Monday, 19 November 2012

Stondon Massey, Essex

SS Peter & Paul professes to be normally open but if it is closed provides a number you can call to arrange an appointment to view - not altogether satisfactory and naturally I found it locked. I can't remember why but this was a church I wanted to see - perhaps because of the Norman elements.

ST PETER AND ST PAUL. Nave and chancel are Early Norman. Two original windows remain on the N side and two on the S, also both doorways, though that on the N is blocked. They are completely plain and unmoulded. The only later medieval addition of importance is the belfry, which is placed a little further E than the W end. It rests on four posts carrying two tie-beams and connected with them by arched braces. There are also beams in the E—W direction forming a square with the others. - FONT. Perp, octagonal. Bowl with quatrefoils carrying fleurons. - SCREEN. Plain one-light divisions with ogee arches and a minimum of panel tracery above them. - PULPIT and READER’S DESK. Dated 1630. Good work with strap decoration and bands of diamonds. - BRASSES of 1570 and 1513.

SS Peter & Paul (2)

STONDON MASSEY. It is one of the few places with which we can associate the Father of our Music, he whose music is living again, who wrote that:

Since music is so good a thing
I wish all men would learn to sing.

William Byrd’s connection with this scattered village near Ongar has brought a new interest to the place, and a stone has been set in the church wall recording the fact that Byrd lived here. His home was Stondon Place (now made new) and it is believed that he had some difficulty over his possession of it because its previous owner had been involved in a Popish Plot. Though we cannot be sure, it is also thought that Byrd may have died on this site in 1623.

Among the meadows which slope away east of the church still stands a brick and timber house that William Byrd would know, Stondon Hall; he must often have looked at its octagonal chimney stacks. Often also he must have come into this little church, for it has been here about eight centuries, and its flint and stone walls, with Roman bricks in them, were about the first work of the Normans here. Here is their doorway, with a great hole for a bar which fastened it, and facing it on the other wall is the arch of the other door blocked up, like some of their deep-splayed windows. There are 15th century timbers in the roofs supporting the bell-turret, a 15th century font, a screen a little younger, and a reading desk a little younger still. The Jacobean pulpit has a door with the original latch, very neat. In the chancel is the brass portrait of John Carre and his two Elizabethan wives; his merchant’s mark is on it. The fragment of another brass on the wall of the nave has been twice used, and what we see is the portrait of the wife of Rainold Holingworth.

It must always be regrettable that Stondon Massey is not able to claim with certainty the grave of William Byrd, but it is highly probable that they would lay him here. At the unveiling of the tablet in the church on the 300th anniversary of his death the Gentlemen and Children of the Chapel Royal were sent by the king to this church to make Stondon ring again with Byrd’s old melodies. He was our Shakespeare of music. He wrote masses, services, madigrals, songs, and pieces for the organ, the virginal, and the orchestra.

We had all too little of his work until 1920, when, by a fine imaginative stroke of the Carnegie Trustees, it was made possible to publish all that was available. Then for the first time the world realised that the estimates of Byrd’s contemporaries were just, that he was indeed one of the supreme masters of composition in all its forms. Then we realised also that that superb compliment paid him by the Vatican (where his grand Non nobis, Domine, is engraved on a plate of gold) was well merited. But there must be more Byrd music to come from private collections; only a few years ago a bundle of his unpublished manuscripts was found in the chained library at Wimborne Minster.

It was at Stondon Massey that Byrd spent the last 28 years of his life; he was a Roman Catholic and lived in the home of a member of his church who had been convicted of treason. The strongest evidence for the probability that he was buried here is the wish he expressed in his will that he might lie here by the side of his wife.


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