lights under one four-centred arch, N two-light straightheaded under hood-moulds). The arcade inside also with its octagonal piers does not betray any consciousness of the new Italian fashion. - Inside there are few churches in the county which have so well preserved an C18 village character. Whitewashed walls, a C15 kingpost roof plastered, a three-decker PULPIT and high BOX PEWS. - TOWER SCREEN. Tall and solid; C17. - MONUMENTS. Brass to a Knight, late C15 (chancel). - Brass to W. Saxaye d. 1551 (chancel). - Brass to a man and woman, c. 1550, holding each other’s hands (nave). - Sir Edward Baeshe d. 1587, wife and children; the usual kneeling figures facing each other across a prayer-desk. The children small below. Lavish strapwork cartouche behind the main figures. - Robert Jocelyn d. 1806, by the younger Bacon, with two urns, anchor, gun, and Sphinx (he commanded a ship at the taking of Manila in 1762). - Four epitaphs in the nave; a study in females mourning over urns: Philip Booth T 1818, by Manning; H. T. Baucutt Mash d. 1825, by Kendrick (two females); Mrs Booth; d. 1848, no doubt by Manning; Sir Felix Booth 'of 43 Portland Place', d. 1850, by Manning.


Nave looking east (1)

C15th Knight (2)

South Porch (1)

Stanstead Abbots. Here lies a man whose name is on the map of one of the most romantic spots in the world, but we have a long hill to climb before we find him, for the old village (where the Romans left a pavement 15 centuries ago) is on the northern slope of the Stort Valley, and the church, with its spiked 15th century tower, is at the top of the hill.

As we wind our way up through the trees a group of Elizabethan almshouses comes into view with a cedar and a pine towering beside them on a knoll. They were founded by Sir Edward Beash, son of the man who looked after the food supplies for Elizabeth I’s navy. He also added a chapel to the 13th century church. There they laid him to rest in 1588, and there we see him kneeling in stone facing his wife, with one son in armour and two in black cloaks on a ledge below him, and the royal arms of his queen in the window above. One of his neighbours, William Saxaye, who died in 1581, has his brass portrait here, and three others show an unknown knight in 15th-century armour, and a Tudor husband and wife with clasped hands.

We may imagine that these folk of long ago must have smiled at the quaint heads of men and animals outside the windows of the nave; they must have pushed open this medieval door in the 13th-century doorway, sheltered by an open timbered porch. There are 500-year-old tie-beams in the roof of the nave and a three-decker pulpit of the 16th century. It has lost its canopy, though the carved support for it still forms a background for the preacher, who may think it just as well that he is so high up, for otherwise he could scarcely see the congregation in the high box pews. Dwarfed by the lofty tower arch is a screen with much Elizabethan ornament on its door and cornice, and incorporating part of the 15thcentury rood beam.

Two reliefs showing a sphinx and emblems of war are in memory of a naval captain, Robert Jocelyn, who died at 82 the year after Trafalgar, and his son John, who had already fallen in the hour of victory at Alexandria. Another relief shows a woman gazing on the medallion portrait of Sir Felix Booth, the London merchant who was made a baronet by William IV for fitting out at his sole cost the ship which discovered the Magnetic Pole. The Endeavour set out in 1829 under Sir James Ross to make the North-West Passage, but made this discovery instead on the northernmost point of British North America, which is named Boothia Felix after the man who lies in this Hertfordshire village. Thanks to his generosity a great stride forward was made in geographical science, and in addition to the point Boothia Felix Commander Ross named after his patron a gulf, a cape, an isthmus, and two harbours.


No comments:

Post a Comment