Sunday, 10 February 2013

Wenden Lofts, Essex

St Dunstan needed a fair amount of sleuthing around footpaths until it revealed itself and can only be seen from a distance as it, like nearby St Helen in Wicken Bonhunt, is on private land. It was declared redundant and partially demolished in 1958 but the tower and ivy covered walls remain.

From The Lost Parish Churches of Essex: Situated four miles from Audley End and Saffron Walden, St Dunstan's is now set beside the new Lofts Hall. This Hall, built in a neo-Georgian style, replaced an Elizabethan one of brick constructed in about 1580 which was destroyed in 1965. The parish derived its name from the ancient 13th century Loughs family.

In the 1760s, Morant described St Dunstan’s as "a small low building, but with a good prospect over the country." Wright went on to describe it in the 1830s as "a low ancient building, in good repair."

The church contained a 15th century brass with effigies, dedicated to William Lucas, Katherine Lucas, (c1456) and their four sons and four daughters. One of the sons wears the dress and holds the crosier of a prior or abbot. The current whereabouts of this brass is not known. Bertram's 'Lost Brasses' says that it was stolen from the church in 1940.

The building is of Norman origin but was completely reconstructed in 1845 in the 15th century style. Very little of the original structure is left and I have been unable to find any descriptions or sketches of it other than of the type quoted above. The beautiful Norman Romanesque doorway is still in existence on the south side. Worley describes "its bold rounded arch, with chevron moulding, resting on circular shafts with slightly carved caps."

During the rebuilding three bells were hung in the tower. A three-decker pulpit remained in 1940 but is no longer in evidence. Perhaps it was removed to a nearby attended church. Some 18th century stained glass remained in the windows. This consisted of a sundial and Jacob’s ladder with a symbolic snail. Also included were "a figure of charity, scenes of the Nativity, the Crucifixion, and a group of armed men with a camel." This glass was moved to Elmdon when Wenden was declared redundant.

St Dunstan’s was partially demolished in 1958, later declared redundant and is now privately owned by the occupant of the Hall. The Norman doorway is the only protected part of the church.

A wall-monument tells of the Wilkes family who worshiped there for a century. One member bore the entire cost of rebuilding the church. The interior of the church is in a serious state of disrepair.

The nave is currently occupied by an old pram and a small rowing boat. The rest of the floor is strewn with stone and debris.

Location: The church lies down a private road, next door to Wenden Hall. Permission must be gained from the Hall owner, particularly to visit the interior. The Norman doorway is well worth the effort.

In my meanderings around various roads and footpaths trying to find St Dunstan I was struck by how close it was to Elmdon and Chrishall. Wenden Lofts no longer exists as a village and yet here is a church 0.5 miles from Elmdon and 0.7 miles from Chrishall (as an aside Elmdon and Chrishall are only 0.9 miles apart) in an area of, bearing in mind my maths is not good, 1.85 miles - this strikes me as out of the ordinary but I've never really thought about how close rural parish churches might be to each other having normally traveled via my car rather than by foot - I shall do some plotting on Google maps and report back.

I've been unsuccessful in finding out what happened to Wenden Lofts as a village but at least I found the church.

St Dunstan (2)

WENDEN LOFTS. Its church, which has splendid trees around it, was refashioned a century ago but has kept a fine Norman doorway with chevron ornament, a three-decker pulpit, and several other old possessions. In 18th century glass we see a sundial and Jacob’s Ladder, with a symbolical snail; and in foreign glass a little older is a figure of Charity, scenes of the Nativity, the Crucifixion, and a group of armed men with a camel. William Lucas of 1460 is here in brass with his wife and eight children. One of the sons was Abbot of Waltham, and is shown in his robes carrying a crozier. The daughters are wearing headdresses fashionable 500 years ago. A wall monument tells of the Wilkes family who worshiped here for a century, one of them bearing the whole cost of rebuilding the church.

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