Monday, 11 February 2013

Royston, Hertfordshire

St John the Baptist; I wasn't so sure and am still uncertain. It seemed over restored but still contained loads of interest, most of which was tarted up - I think Pevsner sums it up with 'townish'.

ST JOHN AND ST THOMAS. The present church is large and townish. It lies E of the old road and S of the new main road of Royston. It looks all of a piece, but is in fact a post-Reformation adaptation of the monastic church. Of this the nave and aisles were pulled down. The wall running W parallel with the N aisle wall of the church is the N aisle wall of the monastic church. The W tower stands where the nave must have ended. The rood-stair  has been traced one bay E of the tower. This first bay of the present nave is different from the others. After that the nave appears on the S side for two bays as a convincing piece of mid C13 design, with piers consisting of four big main shafts and four keeled diagonal shafts, and carrying octagonal capitals and complexly moulded arches. The N arcade and the rest of the s arcade have mostly octagonal piers. But one on the N side has four main and four subsidiary shafts, presumably the result of the re-use of old materials. This same very understandable device accounts for the odd blocked archway in the N aisle and for details of the W tower, and of the S aisle windows. The E part of the nave is again a part of the monastic church which can easily be reconstructed. It represents the originally aisleless E end of the chancel. 0n the N side one large lancet remains complete and the springing of a second can be recognized. On the S side the tops of all three (with dog-tooth ornament) have been exposed in the masonry above the arcades. — At what time these arcades were built so entirely in the spirit of the old work cannot be said. The Royal Commission is satisfied with ‘in the C17 or C18’ and ‘at some uncertain period’. Fresh detail research is needed. The present chancel and most of the W tower including the W portal are C19. But the Piscina in the chancel is again a genuine C13 fragment. - PULPIT. Containing tracery from the former SCREEN of which other fragments have been used for a DESK. - SCULPTURE. Image of the Virgin (headless) and of a bishop (also headless), both of alabaster, C15. - STAINED GLASS. C15 angels in a N Window. - PLATE. Chalice, 1621; fine Paten, 1629; Paten, 1718. - MONUMENTS. Alabaster effigy of a Knight, two angels at the head, late C14. - Brass to William Tabram, Rector of Therfield, d. 1462, demi—figure under cusped ogee canopy with thin pinnacles (nave). - Brass to a man and woman, c. 1500 (nave). - Thin Brass Cross in stone slab, C15 (chancel). -  Against the outer N wall large tablets referring to the BELDAM VAULTS close by, the earlier with scrolly broken pediment records names from 1725 onwards, the later in a Gothic Revival style (very Dec with crocketed ogee canopies) from c. 1830 onwards.

North chancel window (2)

Alabaster knight (3)

Boss Green Man (5)

Madonna & Child (1)

Royston. A town of narrow streets lined with old inns and houses, it has three notable things to bring a traveller here: a cave unique in Europe, the remnants of a palace famous for a poignant event in the history of the Empire, and a church with something in it from every century since the 13th.

The cave, an extraordinary place like no other we have seen, is deep down below the road at the meeting of the Icknield Way and Ermine Street. It is cut out of the solid chalk, bell-shaped, 25 feet high and 17 across, and its walls are covered with crude carvings. A winding passage brings us down to it, leading us till we are 30 feet below the road, with a candle to light up the queer crude figures of saints and crusaders, kings and martyrs, a curious medley of scenes from legend and history. It would seem that the carvings were once coloured, and that most of them are of Bible scenes; they are described to us as Mary and Joseph lifting the Child on to St Christopher’s shoulder, St Catherine resting on the Everlasting Arm, John the Baptist, St Thomas of Canterbury, the Holy Family, the Vision of Paul. The history of this strange cave is mysterious, but it is thought the Romans may have found it here and used it for a tomb, that the early Christians may have used it for an oratory, and that the carvings were made about the time of the crusades. The cave was found by chance in 1742, when men were driving a post into the ground as the foundation of a bench for the market workmen, and 200 loads of earth had to be moved before the cave could be reached.

The palace of King James I has almost entirely vanished, but a fragment remains in Kneesworth Street, with a front of about 50 feet looking on to the garden, the back facing the street. It is part of the palace to which the king often came for hunting on this heath which still stretches over 400 acres, a beautiful windswept hill with here and there a hump of a great burial mound, and from the top a wide view of fields and distant hills - blue and green with those shades which seem inseparable from the chalk range of the Chilterns. The people of Royston found the king’s presence expensive for them, and seem to have presented a petition that his majesty might be pleased to leave the town as they were unable to entertain him any longer. One good effect the palace had, however, for it preserved the great stretch of country round from poachers, “persons of base condition, and the scholars of Cambridge.” One thing to his eternal shame Macaulay’s “ricketty legged king” did here - it was in this palace that he signed the document betraying the founder of the British Empire to his enemies, the document which sent Sir Walter Raleigh to the block to please the Spanish ambassador. The wheel of time brought its revenge, for the king’s son was to come back to Royston in due time, not as a king but as a captive, to spend two nights here as a prisoner of the army.

The church is interesting for its possessions. The nave and aisles were built in the middle of the 13th century, but the north arcade was rebuilt, probably in the 17th century, except for the middle pillar, which is 700 years old. There has been much 19th-century restoration, but the west tower is much as it was remade from the old stones in the 16th century. The south aisle roof is 15th century and the north aisle roof has medieval timbers in it. There is 14th century oak panelling, a 13th-century font bowl on a 15th-century base, a 13th-century piscina, and a pulpit with part of the medieval rood screen worked into it. There is a curious 15th- century brass showing the Five Wounds, brass portraits of an unknown man and his wife of 1500, and the canopied figure in brass of Thomas Tabran, a rector of 1462. There are ancient sculptures of the Madonna showing the Child with a bird in His hand, and of a bishop who has lost his head; but the most impressive monument in the church is of a knight of the 14th century, carved in alabaster.

In the graveyard lies Henry Andrews who, born in the 18th century, gave more than 40 years of his life to making astronomical calculations, being also an astrologer in the days when astrology was not the quackery Fleet Street has made it today.

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